The Finnish possessive suffix

Saara Huhmarniemi, Pauli Brattico


The Finnish possessive suffix constitutes a perennial problem of Finnish syntax, debated, without resolution, for decades. The phenomenon has been approached from (at least) three different viewpoints. According to the first one, the possessive suffix constitutes a non-finite agreement marker, being regulated by phi-agreement (Agree in the current minimalist theory). The second hypothesis regards it as an anaphoric element, subject to binding theory and the binding conditions. The third analysis regards the possessive suffix as a mixed category, sometimes falling under agreement, other times under binding. All these analyses share a common ground in the claim that the possessive suffix must be ccommanded by its “antecedent”, whether by agreement or by binding. In this article, we report anomalous data, which does not fall under any of these views: the possessive suffix need not, in fact, be c-commanded by its antecedent. We provide a descriptive account of these facts by stating that, under certain circumstances, a failed search for a c-commanding antecedent triggers a discourse search as a last resort. We then propose that these facts are indicative of the presence of a null pronominal, a non-finite pro, in close proximity of the possessive suffix. In addition, the possessive suffix is an agreement marker for the pro-element.

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