Linguistics Anonymous

02 January 2006

partial agreement in arabic clauses.

this is my thesis topic, probably, so it is obviously incomplete as a blog post.

in modern standard arabic and the modern spoken dialects, the main verb in arabic clauses exhibits different agreement patterns based upon its position relative to the subject. the standard clausal structure is VSO in arabic, with the postverbal subject triggering only partial agreement on the verb: person and gender, but not number. in modern standard arabic, number agreement on a presubject verb is ungrammatical. postsubject verbs, however (in SVO clauses), trigger full agreement on the verb, and no other kind of agreement is grammatical.

the situation gets more complicated than this, however. an auxiliary in a clause in arabic forces AuxSVO word order. as we would predict, the auxiliary agrees partially with the subject, whereas the main verb agrees fully. the problem for an easy account of this data comes when one looks beyond the standard written arabic to the spoken dialects. in many of these dialects, VSO clauses are allowed to agree fully, unlike in modern standard arabic.

thus far, a few different accounts been posited for this data. one of the most commonly referenced involves an incorporation account of the agreement: full or partial agreement on the verb involves incorporation of a phonetically null pronoun into the verb as it raises to the T position (or when the V+T complex raises to I). the major problem with this account, for me, is that it doesn't seem any more explanatory than stipulative accounts of the data: what exactly is it which governs the insertion of this pronoun? if the pronoun account is correct, what is the feature value of that pronoun in standard dialects of arabic? is it different for each of the different dialects of arabic?

another major account has been to see agreement as different under government (which would hold in VSO clauses) than under spec-head relationship which dictates standard agreement. however, i would like to avoid this answer, however, as a notion of government is something i would like to avoid, working in the minimalist framework.

finally, minimalist accounts of this data do exist, making use of the strength of the features on the Agr head which controls the position of the verb. again, however, modern research has moved away from the Agr head as a result of the work that came after the explosion of Infl. the question is, then: is there a way to account for this data under the current state of the minimalist framework?

it is obvious that the solution will have one characteristic: the separation of Move from Agree advanced in chomsky's probe-goal theory. movement to the clause-initial position should not be for agreement purposes but for EPP feature checking. given this, we should look immediately to the Tense functional head - it is the only head which exists locally that might be able to be used to capture this data.

and this is the current state of my research: i think it is possible to capture this data by postulating a correspondence between the presence of the number feature on the T head and the presence/absence of EPP on that same head. if the number feature on the T head is present, then EPP should be present on that head as well, leading to the predicted SVO word order and agreement. VSO agreement, then, would be the product of no number feature or EPP feature on the T head. the agreement patterns are captured by a selection of one of two different lexical T heads. differences in the dialects could be accounted for by postulating different lexical T heads for those dialects.

and that's all i have, for now. more research needs to be done, however, as there is one major piece of data this solution does not account for: pronouns. in arabic, postverbal pronouns trigger full agreement...


  • love the last paragraph: "more research needs to be done"
    That's a classic :)

    Nice work! Actually helped me out a bit in a paper I'm writing for a course. Thnx.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:05 AM  

  • good luck with your interests

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:47 AM  

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