Kinds of hybrid agreement and analyses thereof

How is a linguistics blog post different from a linguistics article? I think one key thing is that they’re short. So ommina try to keep this short!

Hybrid agreement (in gender)

The example below demonstrates the complexities of what is starting-to-be-standardly called “Hybrid Agreement.”

BCS hybrid agreement: some words are masculine, other words are feminine

What’s particularly of note is that the adjective stare ‘old’ is feminine, but the demonstrative ovi ‘these’ is masculine. Note there is optionality here— the demonstrative could also be feminine. Hybrid agreement has been front and center in the debate around the headedness of nominal phrases. Salzmann (2018) argues on the basis of hybrid agreement that NPs cannot be headed by N, and Bruening (2020) reanalyzes the data in a framework where N is the head. I’m not going to recapitulate the discussion here (because this is a blog post!), but there are some key properties of this pattern in BCS (as well as the non-BCS patterns of hybrid agreement that are sometimes discussed, e.g., by Landau (2016)):

  1. Lexical: only certain lexical items show this hybrid behavior
  2. Construction-general: This hybrid behavior shows up in a variety of syntactic contexts (eg, NP internal, verbs, pronouns)
  3. Optionality/variation: Hybrid agreement occurs “optionally”, which I use to here to mean “presence of identifiable hybrid agreement is not required for grammaticality.”

Because of these properties, the debates around hybrid agreement have always involved the question of how much information is encoded in the lexical representation of a noun. From the seminal monograph by Wechsler and Zlatić (2003) to Bruening’s (2020) update of the broad strokes of that approach, capturing hybrid agreement via additional lexical information explains (or some other word if you don’t like “explains” here) the three properties in the following ways.

  1. Lexical: lexical information is known to vary from word to word. If hybrid behavior is lexically-encoded, we expect it to be localized to certain lexical items but not others.
  2. Construction-general: Lexical properties are most compelling when they are not affected by the syntactic contexts in which they appear (that’s why they’re lexical). If hybrid behavior is lexically encoded, we expect that hybrid agreement would be visible in many syntactic constructions.
  3. Optionality/variation: The two parts of hybrid agreement—e.g., masculine and feminine features in the case of this BCS pattern—are not encoded in exactly the same way. We expect to see different behavior (or it’s at least not a surprise to see it) because of how processes access lexical information (e.g., what kinds of encoding they pay attention to). This can result in surface variation or optionality.

Finnish/Estonian hybrid agreement in number

In Finnish and Estonian (and possibly other Finnic languages where the patterns are not well documented), another kind of hybrid agreement pattern occurs.

Estonian hybrid agreement: some words are singular, other words are plural

The catalyst for this hybrid agreement is a numeral (anything other than `one’). Material to the right of the numeral is singular in form, and material to the left is plural in form. The numeral itself is also singular in form (yes, numerals in Finnish and Estonian clearly distinguish plural and singular forms, see my LSA paper for some examples and references). There is also a case distinction here, but only sometimes, and I’m not going to talk about it, since this is my blog and I will not be entertaining a lexical treatment of case in this post or ever. But Finnic hybrid number is rather different from the more well beaten paths of hybrid gender.

  1. Not lexical: nearly every noun that can be counted in Finnish/Estonian exhibits this number split. The exceptions that exist are in fact nouns which exceptionally do not show hybrid agreement—they’re plural on both sides (see my LSA paper on this, for example).
  2. Construction-specific: this is a property of numeral-noun constructions and numeral- noun constructions only (or, if you twist my arm, fine, we could just say it’s in vaguely non- universal quantificational contexts). We do not see this number split in other areas (e.g., not in simple NPs).
  3. Obligatory: As far as I know, this property of Estonian and Finnish is fully obligatory. It is ungrammatical to count plural nouns with singular numerals, and to the best of my knowledge, it is ungrammatical (if not completely, then very nearly so) to use a singular demonstrative in a numeral-noun construction with a numeral ≠ ‘one’. Perhaps a rigorous corpus study would reveal examples in some corner of the data, but my own fieldwork and the normative grammars certainly suggest that the only option is a plural demonstrative.

And just like that, the blog post is over.

Well, this is already verging on too long for a blog post, so let me try to concisely say what the point is. The Finnish/Estonian form of hybrid agreement is not a lexical pattern. (Landau (2016) actually does touch briefly on Finnish in his excellent work on hybrid agreement, but as I discuss in my LSA paper, the analysis is really only sketched. And anyway, Landau’s analysis of these patterns is also not actually lexical.) It’s thus not obvious how the lexicalist analyses of hybrid agreement—which I have not discussed in detail, because this is a blog post—can generalize to the Finnish/Estonian form of hybrid agreement. I have a 3/4 (ha! Hybrid agreement joke) completed squib on the topic—posting this in part to make sure I’m not missing any obvious beeves.

Of course, “well just because you call them the same thing does not mean they’re the same thing.” I’m not saying the Finnish /Estonian pattern and the BCS (etc.) pattern must have the same analysis because both can be called “hybrid agreement.” But I am saying that the Finnish/Estonian pattern must have an analysis. If your analysis of BCS (etc) hybrid agreement is part of a bigger point about the architecture of the grammar, then I contend it is important to consider how Finnish/Estonian fit into that architecture, too, now that you know the pattern exists.