Axel Holvoet

Vocative agreement in Latvian and the principle of morphology-free syntax

Latvian grammars state that the form of adjectives modifying vocatives in Latvian can be determined by morphological rather than syntactic case: a special vocative ending -o is claimed to be possible only when the vocative controlling agreement has a special form distinct from the nominative. This would contradict Zwickys principle of phonology-free and morphology-free syntax, as normally only the morphosyntactic feature value of the noun should be visible to the adjective, not the way in which it is realised. It has been suggested, on the other hand, that the vocative is not really a case, and that typologically speaking it is not a likely agreement feature. The aim of the article is, then, to examine how vocative agreement actually works in Latvian, and how the apparent exception to the general principles ruling agreement can be explained. First, the degree of integration of the vocative in the Latvian case system is examined (in comparison with Lithuanian), and it is suggested that the zero endings characteristic of Latvian vocatives (as a result of phonetic development) could have been reinterpreted as truncation, and that a similar truncated ending was created for the adjective through borrowing of the accusative ending. As truncated vocatives tend to be asyntactic (often being incapable of adjectival modification), it is suggested that the extension of the truncated form to the adjective was not mediated by the regular mechanisms of agreement but by what is tentatively described as vocative smear’―the phonologically driven spread of the vocative feature of truncation to the surroundings of the vocative noun.

Keywords: case, vocative, agreement, phonology-free syntax, morphology-free syntax