The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Syntax Square 11/20 - Ted Levin

Speaker: Theodore Frank Levin
Title: Dependent Case is Licensing
Date/Time: Tuesday, Nov 20, 1-2p
Location: 32-D461

Baker and Vinokurova (2010) suggest that some languages (including Sakha) may utilize both configurational (i.e. Marantz 1991) and functional-head driven (i.e. Chomsky 2000, 2001) approaches to case-assignment. I have argued elsewhere that Sakha is not such a language (Levin and Preminger 2012). However, I will argue that English is such a language.

Under common assumptions regarding Agree (Chomsky 2000, 2001), a probe must c-command its goal and that probe must have an uninterpretable (and hence unvalued) feature.

(1) AGREE (Chomsky 2000, 2001)
(i) An unvalued feature F (a probe) on a head H scans its c-command domain for another instance of F (a goal) with which to agree.
(ii) If the goal has a value, its value is assigned as the value of the probe.

Given this assumption, the functional-head driven account of Case assignment is unexpected: A functional head with unvalued φ-features probes its c-command domain for a nominal with valued φ-features and enters an Agree-relationship. As a consequence of this, the c-commanded nominal’s unvalued Case-feature is valued. This valuation is unexpected, as the unvalued Case-feature is not in a position to act as a probe given (1).

A number of proposals have attempted to eliminated instances of “Reverse Agree” (e.g. Boskovic 2007, Zeiljstra 2011). Boskovic (2007) suggests that if (some) probes cannot find a goal in their c-command domains, they will move successive-cyclically until they come to c-command an appropriate, valued feature. An immediate advantage of this account is that it allows us to derive the EPP. In intransitive clauses a DP base-generated in Spec-vP or Compl-V will raise to Spec-TP, because the unvalued Case-feature on the DP triggers movement. Once in Spec-TP, the DP c-commands T0, and is able to value its Case-feature.

However, there is a problem if we assume that both T0 and v0 assign Case in transitive constructions. A subject DP, base-generated in Spec-vP, should be able to value its Case-feature against v0. If this occurs, the object DP should move to Spec-TP to value its Case-feature by Agreeing with T0. Proponents of unvalued-feature driven movement have suggested that accusative case in transitive clauses may be lexically assigned by V0. While only accusative assigned in ECM constructions is assigned by v0.

I will suggest that in a hybrid approach to case-assignment, we can maintain the account of the EPP and treat ECM and transitive accusative uniformly. Specifically, nominative case is assigned under a functional-head driven approach whereby a DP must occupy Spec-TP to be valued nominative. Both ECM and transitive accusative are assigned configurationally. Under this approach accusative case is assigned to an object DP, because it is c-commanded by an as-of-yet caseless nominal. Crucially dependent case must be assigned within the narrow syntax (Baker & Vinokurova 2010; Preminger 2011) contra Marantz (1991) and Bobaljik (2008). Evidence from Case Adjacency effects in English will be utilized to argue for the proposed hybrid theory.