Date: Tuesday, April 26, 11am
Title: Case discrimination in caseless languages

Abstract: This talk focuses on case discrimination––the observation that in some languages, certain case-marked DPs are inaccessible for agreement. Case discrimination has been used in explanations of two phenomena in the study of ergativity:
  1. Case/agreement interactions (Bobaljik 2008): While some languages have an ergative-absolutive case system and a nominative-accusative agreement system, the reverse is unattested (Anderson 1977; Dixon 1979).
  2. A’-extraction restrictions (Deal 2016): In some morphologically ergative languages, ergative DPs are restricted from undergoing A’-extraction (see Polinsky to appear).
Recent work ties these patterns to the parameterization of whether overtly-marked ergative subjects are accessible for agreement operations from T and C (Bobajlik 2008, Deal 2016). Though this line of account successfully explains variation in languages with overt case marking, it faces challenges in head-marking ergative languages which lack case marking altogether, such as those in the Mayan and Tsimshianic language families. To address this puzzle, some have argued that these languages do not truly have ergative agreement (Woolford 2000), or that the phenomenon in question in only illusory (Deal 2016 on extraction restrictions).
I argue that case assignment is at the root of the generalizations above, even in ergative languages which lack overt morphological case. I propose that ergative agreement in Mayan and Tsimshianic languages is the result of inherent agreement, and that this operation is parasitic on inherent ergative case assignment. I show how abstract ergative case is tied to both generalizations above, and can capture the patterns in languages with and without morphological case.