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Go get, come see

Motion verbs, morphological restrictions, and syncretism

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Abstract

This paper addresses the interaction between morphology and syntax in cases where the morphological realization of a structure appears to determine its grammaticality. The empirical focus of the discussion is the go get construction (Zwicky 1969; et seq.), a construction which in English is subject to a strict morphological restriction, only being possible with “bare” morphology. It is proposed that this kind of surface-oriented restriction can be accounted for within the morphological component on the assumption that the syntax can place multiple sets of features on a verb: these multiple feature sets will be interpretable within the morphology only when all sets of features converge on a single realization. The analysis developed for English is then generalized to analogues of the go get construction in languages that show morphological restrictions different from the one seen in English: Marsalese (Cardinaletti and Giusti 2001), Modern Greek, and Modern Hebrew, and an outline is given for its extension to other phenomena in which morphological syncretism is able to resolve cases of syntactic feature conflicts.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    The use of this name is intended to be purely descriptive, and is not intended to imply a view of “constructions” as theoretical primitives.

  2. 2.

    Shopen (1971) reports that hurry, run, stay, sit, and try are also grammatical in the go get construction; Carden and Pesetsky (1977) also list run as possible in the go get construction for some speakers. No English speakers I have consulted have fully agreed with these judgments, though some report finding run marginally acceptable. In the remainder of this paper I assume that go and come are the only verbs possible in this construction.

  3. 3.

    Pullum (1990) reports that some English speakers are more permissive, allowing some or all of the inflections in (4). See that paper for discussion of variability in a small survey. English speakers I have consulted typically reject all combinations illustrated in (4), though a very small minority appear to accept sentences with identical overt inflection on both verbs, perhaps only when the stem is non-suppletive, as in (4)[-a] and (4)[-d].

  4. 4.

    As an anonymous reviewer observes, the ungrammaticality of (3-a) is puzzling if Do-support is a last-resort operation called on to support stranded tense affixes when they cannot be realized on a main verb, as in the original conception of Do-support (Chomsky 1957). On such an approach, we might expect Do-support to apply in (3-a), yielding She does go get the paper every morning (without the interpretive effect of emphatic-do). The failure of Do-support to apply in these cases supports alternative approaches to Do-support that regard it as a required strategy for lexicalizing T(ense) in certain configurations, independently of any kind of filter on stranded affixes. Such analyses of Do-support have been proposed by Jaeggli and Hyams (1993), Bobaljik (1995), and Embick and Noyer (2001), among others.

  5. 5.

    Some speakers do report that be is preferred over an inflected form in sentences such as those in (6), but even these speakers report a contrast between these kinds of examples and examples where the broader syntactic environment licenses a bare verb, as in (5).

  6. 6.

    Pullum (1990) gives the following list of verbs which in his idiolect inflect with irregularly bare perfect participles: bet, bid, burst, cast, come, cost, cut, fit, hit, hurt, let, put, quit, rid, run, set, shed, shut, slit, spit, split, spread, thrust, wed, wet.

  7. 7.

    There are at least two apparently coordinate constructions in English that are subject to a form of the inflection condition: be sure and V and try and V (Carden and Pesetsky 1977). The structural properties of these constructions are outside the scope of this paper, but the analysis proposed in Sect. 3 for the go get construction’s inflection condition—that it arises from the morphological resolution of syntactic feature conflicts—would in principle extend to these cases as well.

  8. 8.

    This raises the question of whether this feature should be identified with the category of directive grammatical devices identified in Quirk et al. (1972), or with something like the director of a force in Copley and Harley (2009), Copley (2009), though this paper does not offer a conclusive answer to why this feature should be common to imperatives and the go get construction.

  9. 9.

    See Xu et al. (2007) and especially Grestenberger (2014) for arguments that the class of deponent verbs do share certain interpretive and syntactic properties. Grestenberger proposes that deponent predicates across classical Indo-European languages are unified by properties characteristic of non-active voice, and so do share with canonical passives some semantically interpretable feature.

  10. 10.

    This abstracts away from a great deal of debate within this literature around the exact nature of indeterminate feature representations and the syntactic constraints that make reference to them. These differences are not directly relevant to the architectural point made here.

  11. 11.

    Reverse Agree has also been proposed for \(\upvarphi \)-agreement by Baker (2008) and Merchant (2011), and for negative concord by Zeijlstra (2008, 2010) and Haegeman and Lohndal (2010).

  12. 12.

    This point holds whether the relevant movement is verb-raising or some form of inflectional lowering. This direct-realization view of inflection is in fact crucial to both Jaeggli and Hyams’s (1993) and Pollock’s (1994) accounts of the go get’s inflection condition. For more discussion of these approaches, see Sect. 5.

  13. 13.

    den Dikken and Hoekstra (1997) propose a checking-based account of the Frisian data that hinges on the derivation of the word order in the clause-final verb cluster. It thus cannot be extended to parasitic participle constructions in other languages, or to the English go get construction. Similarly, Wurmbrand discusses a number of “upward” shared inflection constructions across Germanic. Shared inflection in these cases is dependent on the derived order of verbs within the clause-final verb cluster; see Wurmbrand (2012a) for an account of these “upward” sharing cases nonetheless framed in terms of Reverse Agree.

  14. 14.

    Wurmbrand follows Pesetsky and Torrego (2007) in distinguishing interpretability from valuation. I follow her in viewing Reverse Agree as a mechanism of valuation.

  15. 15.

    Reverse Agree has been recently proposed to account for several different phenomena, including some patterns of \(\upvarphi \) agreement (Baker 2008; Merchant 2011; Zeijlstra 2013); negative concord (Zeijlstra 2008, 2010; Haegeman and Lohndal 2010); and verbal inflection (Adger 2003; Wiklund 2007; Bjorkman 2011; Wurmbrand 2011, 2012a).

  16. 16.

    Locating the motion verb in \(v^{0}\) can also account for the fact that floated quantifiers can occur to the left but not to the right of the motion verb: The children will (all) go (*all) buy ice cream. If floated quantifiers mark the lowest position of the thematic subject (Kitagawa 1986; Sportiche 1988, a.o.), the fact that go and come must occur to the right of floated quantifiers shows that they must be within the vP domain of the clause.

  17. 17.

    The distinction between valuation and interpretability, and the assumption that [uinfl:dir] can be merged as a valued but uninterpretable feature builds on Pesetsky and Torrego’s (2007) proposal that both interpretable but unvalued ([iF:_]) and uninterpretable but valued ([uF:val]) features are possible, departing from Chomsky’s (1998) assumption that valuation and interpretability are linked. One of the motivations for this move, in Pesetsky and Torrego’s system, is to account for verbal inflection within a system within the standard (upwards valuation) directionality of Agree: verbs for them are merged with valued but uninterpretable features (e.g. ate bears [uinfl:past]), which then value interpretable-but-unvalued counterparts on higher inflectional heads (e.g. [iinfl:_] on T0). This is a natural move within a lexicalist model of morphology like the one Pesetsky and Torrego assume (i.e., if verbs combine with affixes pre-syntactically, it makes sense that they would have valued inflectional features), but within a realizational framework like the one adopted here, as has been necessary to allow multiple valuation within the syntactic representation, it makes much less sense to propose that the inflectional features of a clause originate on a main verb, rather than in the positions where those features are interpreted.

    The implementation here does require that the derivation track whether a given uninterpretable feature has Agreed with an interpretable counterpart (i.e. whether it has been checked) independently of whether it has been valued. This complication is necessary given the proposal of [uinfl:dir] as a radically uninterpretable feature.

  18. 18.

    This tree sets aside the orthogonal issue of how \(\upvarphi \)-features relate to inflectional features like [infl:pres].

  19. 19.

    Bejar and Massam (1999) also describe a fourth option, which is to retain the more marked of the assigned Case values, regardless of whether it was the first or last assigned.

  20. 20.

    There is some variation among speakers with respect to these judgments. Some report that all cases with be are unacceptable; others that the use of are (the default form in the present tense paradigm of be) is grammatical across the board. My own judgments, however, agree with Pullum and Zwicky. A full account of the variability in judgments would depend on a specific proposal concerning agreement with disjoined subjects, an account I do not attempt to give here.

  21. 21.

    It remains something of a stipulation that VI rules are forced to apply twice to a single head just in case that head bears two features of the same type. Looking towards an explanation of why this would be the case, we might consider more carefully the representation of doubly-valued features. Section 3.2 suggested for concreteness that valuing an already-valued feature results in feature duplication, each copy of the original feature having a different value. If single feature instead were able to have multiple values, however, we could explore how these multiple values interact with VI rules: what does it mean to discharge a feature if that feature has more than one value? This investigation would require a wider survey of multiple valuation and the syncretic resolution of feature conflicts than is possible here, but remains an open issue for further research.

  22. 22.

    The illustration is given for visit rather than come in order to set to one side the independent but complicating issue of stem allomorphy (come vs. came). In example (6) in Sect. 2, moreover, it was shown that the be is more restricted in the go get construction than are other verbs. We can now understand this as being due to the fact that, for the verb be, there are no finite inflectional features that will have the same result as [infl:dir] on a single output of VI.

  23. 23.

    As pointed out by a reviewer, this resembles in some ways the idea in constraint-based framework that a single form can simultaneously satisfy independent constraints on inflectional realization (Bybee and Slobin 1982).

  24. 24.

    Thanks to an anonymous reviewer for pointing out the advantage of the Impoverishment approach in this case.

  25. 25.

    Some speakers do not fully accept sentences such as (39). For these speakers, the irregularly bare perfect participles may result not from a rule of Impoverishment, but instead from a lexically restricted rule that realizes [infl:perfect] via a zero suffix. Though this rule has the same output as the general elsewhere realization in English (i.e. zero), the formal conflict between two different VI rules would, by hypothesis, render the construction unrealizable.

  26. 26.

    Gereon Mueller (p.c.) suggests that the model of morphosyntactic interaction put forward in this section raises questions about the proposed optimal design of language (Chomsky 1995, et seq.), in that it is assumed that there are representations that are syntactically well-formed, but which can be morphologically problematic (if the features do not produce identical outputs). We might expect such mismatches not to exist in an optimal linguistic model. From another perspective, however, morphological unrealizability can be seen as a perfect analogue of semantic uninterpretability: in both cases it is not principles of syntax that rule out certain structures, but instead principles of a system with which syntax interfaces. There is nothing syntactically problematic, after all, about uninterpretable instances of features: such features are assumed to be problematic only at the interface with semantics. Similarly, there is nothing syntactically problematic about unrealizable features: it is only within the transition from syntax to phonology (i.e. within the morphological component) that these features become indigestible to the computation.

  27. 27.

    The identity condition is neither a necessary nor a universal property of constructions resembling the go get construction. Similar interpretations are available in some languages for motion verbs followed by infinitives (Schiller (1990) cites French Viens prendre ta lettre! ‘Come take your letter!’ in this context, and the judgment is also reported for Brazillian Portugese (Rafael Nonato, Carlos Balhana, p.c.). Neither is the inflection condition a universal property of constructions resembling the go get construction; for example, Russian verbs of motion and position participate in a construction with many of the interpretive and syntactic properties of the go get construction, but without any inflectional restriction:

    1. (i)
      figurej

    Hussein (1990), discussing serialization in Palestinian Arabic, shows evidence of a similarly unrestricted construction resembling the go get construction.

  28. 28.

    Discussing this type of motion-verb construction, Joseph (1990) distinguishes sequences of imperative verbs involving erchome from those with other motion verbs on the grounds that other motion verbs are followed by an intonational break and result in a bi-eventive interpretation. None of the Greek speakers I have consulted share these judgments, however: all report that all double-imperative constructions involving the motion verbs above have a single-complex-event meaning and do not require intonational breaks.

  29. 29.

    I am grateful to Sabine Iatridou, Dimitrios Michelioudakis, and Anna Roussou for the judgments reported in this section.

  30. 30.

    Thanks to Jason Merchant (p.c.) for bringing this to my attention.

  31. 31.

    I am grateful to Micha Breakstone, Hadas Kotek, and Omer Preminger for the judgments reported in this section.

  32. 32.

    This can be tested by inserting the adverb maher ‘quickly’ clause-finally. According to speakers I consulted, in (51)[-b] such an adverb can only modify the second verb, while in the go get construction in (50-a) the adverb can modify either the first or the second verb.

  33. 33.

    The particle a that occurs in the Marsalese data above interestingly does not occur in the go get construction in an imperative clause. Cardinaletti and Giusti gloss this particle as ‘to’, but show that it has a different distribution than infinitival particle a. They also cite diachronic evidence, from Rohlfs (1969), that this particle has developed from the Latin coordinating conjunction ac rather than the preposition ad that gave rise to the infinitival a.

    The presence of an overt coordinator in the other Marsalese examples might suggest that they would be better compared to English go and get, with the imperative examples providing the only true analogue to the English go get construction. The fact that the Marsalese construction is limited to a subset of motion verbs and is morphologically restricted even when the particle a intervenes between the two verbs, both properties common with the English go get construction but not shared by go and get, argue in favour of treating all these data as instances of the go get construction, as Cardinaletti and Giusti assume. Whether the particle represents a head intervening between the two verbs does not substantially impact the morphological analysis, though it raises interesting questions for a more detailed syntactic analysis of the Marsalese construction.

  34. 34.

    The third plural suffix is something of an exception to this: the regular suffix, the one used in the past imperfective, would be -ano, without gemination. The geminated form occurs in the non-past (present and future) with some verbs.

  35. 35.

    The assumption that \(\upvarphi \)-features can be spelled out in the presence of [infl:dir] implies that such features are absent from the syntax of true imperatives (i.e. singular imperatives), at least in Italian, or that they otherwise occur in a position that is not realized by verbal inflection.

  36. 36.

    This assumes that stem allomorphy of the Italian type, where irregular roots co-occur with regular inflectional affixes, results from competition among VI rules. This departs from the strong view, expressed for example by Embick and Halle (2005), that stem alternations never result from competition among rules (which instead reflect morphophonological readjustment processes), but this departure is necessary to explain the inflection condition found in the Marsalese go get construction.

  37. 37.

    It was noted in Sect. 4.3 that though the verb passari ‘come by’ has only one stem form, it nonetheless shows the same restrictions as the verbs iri ‘go’ and viniri ‘come’ in the go get construction. Following Cardinaletti and Giusti (2001), I propose that this verb may in fact have a stem alternation, but between two homophonous stem forms. In this case we must adopt Asarina’s (2011) implementation of Pullum and Zwicky’s (1986) observation that only systematic (non-accidental) homophony can resolve feature conflicts: for a head to have a single realization, multiple applications of VI must result in the application of the same rule.

  38. 38.

    An analysis similar to Pollock’s, and subject to the same objections identified below, is developed in Ishihara and Noguchi (2000).

  39. 39.

    Jaeggli and Hyams (1993) do recognize that the grammaticality of the sentences in which come occurs under perfect have would present a counter-example to their analysis. They suggest in a footnote that such sentences may involve an extremely reduced coordinator and, difficult to detect after the final nasal of come. The presence of a coordinator would mean that such sentences are not examples of the go get construction, but are instead examples of asymmetric coordination as in go and get.

    What they fail to explain is that when come occurs under have in these cases, the result patterns with the go get construction, and against instances of asymmetric coordination, with respect to the agentivity requirement: the pragmatically odd # The flood has come rid us of our rat problem. contrasts with the much-improved The flood has come and rid us of our rat problem.

    Jaeggli and Hyams do not mention the fact that be cannot occur in the go get construction outside the infinitive, the subjunctive, and the imperative.

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Acknowledgements

This paper has been greatly improved by the comments and suggestions of many people over several years. Thanks are especially due to Alya Asarina, Micha Breakstone, Claire Halpert, Sabine Iatridou, Hadas Kotek, Jason Merchant, Dimitris Michelioudakis, David Pesetsky, Omer Preminger, Norvin Richards, Anna Roussou, and to anonymous NLLT reviewers. This work was supported in part by SSHRC Doctoral Fellowship 752-2007-0515, and by the Banting Postdoctoral Fellowship program, administered by the Government of Canada.

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Correspondence to Bronwyn M. Bjorkman.

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Bjorkman, B.M. Go get, come see. Nat Lang Linguist Theory 34, 53–91 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11049-015-9301-0

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Keywords

  • Syntax
  • Morphology
  • Feature conflicts
  • Syncretism
  • Motion verbs