Martina Wiltschko

Prospective Graduate Students / Postdocs

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Research Classification

Linguistic Variation and Society
Cognition and Language
Language, Knowledge, Significance and Thought Building

Research Interests

syntax and its interfaces,
speech acts
interactive language

Relevant Degree Programs


Research Methodology

field work
elicitation techniques

Graduate Student Supervision

Doctoral Student Supervision (Jan 2008 - Nov 2019)
Commitment and engagement : the role of intonation in deriving speech acts (2019)

This dissertation provides the ingredients to solving a long-standing problem in linguistics: What is the relation between the form of an utterance (clause type) and its function (speech act)? I argue that intonation is a key to solve this Speech Act Problem. Speech acts need to be decomposed into two conversational variables, which are encoded by the shape of the sentence-final contour in North-American English – specifically, its excursion and its duration. Speaker Commitment, the first variable, captures the degree to which the speaker publicly commits to the truth of a proposition. Addressee Engagement, the second variable, captures the degree to which the speaker engages the addressee to resolve any issue under negotiation. My analysis overcomes a traditional divide between those accounts that focus on propositional attitudes and those that focus signaling in/completeness with sentence-final intonation. Both functions are incorporated in my analysis. Furthermore, my account can model similarities of speech acts across different clause types. Chapter 1 introduces the speech act problem and surveys existing solutions. Chapter 2 reviews problems created by analyzing intonation as a modifier of a clause-type-based notion of speech acts and by neglecting the rich variation in form and function of sentence-final intonation. Chapter 3 lays out my own proposal by motivating and explicating the variables of Commitment and Engagement. Chapter 4 provides empirical evidence for an intonational encoding of these variables. Chapter 5 uses the ingredients of this proposal to model several speech acts and their intonational variation. Chapter 6 concludes and points to areas of future research. Overall, this provides us with a new typology of speech acts which is grounded in how the speaker and the addressee relate to the propositional content of an utterance. Empirically, I demonstrate that speech acts express fine-graded attitudes and intentions by the shape of the sentence-final contour. Analytically, I demonstrate that intonation encodes two independent variables that capture the conversational properties of several different speech acts. Theoretically, I demonstrate that speech acts are epiphenomenal at the most basic level: even questions and assertions need to be decomposed into their degrees of Commitment and Engagement.

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Discourse particles and the syntax of discourse-evidence from Miesbach Bavarian (2017)

This dissertation is concerned with the form, function, and distribution of discourse particles in Miesbach Bavarian. These elements are commonly considered in either semantic, pragmatic, or discourse analytic terms. This current investigation explores the interaction between form, meaning, and distribution of discourse particles, their syntax. I show that discourse particles in Bavarian are constructed, and discourse particles therefore should not be considered as a primitive. ‘Discourse particle’, as I show in this dissertation, is the effect of a unit of language with an invariable core meaning (among them scalar and deictic core meanings) when it associates with a discourse functional syntactic layer that represents the discourse participants’ epistemic states. The claims of this dissertation are empirical at the core; I show conversational data from the Miesbach Bavarian dialect of German that provides the need to distinguish three classes of discourse particles (DPRTs); speaker oriented, addressee oriented, and other oriented DPRTs. I present an analysis that proposes these three classes to be the result of an association with different discourse participants (speaker, addressee, or other). This association serves to ground propositions. In order to model this grounding function of those items interpreted as DPRTs, I make use of the Universal Spine Hypothesis, a framework proposed by Wiltschko (2014). I extend Wiltschko's Universal Spine to include the participant anchor with the projection GroundP.

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The Blackfoot configurationality conspiracy : parallels and differences in clausal and nominal structures (2014)

This dissertation explores the argument-typing system of Blackfoot, a Plains Algonquian language spoken in Southern Alberta and Northwestern Montana. It develops a classification of the phrases, words, and morphemes in Blackfoot that are associated with arguments of the predicate (nominal expressions and argument-indexing verbal morphology) according to their internal and external syntax. The analysis sheds light on how and why Blackfoot displays properties of a non-configurational language. The main thesis is that non-configurationality in Blackfoot is a conspiracy resulting from properties of Blackfoot’s argument-typing system, and in particular the PROXIMATE/OBVIATIVE contrast, a type of reference-tracking morphology that disambiguates between multiple 3rd persons in a clause. The dissertation begins with a discussion of the theoretical assumptions, methodology, and the main proposal (Chapter 1) as well as a background on the relevant properties of Blackfoot morphosyntax (Chapter 2). Following that is a detailed discussion of the internal and external syntax of inflected nouns (Chapter 3), demonstratives (Chapter 4), person prefixes (Chapter 5) and number suffixes (6). Chapter 7 discusses the implications of Blackfoot’s argument-typing system for non-configurationality. Blackfoot is shown to be a partially non-configurational language, in which proximate nominal expressions are not subject to the same distributional constraints as obviative ones (i.e., proximate nominal expressions display non-configurational properties such as free word order and extensive use of null anaphora). Finally, Chapter 8 considers the proximate/obviative contrast in a broader cross-Algonquian context.The data and generalizations presented in this dissertation are largely from the author’s own fieldwork with two native speakers over a ten year period, and these are supplemented with data from text materials glossed and annotated by the author. As such, a key contribution of this research is empirical; it contributes to the documentation and analysis of this endangered First Nations language.

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Syntactic nominalization in Halkomelem Salish (2012)

This dissertation is a detailed exploration of two constructions in Halkomelem Salish – Predicate Nominalization and Clausal Nominalization – which I group together as syntactic nominalization. I use these terms throughout to refer to the particular operations, and refer to the results of those operations as nominalized predicates and nominalized clauses, respectively.The two constructions examined here share some nominal morphological features. Both possess an /s-/ nominalizer, identical in shape with the nominalizer used to create (theme) participant nominals. Possessive agreement morphology appears in both nominalized predicates and nominalized clauses, indexing the highest argument in each. Despite these surface similarities and a common source, I argue that these two operations are synchronically distinct, and, as a corollary, that they are formed with distinct, homophonous nominalizers.In Chapter 3, I address predicate nominalization, which is used to create a predicate whose subject is interpreted as the theme of the non-nominalized predicate. I argue that predicate nominalization forms a reduced relative clause at the edge of the thematic domain, with the nominalizer functioning as a relative pronoun. I further argue that the nominalizer projects after remerge, thus creating a constituent with the internal structure of a relative clause and the external distribution of an NP. In Chapter 4, I argue that clausal nominalization forms a defective CP, which is used as the default embedded clause and as the dependent clause(s) in a clause chain. I analyze nominalizer in clausal nominalization as a complementizer that cannot convey illocutionary force. My analysis captures the fact that nominalized clauses have the formal properties and distribution of clauses rather than DPs, along with their embedded and clause-chaining uses. I take a cross-Salish perspective in Chapter 5, showing how attested variation within the family is compatible with my analyses.

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Control in Skwxwu7mesh (2011)

This dissertation is an examination of the phenomenon of control in Sḵwx̱wu7mesh (a.k.a the Squamish language). The notion of control has been part of the Salishan linguistic tradition for more than 30 years and it has been described as the ‘degree of control an agent has over an event’ (Thompson 1979). It has been described as having one of two values: in control or limited control. An agent who is in control, is understood to initiate an event on purpose, to have control over the process of the event and to bring the event to culmination. An agent who has limited control may unintentionally initiate an event, or have difficulty in the process of the event and thus only managed to bring the event to completion. In this dissertation I argue that control is properly understood as a construct. That is, it is not a part of the basic meaning of any one morpheme. Rather it is constructed from both real world knowledge about events and from the morphosyntax of the constructions that are used to encode these events. I argue that control constructions have an aspectual core meaning. A control predicate (or c-predicate) has event initiation as its core meaning. A limited control predicate (or lc-predicate) has event culmination as its core meaning (Ritter and Rosen 2000). They are telic. I argue that it is from these two meanings - event initiation and event culmination - that the other notions commonly associated with control are inferred (e.g. on purpose, accidentally, etc.). I propose a morpho-syntactic analysis for the core aspectual difference between the two types of predicates. In particular, I argue that they differ in the position of object agreement: object agreement of c-predicates is VP-internal, while object agreement of lc-predicates is associated with an aspectual node within the extended verbal projection. I explore the consequences of this proposal for the reconstruction of Proto-Salish in general, and for the historical development of Sḵwx̱wu7mesh in particular.

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Cypriot Greek Down syndrome : their grammar and its interfaces (2011)

This dissertation investigates the linguistic performance of 16 Cypriot Greek individuals diagnosed with Down Syndrome (henceforth, CGDS), aged 19;0 to 45;11, and compares their performance to 17 Cypriot Greek Typically Developing Children (hereafter, CGTDC), aged 7;0 to 8;11. Three hypotheses were tested to determine whether the differences between the two groups, as well as the Grammar of Cypriot Greek adults with typical development (henceforth, CGTD) were: (i) syntactically, (ii) morphologically, or (iii) phonetically and phonologically conditioned. When consulting previous research, a number of shortcomings were observed. Therefore, an innovative methodology was employed to address these issues. Contrary to previous research, which argues for an overall inflectional impairment (either syntactically or morphologically conditioned), this dissertation establishes that the vast majority of differences between the two groups are phonetically conditioned. These differences are due to the distinct physiology of the articulation apparatus in CGDS. Furthermore, a small number of phonologically conditioned differences were either due to (i) the phonological environment (syllable structure and word-position) or (ii) phonological feature underspecification. However, there is also a very small residue of differences that are morphologically conditioned. When a produced feature value does not match the target, CGDS and CGTDC exhibit the same three strategies: (i) use of an alternative feature value (as the default) to the targeted one, (ii) affix drop and (iii) full-word omission. I propose a unified analysis, according to which the morphological differences between CGDS, CGTDC and CGTD are due to a failure of Blocking. The competition between a phonetic exponent that includes (i) all feature values resulting from the syntactic derivation, and (ii) a subset of the features, but no contrasting features, fails to be resolved in favour of the most specified form. I further propose that this may be extended to phonological features. Finally, I propose that full-word and phoneme omissions suggest a problem with vocabulary or sound insertion, which may be rooted in phonological and verbal short-term memory limitations. In sum, I argue that the adult CGDS Grammar is not an impaired version of the adult CGTD Grammar.

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The correspondence between vowel quality and verbal telicity in Yamato-Japanese (2011)

The main goal of this thesis is to report a sound meaning correspondence in Japanese verbs which have thus far not been recognized. In particular, I show that the non-low vowels mark verbal telicity, which defines an inherent endpoint of an eventuality. This correspondence holds in verbs of the native lexical stratum, Yamato-Japanese. I further show that the correspondence is synchronically part of the grammar, by showing that fluent speakers of Japanese are sensitive to the correspondence in nonce verbs. These facts cast doubt on the standard assumption that such verbs are morphologically simplex. Thus, another goal of this thesis is to develop a morpho-syntactic analysis for the correspondence, within the framework of Chomsky’s generative grammar. I argue that the correspondence associates with the syntactic category for telicity, inner Aspect. Language-internally, this argument implies that seemingly simplex verbs are the result of morpho-syntactic processing. Cross-linguistically, the argument contributes to the understanding that languages differ as to whether inner Aspect has an overt marker. Such differences strongly support the notion that inner Aspect is not only a category in lexical semantics but also a category in syntax.

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The destiny of roots in Blackfoot and Lithuanian (2011)

Roots and their categorization constitute a fundamental aspect of knowledge about the structure of language. Essentially, the categorization of roots serves to classify linguistic information. In this dissertation I explore the categorization of roots in Blackfoot (Algonquian) and Lithuanian (Baltic), languages which are unrelated typologically or genetically. Relying on the interaction between roots and affixes, I develop language specific diagnostics necessary to establish the categorial affiliation of a given root. I show that all Blackfoot roots are uniquely associated with a particular category, i.e. they are categorized. Meanwhile, Lithuanian roots split into two types: some are categorized, and some are category-neutral. This variation in the categorization of roots requires an explanation. I propose that the categorial destiny of a root is determined by (i) a category intrinsic feature c (such as e.g., animacy, gender, transitivity, and degree); and (ii) the categorization structure hosting the feature c. There are two sources of variation: i) the origin of the feature c; and ii) the content of the feature c. Roots that are endowed with the feature c prior to syntax are of a unique category; roots that attain their feature c in syntax are category-neutral. In addition, the content of feature c may differ across languages. According to this proposal, the notion of category is not a primitive but a construct.

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Master's Student Supervision (2010 - 2018)
Focus in Ktunaxa : word order and prosody (2017)

This thesis is about the linguistic expression of focus in Ktunaxa. It describes forms for expressing focus using word order and prosody, and describes the function of several focus-sensitive operators in the language. The methodologies used to examine these topics are respectively i) an experiment in which Ktunaxa speakers answer questions about pictures, and ii) classical fieldwork with a fluent Ktunaxa speaker.These methodologies enable different types of research into focus. The experimental data speaks to the form of focus in Ktunaxa; assuming that answers to questions require the expression of focus, unscripted answers provide insight into how Ktunaxa speakers highlight information in an utterance (i.e. focus-mark the relevant constituents). Meanwhile, the classical fieldwork speaks to the functioning of a set of focus-sensitive operators in Ktunaxa; these operators are known to be sensitive to context, but their precise semantics have not been described before.Several theories underlie this project: first, the tradition of Chomskyan generative linguistics provides a framework for describing linguistic structures and relationships; second, the theory of Alternative Semantics (Rooth 1985) formalizes focus as a way of invoking one particular member of a set of alternatives; and thirdly, the autosegmental metrical theory of intonational phonology (Ladd 2008, i.a.), maps prosodic components (pitch accents, lengthening, and stress) onto phonological components (syllables and words).The key findings are as follows:1. Ktunaxa answers have a default word order of Subject-Verb-Object, contrary to patterns emerging in texts;2. Word order changes relative to the type of question asked: foci are slightly more likely to be sentence-initial;3. Ktunaxa employs prosody to mark focus in answers: foci are louder and higher in pitch;4. Some focus-sensitive operators also trigger prosodic cues in their associates.Further work is needed to fully describe Ktunaxa prosody, and to confirm whether these patterns hold under other experimental conditions, for different types of focus, and for constituents other than nominals. Nevertheless, this study contributes to the documentation of Ktunaxa, and more generally expands the knowledge of how focus is expressed cross-linguistically, particularly in the languages of the Pacific Northwest.

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