Adrian Stegovec — Person restrictions in syntax: A generative typological approach

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In some languages the co-occurrence of personal pronouns within a clause can be allowed or disallowed depending on their person value (e.g. the equivalent of ‘I showed you him’ is grammatical while ‘I showed him you’ is not). Such
syntactic person restrictions are surprisingly common cross-linguistically and can manifest themselves in a number of superficially different ways: the Person-Case Constraint, direct/inverse marking systems, or person sensitive voice and alignment alternations, to name a few. The phenomenon has received a lot of attention in recent syntactic literature, focusing mainly on the cross-linguistic variation in person restrictions and using that to motivate new syntactic mechanisms to account for the variation.

In this course, we will consider a different approach, one which places greater importance on the types of person restrictions that are conceivable but not attested. We will review the results of a large-scale cross-linguistic survey of person restrictions that reveals several key typological gaps. Finally, we will see that the generalizations that emerge from the survey support an analysis of person restrictions where the cross-linguistic variation in person restrictions does not result from the parameterization of core syntactic processes, as had been argued in the past, but rather emerges through the interaction of several independent syntactic and lexical factors.

The topics discussed in the course will have implications for different areas of syntax (e.g. agreement, pronoun typology, argument structure, binding, syntactic domains, case/agreement alignment splits, the timing of syntactic operations, scrambling, …) and beyond.

Course outline

Class 1: Introduction / Evidence for the syntactic nature of person restrictions
Class 2: Cross-linguistic generalizations and typological gaps
Class 3: A new analysis of person restrictions
Class 4: Explaining the first typological gap (The Strength Generalization)
Class 5: Explaining the second typological gap (The Direction Generalization)


Course materials can be found at

Selected references (to be provided):

Albizu, Pablo. 1997. Generalized person-case constraint: a case for a syntax driven inflectional morphology. In Theoretical issues on the morphology-syntax interface, ed. Myriam Utribe-Extebarria and Amaya Mendikoetxea, 1–33. Donostia: UPV/EHU

Anagnostopoulou, Elena. 2005. Strong and weak person restrictions: a feature checking analysis. In Clitic and affix combinations, ed. L. Heggie and F. Ordóñez, 199–235. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Anagnostopoulou, Elena. 2017. The person case constraint. In The Wiley Blackwell companion to syntax, 2nd ed., ed. Martin Everaert and Henk van Riemsdijk. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

Baker, Mark C. and Jim McCloskey. 2007. On the relationship of typology to theoretical syntax. Linguistic Typology 11, 285–296.

Béjar, Susana and Milan Řezáč. 2003. Person licensing and the derivation of PCC effects. In Romance linguistics: theory and acquisition, ed. A. T. Perez-Leroux and Y. Roberge, 49–62. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Bonet, Eulalia. 1991. Morphology after syntax: pronominal clitics in Romance languages. PhD dissertation, MIT.

Bonet, Eulalia. 1994. The person-case constraint. MIT Working papers in Linguistics 22:33–52

Cardinaletti, Anna and Michal Starke. 1994. The typology of structural deficiency: On the three grammatical classes. Working Papers in Linguistics 4(2), 41–109. University of Venice.

Cinque, Guglielmo. 2007. A note on linguistic theory and typology. Linguistic Typology 11, 93–106.

Haspelmath, Martin. 2004. Explaining the ditransitive person-role constraint: a usage-based approach. Free online journal, University of Düsseldorf, Constructions 2:49

Kratzer, Angelika. 2009. Making a pronoun. Linguistic Inquiry 40 (2): 187–237

Řezáč, Milan. 2008. The syntax of eccentric agreement: the person case constraint and absolutive displacement in Basque. Natural Language & Linguistic Theory 26:61–106.

Řezáč, Milan. 2011. Phi-features and the modular architecture of language. Dordrecht: Springer.

Stegovec, Adrian. 2019. Person on the edge: lessons from crosslinguistic variation in syntactic person restrictions. PhD dissertation, UConn.

Stegovec, Adrian. 2020. Taking case out of the person-case constraint. Natural Language & Linguistic Theory 38:261–311.