A Question of Alignment XI: Control

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.

All articles in this series: Typological Considerations · ‘Trigger Languages’ · Definition of Terms · Some General Observations · Verb agreement · Syntactic Pivot · Quantifier Float · Relativization · Control of Secondary Predicates · Raising · Control · Conclusion


Control verbs behave basically in the opposite way of raising verbs: the subject of the subordinate verb is also an argument of the verb in the matrix clause—subject or object—and this argument acts as a controller for the subject of the subordinate verb. The main clause predicate thus is thought to assign two thematic roles. In GG it is assumed that the subject of the lower clause is a silent PRO element which is coindexed with the controller (Carnie 2013: 442–445, 451).

    1. Subject control:

      Johni tries [that Johni gets a job]
      = Johni tries [PROi to tPRO get a job]

    2. Object control:

      The officer ordered Maryi [that Maryi turn back]
      = The officer ordered Maryi [PROi to tPRO turn back]

Kroeger (1991) refers to subject control as ‘Equi’ and reports that according to Schachter (1976: 505), it is typically the actor of the subordinate verb that is the target of deletion. At first sight this would be a strong argument in favor of defining the actor NP as the subject, however, he notes that under certain circumstances, “the controllee in a transitive complement clause [is allowed] to be either the Actor (regardless of case marking) or the argument which bears nominative case” (Kroeger 1991: 37). This is the case, for instance, with himukin ‘persuade’ and magpilit ‘insist on’. Subordinate verbs marked for non-volitive mood form an exception as well (36–37, also 96–97). Kroeger (1991) illustrates the main pattern of control in Tagalog with the following set of example sentences in (2).

  1. Tagalog (adapted from Kroeger 1991: 37):

While the nominative argument of the subordinate verb changes between the actor in (2a), the theme in (2b), and the recipient in (2c), it is always the actor which is dropped as the coreferential argument. Why the example sentences in (2) use balak ‘plan, intend’ in its object-voice form is not explained. However, Kroeger (1991) mentions that “alternation in the voice category of the matrix verb and the case marking of the controller does not affect the control relation” (37). In other words: whether the actor in the matrix clause is the subject or not does not matter; for Tagalog’s equivalent of subject-control verbs the control relationship always finds its origin in the actor argument, although there are a few exceptions, as mentioned above. The set in (3) presents an interesting example of (‘obligatory’) control based on the patient/theme argument in Tagalog’s equivalent of object-control verbs.

  1. Tagalog (adapted from Kroeger 1991: 93–94):

Regarding (3ab), Kroeger (1991) explains that “when the complement verb appears in its volitive (unmarked) form, the controllee must be the Actor of the embedded clause” (93). Thus, Maria cannot be the patient subject in (3b), since she is still the controllee. If the verb of the embedded clause is marked for non-volitive mood as in (3c), however, the sentence becomes grammatical: “When the embedded verb is marked for non-volitive mood, the pattern is reversed: the controllee must be the subject, and not the Actor. Actor gaps cannot be controlled in non-volitive complements” (94). The difference between obligatory and non-obligatory control adds a further complication to acceptability, but these details do not need to preoccupy us for the purpose of comparison to Ayeri, which lacks these distinctions.

As previously with raising verbs, it is possible in Ayeri to combine a subordinating verb with a full complement clause (4a), an embedded IP complement (4b), or complete incorporation (4c). In both (4a) and (4b) cases, it is necessarily the actor which is coreferened, as the bottom arrow shows. In (4c), the bottom arrow does not show coreference, but the relation of verb agreement. The arrow on top, as before, shows what the respective verb picks as the clause’s topic for all example sentences.

As with raising verbs, the embedded and incorporated verbs appear in a non-finite form, the participle. For (4b) the reason may be that there is no overt agent in the clause with which to agree, and agreement with the patient does not make sense here because the clause does not express a passive either. In (4c) the reason may be that the main verb already carries person features. If the topic marking on the finite verb is altered as in (5), the meaning of the sentences does not change with regards to grammatical relations and voice, giving us yet more reason to assume that the agent is the grammatical subject, and that topic marking has no influence on these matters. Ayeri thus has actual subject-control verbs in the way English has them.

In object-control constructions, the object of the matrix clause’s verb is an actual argument of it, as shown in (6). This argument becomes the subject of the embedded clause, and there is no change in the meaning of the verb between both versions of sentences. We have seen above that Ayeri does not allow to-object raising, since it is not possible to assign patient case to an external agent because Ayeri’s case marking is not purely based on grammatical functions, but there is still also some semantic motivation. Ayeri does, however, allow object control, so it seems to be possible at least to implicitly convert the matrix clause’s patient or theme to the agent of the embedded clause, while the opposite is apparently not possible. Whether syntactic precedence or some kind of accessibility hierarchy is involved here still needs to be investigated.

    1. John asked [Mary to give Peter the book]
      = John asked Mary
    2. The teacher instructs [the students to calculate parables]
      = The teacher instructs the students
    3. I persuaded [my friend to come along]
      = I persuaded my friend

The example sentences in (7) follow the format of those above. Again, it is generally possible to use a complement clause as in (7a) or (7b), as well as complementing the verb in the matrix clause with a non-finite clause with object control (7c). However, the incorporation strategy is not possible here because this would cause a doubling of case roles (7d). As we will see below, however, this is not an issue for intransitive complement clauses.

Strictly speaking, it does not matter in (7a) and (7b) whether the coreferenced argument is the topic in both clauses or not; it is simply not unlikely that it is. Again, topicalization does not have an effect on grammatical relations—although it was shown above that Tagalog, in the canonical case, deviates from its normal behavior as well with regards to control verbs to the point where this construction has been used as an argument in favor of the actor argument being the subject. As for Ayeri, unlike in coordinated main clauses, topicalization is not a strategy for disambiguation of several possible controllers for the pronominal agent of the complement/embedded clause here. Due to the semantics of the verb in the matrix clause, it is clear that the patient argument is to be understood as the agent of the subordinate verb. Thus, there is no ambiguity in anaphoric reference in the complement clause.

  • Carnie, Andrew. Syntax: A Generative Introduction. 3rd ed. Chichester: Wiley Blackwell, 2013. Print. Introducing Linguistics 4.
  • Kroeger, Paul R. Phrase Structure and Grammatical Relations in Tagalog. Diss. Stanford University, 1991. Web. 17 Dec. 2016. ‹http://www.gial.edu/wp-content/uploads/paul_kroeger/PK-thesis-revised-all-chapters-readonly.pdf›.
  • Schachter, Paul. “The Subject in Philippine Languages: Topic, Actor, Actor-Topic, or None of the Above?” Subject and Topic. Ed. Charles N. Li. New York: Academic P, 1976. 493–518. Print.

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