We are happy to announce a talk by Philipp Weisser (University of Potsdam) in the Syntax Colloquium.

The talk will take place on campus in IG 4.301.

Title: The Limits of Umlaut in Sinhala: Matching domains across the syntax, morphology, and phonology (joint work with Paula Fenger, Leipzig University)

Date: May 16

Time: 4 pm – 6 pm ct


In this talk we study the patterns of verbal umlaut in the Indo-Aryan language Sinhala (spoken in Sri Lanka), which seems to be constrained by an intricate combination of (i) lexical, (ii) morphosyntactic, and (iii) phonological factors. We study this phenomenon and show that it can be used as a window into the morphological makeup of complex words. In particular, we defend  the following claims:

1. Contrary to some claims in the literature (see e.g. Garland 2005), we argue that the limits of umlaut show that Sinhala verb morphology is, underlyingly, concatenative and in order to describe where umlaut appears and where it doesn’t, we need to refer to the notion of the morpheme.

2. Umlaut in Sinhala cannot be analyzed as a morphological process (e.g. with morphological readjustment rules as in Embick & Shwayder 2017 for Germanic) as it obeys different locality restrictions than purely morphological processes such as suppletion. We argue that it is a productive phonological process.

3. The word-internal locality domains that we find to be responsible for the limits of umlaut correspond to syntactic phases that govern the use of matrix versus embedded negation. This strongly suggests that the locality domains in morphology and phonology are inherited from (but not necessarily identical to) the ones used in the syntax. This in turn shows that we need a holistic model of grammar where syntactic processes can inform the study of phonology and vice versa. In lexicalist models of morpho(phono)logy such correspondences between locality domains across different modules must necessarily remain a mystery.