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

Jutta Hartmann, Caroline Heycock

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


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. B&K 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.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)611-627
JournalJournal of Linguistics
Issue number3
Early online date6 Mar 2018
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2018


  • syntax
  • copula
  • predication
  • Icelandic
  • specificational clause
  • agreement
  • plurale tantum


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