Realizing Germanic Inflection: Why Morphology Does Not Drive Syntax

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Abstract

This paper examines and evaluates what may be called the “Rich Agreement Hypothesis” (RAH) in the domain of verb movement asymmetries in Germanic. The most prominent current accounts (e.g., Rohrbacher’s 1999 Morphology-Driven Syntax) require inspection of the internal make-up of paradigms and take overt morphological variation to be the cause of syntactic variation. A survey of the literature shows that these proposals are empirically untenable in their strong (bi-conditional) form; there are numerous cases of syntactic variation attested in the absence of corresponding morphological variation. The strongest sustainable descriptive generalization is a one-way implication from rich morphology to verb movement. Though this has been noted before, its implications have not been adequately discussed. While morphology-driven approaches could have explained a strong RAH, when faced with the weaker, one-way implication, they can provide no account of why that correlation should hold and are thus at best incomplete. That is, they provide no insight as to why there are no languages with rich morphology but in which the finite verb remains in the VP. The particular correlations that are attested, and in particular the absence of a certain class of languages, do however follow from a theory which takes morphology to be not the cause but rather a reflection of syntactic structure, in line with common theorizing in morphology. The inflection-movement correlations that do exist therefore challenge rather than support morphology-driven approaches to morphosyntax.

This revised version was published online in June 2006 with corrections to the Cover Date.