, Volume 26, Issue 1, pp 61-106
Date: 20 Feb 2008

The syntax of eccentric agreement: the Person Case Constraint and absolutive displacement in Basque

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This article explores a syntactic approach to the Person Case Constraint, a ban on 1st/2nd person agreement caused by a dative. The approach proposes that the constraint is due to the interference in person Agree of a head H and its expected controller α by a dative between the two (H > DAT > α, where > is c-command). This predicts that it is absent if the dative does not intervene (α > DAT), or if α moves past the dative (α > DAT > t α). Both predictions are correct. The latter is developed at length from Basque “absolutive displacement” and Icelandic “long raising”, which show the predicted repair of the constraint by movement, through anomalous ergative morphology and overt displacement respectively. A further correct consequence is that the constraint is repaired undetectably in the unaccusatives of accusative languages, except when movement past the dative is unavailable. Morphology does not provide the right tools, since it collapses the required structural distinctions, and the saving effect of movement on agreement is unpredicted. Finally, an independent argument is developed to show that the Person Case Constraint is visible to “narrow syntax”.

I am grateful for discussion to Pablo Albizu, Lisa Cheng, Kepa Erdozia, Aritz Irurtzun, Mélanie Jouitteau, Javier Ormazabal, and Johan Rooryck, as well as audiences at the Universities of the Basque Country, Leiden, and Paris VIII. Comments by Marcel den Dikken and three anonymous reviewers have much improved the work in content and exposition, and I thank them. Finally, profound thanks go to Kepa Erdozia, Aritz Irurtzun, Urtzi Etxeberria, Maia Duguine, Julen Agirre, Nerea Madariaga, Izaskun Villareal, Mikel Lersundi, Iker Herrero, Irati Led, and Maite Correa; for Kepa and Aritz who were there at the begining, help that now spans five years of many questions. Responsibility for the use I have made of comments and judgments rests with me. This research was supported by SSHRC grant 756–2004–0389, University of the Basque Country grant 9/UPV 00114.130–16009/2004, and grants to the 2005–6 Interdepartmental Ph.D. Programme in Linguistics at the University of the Basque Country (Spanish Ministry of Education) and to the Laboratoire de Linguistique de Nantes (French Ministry of Education).