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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Agreement, case, and switch-reference in Amahuaca

  • Author(s): Clem, Emily
  • Advisor(s): Deal, Amy Rose
  • et al.

This dissertation probes the nature of the syntactic operation of Agree through the lens of the morphosyntax of Amahuaca, an endangered Panoan language of the Peruvian Amazon. I take as my empirical focus two interrelated case studies in Amahuaca syntax: 1) the split ergative case system, and 2) the extensive switch-reference system. In the domain of case, I argue that overt ergative case morphology in Amahuaca expones agreement of the transitive subject with multiple functional heads. This leads to a distinction between the features needed for abstract ergative case (agreement only with v), and the features needed to trigger overt ergative case (agreement with both v and T). This distinction between abstract and morphological case factors into the analysis of the switch-reference system of Amahuaca, which I argue is sensitive to abstract case. In addition to case-sensitivity, Amahuaca’s switch-reference system shows the typologically unusual property of tracking the reference of all arguments of the verb, not only subjects. I propose that this system arises through adjunct complementizer agreement that probes both the adjunct and matrix arguments directly through cyclic expansion of the probe. Through these two investigations, I conclude that Amahuaca provides support for a narrowly cyclic model of Agree in which each instance of Merge defines a new cycle of Agree (Rezac 2003, 2004; Béjar and Rezac 2009). Further, the empirical facts can be most straightforwardly accounted for if we assume that some probes are insatiable, agreeing with all possible goals in their search space (Deal 2015b). Finally, despite the fact that some agreement in Amahuaca appears to be long distance, I argue that the data can be captured under the fairly conservative assumption that Agree is always under c-command and is always phase-bound.

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