My primary interests are in syntax and its relationship to morphology, with a secondary interest in pragmatics and semantics. In my PhD thesis, Im exploring the relation between syntax and morphology in various agreement processes. In particular, I’m developing a syntax driven approach to morphologically opaque clitics in Catalan and other Romance languages, and I’m working on subject/object asymmetries in agreement in conjunction structures in Hindi-Urdu.

Here is an overview of my recent work organized by topic. Comments are very welcome. A complete list including earlier work can be found in my CV (for shorter resume see  here). 

Syntactic Parallels between Verbal and Nominal φ-Morphology in Classical Arabic

Person, number and gender are commonly expressed by the same morphs in the same order (person>number>gender) in both verbal agreement and nouns/pronouns. I begin by showing that, despite morphophonological complications, the same is true in Classical Arabic. More interestingly, the nominal categories (common nouns and pronouns) and verbal categories (perfective verbs and imperfective verbs) fall into two categories: Definite common nouns and imperfective verbs show a second position effect, where the lexical element (noun/verb) is obligatorily preceded by a φ-morph, whereas pronouns and perfective verbs are not. The presence of this second position effect is shown to be determined by the syntactic structure. Heads in the higher functional structure of the DP and the tense/aspect-domain employ similar strategies for marking category distinctions by hosting a bound morpheme (second position effect) or a free one, often using movement to procure heads for this purpose. Thus the parallelism between the nominal and the clausal domains extends beyond the functional heads involved in the expression of φ-categories, to how category distinctions are marked using bound or free morphs. A proposal is made for how the second position effect is syntactically derived in the verbal domain, where it asserts itself as discontinuous agreement. I argue that first and second person and feminine agreement markers on the verb are clitics that move to a preverbal position.

Asymmetries in Conjunct Agreement

In Hindi-Urdu, T(ense) can agree with non-overtly case-marked subjects or ob- jects. Despite being controlled by the same head and being sensitive to the same mor- phological properties of the agreement target, agreement inside conjunction structures reveals differences between subjects and objects: agreement with objects is sensitive to linear proximity, while agreement with subjects is not. This difference shows itself in two sets of conjunction structures: agreement with conjoined subjects and objects, and agreement in Right Node Raising. This difference between agreement with co- ordinated subjects and objects is addressed in terms of two questions: why does object agreement not access the same features as subject agreement, and how does it access the features of the closest NP in the coordinated object. We argue that the answers to these questions show that agreement is largely syntactic, but that post-syntactic pro- cesses can be recruited for agreement when syntactic processes have failed to value agreement in the syntax. The inaccessibility of certain features to agreement with objects follows from Bhatt’s (2005) proposal that agreement with subjects assigns case, but agreement with objects is agreement with an already case-licensed argument. While T-agreement can access the φ-features of subjects, case assignment to the object prior to T-agreement deactivates the object’s φ -features so that T can match their features but is not valued by them. Post-syntactic processes use the matching relation between T and the inactive features of objects to retrieve values for T. This process is sensitive to linear proximity.

When can you agree with a closest Conjunct?

This paper shows how the analysis of closest conjunct agreement developed by Bhatt & Walkow (ta, see above) based on Hindi-Urdu extends to restrictions on closest conjunct agreement in other languages. Bhatt & Walkow argue that closest conjunct agreement in Hindi-Urdu becomes possible when agreement is with an argument that has already been assigned case and is consequently inactive. In such contexts, post-syntactic mechanisms use the Agree-relations established by the syntax value agreement and give rise to effects of linear proximity. Activity of the goal is shown to identify the contexts where first conjunct agreement is possible in Bavarian complementizer agreement, verbal agreement in Modern Standard Arabic, and other contexts. The combination of syntactic and post-syntactic restrictions on agreement also derives the bleeding relation between movement and first conjunct agreement found in many languages, the possibility of true first conjunct agreement, agreement with the first conjunct in [S & S] V-order, and the absence of its mirror image, true last conjunct agreement.

Locating Variation in Person Restrictions

Variation in person restrictions is typically discussed in terms of which combinations of first, second and third person on subjects or objects, or two internal arguments are possible in a language. Two big proposals exist about where this variation is located in the grammar. Analyses using Multiple Agree rely on parametrizing which grammatical operations are available in a language and what their properties are (Anagnostopoulou 2005, Nevins 2007). Proposals using Cyclic Agree locate the variation in the feature specification of probes and their position with respect to their arguments (Bejar 2003, Bejar & Rezac 2009). The latter approach is shown to account for two types of variation in the Person Case Constraint (PCC), a ban on combinations of internal argument clitics of certain person specifications, in Central Catalan and Classical Arabic. Both languages have speakers with the strong PCC and speakers with the ultrastong PCC. Despite allowing and banning the same kinds of person combinations, the two languages differ in the strategies they use to realize pronoun combinations where the PCC blocks clitic combinations. Following the proposal by  Béjar and Rezac (2009) for person based restrictions on subjects and objects, the difference between the strong and the ultrastrong PCC is derived from different feature specification of the probe. The different alternative strategies for realizing banned person combinations follow from the different syntactic contexts in which the PCC arises in Central Catalan and Classical Arabic. The alternative strategies are argued to follow from independent derivational processes, not additional last resort mechanisms. In addition, the proposal incorporates restrictions on combinations of third person pronouns in both Central Catalan and Classical Arabic into the treatment of the PCC.

Cyclic Agree and Clitic Restrictions in Classical Arabic

Classical Arabic allows combinations of two accusative clitics only when the lefthand one is more local than the righthand one. Nevins (2007) discusses this restriction as it pertains to clitic combinations involving local person pronouns under the name Ultrastrong Person Case Constraint and develops an analysis using Multiple Agree. This paper shows that the Cyclic Agree approach to agreement restrictions (Béjar and Rezac 2009) can derive the Ultrastrong PCC and account for the restrictions on combinations of third person clitics in Classical Arabic. In addition, a Cyclic Agree analysis in combinations with the fact that the PCC arises in causatives that contain two probes  offers an explanation for why pronoun combinations where cliticization is blocked are realized by using a free pronoun for the direct object. The paper contributes to the debate about the locality conditions of agreement restrictions and the status of the alternative structures used to avoid agreement restrictions.

Syntactically driven morphological restrictions on third person Clitics

Several varieties of Catalan show restrictions on the morphological expression of person and number in combinations of  direct and indirect object clitics. When both direct and indirect objects are third person, there is only one morphological marker for third person (3-3-Effects). When both direct and indirect object are third person and plural, only one of them surfaces with plural marking. I call this latter restriction Unique Plural Exponence (UPE). Dialects differ wrt which argument, DO or IO, surfaces with features, but it is consistently the linearly leftmost one that surfaces with person/number features. This is consistent across dialects with different orders of direct and indirect objects, alternations of clitic order within one dialect and under historical change. Building on my earlier work on 3-3-Effects in Barceloni Catalan, I develop a syntactic account of these restrictions that relates them to the Person Case Constraint and show how it can account for 3-3-Effects and UPE in two dialects that differ in the order of direct and indirect objects. The consistent lefthand position of the person marked clitic follows from the syntactic structure.

A Unified Analysis of the Person Case Constraint and 3-3-Effects in Barceloni Catalan

Barceloni Catalan repairs violations of the Person Case Constraint (PCC, Bonet 1991) and combinations of third person direct and indirect object clitics (3-3-Effect) by realizing the indirect object without person marking. A unified account of these restrictions and their repair is given in terms of Béjar and Rezac’s (2009) system of articulated person probes and the locality pattern of cyclic expansion. Personless clitics arise from the direct object bleeding person licensing on the indirect object. Adapting Adger and Harbour’s (2007) feature system accounts for the absence of 3-3-Effects in other languages and patterns of personless clitics in French and Spanish. For Spanish, I propose a unified account of the Spurious se Effect (a 3-3-Effect, Perlmutter 1971), the PCC and restrictions on animate direct object pronouns in Leista Spanish (Ormazabal & Romero 2007), together with an account of the changing interpretive possibilities of ‘unmarked’ direct object pronouns inside and outside person effect environments in Leista Spanish.

Syntactically driven morphological restrictions on third person Clitics above presents more recent stages of this work.

Locality of Agreement in Syntax and PF: Subject Verb Agreement Asymmetries in Modern Standard Arabic 

(The two handouts present the same proposal, but the ALS handout contains an additional discussion of the syntactic status of preverbal subjects.)

Modern Standard Arabic shows two asymmetries in φ-agreement between verb and subject: (i) a Positional Asymmetry (PA): preverbal full DP subjects trigger agreement in number (NUM) and gender (GEND), but postverbal ones only in GEND. This also holds when two verbs agree with the same subject (e.g. in compound tense constructions). (ii) A Subject-type Asymmetry (SA): pronouns trigger agreement in NUM and GEND in preverbal as well as postverbal position. SA arises from differences in the internal structure of DPs and pronouns, which make different sets of features available to external agreement processes. PA arises from a PF process that supplements φ-features left unresolved in the syntax and is sensitive to a structurally defined adjacency relation proposed by Adger (2000). Adjacency makes the functional structure along the right edge of DPs in preverbal position accessible to feature matching at PF. This functional structure includes NUMP, containing NUM-features, giving rise to full agreement with DPs in preverbal position. The possibility to resolve φ-features left unchecked in syntax at PF is constrained by previous AGREE-relations between the agreeing heads and subjects.

Indeterminacy and the Felicity of Inner Negation Polar Questions.

Inner negation polar questions (INPQ, Ladd 1981) are shown to be sensitive to contextual indeterminacy about how an issue in the context has been resolved. The relation between questionability and indeterminacy receives an account from treating indeterminacy in terms of multiple propositions being proffered, and INPQs taking these propositions up.

Earlier stages of this work were presented at SNEWs 2009 and an earlier version has appeared in UMOP 39: Papers in Pragmatics.