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Agreement Resolution from an Optimality Theory Perspective

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There are two patterns of subject-predicate agreement that one observes when a subject noun phrase is comprised of conjoined noun phrases: Partial Agreement, where the predicate agrees with one of the conjuncts, typically the conjunct that is linearly closest to the predicate; and Agreement Resolution, where agreement is based on inflectional values that for person and number features reflect the derived semantic properties of the conjoined phrase and for gender (or noun class) features reflect grammatically based principles of feature selection. This talk focuses on the process of agreement resolution.

Previous accounts of resolution for gender features exemplify one of two sorts of approaches: Rule-based stipulations to handle different combinations of conjunct genders (e.g., Corbett, 1991) and Generalized operations over sets of features (e.g., feature set union: Dalrymple & Kaplan, 2000; and feature set intersection: Wechsler & Zlatic, 2003).

The former approach suffers largely from an over abundance of expressive power (allowing for a host of unattested and implausible resolution patterns), whereas the latter suffers from the opposite flaw (an inability to capture a range of interactions one frequently observes, for example, between gender and number). An approach using Optimality Theory constraint interaction, in contrast, can provide an account of cross-linguistic variation in resolution patterns that is both explanatory and descriptively adequate. Resolution patterns derive cross-linguistically from the interaction of violable markedness constraints (e.g., Fem >> Masc >> *Neut) and faithfulness constraints (e.g., constraints that impose the condition that the phrase and all its conjuncts agree in gender, or that the conjoined phrase agree on all dimensions with one of its conjuncts). The ranking of these constraints will be shown to account for the variation one observes in resolution patterns. The limited circumstances under which resolution and partial agreement interact will also be discussed.

This talk is part of the RCEAL occasional seminars series.

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