This article aims to contribute to the debate on a feature-geometric approach versus a binary feature approach to number with data from the Eastern Algonquian language, Mi'gmaq. In Mi'gmaq, animate intransitive verbs show a three-way number contrast with singular, dual and plural. Nonsingular endings appear in both dual and plural forms. The plural is derived from the dual by adding a pluralizing morpheme, -ulti. Thus, the plural is morphologically more complex than the dual. A complex plural form is unexpected under Harley & Ritter (2002)'s feature geometry as plural is formally represented as being less complex (i.e, less features) than the dual. In a binary feature system as argued for by Noyer (1992), Harbour (2006), and Nevins (2011), singular, dual, and plural number are represented as being equally complex. A binary feature system can thus capture a wide range of empirical number patterns, including the one seen in Mi'gmaq. By associating morphemes with the feature-values, I argue that a binary feature system can better derive number agreement in Mi'gmaq. I also extend the binary feature approach to derive agreement between nouns, which have a singular-plural distinction, and verbs with the three-way contrast. I conclude with some implications of this analysis for theories of markedness.
Proceedings of the 35th West Coast Conference on Formal Linguistics
edited by Wm. G. Bennett, Lindsay Hracs, and Dennis Ryan Storoshenko
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