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The structural ergative of Basque and the theory of Case

Abstract

We investigate the nature of morphological ergativity through the ergative/split-S system of Basque. We show that in Basque ergative case and agreement reflect structural rather than inherent Case: Agree/Move rather than selection. Evidence comes from the core distinctions between these dependency types, including ergative-absolutive alternations due to absolutive Exceptional Case Marking of external arguments and raising-to-ergative of internal arguments. In consequence, structural Agree/Case systems cannot be reduced to a nominative-accusative basis with an inherent ergative, as has been proposed. Our investigation sheds light on the nature of structural ergativity in Basque. First, ergativity like nominativity comes from the T-system, whereas absolutivity and accusativity are in the v-system. Second, ergative agreement can occur under unbounded c-command through Agree, like nominative, accusative, and absolutive case and agreement, but ergative case requires movement to Spec,T, bearing out the ergative as a ‘marked’ structural Case. Third, structural Agree/Case systems are parametrizable to give both ergative and accusative alignments and islands of exceptionality within each. We develop a theoretical account of these results in the Agree framework of the Principles-and-Parameters approach, building on previous theories of structural ergativity.

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Notes

  1. By (lexical) predicate we mean one that takes its argument as part of its lexical meaning, including V, Appl, vA(gent), in contrast to derived predicates formed in syntax by movement (Heim and Kratzer 1998).

  2. Abbreviations in glosses: 1/2/3 person, s/p number, E ergative, A absolutive but in Icelandic accusative, D dative, N nominative, d the definite article of Basque, ALLOC allocutive form, HYP hypothetical, PRES present, DFLT default. Examples: 2pE = 2nd person plural ergative, d.pA definite article fused with plural absolutive, sE singular ergative. PA, RE indicate judgments of P. Albizu and R. Etxepare when different.

  3. See for inherent versus structural Case, Chomsky (1986:193, 1995:114, 386 note 55, 2000:143 note 31); for theta-assignment versus Agree, Chomsky (1995:4.6, 347, 2000:111f., 133f., 2004:111–3), and for concord upon Merge without Agree, Chomsky (2001:42 note 6).

  4. Root allomorphy is helpful for 3SG.ERG/ABS, which lacks an overt affix: du glossed AUX.3sE in (6a) is d-u X-AUX(+ERG); da glossed AUX.3sA (6a) is d-a X-AUX(-ERG). Only 3SG.ABS agreement is potentially analysable as absence of agreement; we gloss it as 3sA only when there is a clear 3SG.ABS controller, and not, therefore, with ergative-subject unergative and raising verbs. We set aside so-called ergative displacement in agreement whereby 1/2.ERG→3.ABS combinations use prefixes for the ergative in certain tense-mood combinations (Laka 1993a; Fernández 1997, 2001; Albizu and Eguren 2000; Albizu 2002; Rezac 2003). It does not result in accusative alignment of agreement, since the agreement complex as a whole includes other information identifying the prefixes as coding ergatives.

  5. Apparent ergative-subject unaccusatives like iraun ‘last’, irakin ‘boil’ seem to be unergative: they are so diagnosed by impossibility of partitive assignment which is restricted to internal arguments (cf. Arteatx 2007:35 note 7); by absence of low-position readings likewise so restricted (see discussion of example (33)); and perhaps by causativization (M. Baker, p.c.), since like transitives/unergatives but unlike unaccusatives they can have inanimate dative causes (though other factors need controlling, Ortiz de Urbina 2003a:4.8.2.1.2). The status of a couple of verbs like ergative-subject urten ‘go out’ in Bizkaian Basque beside absolutive-subject irten elsewhere remains to be investigated (Albizu and Fernández 2006; Aldai 2009). These same tests also indicate that absolutive-subject unergatives are truly unergative (see citations in text).

  6. When not otherwise noted, judgments are those of PA and RE, speakers of central dialects with typically but not exclusively ergative subjects for the agentive unergatives in Aldai (2009:801).

  7. In English, perception complements but not adjuncts can use the infinitive, with perfective or imperfective readings, while the gerund occurs in both adjunct and complement structures but allows only imperfective readings. The Basque tzen gerund is like the English gerund in occurring in both complement and adjunct structures and like the English infinitive in allowing both perfective and imperfective readings. English has a third structure for the gerund as a DP-internal modifier, unavailable in Basque.

  8. Some speakers require agreement (Arteatx 2007:35). Nonagreement is only optional, so that the perception complement structures in (12) allow agreement; it is available for subjects of both unaccusatives and transitives, so that (8b) allows nonagreeing dut AUX.3sA.3sE beside ditut; and it is not reducible to the absolutive being low in the gerund, since low absolutives may agree, as discussed for example (32) below. Similar optional nonagreement in Icelandic has been attributed to intervention of the infinitival boundary in agreement but not Case assignment; see Chomsky (2000:128) and the literature cited above.

  9. The strongest examples, (12) and (13), have been confirmed both in central dialects with split-S alignment that are the focus of our study, and in eastern ones with more ergative alignment.

  10. Deficiencies in supra-vP architecture can be of different sorts; in English ECM bare infinitive perception complements are more deficient than to-infinitive ECM/raising complements for temporal specification and sentential negation, though both lack nominative Case and overt or PRO subject licensing (see Martin 2001; Landau 2004:861). Thus absence of T-Case need not imply temporal/negation deficiency, but such deficiency does seem to imply absence of T-Case.

  11. The argument needs to be hedged. On the one hand, agreement is optional for some speakers, as discussed above; but so it is in English and Icelandic expletive raising constructions while nominative is assigned without it (see note 8). On the other hand, in Basque agreement can occur with goals Case-licensed independently of it (Sect. 5); but this excludes precisely independently Case-licensed subjects, unlike here (Etxepare 2006, 2012). Arteatx (2007) takes optional partitive on the subject of perception complements under matrix negation as evidence of ECM, but partitive licensing is not restricted to DPs that get Case from the negated clause (Etxepare and Ortiz de Urbina 2003:551 ex. 1181j; cf. de Rijk 1972). Arteatx also proposes that ECM can be accompanied by Object Shift, giving for (11) the alternative word order Gazte - ak ikusi ditut/*dut [kale erdi-an janz-ten azken hilabete-otan], ‘young.people-d.pA seen AUX.3pA/*3sA.1sE [street middle-d.s.in dress-ing last months-these.in]’; but this is restricted to perceptible, agreeing DPs, leaving it unclear whether it reflects Object Shift with interpretive restrictions, focus fronting, or simply the adjunct structure (9a) (as a reviewer suggests). Finally, we leave open whether the subject of unaccusatives Agrees with the vABS of the gerund or the perception verb or with both; the same issue is discussed in Sect. 5 regarding the structure (49e).

  12. Arteatx (2007:37f.) discusses wh-extraction in perception structures. Some speakers prefer pied-piping the gerund, [Zer egiten] ikusi zaituzte ‘[what.A do-ing] seen AUX.2pA.3pE’ for (16b), because it avoids the ambiguity of interpreting the absolutive wh-word as subject or object gap (cf. Milner 1982 for French).

  13. RE and PA refer to Ricardo Etxepare and Pablo Albizu respectively. A star on either means that the relevant author does not accept the example.

  14. The string (17e) does exist for the adjunct structure, but only as topicalization of the perception verb object + focus fronting of the adjunct, [Patxiku.A] TOP [wine all.the (HIM.E) alone drinking] FOC seen AUX ‘As for Patxiku, I saw him drinking all the wine (HIMSELF) alone’ (cf. Arteatx 2007:38, note 12).

  15. Use of ari is mostly not compulsory to express the progressive (Hualde et al. 2003:251); some speakers perhaps omit it in tzen gerunds generally, unlike in finite clauses. It is difficult to further probe the adjunct gerund T-system: the subject is PRO so we cannot test for sentential negation using subject NPIs, and the event needs to be simultaneous with the host clause, like as/while adjuncts (see Felser 1998, 1999 for analysis through event control).

  16. Infinitives are the easiest structures from which to establish raising, because they allow testing scope and idiom reconstruction. Artiagoitia (2001a, 2001b, 2003:4.10.1.1.9) argues that Basque also has raising with seem + small/finite clause. We are sympathetic to Artiagoitia’s conclusions, but we have put seem constructions aside for two reasons. First, raising out of small clauses is difficult to demonstrate since they do not lend themselves to idiom and scope reconstruction tests (Stowell 1978, 1991; Couquaux 1981; Burzio 1986:2.7 versus Williams 1983; small clause complements of Basque seem do pass Moulton’s 2013 raising test). Second, some speakers allow copy-raising out of finite clauses, but this makes for a complex argument due to interference from thematic uses of seem and the ill-understood properties of copy-raising (for comparison with English, see Rezac 2011a:216f.; in Sect. 5.3 we support Artiagoitia’s analysis).

  17. This is illustrated in Czech, based on work leading to Dotlačil (2004), where it is analysed as Agree of upstairs TNOM with the object of the infinitive; see for similar constructions Medová (2009:9.3.3) on Czech, Rezac (2011a:5.6.4) on Finnish. The person restriction is imputable to some interference with Agree or licensing by Agree in the structure, but we leave open its nature; see accounts of person restrictions in Basque impersonal detransitivizations (Albizu 2001b; cf. Ortiz de Urbina 2003b) and Romance impersonal se constructions (Rezac 2011a; cf. D’Alessandro 2007; Mendikoetxea 2008; Medová 2009; shared by Czech, Grepl and Karlík 1983:41). It may be that such an impersonal occurs in the infinitive in the Souletin construction, making (25a) close to its English translation. Both Souletin and English are restricted to direct objects that can promote in passivization (English) or detransitivization (Basque), showing that there is no A′-chain/tough-movement involved.

    1. (i)
      figure ac
  18. The parameter permitting object raising in Souletin is circumscribed by three desiderata: (i) behar and not INF determines the Agree/Case of the subject of the whole (see Etxepare and Uribe-Etxebarria 2009 on such variation in INF + behar and Cardinaletti and Shlonsky 2004 in Romance restructuring); (ii) the external argument of INF does not block matrix Agree/Case as regular PRO arguably does (cf. Dotlačil 2004; Etxepare 2012); (iii) there is a person restriction which implies structure as in note 17.

  19. In some cases with unaccusatives, the existential reading accompanying low scope prefers the existential expletive construction, as discussed in Sect. 4.3.4 for example (40).

  20. A minimal contrast can be drawn between our INF + behar and the behar + INF structure studied in Etxepare and Uribe-Etxebarria (2009), whose INF does license negation and independent tense. Unlike INF + behar, it is a control structure whose subject must experience need, as shown in (i). The INF of INF + behar in (30) might be poorer than the gerund complement of perception structures in (14), if the latter but not the former licenses VP negation (Arteatx 2007) and for some speakers intensive pronouns (Sect. 3.4, (16b)).

    1. (i)
      figure aj
  21. Goenaga (2006) seems to be the sole discussion of S.ABSi Vunacc behar AUX.ERGi in contemporary Basque. Mounole (2010) documents the same case-agreement pattern with different properties for an extinct variety of the 18th century. It must be distinguished from restructuring INF + behar available to some speakers with both case and agreement determined by INF (Ortiz de Urbina 2003d:304–306; Etxepare and Uribe-Etxebarria 2009:example 2.1; Mounole 2010). Our analysis is inspired by Goenaga’s.

  22. In most examples that follow, the subject is an inanimate incapable of needing, and thus indicates raising.

  23. In central and western varieties, 3PL.ABS and 3PL.ERG are marked as -ak; the pattern in (32)–(33) can be reproduced in those dialects by using weak quantifiers like zenbait hiri/hiri-k ‘some city.A (existential) / city-E (partitive)’, as in example (39) below.

  24. For tenses with generic readings, like the English present and Basque periphrastic but not synthetic present, genericity adds Gen as Op to bind a variable over times (situations), within each of which there is existential assertion: Generically, there are (many) professors available.

  25. For the impossibility of QRing there-associates, different proposals exist (Heim 1987; Chierchia 1995; Bobaljik and Wurmbrand 2012). Some limits on reconstruction for the existential reading are better understood than others, for instance with individual-level predicates (Diesing 1992; Kratzer 1995; Chierchia 1995), less so I can see that hunters/#fires are in the forest or You win if pieces remain/#are on the board beside their there-counterparts, and examples below (cf. Francez 2009; McNally 2011; distinct is surface scope rigidity in languages like Yiddish, Diesing 1992, 1997; Bobaljik and Wurmbrand 2012).

  26. The copula egon ‘be(LOC)’ corresponds to Spanish estar and is used with stage-level and locative predication in western dialects (Etxepare 2003a:4.1.2.2.1; Zabala 2003).

  27. The restriction is about external argumenthood and not about case, since it affects absolutive-subject unergatives, see (33), and not ergative raisees of unaccusatives, (39a). For unergatives, the restriction is shown in (32)–(33). For transitives, it can be illutrated with (8): the object saguak can also mean ‘mice’, but among subjects only katuak in (8b) and not katuek in (c) can be interpreted as ‘cats’. If external arguments lack the existential reading because they cannot reconstruct to Spec,v in Basque, the INF of INF + behar must have a Spec,Tdef for them, as in English, and as suggested by the hosting of temporal adverbs delimiting matrix time.

  28. We thank B. Laca for suggesting ‘few’. Basque gutxi requires focus (Etxepare 2003b:4.5.4.2).

  29. The English existential construction and Basque existential absolutives with raising behar/must do not always coincide, but the differences do not seem to jeopardize the parallelism. One mismatch occurs with (39c), where English does not allow *What must there happen?, although it is an unaccusative in a raising structure, cf. What could there possibly have happened to upset her? Three other examples fine in Basque but not in English are given in Goenaga (2006:461); one has a weak definite that sometimes allow the existential construction in English (Poesio 1994), two others are fine in the existential construction of French with properties similar to that of English. Independent factors should explain these differences.

  30. Further support for putting vABS in INF is that (modulo other factors) attributing vABS to behar above INF would make INF + behar an ECM structure like gerund + perception verb in Sect. 3, and as there, the external argument of INF below vABS should be absolutive.

  31. We have not specified how INF and behar come together in (42), in particular how the phi-features of vABS in INF end up on the agreeing auxiliary with those of TERG while behar remains a separate element. If INF is the complement of behar, we may posit movement of vABS from INF to TERG through behar by excorporation (Roberts 2010), or phi-feature sharing through the extended projection of a clause without movement (Zwart 1997:6.2; Chomsky 2008:143–144, 159 note 262). This issue does not arise if behar is rather predicated of INF. Etxepare and Uribe-Etxebarria (2012) analyse [INF behar] as a small clause parallel to (i), where adiskideak is just such a secondary predicate or predicate complement of zuek, and thus does not interfere in the agreement of vABS with zuek and in v-raising or phi-transmission to the auxiliary. (See Goenaga 2006:407f. for another behar construction of this type, and de Rijk 2008:14.1 on this structure in Basque generally.)

    1. (i)
      figure bc
  32. Exactly when and how is debated (see op.cit.). It is unlikely that the nominative in (46) is default or inherent, since it alternates between nominative and accusative and controls agreement on intervening participles, unlike inherent and default Case both (Rezac 2013: note 17, with literature).

  33. See Sigurðsson and Holmberg (2008) for relativized minimality and Nomura (2005) and Bobaljik (2008) for phases applied to the Icelandic type (46). Either phases or minimal domains are suited to explaining how Agree is blocked across a dative at the edge of an infinitive, (46) in Icelandic and INF + behar in Basque, without being blocked when the probe, the dative, and goal are part of the same minimal vP/TP in Icelandic (45) (Sigurðsson and Holmberg 2008) and in Basque simple unaccusatives/transitives (Rezac 2008b; cf. for unaccusatives with TERG Albizu and Fernández 2002:81–83), although in that case the dative does interfere with person Agree (Anagnostopoulou 2003).

  34. Some dialects, which require low datives in unaccusatives to agree in monopredicate structures, permit them not to agree in INF + behar (Albizu and Fernández 2002; Ortiz de Urbina 2003c:3.5.5). The dative is then not doubled by DAT and does not block Agree in (47). This option might simply involve the use of a smaller INF, without the functional architecture that doubles datives by DAT.

  35. The status of the ergative as a marked case receives some support from the availability of finite CPs only in positions where a DP could be the default absolutive or not Case-licensed (Artiagoitia 2003:4.10.1.1.7, 4.10.1.2.1.1), but the phenomenon remains to be fully understood (Albizu 2008). See Davies and Dubinsky (2010) for a recent re-evaluation of comparable Case Resistance phenomena in English.

  36. See Pesetsky (1982), and for Case Filter effects, Bošković (2002), Baker and Vinokurova (2010), Rezac (2013) and the literature there; cf. Duguine (2010). Basque nominalizations like izan-a in (51) do not need Case for some speakers (see also de Rijk 2008:827).

  37. A more orthodox syntax for (ii) would have simple TERG Agree, valuing TERG’s [uphi] and the goal’s [uCase], and posit that the realization of Case at PF depends on position: ergative KP in Spec,TERG of TERG that agrees with it, default (absolutive) in the domain of vABS. Two important issues arise. One is that the conditions on the realization of case restate those that define movement, Agree + Merge, whereas arguments for the morphological determination of case and/or agreement start from their mismatches with syntax (Marantz 2000 generally; Deal 2010 for Nez Perce ergative case but not agreement). The second is the power of the PF component needed: the information to which case realization must refer would not be phrase-structurally local, since ergative KPs can be A′-moved away from the Spec,TERG where they are licensed, nor overt, since ergative case occurs even when agreement with TERG is systematically not spelled out in nonfinite clauses. It remains under discussion whether spell-out accesses and affects sufficiently syntax-like structures to achieve this outcome (Bonet 1991; Marantz 2000; Nunes 1999; Bobaljik and Branigan 2006; Rezac 2011a: Chap. 2). A decisive argument for a syntactic approach would be different syntactic behavior of ergative and absolutive (Rezac 2011a: Chap. 3 for other systems). In Basque they mostly have the same properties, with hints of differences (Etxeberria and Etxepare 2012 and references).

  38. An alternative could be developed where valuation is optional provided it occur once per goal.

  39. TERG-vAg selection challenges the locality of selection under sisterhood if there are intervening categories. This is a known issue of the “cartographic” research program that posits them, such as Force-Fin/I selection across Top, Foc, Int in Rizzi (1997:283–285). Proposals have suggested retaining the basic C-T-v system as far as selection is concerned, for instance by viewing its expansion as reprojection of C, T, v for different features (Shlonsky 2006, 2010:427; Chomsky 2008:148; differently Boeckx 2008:157).

  40. Much work on structural ergativity proposes that accusative and ergative instantiate dependent Case that depends directly or indirectly on the assignment of nominative and absolutive (Levin and Massam 1985; Marantz 2000; Laka 1993a, 2000; Bittner and Hale 1996a, 1996b; Rezac 2011a:5.5). One way to integrate accusative/ergative unaccusatives is to make them transitive for Agree/Case through expletive pro that bears nominative/absolutive; see Bittner and Hale (1996b:35ff.) and Laka (1993a, 2000) for this device, and particularly Szucsich (2007) for Russian adversity impersonals and Haider (2001), Wurmbrand (2006), Schäfer (2008:7.4) for Icelandic fate unaccusatives. For INF + behar, the starting point would be the nominal character of behar or of INF, which would allow the postulation of matrix vABS that Agrees with them, leaving TERG to Agree with the subject of INF (Rezac 2011a:223 note 32). This would recapitulate the origin of modal behar, originally have [need INF] or have [INF (as) need], reanalysed with behar as verb due to the identity of lexical have/be with +ERG/-ERG auxiliaries (cf. Mounole 2010; Goenaga 2006), yielding a class of ‘compound verbs’ whose main element has lost its nominal properties but assumed only some verbal ones, such as compatibility with the future suffix -ko but not gerund -tze- (de Rijk 2008: Chap. 14; Hualde et al. 2003:3.5.4; Etxepare and Uribe-Etxebarria 2012).

  41. Woolford (1997) explicitly argues that Case Theory provides for no structural ergative and no ergative-accusative parametrization; see in particular Woolford (1997:181–182, 198, 222–223). Legate (2006:171 note 26) leaves open the possibility that there might be split-S systems where S=A Case (nominative alignment) reflects nominative/T-Case rather than inherent ergative and S=O Case (ergative alignment) reflects accusative/v-Case assigned without T-Case, as on the analysis we advance in Sect. 5 (we thank a reviewer for pointing this out to us). However, this seems problematic for the argument of Legate (2008:58, 90, 2012:182–187) that the inherent character of the ergative derives Marantz’s generalization that derived subjects universally cannot be ergative. The argument requires a characterization of the ergative independent of the argued-for claim that it is inherent, and this characterization must encompass split-S/aspect systems like those of Georgian adduced as an example.

  42. For Bobaljik and Branigan ERG is distinctive by resulting from multiple Agree; for Bittner and Hale ERG and ACC are both dependent Cases but differ in the configurations and competitors that license them.

  43. We are grateful to J. Manterola for bringing this work to our attention.

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Acknowledgements

We have greatly benefited from the comments of two reviewers and Marcel den Dikken, and we thank them. We are also grateful to participants of Research Nets in Humanities 2010, BCGL 5: Case at the Interfaces, and the Cambridge Conference on Comparative Syntax 1. This research has been partly funded by grants from the Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation (FFI2008-00240/FILO, FFI2011-26906 and FFI2011-29218), the Basque Government Research Nets in Humanities (HM-2009-1-1), the Basque Department of Education, Universities and Research (IT769-13), the Agence Nationale de la Recherche (ANR-07-CORP-033), Aquitaine-Euskadi Funds 2012 (“The phrase in Basque and in neighbouring languages”), and the University of the Basque Country (UFI11/14).

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Rezac, M., Albizu, P. & Etxepare, R. The structural ergative of Basque and the theory of Case. Nat Lang Linguist Theory 32, 1273–1330 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11049-014-9239-7

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Keywords

  • Ergativity
  • Structural/inherent Case
  • Agree
  • Raising
  • ECM
  • Basque