The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, August 13th, 2018

special summer talk: Jessica Coon (McGill) — Thursday 8/23, 1pm

Speaker: Jessica Coon (McGill)
Title:  Feature Gluttony and the Syntax of Hierarchy Effects   (joint work with Stefan Keine, USC)
Date/Time: Thursday, August 23, 1:00pm-2:30pm
Location: 32-D461

This talk offers a new take on a family of hierarchy effect-inducing configurations, with a focus on Person Case Constraint (PCC) effects (Anagnostopoulou 2005, Nevins 2007) copular constructions (Coon, Keine, and Wagner 2017), and dative-nominative configurations (Sigurdsson & Holmberg 2008, Rezac 2008). Following previous work, we take these effects to arise in contexts in which two accessible DPs are found in the same domain as a single agreeing probe (Béjar & Rezac 2003; Anagnostopoulou 2005). We draw on Cyclic Agree in the sense of Béjar & Rezac (2009), according to which an articulated probe continues probing if at least some features are left unvalued after an Agree relation.

Béjar & Rezac (2003) and many related accounts seek to derive hierarchy effects from an underapplication of Agree and concomitant failures of nominal licensing, formalized as a Person Licensing Condition (see also Béjar & Rezac 2009, Baker 2011, Preminger to appear). By contrast, we argue that hierarchy effects are the result of an overapplication of Agree. We propose that in hierarchy effect-inducing structures, a probe participates in more than one valuation relation, effectively “biting off more than it can chew”, a configuration we refer to as feature gluttony. Feature gluttony––i.e., the coexistence of multiple values on a single probe––can then create conflicting requirements for subsequent operations, leading to a crash.

Our account captures commonalities and differences across hierarchy constructions, both in terms of the types and specifications of the features involved, as well as in the result of hierarchy violations and their possible repairs. In the case of PCC configurations, a probe which interacts with more than one DP creates an intervention problem for clitic-doubling. In violations involving agreement, gluttony in features may result in a configuration with no available morphological output. Important motivation for our account comes from the fact that hierarchy effects commonly disappear in the absence of agreement. This is unexpected on a standard licensing account, but it receives a principled explanation in terms of gluttony: because the probe that otherwise creates the conflict is absent, the conflict disappears.