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Sometimes Ngo Zau Start to Gong Chinese

The role of pragmatics and information structure in the syntax of codemixing


Andrew Peters
Department of Linguistics,
York University,
Angermeyer: LAL 6310 Languages in Contact

Fall 2015


It has long been noted that codeswitching is a grammatically-constrained behaviour. Studies by linguists
such as MacSwan (1999, 2009) have forwarded models in which constraints on codeswitching result only from the properties of the individual grammars. The present study will examine data from a
corpus of Cantonese-English bilinguals from Toronto, Canada (Nagy, Kang, Kochetov, &Walker, 2011).
Approaches such as those of Chan (1998) on Cantonese-English bilinguals have posited that constraints
result only from the c-selection requirements of functional heads. MacSwan’s (1999, 2009) approaches
posit that codeswitching is primarily constrained by feature-checking and head-movement. Noting asymmetries in the Cantonese-English data, I will demonstrate that MacSwan’s approach is well motivated, but devolves into a post-hoc analysis, and that while Chan’s functional head selection approach make excellent descriptive observations, it fails to make correct predictions from the data. Instead, I will forward an approach in which the pragmatically-related information-structure provides motivation for the selectionof functional heads with appropriate featural projections prior to merge, avoiding post-hoc analysis. I will analyse mixing within the VP, auxiliaries and verbal subjects, and the DP to demonstrate that the source language of functional heads and the features they project is determined largely by pragmatic requirements.