Linguistics Colloquium

October 17, 2019 | 3:30PM
Rosenwald 015

Will Oxford, University of Manitoba

Agreement clash and its consequences

In many languages, clusters of pronominal clitics are subject to constraints that ban certain combinations of features. Clitic clusters that violate these constraints can be repaired by deleting features from one of the clitics (Arregi & Nevins 2006; Nevins 2007), causing the clitic to be realized as an underspecified elsewhere form such as the "spurious se" of Spanish. In this presentation I illustrate how a similar phenomenon can apply to agreement affixes in head-marking languages with rich agreement morphology, such as the languages of the Algonquian family. I show that in Algonquian, whenever two adjacent agreement affixes bear the same features -- a configuration that I will refer to as "agreement clash", by analogy with stress clash in phonology -- the features are deleted from the innermost affix, leading to its realization as an elsewhere form. Because this deletion takes place in the context of a rich agreement system, its application gives rise to complex agreement alternations, which, from a descriptive perspective, take the form of a direct-inverse pattern in one context and a split-ergative pattern in another context. The proposed analysis reduces both of these agreement alternations to a simple feature deletion process. In effect, Algonquian inverse marking and split-ergative agreement can be understood as head-marking instantiations of the same process that drives clitic dissimilation in languages such as Spanish. The overall lesson is that in a rich head-marking system, the repair of agreement clash can significantly affect the outward typological appearance of the morphosyntax, causing genuine differences in morphosyntactic alignment to be exaggerated. Some theoretical and diachronic implications of this conclusion will be discussed.