The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Syntax Square 2/13 - Emily Clem (UC Berkeley)

Speaker: Emily Clem (UC Berkeley)
Title: Ergative case as agreement with multiple heads
Date and time: Tuesday February 13, 1-2pm
Location: 32-D461

The mechanisms underlying ergative case assignment have long been debated, with two main view emerging in the literature: 1) ergative is an inherent case assigned by a transitive v to an agent, 2) ergative is a dependent case assigned to a DP that c-commands another DP within a case domain. In this talk, I present novel data from Amahuaca (Panoan; Peru), in which ergative case is sensitive to the position of the transitive subject. The interaction of movement and morphological case assignment in Amahuaca cannot easily be captured by current inherent or dependent case theories. Ergative is not assigned in a theta-position, as predicted by an inherent case account, nor is it dependent on whether the subject and object DPs are in the same case domain, as predicted by a dependent case account. Instead, I argue for an account of ergative case as exponing Agree operations between a DP and two distinct functional heads, v and T. This approach is able to account for the Amahuaca data, while incorporating key insights from both inherent and dependent case theories of ergativity. I further demonstrate that this view that takes case to be the exponence of multiple features is able to be extended to account for elements of Amahuaca’s case-sensitive switch reference system. The Amahuaca data thus suggest that ergative case can be viewed as a feature bundle, rather than an atomic case feature, and that morphological ergative marking arises as the exponence of structural relationships between multiple heads and a nominal.