A Question of Alignment VII: Quantifier Float

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.


Another property usually associated with subjects is the ability of quantifiers referring to the subject NP to ‘float’ into the VP. This is possible also in English, consider, for instance:

    1. All the children are writing letters.
    2. The children are all writing letters.

Both of these sentences are equal in meaning: for all children in the set, every child is writing an unspecified amount of letters. It is not the case in (1b) that for an unspecified amount of children, together they write the total amount of letters. All refers to the children in both cases, even though all is not placed in the subject NP, the children, in (1b). Kroeger (1991) mentions an example from Schachter and Otanes (1972) concerning lahat ‘all’, which is also able to float into a position right after the sentence-initial verb from the NP it normally modifies and which it would normally occur in:

  1. Tagalog (adapted from Kroeger 1991: 22, from Schachter and Otanes 1972: 501):
    1. sumusulat lahat ang=mga=bata ng=mga=liham

      AV.IPFV-write all NOM=PL=child GEN=PL=letter

      ‘All the children are writing letters.’
      Not: *‘The children are writing all the letters.’

    2. sinusulat lahat ng=mga=bata ang=mga=liham

      IPFV-write-OV all GEN=PL=child NOM=PL=letter

      ‘The/some children write all the letters.’
      Not: *‘All the children are writing letters.’

In (2a), lahat ‘all’ refers to the children, which constitute the subject NP according to voice and case marking, while we get the opposite case in (2b), where it refers to the letters, which are marked as the subject this time. Of course, it is equally possible in English to say The letters are all written by the children, where the letters is the subject that the floated all refers to.

A lot of clitic quantifiers in Ayeri have a double meaning as intensifiers. For instance, -ikan can refer to both quantities and qualities, meaning ‘much, many’ or ‘very’ depending on context. Thus, many of the suffixed quantifiers, if appended to the VP, are understood to modify the verb as an intensifier and are thus unsuitable for floating. The only exception is -aril ‘some’, which only pertains to NPs as a quantifier. However, since the floating of suffixed quantifiers would produce readings which are ambiguous at best, floating of -aril is avoided as well. Example (3) shows an attempt to float -hen ‘all’ into the IP, resulting in a meaning different from the sentence with the unfloated particle for the reasons just stated above.

    1. {Ang tahanyan} ganye-hen tamanyeley.

      ang=tahan-yan gan-ye-Ø=hen taman-ye-ley

      AT=write-3PL.M child-PL-TOP=all letter-PL-P.INAN

      ‘The children, all of them are writing letters.’

    2. {Ang tahanyan-hen} ganye tamanyeley.

      ang=tahan-yan=hen gan-ye-Ø taman-ye-ley

      AT=write-3PL.M=completely child-PL-TOP letter-PL-P.INAN

      ‘The children, they are completely writing letters.’
      Intended: ‘The children, they are all writing letters.’

Besides suffixed quantifiers, Ayeri also has free quantifiers like sano ‘both’ or diring ‘several’, however. These free morphemes only have a quantifying reading, not an intensifying one, and are thus suitable for floating, since they do not produce ambiguities with regards to what is being modified.

    1. {Ang apayan} yan sano layjya.

      ang=apa-yan yan-Ø sano lay-ye-ya

      AT=laugh-3PL.M boy-TOP both girl-PL-LOC

      ‘The boys, both of them are laughing at the girls.’

    2. {Ang apayan} sano yan layjya.

      ang=apa-yan sano yan-Ø lay-ye-ya

      AT=laugh-3PL.M both boy-TOP girl-PL-LOC

      ‘The boys, they are both laughing at the girls.’

Since, as described above, topicalization has no impact on what constitutes the subject, meaning does not significantly change when the topic of a sentence like (4b) is switched to the patient in example (5a). Unlike in Tagalog in (2b) above, yanang ‘boy(s)’ as the agent NP remains as the subject, and the floated sano still refers to this NP rather than the locative NP, layye ‘(at) the girls’. This fact is also reflected in the lack of plural marking on yanang, since sano indicates the NP’s plurality. We would expect the forms yanjang and lay if sano were to refer to ‘the girls’ rather than ‘the boys’, as in (5b).

    1. {Ya apayan} sano yanang layye.

      ya=apa-yan sano yan-ang lay-ye-Ø

      LOCT=laugh-3PL.M both boy-A girl-PL-TOP

      ‘The girls, the boys are both laughing at them.’

    2. {Ya apayan} yanjang lay sano.

      ya=apa-yan yan-ye-ang lay-Ø sano

      LOCT=laugh-3PL.M boy-PL-A girl-TOP both

      ‘The girls, the boys are laughing at both of them.’

As we have seen above, the modification of subject pronouns with clitic quantifiers is avoided due to many of them serving a double role as intensifiers with related meanings which could be readily understood as referring to the verb instead of the pronoun. With free quantifiers, this problem does not arise, however, so that there is no problem in placing them right after the finite verb. Ambiguity may be in the phrase structure of the clause here, but not at a functional level, as it is clear that the quantifier modifies the subject pronoun from semantic coherence.

  1. {Ang girenjan} sano bahalanya.

    ang=girend=yan.Ø sano bahalan-ya

    AT=arrive=3PL.M.A both finish-LOC

    ‘They arrived both at the finish.’

It is possible in Ayeri for pronouns to be modified by enclitic intensifiers indirectly by using sitang ‘self’ as an indeclinable dummy pronoun to carry the clitic so as to avoid ambiguity created by floating the clitic right after the finite verb. This is also possible for the purpose of quantification of pronouns with clitic quantifiers.

    1. {Ang girenjan} panca sitang-hen bahalanya.

      ang=girend=yan.Ø panca sitang=hen bahalan-ya

      AT=arrive=3PL.M.A finally self=all finish-LOC

      ‘All of them finally arrived at the finish.’

    2. {Ya girendtang} panca sitang-hen bahalan.

      ya=girend=tang panca sitang=hen bahalan-Ø

      LOCT=arrive=3PL.M.A finally self=all finish-TOP

      ‘The finish, all of them finally arrived there.’

Since sitang is indeclinable, it is the pronominal clitic which carries inflection for case, as (7b) shows. An analysis of sitang-hen as ‘self.TOP=all’ is therefore not possible. Moreover, -tang sitang-hen does not constitute a clitic cluster, because it is possible to place word material between the verb and sitang-hen, as (7) shows. The question remains, however, whether sitang-hen is stranded at the end of the verb phrase or located in the position a full agent NP would normally occupy.

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