Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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Parameters and micro-parameters in Arabic sentence structure

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posted on 2021-11-14, 00:45 authored by Jouini, Kemel

My thesis deals with dependency relations in the structure of sentences in Arabic and how properties of verbal morphology and associated lexical items dictate how sentences are derived. I adopt the probe-goal-Agree Minimalist view that variation between languages (even those that are closely related, such as Standard Arabic and Tunisian Arabic) is due to the 'feature structure' of functional elements that enter into the derivation.  In particular, the essential architecture of sentences expressing the dependency relations verbs and associated elements have with the 'functional' portion of sentences (i.e., tense/modality properties) is universal in that these dependency relations will be expressed on the basis of the same feature structure cross-linguistically. However, this architecture still allows for the kind of parametric variation that exists even between closely related languages.  In this context, I am interested in the status of subject-verb agreement configurations, in both VSO and SVO word orderings, and wh- and other A’-dependencies in Standard Arabic (with comparisons to some modern spoken varieties of Arabic, where appropriate). The analysis is shown to extend to other V-raising languages of the Semitic/Celtic type with ‘basic’ VSO word ordering. A possible extension of the analysis to the V2 phenomenology is also discussed and the major role played by the raising of V-v to T and the raising of T to Agr(s) or T to Fin is highlighted.  An important aspect of my analysis is a proper understanding of the dependency relations involved in the derivation of the relevant sentences where the role of the CP domain projections, verb-movement, feature identification and/or feature valuation along with clause type is essential for interpretation at the interface at the output of syntax. In this feature-based analysis of parametric and micro-parametric variation, I show that variation between typologically similar and typologically different languages is minimal in that it is limited to the interaction of feature combinations in the derivation of sentences.  These feature combinations concern the feature structure of the T-node in relation to the position where T is spelled out at the interface. In particular, T raises to Agr(s) or to Fin in some languages and/or structures. Such raising processes are important in subject-verb agreement configurations cross-linguistically involving combinations of T-features and D-features, which would differ in interpretability (i.e., interpretable vs. uninterpretable) as the basis for feature valuation. Similar feature combinations also drive the raising processes in wh-dependencies with some F-feature (mainly related to ‘focus’) interacting with the T-features of Fin.  I propose that two modes of licensing of these feature combinations are at work. The first mode of licensing is the basic head-head agreement relation. This agreement relation is the basis for verb-movement to the functional field above vP/VP in V-raising languages. The second mode of licensing is the Spec-head agreement relation, brought about by the Merge (internal or external) of D(P) elements in A-dependencies and the Merge of wh-elements in A’-dependencies.  In dependency relations other than subject-verb agreement and wh-dependencies, I propose that the licensing of these feature combinations is strictly a question of ‘identification’ via head-head agreement whereby a feature on a functional head does not need to be valued, but it still needs to be ‘identified’ for the well-formedness of the C-(Agr[s])-T dependency. This is the case of the interpretable D-feature of the Top node in Topic-comment structures and the interpretable F-feature of the two functional head nodes, Mod(al) and Neg, in relation to the T-features of Fin in a V-raising language like Standard Arabic.


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Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code

970120 Expanding Knowledge in Languages, Communication and Culture

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Linguistics and Applied Language Studies


Pearce, Elizabeth; Calhoun, Sasha