(Morpho)syntactic variation in agreement: Specificational copular clauses across Germanic

Jutta Hartmann, Caroline Heycock

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

In this paper we bring together the results of our research into agreement in copular clauses in four different Germanic languages—Dutch, German, Faroese, and Icelandic—in order to provide an overview of the results. These cases present a particularly interesting window into how verbal agreement operates, since there are two potential controllers of agreement, which may disagree in person and/or number (The source of the rumor BE the neighbors/you-sg/you-pl). We will show that there is variation at all levels in which nominal controls agreement: cross-linguistic, inter-speaker within a single language, and intra-speaker. We argue that our data support the following claims: (1) “Downward” agreement for person, as well as number, with a nominal that is not in the canonical subject position is possible and in some cases preferred; (2) The agreement patterns observed in Icelandic and Faroese support the hypothesis that in these languages there are distinct Number and Person heads; (3) “Downward” agreement from a high position in the left-periphery is a grammatically distinct phenomenon from agreement when the verb remains in a lower position in the clause; (4) In some languages and some configurations, speakers show a significant degree of indeterminacy in their judgments and production, suggesting that speakers use more than one grammar. We relate our findings to current discussions in the generative literature on subject agreement and in particular differences between number and person agreement, and possible connections to restrictions on object clitics; we also discuss questions that remain open, and invite new, cross-disciplinary research.
Original languageEnglish
Article number2994
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
Publication statusPublished - 11 Feb 2020

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • Germanic
  • copular clauses
  • agreement
  • downwards agree
  • number-only agreement


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