Natural Language & Linguistic Theory

, Volume 29, Issue 4, pp 973–997 | Cite as

Remarks on omnivory and complementarity: a commentary on the paper by Andrew Nevins

  • Susana Béjar


This commentary examines Nevins’ Multiple Agree (MA) approach to complex agreement phenomena, and in particular the two patterns that Nevins identifies as omnivorous number and person complementarity. Nevins analyzes both as outcomes of the MA mechanism and attributes the categorical split between person and number to ontological differences in the feature inventories: person features are binary and fully specified, while number features are unary and underspecified. I argue that the opposition between person and number is strained insofar as there exist contexts where person, too, patterns as though it were underspecified, giving rise to the omnivorous agreement pattern. I also show that the MA mechanics do not fully predict that number agreement should be omnivorous across the board. Auxiliary assumptions restricting possible probe structures are required.


Complex agreement Person agreement Number agreement Omnivorous agreement Complementary agreement Multiple Agree Agreement restrictions Phi-features Underspecification 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Adger, David, and Daniel Harbour. 2007. Syntax and syncretisms of the person case constraint. Syntax 10: 2–37. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Anagnostopoulou, Elena. 2003. The syntax of ditransitives. New York: Mouton de Gruyter. Google Scholar
  3. Barrie, Michael. 2005. ϕ-features in the Onondaga agreement paradigm. In Proceedings of the 2005 annual conference of the Canadian Linguistic Association. Google Scholar
  4. Bejar, Susana. 2003. Phi-Syntax: A theory of agreement. Ph.D. Thesis, University of Toronto. Google Scholar
  5. Bejar, Susana, and Arsalan Kahnemuyipour. 2008. Agreement in copular sentences: A cross-linguistic perspective. Annual meeting of the Canadian Linguistics Association, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC. Google Scholar
  6. Bejar, Susana, and Arsalan Kahnemuyipour. In prep. Non-canonical agreement in copular sentences: The case of Persian. Ms. University of Toronto. Google Scholar
  7. Bejar, Susana, and Milan Rezac. 2003. Person licensing and the derivation of PCC effects. In Romance linguistics: Theory and acquisition, eds. Ana Teresa Pérez-Leroux and Yves Roberge, 49–62. Amsterdam: Benjamins. Google Scholar
  8. Bejar, Susana, and Milan Rezac. 2009. Cyclic agree. Linguistic Inquiry 40: 35–73. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Bonet, Eulalia. 1991. Morphology after syntax: Pronominal clitics in Romance. Doctoral dissertation, Cambridge: MIT. Google Scholar
  10. Carmack, Stanford. 1997. Blocking in Georgian verbal morphology. Language 73: 314–338. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Chomsky, Noam. 2000. Minimalist inquiries: The framework. In Step by step: Essays on minimalist syntax in honor of Howard Lasnik, eds. Roger Martin, David Michaels, and Juan Uriagereka, 89–155. Cambridge: MIT Press. Google Scholar
  12. Chomsky, Noam. 2001. Derivation by phase. In Ken Hale: A life in language, ed. Michael Kenstowicz, 1–52. Cambridge: MIT Press. Google Scholar
  13. Cowper, Elizabeth. 2005. A note on number. Linguistic Inquiry 36: 441–455. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Greenberg, Joseph H. 1966. Language universals, with special reference to feature hierarchies. The Hague: Mouton. Google Scholar
  15. Harbour, Daniel. 2006. Morphosemantic number: From Kiowa noun classes to UG number features. Dordrecht: Springer. Google Scholar
  16. Harley, Heidi, and Elizabeth Ritter. 2002. Person and number in pronouns: A feature-geometric analysis. Language 78: 482–526. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Heycock, Caroline. 2010. Variability and variation in agreement in copular clauses: Evidence from faroese. Talk presented at CGSW 25, University of Tromsø. Google Scholar
  18. Mikkelsen, Line. 2005. Copular clauses: Specification, predication and equation. Amsterdam: Benjamins. Google Scholar
  19. Nevins, Andrew. 2007. The representation of third person and its consequences for person-case effects. Natural Language & Linguistic Theory 25: 273–313. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Nevins, Andrew. 2011. Multiple agree with clitics: Person complementarity vs. omnivorous number. Natural Language & Linguistic Theory 29(4), this issue Google Scholar
  21. Nichols, Lynn. 2001. The syntactic basis of referential hierarchy phenomena: Clues from languages with and without morphological case. Lingua 111: 515–537. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Oehrle, Richard T.. 1976. The grammatical status of the English dative alternation. Doctoral dissertation, Cambridge: MITWPL. Google Scholar
  23. Preminger, Omer. 2011a. Agreement as a fallible operation. Doctoral dissertation, Cambridge: MIT. Google Scholar
  24. Preminger, Omer. 2011b. Asymmetries between person and number in syntax: A commentary on Baker’s SCOPA. Natural Language & Linguistic Theory 29(4), this issue Google Scholar
  25. Rizzi, Luigi. 1990. On the anaphor-agreement effect. Rivista di Linguistica 2: 27–42. Google Scholar
  26. Romero, Maribel. 2005. Concealed questions and specificational subjects. Linguistics and Philosophy 28: 687–773. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Vogt, Hans. 1971. Grammaire de la langue géorgienne. Oslo: Universitets-forlaget. Google Scholar
  28. Woolford, Ellen. 1999. More on the anaphor agreement effect. Linguistic Inquiry 30: 257–287. CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of LinguisticsUniversity of TorontoTorontoCanada

Personalised recommendations