The syntactic limits of probe-goal (a)symmetries
Sandhya Sundaresan, Hedde Zeijlstra
June 2021

In the Minimalist framework of Chomsky (2000, 2001, et seq.), all syntactic dependencies are regulated by the abstract operation Agree. This handbook article serves to provide an overview of the pair of grammatical elements involved in the Agree operation, termed the probe and goal. We will see that Agree between a probe and goal is possible only if there exists a fundamental featural asymmetry between them. Concretely, the probe is deficient for one or more syntactic features which the goal bears. Agree is then viewed, broadly speaking, as an operation which is triggered to resolve this featural asymmetry. In addition, the probe and goal pair are structurally, and potentially also categorially, asymmetric: e.g. the probe and goal stand in a c-command relationship and typically belong to distinct grammatical categories. At the same time, for two grammatical elements to qualify as a matching probe-goal pair, in the first place, they must share some core syntactic properties. The central goal of this paper is to explore the upper and lower limits of this syntactic space: i.e. to lay out what featural and structural properties two grammatical elements must share to be identified as a probe-goal pair in the first place, and what properties must minimally distinguish one from the other for the purposes of Agree.
Format: [ pdf ]
Reference: lingbuzz/006005
(please use that when you cite this article)
Published in: Submitted to the Cambridge Handbook of Minimalism
keywords: probes, goals, features, structure, locality, minimality, c-command, valuation, interpretability, activity condition, relativized probing, upward vs. downward agree, semantics, morphology, syntax
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