University of Pennsylvania Working Papers in Linguistics


One of the biggest problems for variationist approaches to syntactic variation is the question of where such variation occurs in the grammar, and what type of variation is allowed. Kroch (1994) suggests that syntactic variables are a result of Competing Grammars, in which grammars that derive differing surface outputs are in competition and selected by the speaker. In this paper, I observe an implicit prediction of the Competing Grammars viewpoint as typically described: material above the variable cannot condition variation. I test this prediction in a variationist study of embedded passives (the ëneeds washedí construction) in Pittsburghese, and show that material above the variable does condition variation. This finding suggests that a look-ahead problem arises if a grammar in competition is selected prior to derivation of the variable. To solve this, I propose that both grammars are initially derived, and that the derivation transferred to LF and PF is chosen in Spell-Out from the two possibilities. Grammars still compete; however, the competition selects a variant later than previously thought.



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