Past counterfactuals in Pomerano: A privileged view into clausal cartography
2022-04-13, 15:00–15:30 (Europe/Vienna), Room 5

The more we want to know about the internal structure of the IP- and the CP-domain, the fewer pertinent tokens we will find in actual language production. The reason for this is that a high degree of structural complexity goes hand in hand with a high degree of cognitive complexity and hence with a certain rarity in occurrence. One way to overcome this problem is to base our conclusions on grammaticality judgments, the dominant method in the generative frame. An arguably more valid method is to ask informants to translate stimulus sentences that contain the phenomenon we are interested in. In my talk, I will analyze part of the translations of 61 Portuguese stimuli by 250 speakers of Pomerano, a Low German variety spoken in several parts of Brazil. Pomerano has not been in contact with a related standard variety for roughly eighty years and, therefore, exhibits a, at times, bewildering amount of variation. This is especially true for past counterfactuals with modal verbs, examples of which are presented in (1a-f). Crucially, there is a robust number of tokens for all variants and likewise crucially, all variants represent a non-epistemic interpretation of the stimulus sentence.

stimulus <45> Portuguese: Ontem eu poderia ter vendido o anel.
English: Yesterday I could have sold the ring.
(1) a. Gistern ha ik dai fingering forköipa küüt.
yesterday had1SGPST I1SGNOM the ring sellINF canPP
b. Gistern had ik küüt mijne fingering forköft häwa.
yesterday had1SGPST I1SGNOM can.PP my ring soldPP haveINF
c. Gistern hät küüt ik dai fingerring forköft hat häwa.
yesterday has3SGPRS canPP I1SGNOM the ring soldPP hadPP haveINF
d. Gistern hät küün ik dai anel forköft hat häwa.
yesterday has3SGPRS can1SGPST I1SGNOM the ring soldPP hadPP haveINF
e. Gistern küüt ik dai fingerring forköft häwa.
yesterday canPP I1SGNOM the ring soldPP haveINF
f. Gistern küün ik dai fingerring forköft häwa.
yesterday can1SGPST I1SGNOM the ring soldPP haveINF

The extant variation concerns (i) the highest verb (temporal auxiliary in (1a-d); modal verb in (1e+f)), (ii) the frequently unexpected morphological form of the underlined finite temporal auxiliary (blocking of tense and person agreement in (1c+d); complete blocking of the temporal auxiliary in (1e)), (iii) the frequently unexpected position and form of the modal verb in bold print (verb cluster in the CP-domain in (1c+d) and, most probably, also in (1b); double finiteness of hät küün in (1d)), and (iv) the overall number of verbal elements (PF-insertion (and syntactic doubling) in forköft (hat) häwe in (1b-d)). By comparing different types of past counterfactuals with and without modal verbs in three Pomeranian speech communities (Rio Grande do Sul, Espírito Santo, Rondônia), we can not only show that variants (1a-f) represent different stages in an intriguing instance of language change, but also that it is the modal verb that, as a secondary marker of counterfactuality, causes the morphosyntactic “distress” in (1b-e). This “distress” grants us a privileged view into the clausal cartography of Pomerano.

Göz Kaufmann, who obtained his Ph.D. from the University of Heidelberg, Germany, in 1997,
completed his habilitation treatise in 2016 and received the "venia legendi" in German
Linguistics from the University of Freiburg, Germany. He holds a permanent position as a senior
lecturer ('Akademischer Oberrat') for linguistics in the German Department of the University of
Freiburg. Kaufmann’s main research areas are sociolinguistics, language contact, language
variation, and language change. In the area of language variation and change, his focus is on
German minority varieties spoken in South America, particularly Mennonite Low German and
Pomerano. Aside from lexical and morphological variation, he analyzes syntactic variation in these
varieties combining variationist and generative approaches.