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Finiteness, Case & SubjecthooD (w. Thomas McFadden)

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Glossa: a journal of general linguistics, 3(1), 43. 1-34. 

We focus here on the “classic” EPP, the requirement that certain subject positions be filled, and argue that characterizing it in terms of a syntactic movement-triggering feature is misguided. Specifically, we argue that, contrary to standard assumptions but along the lines of some recent proposals, the factors conditioning the EPP are actually not syntactic, but phonological. None- theless, the operations that it seems to trigger clearly are syntactic. Under common assumptions about the architecture of the grammar, the EPP thus seems to involve a violation of modularity or strict cyclicity. A novel approach to the EPP is thus required, which must simultaneously be able to handle its unique properties but must also be made to fit in with the broader grammatical architecture. We will argue that such an approach will not only allow a more satisfactory account of the EPP itself, but can also yield a unification with the comp-trace effect and yield insight into how both of these interact with pro-drop.

2014. Natural Language and Linguistic Theory 32:1-27. Pre-final draft.

Finiteness bears on issues pertaining to some of the most central properties of a clause: its tense, aspect, mood, agreement, the referential properties and case-marking of its subject and, more generally, the way in which the clause is anchored to a higher one or to the utterance context. And yet, given the increasing amount of empirical evidence challenging conventional definitions of finiteness, it remains one of the least understood concepts in linguistic theory. The series of eleven papers in this volume presents new evidence on the nature of finiteness from a number of hitherto under-studied languages, namely those of the Indo-Aryan and Dravidian language families spoken in South Asia. The hope is that these papers will encourage the reader to deepen their knowledge and simultaneously question their existing view of finiteness. The introduction below sets the stage for the rest of this volume: we briefly describe the content of the individual papers included here and situate them within the larger context of the rich dialogue on finiteness. 

2011. Unpublished Ms. University of Tromsø. 

In this paper, we argue that the conditions on the overtness of subjects and those governing the distribution of nominative case must be kept logically dis- tinct. In typical nominative-accusative languages, nominative case is not assigned by finite T or by agreement with any functional head. Rather, even in prototypical subject position it is the default case, showing up when the conditions for the assignment of all other cases are not met. The appearance of a dependency is due to a confusion of conditions on nominative case with conditions on the overtness of subjects. Conditions on overtness and case-marking tend to coincide, but a careful look at the data shows that they are orthogonal to each other, and that the latter has more to do with conditions on coreference which in itself is a function of modes of clausal selection and degree of clausal dependency. 

2009. Journal of South Asian Linguistics 2:5-34. 

This paper presents an alternative account of DP distribution that is based on DPs being selected rather than being Case-theoretically licensed. We argue that the fundamental prediction made by Case theory, namely that obliga- torily controlled PRO and overt DPs are in complementary distribution, is not empirically justified. To this end, we provide data from nonfinite clausal adjuncts, complements and gerundivals in Tamil where subject controlled PRO and overt subject DPs seem to alternate in free variation. We further illustrate, with supporting evidence from Malayalam, Sinhala, Latin, Irish, and Middle English as well as the Present-Day English gerundival construc- tion, that this type of problematic alternation is not a language-specific quirk but a widely attested crosslinguistic phenomenon. While standard Case theories are equipped to handle either the occurrence of PRO or that of an overt subject, they are unable to consistently handle the alternation between both types of elements. Our selection analysis is designed to handle the alternations as well as instances where only one DP type is allowed. 

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