A Question of Alignment V: Verb agreement

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.


One of the most prominent features of Ayeri with regards to verbs and their relation to subjects is verb agreement with 3rd-person NPs. This was already discussed at length in two previous blog articles (“Verb Agreement in Ayeri: Bound, Clitic, or Both?”, 2016-06-01; “Clitics in Ayeri: Thoughts and Notes”, 2017-04-16). Hence, I will only give basic information here.

Kroeger (1991) mentions that Tagalog has optional plural agreement of predicates with the nominative NP if the nominative argument of the clause is plural. This is independent of whether the nominative argument is also the actor of the clause or not (Kroeger 1991: 24–25), compare (1). The arrows in (1) mark government and agreement relationships: the verb governs role and case assignment (top arrow), while the nominative NP controls plural agreement on the verb (bottom arrow). As the arrows illustrate, the relationship between the assignment of the subject role and thus nominative case and plural agreement on the verb are congruent: the verb agrees in both (1a) and (1b) with the respective nominative NP, whether it is the agent (1a) or not (1b).

  1. Tagalog (adapted from Kroeger 1991: 14):

As described before, person agreement in Ayeri is essentially fixed to the agent NP in canonical cases, whether it is the topic of the clause or not. In (2a), we can see the verb determine that the agent argument is also the topic, with the verb agreeing itself in person with the agent: Ajān is a male name; the verb corresponds with masculine agreement. In (2b), however, the relation is asymmetric in that the marking on the verb shows that the patient argument is the topic, while the verb still displays masculine person agreement. We know that the verb agrees with Ajān rather than with Pila because the latter is a female name, so the verb should have feminine agreement if it were to agree with the patient NP. However, as the example shows, the verb continues to agree with the agent NP in spite of not being the topic of the clause. Topicalization appears to have no influence on the distribution of person agreement on the verb; the agent NP remains the subject. This is a very NOMACC trait.

In agentless clauses, however, the verb agrees with the patient argument, which makes Ayeri less typical a NOMACC language, and more similar in this regard to what an ERGABS language would be expected to do. Passivization of a transitive clause as a strategy for keeping the topic constant as a subject is essentially preempted by Ayeri’s use of a topic particle in the verb phrase. Hence, a sentence like (3a)—as a parallel to (1b)—sounds odd, while (3b) is fine.

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