Parameterizing Case: Evidence from Bantu


  • My deepest thanks go to Steve Nicolle for graciously humoring inquiries regarding Digo and to Vicki Carstens for encouraging me to press forward with this paper. Ganana Kamwela provided the Swahili data included here. I also am indebted to Justin Kelly, John Beavers, and Donna Lardiere for reading an earlier version of this work and providing many helpful comments. Mark Baker’s advice early in the development of these ideas, as well as his own related work, were formative to the thesis presented here. An earlier version of this paper appeared in the Georgetown University Working Papers in Theoretical Linguistics, and I owe a debt of gratitude to the reviewers and editors of that volume. Part of this research was supported by an NSF Doctoral Dissertation Research Improvement Grant. Any mistakes that survived the advice and scrutiny of the aforementioned are my own.


Abstract.  Bantu languages display a number of constructions that raise serious questions about the universality of the theory of abstract Case as currently realized in the Minimalist Program. Chomsky (2000) claims that positing uninterpretable features (like Case features) is not purely stipulation but that uninterpretable features are justified by their visible effects in the syntax. This paper presents evidence that the syntactic effects predicted by Case theory are not borne out in Bantu languages, which in fact display effects that are only predicted to be possible in the absence of uninterpretable Case features. Evidence includes constructions where Case-checking should require a DP to cease being active, but it does not do so (e.g., compound tenses and raising constructions), as well as instances where Case-checking could not have occurred, but the constructions are nonetheless acceptable (e.g., possible-constructions and locative inversion). It is claimed that uninterpretable Case features are not present in Bantu languages and that it is instead gender features that make a goal active for Agree (following Carstens 2011).