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Roots, their structure and consequences for derivational timing

Ivona Kučerová and Adam Szczegielniak
From the journal The Linguistic Review


Recent work in Distributed Morphology, most prominently Harley (2014), argues for roots being able to take syntactic complements, which opens the door for the possibility of having syntactic features within a root’s representation – something most DM literature rejects (Embick 2015). Upon a closer inspection of the arguments presented in the literature, it is not clear whether the disagreement has an empirical underpinning, or whether it stems from the lack of methodological clarity as far as the identification of the precise nature of what constitutes a syntactic feature. This paper takes this methodological question seriously and investigates a type of derivational behavior that, in our view, provides a decisive argument for the presence of syntactic features on roots. We argue that the presence of a syntactic feature on the root can be conclusively established based on a feature’s impact on specific properties within a larger syntactic structure. Based on empirical evidence form gender agreement phenomena, we introduce a model of grammar that distinguishes roots with syntactic features from those which do not have them. We propose that such a distinction between roots will manifest itself in the timing of root insertion – roots without syntactic features are late inserted, while roots with syntactic features must be early inserted.

Funding statement: This research would not have been possible without funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council Insight Grants #435-2016-1034 (PI: I. Kučerová).


We thank to anonymous reviewers and the audiences in the DP60 workshop at MIT, WCCFL 35 at University of Calgary, and Roots V at QMUL for their helpful comments and suggestions and Dorota Wojtaś for her Polish judgments.


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Published Online: 2019-07-06
Published in Print: 2019-09-25

© 2019 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Boston

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