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Syntax of Natural and Accidental Coordination: Evidence from Agreement

From: Language
Volume 82, Number 4, December 2006
pp. 824-849 | 10.1353/lan.2006.0189


Adjective agreement with coordinated nouns in Finnish presents a puzzling pattern: in some cases, a plural adjective is required with coordinated singular nouns, while in other cases that seemto be syntactically identical, a plural adjective is disallowed. The key to this puzzle lies at the syntax-semantics interface: plural adjectives are required in cases of NATURAL COORDINATION, where a salient close relation holds between the conjuncts, but disallowed in cases of ACCIDENTAL COORDINATION. The semantic distinction between natural and accidental coordination has a syntactic reflex in Finnish, where only the features of the natural-coordination structure are compatible with the agreement requirements of plural adjectives. We show that the distinction between natural and accidental coordination is syntactically reflected not only in Finnish, but in other languages as well, including Tundra Nenets, Russian, and Kurdish.