The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Syntax Square 4/25 - Nick Longenbaugh

Speaker: Nick Longenbaugh (MIT)
Title: Towards a unified treatment of the φ-Agree/Move correlation
Date/Time: Tuesday April 25, 1-2pm
Location: 32-D461

The past two decades have seen an explosion of research into the cross-linguistic manifestation of φ-Agreement and the basic principles at stake in its operation. Much of the original impetus for this investigation came from a desire to understand the precise correlation between φ-Agree and movement. If anything, however, ensuing discoveries have muddied the waters in this domain. While it is almost universally acknowledged that φ-Agree and Move are related (see van Urk 2015 for discussion and a formalization of this link), there has been a steady retreat from the strong position of the early 1990s that φ-Agree is parasitic on movement.

(1) Specifier-head agreement (Kayne 1989): If AgrX is an agreement head and DP a phrase bearing φ-features, morphological agreement obtains only if the following structural configuration obtains: [AgrXP DP [AgrXP AgrX […DP…]]]

A principle like (1) is especially successful for capturing agreement phenomena in the vP domain, e.g., past-participle agreement (PPA) in Romance and Scandinavian (Kayne 1985, 1989a; Christensen and Taraldsen 1989), but a wealth of cross-linguistic data (in at least Tsez (Polinsky and Potsdam 2001; English (Chomsky 2000, 2001), Icelandic (Sigurðsson 1996, 2008; Boeckx 2010), Hindi-Urdu (Boeckx 2004; Bhatt 2005), Basque (Etxepare 2006; Preminger 2009)) supports a “long-distance” φ-Agree operation, as in Chomsky 2000, 2001.

(2) Agree (Chomsky 2000, 2001): An Agree relation obtains between a head H and a phrase XP, provided:
(i) Matching: XP bears valued features that are a superset of the unvalued features on H
(ii) Locality: There is no YP asymmetrically c-commanding XP that satisfies matching

Given that (2) formally dissociates Agree and Move, the link so commonly observed between them must be added back in, a task that usually falls to ad-hoc “EPP” features, either stipulated to be present on heads or probes themselves. This state of affairs leaves unanswered a number of fundamental questions, both theoretical and technical: How do we handle cases like PPA and other apparent instances of Spec-Head agreement? Can we predict which probes trigger movement, or must this be stipulated in an ad-hoc, language specific way? Most crucially, why should Agree and Move ever be correlated in the first place?

It is to these questions that this talk will be addressed. Beginning with a case study of PPA, I argue for the conclusion that every φ-probe has the postulated “EPP-property,” so that φ-Agree must trigger movement unless independent factors intervene to block it. This allows us to remove “EPP” as a feature of heads or probes, and to predict straightforwardly whether φ-Agree triggers movement. I then explore two consequences of this proposal. The first is that those “null subject” languages where T has φ-probe have both the traditional EPP (T must project a specifier) and null expletives (following Chomsky’s 1981 proposal), a result I argue for on independent grounds following Bresnan & Kanerva (1989) and Sheehan (2010). The second is a new theory of expletive there that treats it as a semantically vacuous oblique pronoun. By analogy to the behavior of oblique pronouns in Icelandic and cross-linguistically, I show this treatment better captures the distribution of there in English and cross-linguistically with fewer stipulations than competing treatments.


Written by Neil

April 24th, 2017 at 6:07 am

Posted in Talks