The Nom/Acc alternation in Germanic
Halldor Armann Sigurdsson
January 2006

This paper describes the distribution of accusative case and discusses the nature of the nominative / accusative distinction in the standard Germanic languages. In addition, it illustrates and discusses the well-known fact that inherent accusatives and certain other types of accusatives do not behave in accordance with Bruzio’s Generalization. In spite of these Non-Burzionian accusatives, there is a general dependency relation between the so-called ‘structural’ cases, Nom and Acc, here referred to as the relational cases, such that relational Acc is licensed only in the precense of Nom (as has been argued by many). This relation is here referred to as the Sibling Correlation, SC. Contrary to common belief, however, SC is not a structural correlation, but a simple morphological one, such that Nom is the first, independent case, CASE1 (‘an only child’ or an ‘older sibling’, as it were), whereas Acc is the second, dependent case, CASE2, serving the sole purpose of being distinct from Nom – the Nom-Acc distinction, in turn, being a morphological inerpretation or translation of syntactic structure. It has been an unresolved (and largely a neglected) problem that the Germanic languages split with respect to case-marking of predicative DPs: nominative versus accusative (It is I/me, etc.). However, the morphological approach to the relational cases argued for in this paper offers a solution to this riddle: The predicative Acc languages have extended the domain of the Sibling Correlation, such that it does not apply to only arguments but to adjacent DPs in general. That is, the English type of predicative Acc is not ‘default’, nor is it caused by ‘grammatical viruses’, but a well-behaved subtype of relational Acc. The central conclusion of the paper is that we need to abandon the structural approach to the relational cases in favor of a more traditional morphological understanding. However, this is not a conservative but a radical move. It requires that we understand morphology (and PF in general) not as a direct reflection of syntax but as a translation of syntax into an understandable but foreign code or ‘language’, the language of morphology. Nom and Acc are not syntactic features but morphological translations of syntactic correlations. It is thus no wonder that they are uninterpretable to the semantic interface.
Format: [ pdf ]
Reference: lingbuzz/000299
(please use that when you cite this article)
Published in: Comparative Studies in Germanic Syntax, ed. by Jutta Hartmann and Laszlo Molnarfi. Amsterdam & Philadelphia: John Benjamins
keywords: structural case (see relational case), burzio’s generalization (see the sibling correlation), predicative case, the nominative/accusative alternation, inherent accusatives, relational case, the sibling correlation, syntax, morphology
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