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date: 05 April 2020

Summary and Keywords

In the Principles and Parameters framework of Generative Grammar, the various positions occupied by the verb have been identified as functional heads hosting inflectional material (affixes or features), which may or may not attract the verb. This gave rise to a hypothesis, the Rich Agreement Hypothesis (RAH), according to which the verb has to move to the relevant functional head when the corresponding inflectional paradigm counts as “rich.”

The RAH is motivated by synchronic and diachronic variation among closely related languages (mostly of the Germanic family) suggesting a correspondence between verb movement and rich agreement. Research into this correspondence was initially marred by the absence of a fundamental definition of “richness” and by the observation of counterexamples, both synchronically (dialects not conforming to the pattern) and diachronically (a significant time gap between the erosion of verbal inflection and the disappearance of verb movement). Also, the research was based on a limited group of related languages and dialects. This led to the conclusion that there was at best a weak correlation between verb movement and richness of morphology.

Recently, the RAH has been revived in its strong form, proposing a fundamental definition of richness and testing the RAH against a typologically more diverse sample of the languages of the world. While this represents significant progress, several problems remain, with certain (current and past) varieties of North Germanic not conforming to the expected pattern, and the typological survey yielding mixed or unclear results. A further problem is that other Germanic languages (Dutch, German, Frisian) vary as to the richness of their morphology, but show identical verb placement patterns.

This state of affairs, especially in light of recent minimalist proposals relocating both inflectional morphology and verb movement outside syntax proper (to a component in the model of grammar interfacing between narrow syntax and phonetic realization), suggests that we need a more fundamental understanding of the relation between morphology and syntax before any relation between head movement and morphological strength can be reliably ascertained.

Keywords: inflection, head movement, Rich Agreement Hypothesis, morphology–syntax relation, verb movement, agreement

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