Agreement in coordinative constructions





Theoretical linguistics thrives to reveal deep understanding of the mental grammar from the seemingly random cross-linguistic variation. This project will investigate how agreement is resolved when the target of agreement receives multiple values. It has been shown in the literature that the resolution of such a situation is subject to variation across languages. As yet there is no explanation for why languages vary in the way that they do. Our aim in this project is to account for the variation in how instances of multi-valuation is resolved by systematically looking across both the targets of agreement, and constructions where multi-valuation occurs. If an element receives multiple values for the same feature, two main options are known to be available: it can either resolve the situation to a semantically suitable value, for instance Sg + Sg = Pl, or it can prefer the value of the closest agreement controller. Both situations have been attested across languages, often with language internal variation depending on the type of agreement target (verb vs. noun vs. attributive elements). Yet, this variation is not random. Some languages (eg. Russian) show resolved plural agreement across all targets, whilst others show no resolution for any target (eg. Slovenian). Furthermore some languages can have differing patterns for different targets. In English, for instance, two singular features on a verb are resolved to plural, but resolved agreement is impossible for nouns. What is unattested however, is a language where nouns show resolved agreement in this situation, but not on verbs.

Secondly, we will investigate the various repair strategies that languages take when an element receives conflicting values. Such contexts are known to be marked, and require repairs to allow the sentence to be licit. Specifically, we will focus on the resolution of agreement to the closet controller, aiming to provide novel evidence for the two-step model of agreement that has been advanced recently from studies of agreement with conjunctions.

Finally, we extend our investigation to the asymmetry between the agreement patterns in conjunction and disjunction. Conjoined subjects are able to control resolved agreement, whereas disjoined subjects triggers agreement with the closest of the two disjuncts. Both conjunction and disjunction however show the effects characteristic of multi-valuation, hinting at a common syntactic structure. Given their common syntax, the different agreement strategies of conjunction and disjunction are left unaccounted for. Our investigation aims to show that influences of interpretation are at play here, and that given certain semantic contexts, such as negation, resolved agreement can indeed arise in disjunctions, which would hint at the cause of the asymmetry between conjunction and disjunction is semantic, rather than syntactic in nature.

For a full description of the project, please click here.