Agreement processes in English and Spanish
A completion study
The nature of agreement has been the topic of extensive debate in the recent literature of both linguistics and psycholinguistics. In contrast to either fully syntactic or fully semantic accounts, so-called ‘constraint-satisfaction models’ (Haskell et al. 2010, among others) posit that all grammatical encoding is subject to a number of influences (syntax, semantics, pragmatics, frequency, etc.) which compete to dominate every computation, including agreement processes. After briefly considering psycholinguistic work on attraction (Wagers et al. 2009 and references therein), we try to shed light on this debate by observing how agreement operates in certain structures which were previously tested by Berg (1998) in a comparison of German and English. Here, we establish the same type of comparison between Spanish and English, and conclude that: 1. agreement is resolved after a constant tug-of-war between the syntactic and the semantic, a process in which semantics is likely to interfere in formal operations when these are performed in the context of a weak morphology; 2. agreement resolution is effectively subject to various linguistic influences, including the morphological characteristics of each language, but also the domain in which agreement is realised; and 3. agreement is responsible for shaping overall linguistic systems in the sense that, as noted by Berg, it may motivate left–orientation (as in English) or not (as in Spanish) as a general default strategy for locating subjects.
Published online: 16 March 2012
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