Linguistics Anonymous

07 May 2006

Finals, and a Theoretical Problem

Okay, so it's finals time here, which means, at least for me, copious amounts of paper writing. In an effort to organize my thoughts, I'll be posting probably the better part of all the major arguments from my papers over the next few days. At the end I'll put up references and organize the posts, much the way Jedediah did. The first of these is the pretheoretical problem for my syntax paper, which is on the theoretical status of structural case.

Chomsky (2000) notes that "...[W]e assume that only a probe with a full complement of phi-features is capable of deleting the feature that activates the matched goal." This is used to keep participles from deleting structural case and freezing their subjects in embedded clauses. Continuing, Chomsky goes on to say that the Spec-Head relationship is obtained by EPP (Extended Projection Principle), which in recent works (Chomsky 2000, 2001) is assumed to be a reflex of phi-feature checking. This means that the Spec-Head relationship should, presumably, have no special theoretical significance than relationships established under c-command specifically, or more generally, than relationships established by Agree(H, K) where H is a head/probe and K the matching DP/goal. Since Move and Agree are separate operations, Agree(H, K) does not imply Move(K, Spec-H).

This is an interesting conclusion in and of itself, that the Spec-Head relationship should not, in some way, be "special" as was assumed under Government and Binding. However, when we begin to consider structural case. Case is presumed to be assigned under an Agree relation between a case assigning head H and a goal K which agrees with H. So regardless of whether or not there are such abstract features as [NOM] and [ACC], they can be checked on a head H iff Agree(H, K). Therefore we are back to the first point from this post: a head H with incomplete phi-features cannot assign (structural) case.

This is an issue, however, as it appears to be patently false in Arabic and possibly Kabyle Berber. More specifically, in Arabic Spec-Head subjects appear to be special since they can license full agreement whereas c-commanded subjects cannot. Moreover, Berber postverbal subjects appear in a different case known in the Berber literature as the Construct State of the nominal. Inter alia, Ouhalla (1995) has analyzed this as genitive case, whereas preverbal subjects are nominative.

But how can this be? The Spec-Head relationship is not supposed to be "special"...

More on this later.

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