The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Special Tuesday afternoon talk: Jan-Wouter Zwart

Speaker: Jan-Wouter Zwart (Groningen)
Title: Revisiting complementizer agreement
Date: Tuesday, March 31
Time: 5:30-7:00
Place: 32D-461

In this talk I intend to return to the phenomenon of complementizer agreement as found in (dialects of) Dutch, Frisian and German, one of the research topics during my stay at MIT in 1991. This phenomenon played an important role in early minimalist analyses of verb movement and subject-verb agreement and has since gained added significance as providing evidence for the presence of (uninterpretable, unvalued) phi-features in C, consistent with the idea that even these inflectional features, typically associated with T (or with Agr in earlier minimalism), really derive from the phase head C. I argue, however, that complementizer agreement has many peculiar properties that suggest that its origin lies elsewhere, namely in the analogical generalization of an auxiliary-cum-weak subject pronoun pattern (as argued earlier by Goeman 1980). If we look at the phenomena in detail, it appears that the morphological and distributional properties of complementizer agreement need to refer to interface processes outside of narrow syntax, suggesting that the phenomenon cannot serve as a model for core cases of syntactic agreement, currently described in terms of Agree. If so, not all agreement phenomena can be reduced to the agency of unvalued features probing for a goal with valued counterparts to those features. I will also reflect on the consequences of this for the idea that the features relevant to subject-verb agreement derive from the phase head C, suggesting instead that these core cases of agreement be described in terms of the minimally needed structure building mechanism of narrow syntax, and the asymmetric relations of dependency that it yields.