The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Ling-Lunch 4/10 - Mark Baker

Speaker: Mark Baker (Rutgers)
Title: On Case and Agreement in Split-Ergative Kurmanji
Date/Time: Thursday, Apr 10, 12:30-1:45p
Location: 32-D461

(Joint work with Ümit Atlamaz)

We argue that tense-based split ergativity in Adıyaman Kurmanji (Northern Kurdish) is best accounted for by a theory in which nominative case is assigned by agreement, rather than a theory in which morphological case determines which NP the verb agrees with. In present tense sentences, the subject is nominative, the object oblique, and the verb agrees with the subject, whereas in past tense sentences, the subject is oblique, the object nominative, and the verb agrees with the object. To account for this, we develop a theory in which the agreement-bearing head is Voice (not T). In past tense, this undergoes cyclic Agree, agreeing downward with the object if there is one, otherwise upward with the subject. In present tense, however, VP is a distinct spell out domain, forcing Voice to always agree upward with the subject. Either way, Voice assigns nominative case to whatever it agrees with, and oblique is assigned to all other arguments. Additional support for this theory comes from the order of tense and agreement morphemes, from the passive nature of past stems but not present stems, from the special behavior of plural agreement, and from the fact that Kurmanji does not distinguish ergative, accusative, and dative, and genitive cases. We also include some remarks about how variation among NW Iranian languages relates to our main line of argument—for example, the fact that Central and Southern Kurdish have preserved the split ergative agreement pattern of Kurmanji, but have lost the split ergative case-marking pattern.