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The representation of third person and its consequences for person-case effects

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An Erratum to this article was published on 05 July 2016


In modeling the effects of the Person-Case Constraint (PCC), a common claim is that 3rd person “is not a person”. However, while this claim does work in the syntax, it creates problems in the morphology. For example, characterizing the well-known “spurious se effect” in Spanish simply cannot be done without reference to 3rd person. Inspired by alternatives to underspecification that have emerged in phonology (e.g., Calabrese, 1995), a revised featural system is proposed, whereby syntactic agreement may be relativized to certain values of a feature, in particular, the contrastive and marked values. The range of variation in PCC effects is shown to emerge as a consequence of the parametric options allowed on a Probing head, whereas the representation of person remains constant across modules of the grammar and across languages.

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Correspondence to Andrew Nevins.

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Conversations with and suggestions by Elena Anagnostopoulou, Karlos Arregi, Jonathan Bobaljik, Eulàlia Bonet, Seth Cable, Oana Ciucivara, Carmen Dobrovie-Sorin, Daniel Harbour, Heidi Harley, Jim Harris, Susana Huidobro, Conor Quinn, Norvin Richards, and Jochen Trommer have greatly assisted the shape and scope of this paper. Many thanks are also due to Marcel den Dikken, two anonymous NLLT reviewers, and Welton Blount for their careful reading, many remarks leading to improvements in clarity and solidity of argumentation, and editorial keenness. An early version of this paper appeared in Harvard Working Papers in Linguistics Volume 11.

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Nevins, A. The representation of third person and its consequences for person-case effects. Nat Language Linguistic Theory 25, 273–313 (2007).

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