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Past participle agreement in French – one or two rules?

From the book Formal Approaches to Romance Morphosyntax

  • Doreen Georgi and Elisabeth Stark


Past participle agreement in French has been taken to be conditioned (among other factors) by movement of the internal argument out of the VP, i.e. as a reflex of movement. However, drawing on data that have been neglected so far in the formal literature on the topic (Lahousse 2011), we show that this characterization is in part misguided: past participle agreement is also possible with in-situ internal arguments of unaccusative/passive verbs (that combine with the perfect auxiliary être), and hence cannot generally be considered a reflex of movement. We argue that a unified analysis of all past participle contexts in French is not only difficult - the sole attempt at a uniform analysis of a very similar pattern in Italian by D’Alessandro and Roberts (2008) cannot be extended to French - but also undesirable, because past participle agreement in contexts with the auxiliary avoir differs in a number of properties compared to past participle agreement in contexts that require the auxiliary être. We thus argue that past participle agreement in French is in fact not a homogeneous phenomenon but results from two different mechanisms: agreement between the past participle and the internal argument in its base position (not in a Spec-head configuration as is usually assumed), or from resumption (following a suggestion by Boeckx 2003).

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