Switch Reference in Generative Grammar

By Andrew Nevins and Livia Camargo Souza

This course aims to introduce students to the switch-reference phenomenon, from the perspective of Generative Linguistics. We will address the state of the theory, discussing formal accounts from Finer (1984)’s seminal work to current proposals, highlighting how different authors see the phenomenon through syntactic or semantic lenses. Our main goal is to show that either lens has its limitations, and to argue that switch-reference cannot be reduced simply to a syntactic or semantic phenomenon: as an expression of anaphora, it requires coordinated work from all modules of grammar. We will show that the syntactic component of switch-reference follows the well- known properties of the Agree operation (Chomsky, 2000, 2001), and will discuss the problems of using Agree to encode referential dependencies. We will discuss the disanalogies between partial Agree and partial coreference, aiming to show that syntax alone cannot be responsible for the range of possible relations encoded by switch-reference morphemes in the presence of plural and quantified pivots. We will offer a broad crosslinguistic view, drawing data from varied sources, which include journal and handbook articles, surveys, and the instructors’ own fieldwork notes. By the end of the course students will have a general knowledge of the phenomenon, including its typology, the main existing formal accounts, and some residual issues that remain inviting research topics.


  • The course will meet synchronously on Zoom every Friday from 430pm to 630pm for 5 weeks, starting on October 16th. We will use the same Zoom link every week.
  • Lessons will consist of discussion of the required readings for the week (2 papers on average, 1 hour per lesson).
  • Tutorials will include Q&A sessions and problem sets based on the topic of the lesson (1 hour per tutorial).
  • Background knowledge of basic syntactic theory is required.
  • Please e-mail the instructors for a link to the course’s dropbox folder: a.nevins@ucl.ac.uk; livia.souza@rutgers.edu.

Lesson Plan

  1. Background and the state of the theory
    • Tutorial: Updating Finer (1985) to the current framework of Generative syntax. The problem of Agree and referential dependency. Q&A and exercises.
  2. Partial coreference and partial Agree: morphosyntactic accounts
    • Tutorial: Can partial coreference reduce to partial Agree? Q&A and exercises.
  3. Surveys and fieldwork
    • Readings:
      • Lima, Pereira & Nevins (in prep)
    • Optional readings:
    • Tutorial: Anecdotes and Q & A on what it’s like to do fieldwork.
  4. Plural anaphora, quantifiers, and salience: semantic accounts
  5. Residual issues: non-canonical SR?

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