Indeterminacy, complex features and underspecification

Louisa Sadler

From the issue entitled “Markedness and Underspecification in the Morphology and Semantics of Agreement”

Volume 21, Number 2, 379-417, DOI: 10.1007/s11525-010-9166-1

At its simplest, morphosyntactic agreement may be viewed as involving linguistic objects which have the same values for a given feature. In contemporary constraint-based formalisms the relationship is usually modelled by structure sharing in the syntax; for predicate-argument agreement, most often it is assumed that the target and the controller provide compatible (complete or partial) specifications of features of the controller. This approach has much to recommend it, being based on the straightforward mechanism of combining information monotonically in the syntax. Additionally, it is often (but not invariably) assumed that (a subset of) these same morphosyntactic features are simply passed down to the morphology for spell out (Bresnan, In: Baltin and Collins (eds.) Handbook of contemporary syntactic theory, 2000; Lexical functional syntax, 2001) (but see e.g. Ackerman and Webelhuth (In: Butt and King (eds.) Online proceedings of the LFG96 conference, 1996); Sadler and Spencer (Yearbook of morphology 2002:71–97, 2001); Sells (In: Sadler and Spencer (eds.) Projecting morphology, 2004; In: Nikolaeva (ed.) Finiteness: theoretical and empirical foundations, 2007); Sadler and Nordlinger (In: Sadler and Spencer (eds.) Projecting morphology, 2004); Hinrichs and Nakazawa (Proceedings of HPSG2001, 2002) for approaches in lfg and other constraint-based formalisms which allow some further separation between these components). We discuss a range of cases of morphosyntactic agreement which are challenging in one way or another to this lean approach and explore how they may be modelled without adding any extra machinery, by using underspecified feature representations in the syntax, within one such framework, that of Lexical Functional Grammar lfg.