Configurationality in Classical Nahuatl


Some classic generativist analyses (Jelinek 1984, Baker 1996) predict that polysynthetic languages should be non-configurational by positing that the arguments of verbs are marked by clitics or affixes and relegating overt NPs/DPs to adjunct positions. Here I argue that the polysynthetic Uto-Aztecan language Classical Nahuatl (CN) was actually configurational. I claim that unmarked VSO order was derived by verb phrase (vP) fronting, from a base-generated structure of SVO. A vP constituent is evidenced by obligatory movement of indefinite object NPs with the vP, as in pseudo noun incorporation analyses given for VOS order in other predicate-initial languages such as Niuean (Polynesian) (Massam 2001) and Chol (Mayan) (Coon 2010). The CN case is interesting to contrast with languages like Chol, which lack head movement, in that the CN word order facts show the hallmarks of vP remnant movement (i.e., the fronting of the verb plus its determinerless NP object into a position structurally higher than the subject), while the actual morphology of the CN verb shows the hallmarks of head movement (including noun incorporation, tense/aspect/mood suffixes, derivational suffixes such as the applicative and causative, and pronominal agreement prefixes marked on the verb). Finally, in regard to the landing site for the fronted predicate, I argue that the placement of CN’s optional clause-introducing particle ca necessitates adopting the split-Comp proposal of Rizzi (1997), as is suggested for Welsh by Roberts (2005). Specifically, I claim for CN that ca is the head of ForceP and that the predicate fronts to a position in the structurally lower Fin(ite)P.


University of British Columbia, Department of Linguistics (Vancouver Campus)

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University of British Columbia Working Papers in Linguistics



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