A Question of Alignment IV: Some General Observations

In this series of blog articles—taken (more or less) straight from the current working draft of chapter 5.4 of the new grammar for better visibility and as a direct update of an old article (“Flicking Switches: Ayeri and the Austronesian Alignment”, 2012-06-27)—I will finally reconsider the way verbs operate with regards to syntactic alignment.


As mentioned in a previous article in this series, Ayeri was originally conceived under an impression of what was described in a quotation by Cowan (1995) in terms of ‘trigger language’ (also compare Schachter 2015). That is, in simple declarative statements, the semantic macrorole of a definite NP is marked on the verb. This is itself a very basic account of what can be observed in Tagalog and other Philippine languages, compare (1) below (emphasis mine).1 Further effects—which I completely disregarded for a long time—will be discussed in more detail in the next few blog articles in this series.

  1. Tagalog (Kroeger 1991: 14, adapted from Foley and Van Valin 1984: 135):
    1. B-um-ili ang=lalake ng=isda sa=tindahan.

      PFV.AV-buy NOM=man GEN=fish DAT=store

      The man bought fish at the store.’

    2. B-in-ili-Ø ng=lalake ang=isda sa=tindahan.

      PFV-buy-OV GEN=man NOM=fish DAT=store

      ‘The man bought the fish at the store.’

    3. B-in-ilh-an ng=lalake ng=isda ang=tindahan.

      PFV-buy-DV GEN=man GEN=fish NOM=store

      ‘The man bought fish at the store.’

    4. Ip-in-am-bili ng=lalake ng=isda ang=pera.

      IV-PFV-buy GEN=man GEN=fish NOM=money

      ‘The man bought fish at the store with the money.’

The examples in (1) show variations on the same sentence, differing in the distribution of the definite NP which Kroeger (1991) classifies as being the subject of the respective sentence on syntactic grounds. The subject NPs are marked with the clitic ang, and their role in the clause is reflected by the voice marking on the verb (the root is bili ‘buy’): in (1a) the subject is the actor, in (1b) it is the object, in (1c) it is a location, and in (1d) it is an instrument. What is remarkable is that this voice marking goes beyond mere passivization,2 so even the oblique arguments of (1cd) can become subjects of their respective clauses. Ayeri is at least superficially similar, compare (2).

    1. ang=int-ya ayon-Ø inun-ley moton-ya

      AT=buy-3SG.M man-TOP fish-P.INAN store-LOC

      The man, he bought fish at the store.’

    2. le=int-ya ayon-ang inun-Ø moton-ya

      PT.INAN=buy-3SG.M man-A fish-TOP store-LOC

      The fish, the man bought it at the store.’

    3. ya=int-ya ayon-ang inun-ley moton-Ø

      LOCT=buy-3SG.M man-A fish-P.INAN store-TOP

      The store, the man bought fish there.’

    4. ri=int-ya ayon-ang inun-ley pangis-Ø

      INST=buy-3SG.M man-A fish-P.INAN money-TOP

      The money, the man bought fish with it.’

Like Tagalog, Ayeri marks a privileged NP on the verb, however, in Ayeri, this is the topic, not the subject (this will be subject to further scrutiny later). Unlike in Tagalog, the marked NP is not marked by a particle, but by the very absence of case marking on the NP itself. The marker corresponding to the role of the topic NP appears as a clitic in the shape of the corresponding NP’s case marker in its proclitic form at the left-most edge of the clause, before the verb. While the marker on the verb is thus related to nominal case markers in Ayeri, Tagalog uses a number of affixes for voice marking which are not obviously related to case markers on nouns. For instance, non-subject actors are marked by the genitive clitic ng (pronounced nang), while actor voice is marked by mag- or -um- (Schachter and Otanes 1972: 74, 78; Kroeger 1991: 16–18). In Ayeri, on the other hand, non-topic animate agents are marked on NPs by -ang or ang, and animate agent-topics are marked on the verb by ang as well.

  1. The underlining here is not supposed to be read as marking contrastive focus—this is one of the ‘mistakes’ that has led to what I have in Ayeri, basically, besides then also mixing up focus and topic. It also does not help that terminology is all over the place, as Schachter (2015: 1659) points out.
  2. Note that Kroeger (1991) avoids the terms active voice and passive voice that Schachter (2015) objects to as inappropriate, even though what Tagalog does essentially appears to work along those lines, except in a more generalized way.

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