Kramer Colloquium

June 4
Pick 016
Georgetown University
The Morphosyntax of Gender and Number: Converging and Crossing

The gender system of a language is usually determined by inspecting the agreement patterns of its singular nouns.  For example, in Amharic, one set of singular nouns appears with the definite determiner –u, while the complement of that set appears with the definite determiner –wa.  Therefore, Amharic has two genders: one with –u and one with -wa.  However, plural nouns do not always show the same gender distinctions as singular nouns.  For example, in Amharic, all plural nouns appear with –u, regardless of which definite determiner they appear with in the singular.  This talk aims to investigate two particular types of gender-number relationships from the perspective of Distributed Morphology: convergent gender-number systems and crossed gender-number systems.  Both types turn out to have implications for morphological theory and syntactic theory.

 A language is convergent when it makes fewer gender distinctions in the plural than in the singular, like Amharic definite determiners.  I show how a wide range of convergent systems are easy to capture in Distributed Morphology using the Impoverishment operation (building on Bobaljik 2002 and Harley 2008), and I demonstrate how the analysis leads to interesting predictions about (im)possible gender-number syncretisms. A language has a crossed gender-number system when at least some nouns seem to switch genders in the plural.  I argue that, unlike convergent systems, crossed systems are not a uniform phenomenon, and I develop full analyses of the crossed systems of Somali and of Romanian.  However, both Somali and Romanian provide evidence that gender features are syntactically located on the nominalizing head n, and not on the Num(ber) head, in line with recent theoretical and psycholinguistic approaches to gender features.  Overall, the talk uses complex gender-number relationships to offer support for DM as a framework, make progress towards a theory of possible syncretisms, and provide novel corroborating evidence about the syntactic location of gender features.