How far can a probe agree: Microvariation in Algonquian peripheral agreement

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Xu, Yadong
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This thesis investigates microvariation in agreement with objects across the Algonquian languages, a sub-family of the Algic languages of North America. The empirical focus of the thesis is peripheral agreement (Goddard 1979; Pentland 1999), an agreement suffix that indexes the number, gender, and obviation of a third-person argument. The questions of interest concern the complex patterning of this suffix in agreeing with the third-person internal argument and its role in conditioning the shape of the preceding person-number agreement suffix called central agreement (Goddard 1979). Through examining seven Algonquian language varieties from both Central and Eastern groups, a number of factors condition the intricate variability of peripheral agreement in indexing the third-person object, including definiteness, gender, and the syntactic position of the object as well as the person-number features of the subject. I argue that a combination of three analytical ingredients accounts for the varying ability of peripheral agreement to index the object. The first ingredient is accessibility. I build on Keine’s (2016, 2019) horizons model, proposing that the capacity of the probe to access a DP can be microparameterized. In particular, the variable treatment of secondary objects (Goddard 1979; Rhodes 1990) reflects that the accessibility domain of the probe can be language-specific: secondary objects are accessible in certain Eastern languages (e.g. Unami Delaware) but inaccessible in some non-Eastern languages (e.g. Oji-Cree). As for the second ingredient, valuation of the probe’s features, I show that the patterning of peripheral agreement with primary objects depends on two microparameters involving relativized probing (Béjar & Rezac 2009; Nevins 2011; Preminger 2011; Oxford 2015) and the Activity Condition (Chomsky 2000, 2001; Hammerly 2020). The third ingredient concerns morphological operations. I explain that the cases where peripheral agreement disappears depending on features of the subject are best analyzed as having a post-syntactic source. I also provide a contextual allomorphy analysis (Bobaljik 2000) capturing that the shape of the central suffix is dependent on the kinds of third-person features that the probe responsible for peripheral agreement has copied over from its goal.
Algonquian, cross-linguistic variation, agreement, locality, relativized probing, post-syntactic operation, Activity Condition, argument structure