Morphological and abstract case


Linguistic Inquiry


Winter 2008, Vol. 39, No. 1, Pages 55-101

Posted Online January 4, 2008.


Morphological and Abstract Case

Julie Anne Legate

Department of Linguistics, 217 Morrill Hall, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853.


This article examines the relationship between abstract and morphological case, arguing that morphological case realizes abstract Case features in a postsyntactic morphology, according to the Elsewhere Condition. A class of prima facie ergative-absolutive languages is identified wherein intransitive subjects receive abstract nominative Case and transitive objects receive abstract accusative Case; these are realized through a morphological default, which is often mislabeled as absolutive. Further support comes from split ergativity based on a nominal hierarchy, which is shown to have a morphological source. Proposals that case and agreement are purely morphological phenomena are critiqued.