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Hierarchy effects in copula constructions

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  23 October 2019

Stefan Keine*
University of Southern California
Michael Wagner*
McGill University
Jessica Coon*
McGill University


This paper develops a generalization about agreement in German copula constructions described in Coon et al. (2017), and proposes an analysis that ties it to other well-established hierarchy phenomena. Specifically, we show that “assumed-identity” copula constructions in German exibit both person and number hierarchy effects, and that these extend beyond the “non-canonical” or “inverse” agreement patterns described in previous work on copula constructions (e.g., Béjar and Kahnemuyipour 2017 and works cited there). We present experimental evidence to support this generalization, and then develop an account that unifies it with hierarchy phenomena in other languages, with a focus on PCC effects. Specifically, we propose that what German copula constructions have in common with PCC environments is that there are multiple accessible DPs in the domain of a single agreement probe, the lower of which is more featurally specified than the higher (see, e.g., Béjar and Rezac 2003, 2009; Anagnostopoulou 2005; Nevins 2007). We also offer an explanation as to why number effects are present in German copula constructions but notably absent in PCC effects. We then place our account within the broader context of constraints on predication structures.


Cet article développe une généralisation sur l'accord dans les phrases copulaires en allemand, décrites par Coon et al. (2017), et propose une analyse reliée à d'autres phénomènes hiérarchiques connus. Plus précisément, nous montrons que les phrases avec copule « d'identité assumée » en allemand affichent des effets hiérarchiques de personne et de nombre et que ceux-ci s’étendent au-delà des configurations « noncanoniques » et « inverses » décrites dans des travaux précédents sur les phrases avec copule (voir par ex. Béjar et Kahnemuyipour 2017 et les travaux qui y sont cités). Nous avançons des preuves expérimentales pour appuyer notre généralisation et présentons ensuite une analyse qui l'unifie avec les phénomènes hiérarchiques d'autres langues, en nous concentrant sur les effets PCC. Plus particulièrement, nous proposons que les constructions avec copule en allemand et les environnements PCC partagent la propriété suivante: ils disposent de multiples syntagmes déterminatifs (DPs) accessibles dans le champ de la sonde d'accord (agreement probe), la sonde inférieure contenant davantage de traits grammaticaux que la sonde supérieure. Nous offrons aussi une raison qui explique pourquoi les effets de nombre se manifestent dans les constructions avec copule en allemand tandis qu'ils sont absents des effets PCCs (voir par ex. Béjar et Rezac 2003, 2009; Anagnostopoulou 2005; Nevins 2007). Nous situons ensuite notre analyse dans le contexte plus général des contraintes sur les structures prédicatives.

Copyright © Canadian Linguistic Association/Association canadienne de linguistique 2019 

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Many thanks to Megan Jezewski for programming the experiments. For helpful feedback, comments, and discussion, we would like to thank two reviewers, our editors Jila Ghomeshi and Will Oxford, David Adger, Susana Béjar, Boris Harizanov, Jutta Hartmann, Caroline Heycock, Laura Kalin, Ora Matushansky, Omer Preminger, Carson Schütze, Adrian Stegovec, and audiences at NELS 47 (UMass Amherst), MIT, and the Manitoba Workshop on Person (Winnipeg). For help with the French version of the abstract, we thank Justin Royer. Coon and Wagner gratefully acknowledge funding from the Canada Research Chair program. Errors and misunderstandings are our own.


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