Date of Award

December 2019

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Hamid Ouali

Committee Members

Nicholas Fleisher, Garry Davis, Usama Soltan


Alternative Semantics, Feature Inheritance, Information Structure, Standard Arabic


This thesis investigates Information Structure (IS) in relation to the clausal architecture in Standard Arabic (SA). The attention is confined to word order variation and its role in structuring discourse. The structural positions with potential information structure import are argued to appear at the edg-es of phases, namely vP and CP. It presents an analysis which brings together the minimalist scheme as embodied in Chomsky (2000, onwards) and the cartographic approach to discourse as embodied in Rizzi (1997, 2001) and Cinque (1999). First, in chapter (‎2) a distinction is made be-tween VSO and SVO clauses, in which I propose that the preverbal subject in SVO is ambiguous between two readings: i) a topic reading which involves the external merge of the subject in SpecCP, binding a null pro in SpecvP, and ii) a focus reading which involves subject movement from SpecvP to SpecTP in response to a composite probe on T. Clitic left-dislocated phrases are argued to originate in the same position as preverbal topical subjects and they bind resumptive pro-nouns internal to the thematic domain. The position of the complementizer, which always ends up higher than topics, is derived by head movement, induced by labeling requirements based on the assumption of the labeling algorithm following Chomsky (2008, 2013, 2015).

In chapter (‎3), the discussion is shifted to the midfield discourse layer, the vP edge. First, a detailed description of the structural conditions that regulate object shift is presented, followed by a proposal which assumes that OS is driven by a composite probe on v, therefore explaining the mix-ture of A and Ā characteristics it displays. However, the discussion is not confined to OS, the transformation that usually receives most attention insofar as this area of the structure is concerned. Rather, a range of other constituents with the potential to appear at the vP edge, namely PPs, CPs, adverbs and secondary predicates, are investigated with the aim of establishing that SA has a mid-field discourse layer similar to the CP edge. With regard to the interpretive effects associated with the vP edge, the overall picture that emerged is that whatever moves to this zone becomes more lia-ble for a background interpretation, whereas the elements that are spelled out in the domain of vP are focused.

Chapter (‎4) is devoted to an investigation of the left periphery. I extend the discussion to the remainder of mathematically possible word orders derivable from SVO and VSO, including SOV, OSV and OVS, building on the derivational difference established between SVO and VSO in chapter (‎2). I demonstrate that the presence of multiple DPs in the left periphery induces i) con-trastive topic plus focus readings when the lower DP arrives at its surface position by movement, and ii) topical readings that set the predicate in focus when they extremally merge in SpecCP. In the course of teasing apart the IS effects associated with the various permutations that result from movement to this area, I propose a non-movement analysis of floating quantifiers in SA in which they are argued to be base-generated in their clause-internal position and are co-indexed with a def-inite (mostly topical) constituent higher up in the structure. Then, I examine word order variation in answers to constituent questions. I show that clausal answers with preposed constituents are only felicitous in contexts where there is good reason to assume that some discourse participants have other conceivable alternative answers that contrast with the uttered one. As for fragments, I argue for a partial in-situ deletion approach which derives them from their clausal counterparts where an-swers are in clause-final positions.

Finally, the syntactic and semantic properties of exceptives in SA are examined in chapter (‎5), with the scope limited to exceptives in VSO clauses and how their syntax interacts with their IS effects. I argue that full exceptives can be analyzed as connected exceptives (CEs) with two con-figurations; one that has the excepted phrase as a DP-level adjunct in a vP-internal position and an-other that has the excepted phrase in a right-peripheral non-focused position. They also can func-tion as free CP-level exceptives, in which case the excepted phrase originates in a second clause from which it moves to the left peripheral focus position while the remainder of the clause is delet-ed or gets phonologically suppressed at PF. As for incomplete exceptives, I argue that they too are CP-level exceptives in which the domain XP is a null pro and the excepted phrase is in focus. The analysis shows that exceptives have interpretative effects stretching beyond their truth conditions.

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