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A remark on Béjar & Kahnemuyipour 2017: Specificational subjects do have phi-features


In a number of languages, agreement in specificational copular sentences can or must be with the second of the two nominals, even when it is the first that occupies the canonical subject position. Béjar & Kahnemuyipour (2017) show that Persian and Eastern Armenian are two such languages. They then argue that ‘NP2 agreement’ occurs because the nominal in subject position (NP1) is not accessible to an external probe. It follows that actual agreement with NP1 should never be possible: the alternative to NP2 agreement should be ‘default’ agreement. We show that this prediction is false. In addition to showing that English has NP1, not default, agreement, we present new data from Icelandic, a language with rich agreement morphology, including cases that involve ‘plurale tantum’ nominals as NP1. These allow us to control for any confound from the fact that typically in a specificational sentence with two nominals differing in number, it is NP2 that is plural. We show that even in this case, the alternative to agreement with NP2 is agreement with NP1, not a default. Hence, we conclude that whatever the correct analysis of specificational sentences turns out to be, it must not predict obligatory failure of NP1 agreement.

Corresponding author
Author’s address: Institut für Deutsche Sprache, Augustaanlage 32, D-68165, Mannheim, Germany
Author’s address: University of Edinburgh, PPLS, 3 Charles Street, Edinburgh, EH8 9AD, Scotland, UK
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This research was partly supported by a British Academy/Leverhulme Trust Small Research Grant awarded to the two authors. We gratefully acknowledge this support. We would also like to express our thanks to Sigríður Mjöll Björnsdóttir for extensive work on the materials, to Höskuldur Thráinsson for having first pointed out to us the existence of the plurale tantum nominals that we make use of and helping us with the materials, and to Julia Restle for support with setting up the experiment on OnExp and processing the resulting data. We would also like to thank Peter Ackema for discussions of the nature of ‘default’ agreement, and the Journal of Linguistics reviewers for helpful remarks and suggestions. Last but not least, we would like to thank the participants in our experiment for their time and trouble.

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Journal of Linguistics
  • ISSN: 0022-2267
  • EISSN: 1469-7742
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