Anna Kibort



Syntactic Government

From Oct 2008 - Dec 2011 I was working as a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Cambridge on a project dealing with a typological and theoretical investigation of syntactic government. This proposal arose from my previous work on Grammatical Features, during which it became clear that while linguists now had a detailed typological and theoretical account of syntactic agreement, syntactic government was still unexplored to the same depth. Agreement and government are traditionally distinguished by the fact that under agreement

'two or more words or phrases are "inflected" for the same category (e.g. number or person), whereas under government the principal and the dependent member of a syntactic construction do not both exhibit the same category: instead the dependent member is determined with respect to the relevant category (e.g. case) by the principal member' [John Lyons, Introduction to Theoretical Linguistics 1968: 241].

Therefore, agreement can be seen as 'displaced information' (Moravcsik 1988: 90) - where one element carries the grammatical meaning relevant to another; while government can be seen as a 'brand mark' (Kibort 2010: 68) - here an element requires another element to carry grammatical meaning relevant to the relationship between them.

Although this distinction is accepted by most linguists, the interpretation of the notions of the 'principal member', 'dependent member', and 'being determined by' can vary considerably between linguistic frameworks. Syntactic accounts which offer to model government are often incompatible with one another and may not correspond to accounts from inflectional morphology. The term 'governs' sometimes appears to be simply a substitute for 'requires [a particular form of an element]', revealing the lack of understanding of the possible general mechanism behind this requirement. The Conference on 'Syntactic Government and Subcategorisation', which I organised at the University of Cambridge 31 Aug - 3 Sep 2011, brought together descriptive linguists, typologists, theoretical, computational and corpus linguists who had contributed to the understanding and modelling of the phenomenon of government and subcategorisation, and for the first time encouraged a direct comparison of the different approaches to syntactic government. A selection of papers on 'Syntactic Government and Complementation', presenting new descriptions of challenging phenomena from typologically diverse languages together with their cutting-edge analyses, is being prepared as a Special Issue of the journal Studia Linguistica. My other outputs have focused on the issues of subcategorisation and semantic selection.

Grammatical Features

From Nov 2004 - Oct 2007 I was Research Assistant to Prof. Greville Corbett at the University of Surrey on an ESRC-funded project 'Grammatical Features: Key to Understanding Language' (grant number RES-051-27-0122).

The aim of the project was to deepen the knowledge of the linguistic concept 'feature' by bringing together typological research on the content of features with formal work on their behaviour. One of the objectives was to produce an inventory of morphosyntactic features, listing features proposed, with sources pointing to the decisive evidence. The inventory was envisaged as a stepping-stone for asking: What can be a feature? What features occur across different components? How do features interact? What potential features, as inferred from the patterns of the occurring features, appear to be missing from the feature inventory? The typological approach was meant to help ensure that any proposed feature theory could meet the range of diversity found in natural language.

An inventory of features which were found to be morphosyntactic, and a list of others which were investigated but no evidence was found for their morphosyntactic status, can be viewed at: More information, discussion, examples, and references pertaining to each feature can be found on the Grammatical Features website:, mirrored at:

The catalogue of the various types and uses of features has constituted the basis for the theoretical conceptualisation of the notion 'feature'. It has helped demonstrate the type of features on which linguistic theory can legitimately call and the implications of adopting different theoretical perspectives on features while using them for the same descriptive goals. Many interim results of the project were presented at conferences, invited talks and lectures, in a number of published papers (see the Features Outputs page for a detailed list), and at the dissemination conference of which I was the organiser (see the homepage of the Workshop on Features). The project was evaluated by the ESRC as 'Outstanding'.

I was the main editor of the volume Features (2010) published by Oxford University Press which brings together perspectives on linguistic features from phonology to formal syntax and semantics, expounding the use of features in typology, computer applications, and logic. It includes chapters by: David Adger, Ann Copestake, Greville G. Corbett, Gabi Danon, B. Elan Dresher, Dan Flickinger, Anna Kibort, Keith Plaster, Maria Polinsky, Gergana Popova, Geoffrey K. Pullum, Ivan A. Sag, Hans-Jörg Tiede. For more information, please see the publisher's website:


Content last updated 24 October 2016
Page last modified 3 March 2009