Linguistics Anonymous

24 May 2006

Thoughts on (Structural) Case

So I meant to get this up while I was writing the paper, but I'm sure we're all aware how much extra time one has during finals. Anyway, this post is an attempted answer to the pretheoretical problem I discussed last time.

The main issue with the standard agreement/case theory is that it can't necessarily make any claims about the uniqueness of the Spec-Head relationship. However, this is exactly the relationship that seems to be needed to explain stronger agreement patterns in asymmetrically agreeing languages. More specifically, we have the following generalization to account for:

Let H be a head and K be a DP with phi-features which agrees with H. If H manifests a feature F morphologically when H c-commands K, then H will manifest that feature when K is in [Spec, H].

Obviously this generalization says nothing about the converse, and it is meant to capture increased agreement in the Spec-Head configuration.

This kind of agreement pattern is evidenced in Arabic, as we have already seen. However, there is an analogous asymmetry in Berber involving case. The standard word order in Berber is VSO, with SVO as a free alternate. In the VSO configuration, the subject DP is not in the nominative case, but instead in a form known as the Construct State (CS - not to be too closely confused Semitic construct state genitives). In the SVO configuration, however, the nominal appears in the nominative. Typically, these two phenomena are treated separately - but what generalizations can be drawn from viewing them as two sides of the same coin?

A very important one - that structural case features may not be necessary in the narrow syntax, and indeed may even be problematic.

Recall from the previous post that a phi-defective head cannot assign case to a DP. If we assume that, in languages like Berber and Arabic, the phi-defective head T can exist in matrix clauses, we come much closer to explaining this asymmetry. Specifically, it can explain why there is weak phi-feature agreement in VSO configurations in Arabic, and the appearance of a (presumably) inherent or oblique case on Berber VSO subjects. We could then say that the phi-complete T is responsible for agreeing with the subject DP, valuing its case nominative, and raising the subject to [Spec, T] and producing an SVO configuration. In these cases, we would expect full agreement and nominative case because of the feature-completeness of T.

However, this does not get us all the way. My next post will explore the need to revise the notions of EPP and the definition of nominative case, as well as discuss why case features such as [NOM], [ACC], and [uCase] may not be necessary.


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