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Agreement and tense in Korean and universal grammar

Kyung-Rahn Kim

Ph.D. Dissertation, 1999


This dissertation is concerned with three primary issues: (i) the distribution and function of inflectional morphemes in Korean, (ii) the syntactic placement and semantic interpretation of the inflectional morphemes, and (iii) their interactions with Universal Grammar. In discussing these three issues, I suggest two possible realizations of Agreement (AgrP), and two tenses (TP) in Korean, making use of the framework of GB syntax. Agr(eement) in Korean has not received attention because verb agreement for person, number and gender is not syntactically overt. However, Number and Honorific Agreement occur in certain circumstances. Number Agreement in Korean is realized with the plural marker -tul when the sentence has a plural subject. However, -tul only attaches to [-V] elements, including adverbs and postpositions, and never attaches to verbs or adjectives. I describe the behavior of -tul, and argue that its behavior parallels that of subject clitics in languages such as Hebrew and Trentino/Fiorentino. Korean also has Honorific Agreement, in which the verb agrees with the subject and/or the object. Subject-Honorific Agreement is obligatory, while Object-Honorific Agreement is quite rare, and is limited to a small number of verbs. The other major category involving verb inflections is Tense. Previous analyses have claimed that Korean has two tenses, past and nonpast. However, I argue that Korean tenses are marked by -nun/-∅ for present tense, and -ess for past tense. The present and past tenses are treated like an anaphor and an R-expression respectively when they are interpreted in complement and conjoined clauses. Finally, I consider the semantic interpretation of past tense with -ess in Korean. Previous works dealing with temporal expressions have accounted for Korean morphological phenomena in pragmatic or purely structural terms. However, I propose that several temporal phenomena in Korean should be explained by looking at the contribution of verb types (such as achievement, activity, etc.) as well as tense-marking affixes.

Department of Linguistics University of Wisconsin-Madison

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