Harmonic Grammar in phrasal movement: an account of probe competition and blocking
Brian Hsu
May 2021

In probe competition patterns, a head contains multiple probes, only one of which triggers phrasal movement in a given derivation. In probe blocking, a probe that typically triggers movement fails to do so if it creates an illicit output by a separate criterion. I illustrate basic properties of these patterns in movement to Spec,CP in German verb-second (V2) clauses, and discuss their challenges for standard Minimalist theories of movement. Specifically, they do not account for derivations with multiple grammatical outputs for a single input, as found in probe competition, nor the probabilistic means by which choices are made. Probe blocking patterns are unexpected if the main requirement for phrasal movement is probe-goal agreement, since movement is sensitive to unrelated featural properties of goals. I account for these patterns in a derivational theory of syntax where constraint interaction determines the outcome of each step (Heck & Müller 2003, 2013; Murphy 2017). Probabilistic aspects of the pattern further support a grammar with weighted constraints, where relative probabilities of output candidates are computed from their harmony scores (Maximum Entropy Harmonic Grammar: Goldwater and Johnson 2000). The proposal resolves formal problems in Minimalist theories of phrasal movement, while expanding its empirical reach to principled types of optionality and variability. More broadly, this work highlights the explanatory value of investigating stochastic patterns in syntax within the aims of generative syntactic theory.
Format: [ pdf ]
Reference: lingbuzz/005786
(please use that when you cite this article)
Published in: To appear in NELS 51 proceedings
keywords: probe competition, probe blocking, phrasal movement, verb second, maximum entropy harmonic grammar, gradient harmonic grammar, syntax
previous versions: v1 [February 2021]
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