Last month I asked whether I should get a top level domain for this site here, since benung.nfshost.com has long seemed a bit unwieldy to me. Most people of the dozen who gave feedback spoke out of in favor of it. And there I went, after six years and some consideration, and registered ayeri.de. I hope that this is a lot more succinct now.

In spite of the German country code, contents here will continue to be mainly in English, since the conlanging community as I know it is international. Old links will continue to work, as I set the server to rewrite them; benung.nfshost.com also remains the canonical domain for DNS purposes (hat tip to kaleissin).

Just a quick status update on the Grammar: I’m currently trying to come up with example sentences in order to figure out the status of various elements regarding their classification as an affix or a clitic. Not everything I’ve been calling ‘clitic’ so far is one, most probably, since my understanding had been faulty. Especially the declined person markers (-yang, -vāng, -yāng etc.) seem to behave more like affixes, in fact.

Should I stay or should I go?

I was recently wondering again whether I should move my Ayeri stuff to my own top level domain from its current residence at nfshost.com. I haven’t planned anything concrete, I’m just curious for your opinion. There’s a poll embedded in the following tweet.

The thing is, Ayeri’s been living at its current address since July 2008, and thus, things from this site are linked in quite a few other places. In this regard, I feel somewhat uneasy breaking continuity. On the other hand, people usually come in from a handful of sources only, besides search engines, and I can always put a redirect up here.

Update on the Grammar Writing Process II

A problem I have recently come to see with conlanging is that while a whole number of people may research a natural language at any time, each researcher contributing to scholarly discourse from their area of expertise, your typical conlanger is working on their fictional language all by themselves. I’m no exception with regards to this. This also means, however, that only you are acquainted with your conlang, which also means that while fleshing it out, you have to be a kind of jack-of-all-trades if you want to do it well. On the other hand, a single person does not have talent for or interest in all areas of a field to the same degree, nor can you know everything about a field as variegated as linguistics. In addition to this, acquiring some deeper knowledge and experience just in a part of a field takes time.

While writing my new Ayeri grammar, describing phonology at least roughly, and morphology with a little more attention to detail seemed fair enough.1 Describing a language, however, doesn’t end at elaborating on how to form words. Syntax is just as important, as it describes how to form larger units of meaning, which is certainly no trivial issue either. Since Ayeri’s structure departs from English in some basic ways, it definitely warrants more serious attention.

Most conlangers I know seem to be mainly interested in morphology, and may even go so far as meeting formal syntax theories with suspicion. Moreover, I have never had a proper introduction to syntax myself either, for instance, in class at university. However, since Ayeri is rather different from German or English, I have long had an itch to figure its syntax out in a more structured way, in order to find out and describe in standard terms what I have been doing so far without giving it too much of a second thought. Since I’ve been trying to keep up a certain level of seriousness in the grammar, simply stating that Ayeri is VSO and heads mostly go first, and treating everything within 5 pages won’t do. Dealing with such a complex topic this superficially does not seem satisfying to my own curiosity and ambition. I am hoping that finding out more about Ayeri’s syntax would uncover more remaining blank spots, the filling of which would allow me to add yet more depth.

A colleague of mine had suggested to get acquainted with Lexical-Functional Grammar, actually with regards to my day job as a grad assistant. Describing Ayeri in this framework, however, might be interesting as well, since LFG was developed with flexibility in mind so that configurational, non-configurational, and mixed languages can all be dealt with in a straightforward manner. With its VSO constituent order, Ayeri may fall somewhere in the middle of this spectrum, though this needs further analysis, which I can’t provide just yet. I have been trying to work through Bresnan et al. (2016), but I realized that trying to study these things on my own is no adequate replacement for correction by teachers, since it’s too easy to accidentally gloss over important details by reading a textbook without discussing its contents. Furthermore, this book presupposes familiarity with common structuralist paradigms, such as Generative Grammar (Carnie 2002/2013 seems to be a popular introduction), Government and Binding, and X-bar theory, which it seems reasonable to acquaint myself with before I continue.

Yet, I am impatient to keep on writing, since I really don’t want to let the grammar drift off into negligence again this time. I had written some 20 pages on syntax earlier this month, however I realized that much of what I had written is probably wrong, since, for example, I disregarded lexical integrity as a fundamental principle with regards to what I assume to be clitics, simply for the reason of not being aware of this principle for the lack of formal training in a very formal discipline. For the time being, I have deleted what I wrote about the phrase structures of DPs/NPs and AdjP/AdvPs from the PDF in the main development branch on Github (‘master’) to not spread misinformation. Once I know more and have reevaluated some things, development on this part will go on in the ‘trunk’ branch, which I will merge back into ‘master’ once I am confident enough that my analyses are at least not completely off.

Thus, for the time being, the grammar will have to pause at morphology, and hopefully not for another 5 years. Alternatively, I may need to find a way to adequatly describe how to form clauses and sentences without getting too deeply into theories, at least provisionally, if that is possible.

  • Bresnan, Joan et al. Lexical-Functional Syntax. 2nd ed. Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell, 2016. Print. Blackwell Textbooks in Linguistics 16.
  • Carnie, Andrew. Syntax. A Generative Introduction. 3rd ed. Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell, 2013. Introducing Linguistics 4.
  • Spencer, Andrew and Ana R. Luís. Clitics. An Introduction. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2012. Print. Cambridge Textbooks in Linguistics.
  • Zwicky, Arnold M. On Clitics. 1977. Arnold M. Zwicky. 21 Apr. 2015. Stanford U. 21 Apr. 2015. Web. 22 Jul. 2016. ‹https://web.stanford.edu/~zwicky/on_clitics.pdf›.
  1. I will still have to rewrite some things with regards to cliticization, though. For instance, I am not quite sure whether manga with verbs is inflection or rather a special clitic; the term ‘bound word’ from Zwicky (1977) I used in the grammar hasn’t stood the test of time. I’m currently reading up on more recent research and positions on clitics in Spencer & Luís (2012), so corrections to the morphology chapter will follow eventually.

Subordinating Verbs: A Small Blast from the Past

I was recently thinking about this with regards to writing my New and Improved (tee-em) grammar of Ayeri and my previous post on subordinating verbs. I saw subordinating verbs as posing the problem of putting too much stuff in the constituent that holds the verb. As a solution, I described moving the complement of the main verb into a finite complement clause if it’s more than intransitive. However, when I did some analysis of verbs yesterday to maybe shed some light on the alternation between -isa and -isu in deverbal adjectives, I came across the following example sentence in the entry for pinya ‘ask’, entered October 24, 2008:

  1. Sa
    Sa
    PT
    pinyayāng
    pinya=yāng
    ask=3SG.M.A
    ye
    ye
    3SG.F.TOP
    rimayam
    rima-yam
    close-PTCP
    silvenoley.
    silveno-ley
    window-P.INAN

    ‘Her he asks to close the window.’

Material from 2008 is not quite fresh anymore, but going through my example texts, I also found the following sentence fragment in the 2010/11 Conlang Holiday Card Exchange (interlinear glossing updated to current standards):

  1. nārya
    nārya
    but
    le
    le
    PT.INAN
    tavisayang
    tavisa=yang
    receive=1S.A
    takan
    takan-Ø
    chance-TOP
    incam
    int-yam
    buy-PTCP
    dagangyeley
    dangang-ye-ley
    card-PL-P.INAN

    ‘but I got the chance to buy cards’

In both cases, the subordinating verb is transitive: (1) ‘he asks her’, (2) ‘I got the chance’; pinya- ‘ask’ in (1) is a raising an object-control verb (the logical subject of the subordinate verb is the object of the verb in the matrix clause), while int- ‘buy’ in (2) should simply be an infinite clausal complement. However, in both cases we do neither get the complement awkwardly placed in the middle, nor are the sentences rephrased so as to result in a finite complement clause or a nominalized complement to avoid the infinite verb form:

    1. ??
      Sa
      Sa
      PT
      pinyayāng
      pinya=yāng
      ask=3SG.M.A
      rimayam
      rima-yam
      close-PTCP
      silvenoley
      silveno-ley
      window-P.INAN
      ye.
      ye
      3SG.F.TOP

      ‘Her he asks to close the window.’
    2. Pinyayāng,
      pinya=yāng,
      ask=3SG.M.A,
      ang
      ang
      AT
      rimaye
      rima=ye.Ø
      close=3SG.F.TOP
      silvenoley.
      silveno-ley
      window-P.INAN

      ‘He asks that she closes the window.’

    1. nārya
      nārya
      but
      le
      le
      PT.INAN
      tavisayang
      tavisa=yang
      receive=1S.A
      takan
      takan-Ø
      chance-TOP
      intanena
      intan-ena
      purchase-GEN
      dagangyena
      dangang-ye-na
      card-PL-GEN

      ‘but I got the chance of a purchase of cards’
    2. nārya
      nārya
      but
      le
      le
      PT.INAN
      tavisayang
      tavisa=yang
      receive=1S.A
      takan,
      takan-Ø,
      chance-TOP,
      ang
      ang
      AT
      incay
      int=ay.Ø
      buy=1SG.TOP
      dagangyeley
      dangang-ye-ley
      card-PL-P.INAN

      ‘but I got the chance that I buy cards’

Both constructions, (1) and (2) are not widely attested in my materials, and the new grammar doc as it currently is does not rule out cases like (2), insofar I only need to make up my mind about constructions like in (1): continue allowing them as a variant, declare them ungrammatical, or simply ignore them? In the first case I might be required to keep a VP or a functional equivalent of it, after all, since there would be a post-subject position associated with verbs, then. In any case, raising and control should be interesting topics to come to terms with in my conlang.

Unclogging the Sink: Avoiding Center-Embedding with Subordinating Verbs

While working on the chapter on verb morphology in the revised Ayeri grammar I’ve been working on all the way since July, I had to stop the other day and consider how to deal with participles. With regards to Ayeri, these are the infinite subordinated verbs which appear together with verbs that may take another verb – or even a whole phrase headed by such an infinite verb – as a complement:

    1. Cunyo
      Cun-yo
      begin-3SG.N
      makayam
      maka-yam
      shine-PTCP
      perinang.
      perin-ang
      sun-A

      ‘The sun began to shine.’
    2. Manangyeng
      Manang=yeng
      avoid=3SG.F.A
      pengalyam
      pengal-yam
      meet-PTCP
      badanas
      badan-as
      father-P
      saha
      saha
      in.law
      yena.
      yena
      3SG.F.GEN

      ‘She avoids to meet her father-in-law.’

Example (1a) shows two intransitive verbs being combined, cun- ‘begin’ (subordinating) and maka- ‘shine’ (complement); example (1b) illustrates an intransitive verb which takes a transitive verb as a complement, manang- ‘avoid’ (subordinating) and pengal- ‘meet’ (complement). We can also observe word order differences in that the agent NP in (1a) follows the initial verb complex while the agent NP is an enclitic pronoun directly following its governing verb in (1b), which is not surprising, since agent pronouns take verbs as clitic hosts. That is, the agent pronoun -yeng ‘she’ (3SG.F.A) bundles together with its governing verb manang- ‘avoid’ rather than cliticizing to the whole verb phrase,1 i.e. appending -yeng ‘she’ (3SG.F.A) to pengalyam ‘meeting’. As far as describing the morphology of participles goes, we are basically done here, and this is also where I stopped thinking previously.

However, if we actually continue from here and take a morphosyntactic point of view, an interesting question arises: what happens to the constituents’ linearization if we (a) use full NPs instead of cliticized agent pronouns, and (b) not only combine an intransitive verb with a transitive one, but try all possible combinations–intransitive, transitive, ditransitive, and any of these with adverbial adjuncts? I think that for the sake of sketching out my thoughts here, it won’t be necessessary to give examples of all 18 possible combinations, since the more complex cases should all be treated alike anyway.

Assuming that she in (1b) is Maha, who just doesn’t get along with her husband’s father, where does the agent NP go? As noted above, the position of the agent clitic is somewhat special, so I take it that (1a) should be the basic word order. Thus, for (1b), we get:

  1. Manangye
    Manang-ye
    avoid-3SG.F
    pengalyam
    pengal-yam
    meet-PTCP
    badanas
    badan-as
    father-P
    saha
    saha
    in.law
    yena
    yena
    3SG.F.GEN
    ang
    ang=
    A=
    Maha.
    Maha
    Maha

    ‘Maha avoids to meet her father-in-law.’

Besides the fact that the agent winds up at the very end of the clause instead of at its otherwise preferred position after the verb, this still seems to be comprehensible. What happens, however, if we use a transitive subordinating verb? The dictionary, for instance, lists pinya- ‘ask (s.o. to do sth.)’ as a candidate. With regards to the normal constituent order of Ayeri, we can assume that the patient NP will follow the agent one:

  1. Ang
    Ang
    AT
    pinyaya
    pinya-ya
    ask-3SG.M
    sahayam
    saha-yam
    go-PTCP
     
    Ø=
    TOP=
    Yan
    Yan
    Yan
    sa
    sa=
    P=
    Pila.
    Pila
    Pila

    ‘Yan asks Pila to go.’

This also still looks very harmless with regards to parsability. However, things become more complicated if we increase the complexity of the embedded phrase by making the subordinate verb transitive (4a) or even ditransitive (4b):

    1. Ang
      Ang
      AT
      pinyaya
      pinya-ya
      ask-3SG.M
      konjam
      kond-yam
      eat-PTCP
      inunas
      inun-as
      fish-P
       
      Ø=
      TOP=
      Yan
      Yan
      Yan
      sa
      sa=
      P=
      Pila.
      Pila
      Pila

      ‘Yan asks Pila to eat the fish.’
    2. Ang
      Ang
      AT
      pinyaya
      pinya-ya
      ask-3SG.M
      ilyam
      il-yam
      give-PTCP
      koyaley
      koya-ley
      book-P.INAN
      ledanyam
      ledan-yam
      friend-DAT
      yana
      yana
      3SG.M.GEN
       
      Ø=
      TOP=
      Yan
      Yan
      Yan
      sa
      sa=
      P=
      Pila.
      Pila
      Pila

      ‘Yan asks Pila to give the book to his friend.’

The distance between the subordinating verb and its arguments grows by the increasing number of constituents in the embedded phrase, which in turn becomes increasingly “deep” in terms of underlying syntactic structure or “heavy” with regards to syntactic weight. The parser in both the speaker’s and the listener’s brain thus has to keep track of more and more relations in parallel. In terms of information flow, this does not strike me as beneficial or intuitive either to a speaker constructing the phrase, or to a listener having to decode the utterance. For the same reason, there is already a rule that relative clauses constitute “heavy” elements which pull their referent NP all the way to the back of the clause to keep the upper right field free of clutter. While (4a) is a little awkward since there are two patients to keep track of at the same time and at the time the first patient NP occurs we don’t know yet whether -ya is just for agreement or a cliticized agent-topic pronoun, example (4b) seems even more impenetrable with its three referents in the embedded clause and two in the matrix clause, placed at the end. Putting less important information before important information also goes against information-flow intuition.2 Restructuring seems advisable here, thus, and there are two possibilities:

    1. Ang
      Ang
      AT
      pinyaya
      pinya-ya
      ask-3SG.M
      _​​i​
       
       
       
      Ø=
      TOP=
      Yan
      Yan
      Yan
      sa
      sa=
      P=
      Pila
      Pila
      Pila
      [ilyam
      il-yam
      give-PTCP
      koyaley
      koya-ley
      book-P.INAN
      ledanyam
      ledan-yam
      friend-DAT
      yana]​​i​​.
      yana
      3SG.M.GEN

      ‘Yan asks Pila to give the book to his friend.’
    2. Ang
      Ang
      AT
      (da​​i​-)pinyaya
      (da=)pinya-ya
      (so=)ask-3SG.M
       
      Ø=
      TOP=
      Yan
      Yan
      Yan
      sa
      sa=
      P=
      Pila
      Pila
      Pila
      [, ang
      ang
      AT
      ilye
      il=ye.Ø
      give=3SG.F.TOP
      koyaley
      koya-ley
      book-P.INAN
      ledanyam
      ledan-yam
      friend-DAT
      yana]​​i​​.
      yana
      3SG.M.GEN

      ‘Yan asks Pila to give the book to his friend.’

In the past I might have preferred (5a) as a solution, but since the analogy to relative clauses suggests itself and complement clauses are useful, I find that I tend towards the sentence in (5b) currently. To indicate that the sentence structure has been remodeled and information will be following, it might also be useful to add the da- particle to the verb: a more literal translation of (5b) could be ‘Yan asks Pila such that she give the book to his friend.’ Either way, however, the normal VSO word order is restored this way, important information is present early on, and the heavy constituent is banned to the back. Information should now be able to flow easily again.

  1. If Ayeri has such a thing, which is kind of a problem for me right now. I need to read up on VSO-language syntax before I can make conclusive claims.
  2. Hat-tip to Oliver Schallert (blog article in German).

Update on the Grammar Writing Process

Draft for the 2016 Ayeri grammar cover
Draft for the 2016 Ayeri grammar cover
At the moment I’m still working on rewriting the grammar. It’s at about 150 pages of content proper now (at regular copy paper size, no less) and I’m working on describing the morphology of the verb right now. Much more still needs to be written, for instance, the chapter on syntax. It’s proven useful to some degree that I’ve already written blog posts detailing the one or the other issue in the past. In these cases, I could simply adapt what I had written before, which sped up the writing process a little. Other than that, I’ve more or less come to mostly ignore what I had written some 5 years ago, since most of it was not very detailed anyway. The new grammar will thus be completely rewritten for the most part, not merely adapted to LaTeX and with extended contents.

For the past four months I’ve tried to basically return to the mode in which I worked on my MA thesis last winter, which involved writing at least 1–2 pages every day. This seems to be the most workable way for me, since taking too long breaks has proven deadly with regards to motivation before. Thus, permanence is probably a virtue with such things, at least as far as I’m concerned, and seeing things grow in manageable increments effectively counters the paralysing fear of the whole mountain of work. Since life is life, however, I have not managed to keep this schedule up very strictly, but I’m still trying to do my best.

At the top of this article, you can see a front cover draft I’ve come up with some weeks ago. My current motivation is to finish writing this thing this time, and to then print out a full copy and have that bound as a reward to myself. It won’t be quite like a real book, of course, but it will still be something I can proudly put on my shelf as an Achievement. I’ve already written an 80-page MA thesis before, so I know I can manage this as well if I want to, even though this time it’s likely going to be three times as long. Plus, if I manage this, I suppose a PhD thesis will also be manageable.

You can still find all the source files in my GitHub repository at https://github.com/carbeck/ayerigrammar/. There’s also a PDF of the most recently compiled version of the grammar there, as well as an overview of the topics covered so far.

Link: Ayeri Grammar GitHub Repo

This place has been going rather quiet for the past 2 months, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been working on Ayeri—quite the opposite, in fact. While there hasn’t been much activity here on this blog, a lot more is currently going on at the Ayeri Grammar repository on the code-sharing site, GitHub.

I’ve been trying to add a few pages every day for the past 7 weeks so that I am currently at about 110 pages (examples and tables take up so much space!). Since the whole thing is quite a bit in flux, I don’t want to give a straight download link to the fully compiled document yet, but you can nonetheless take a look at everything I’ve written so far.

Verb Agreement in Ayeri: Bound, Clitic, or Both?

I read Agreement by Corbett earlier this year and of course it contains a chapter on person clitics as compared to person inflection as an agreement strategy (Corbett 99–112). You may have noticed before that Ayeri behaves a little oddly with regards to person marking on verbs, insofar as verbs for the most part agree with agents in person and number, whether they are the topic of the clause or not.1 Sometimes, this person marking even involves case (as a nominal category governed by the verb!), as we will see below. For a start, however, consider these two examples:2

    1. Ang manya Ajān sa Pila.
      Ang
      AT
      man-ya
      greet-3SG.M
      Ø=​Ajān
      TOP=​Ajān​[3SG.M]
      sa=​Pila
      P=​Pila​[3SG.F]

      ‘Ajān greets Pila.’
    2. Ang manya sa Pila.
      Ang
      AT
      man-ya.Ø
      greet-3SG.M.TOP
      sa=​Pila
      P=​Pila​[3SG.F]

      ‘He greets Pila.’

I think it is uncontroversial to analyze -ya in (1a) as person agreement: Ajān is a male name in Ayeri while Pila is a feminine one; the verb inflects for a masculine 3rd person, which tells us that it agrees with the one doing the greeting, Ajān. Ajān is also who this is about, which is shown on the verb by marking for an agent topic. In the second case, there is only anaphoric reference to Ajān, so you might say that the agent NP is left out, so very broadly, the verb marking here seems to be like in Spanish, where you can drop the subject pronoun:3

    1. Juan saluda a María.
      Juan
      John
      salud-a
      greet-3SG
      a
      ACC
      María
      Mary

      ‘John greets Mary.’
    2. Saluda a María
      Salud-a
      greet-3SG
      a
      ACC
      María.
      Mary

      ‘He greets Mary.’

Example (1b) probably won’t raise many eyebrows either, except that there is also topic marking for an agent there, the controller of which I have so far assumed to be the person inflection on the verb, in analogy with examples like:

  1. Lampyāng.
    Lamp-yāng
    walk-3SG.M

    ‘He walks.’

This raises the question whether in Ayeri there is dropping of an agent pronoun involved at all, which is why I glossed the person suffix in (1b) as -ya.Ø (-3SG.M.TOP) rather than just as -ya (-3SG.M).

This leads us to consider another characteristic of Ayeri, namely that the topic morpheme on noun phrases is zero. That is, the absence of overt case marking on a nominal element indicates that it is a topic; the verb in turn marks the case of the topicalized NP with a (case) particle preceding it. Pronouns as well show up in their unmarked form when topicalized, which is why I am hesitant to analyze the pronoun in (4b) as a clitic on the VP rather than an independent morpheme:4

    1. Sa manya ang Ajān Pila.
      Sa
      PT
      man-ya
      greet-3SG.M
      ang=​Ajān
      A=​Ajān
      Ø=​Pila
      TOP=​Pila

      ‘It’s Pila that Ajān greets.’
    2. Sa manyāng ye.
      Sa
      PT
      man-yāng
      greet-3SG.M.A
      ye.Ø
      3SG.F.TOP

      ‘It’s her that he greets.’

What is remarkable, then, is that ye3SG.F.TOP‘ is the very same form that appears as an agreement morpheme on the verb, just like -ya in various examples above:

  1. Ang purivaye yāy.
    Ang
    AT
    puriva-ye.Ø
    smile-3SG.F.TOP
    yāy
    3SG.M.LOC

    ‘She smiles at him.’

This also holds for all other personal pronouns. Moreover, -yāng as seen in examples (3) and (4b) may as well be used as a free pronoun, as well as other such case-marked personal forms:

    1. Yeng mino.
      Yeng
      3SG.F.A
      mino
      happy

      ‘She is happy.’
    2. Yāng naynay.
      Yāng
      3SG.M.A
      naynay.
      too

      ‘He is, too.’

As for case-marked person suffixes on verbs, I have so far assumed that they are essentially clitics, especially since the following marking strategy is the grammatical one in absence of an agent NP:

    1. Manye sa Pila.
      Man-ye
      greet-3SG.F
      sa=​Pila
      P=​Pila

      ‘Pila is being greeted.’
    2. Manyes.
      Man-yes.
      greet-3SG.F.P

      ‘She is being greeted.’

The verb here agrees with the patient – or is it that person agreement suffixes on verbs are generally clitics in Ayeri, even where they don’t involve case marking? There seems to be a gradient here between what looks like regular verb agreement with the agent on the one hand, and agent or patient pronouns just stacked onto the verb stem on the other hand:

Table 1: Verb inflection types in Ayeri
I. Clitic pronouns II. Transitional III. Verb agreement
Inflectional categories Person
Number
Case
Person
Number
Case/Topic
Person
Number
Examples (itr.) …-yāng
…-3SG.M.A
…-ya₁ …-ang₁
…-3SG.M …-A
Examples (tr.) sa₁ …-yāng …-Ø₁
PT …-3SG.M.A …-TOP
ang₁ …-ya.Ø₁ …-as
AT …-3SG.M.TOP …-P
  1. ang₁ …-ya₁ …-Ø₁ …-as
    AT …-3SG.M …-TOP …-P5
  2. sa₁ …-ya₂ …-ang₂ …-Ø₁
    PT …-3SG.M …-A …-TOP

Especially the middle, transitional category is interesting in that what looks like verb agreement superficially can still govern topicalization marking, which is indicated in column II by an index “1”. Note that this behavior only occurs in transitive contexts; there is no topic marking on the verb if the verb only has a single NP dependent.

As for personal pronouns fused with the verb stem like in the first column, Corbett points out that

In terms of syntax, pronominal affixes are arguments of the verb; a verb with its pronominal affixes constitutes a full sentence, and additional noun phrases are optional. If pronominal affixes are the primary arguments, then they agree in the way that anaphoric pronouns agree […] In terms of morphology, pronominal affixes are bound to the verb; typically they are obligatory […]. (99–100)

This seems to be exactly what is going on for instance in (3) and (7b), where the verb forms a complete sentence. It needs to be pointed out that Corbett includes an example from Tuscarora, a native American polysynthetic language, in relation to the above quotation. Ayeri should not be considered polysynthetic, however, since its verbs generally do not exhibit relations with multiple NPs, at least as far as person and number agreement is involved.

Taking everything written above so far into account, it looks much as though Ayeri is in the process of grammaticalizing personal pronouns into person agreement (Lehmann 42–45, van Gelderen 493–497). Corbett illustrates an early stage of such a process:

  1. Skou (Corbett 76–77):
    1. Ke
      3SG.M
      móe
      fish
      ke=fue.
      3SG.M=​see.3SG.M
      (*​Ke móe fue.)
       

      ‘He saw a fish.’
    2. Pe
      3SG.F
      móe
      fish
      pe=fu.
      3SG.F=​see.3SG.F
      (*​Pe móe fu.)
       

      ‘She saw a fish.’

What van Gelderen calls the subject cycle, the “oft-noted cline expressing that pronouns can be reanalyzed as clitics and agreement markers” (van Gelderen 493) applies here, and as well in Ayeri. However, while she continues to say that in “many languages, the agreement affix resembles the emphatic pronoun and derives from it” (494), Ayeri does at least in part the opposite and uses the case-unmarked, unstressed form of personal pronouns for what resembles verb agreement most closely. This, however, should not be too controversial either, considering that e.g. semantic bleaching and phonetic erosion go hand in hand with grammaticalization (Lehmann 136–137, van Gelderen 497).

As pointed out above (see example (7)), Ayeri usually exhibits verbs as agreeing with agents and occasionally patients, not topics as such. This may be a little counterintuitive since the relation between topics and subjects is close, but is possibly due to the fact that the unmarked word order is VAP. This means that agent NPs usually follow the verb, and it strikes me as not too unnatural to have an agreement relation between the verb and the closest NP also when non-conjoined NPs are involved (Corbett 180). This conveniently explains why verbs can agree with patients as well if the agent NP is absent. Taking into account that the grammaticalization process is still ongoing so that there is still some relative freedom in how morphemes may be used if a paradigm has not yet fully settled (Lehmann 148–150) also makes this seem less strange. Verbs simply become agreement targets of the closest semantically plausible nominal constituent. Ayeri seems to be shifting from topics to subjects, and as a consequence the bond between agents and verbs is strengthened due to their usual adjacency; developing verb agreement with agents may be seen as symptomatic of this change.

Up to here signs point towards Ayeri’s person agreement in fact being more likely enclitic pronominal affixes, even what I had been thinking of as person agreement before (i.e. suffixes on the verb that only encode person and number, but not case), but can we somehow corrobate this? Corbett offers a typology here:

Table 2: The syntax and morphology of pronominal affixes (Corbett 101)
syntax: non-argument argument
linguistic element: ‘pure’ agreement marker pronominal affix free pronoun
morphology: inflectional form free form

A pronominal affix, then, is syntactically an argument of the verb but has the morphology of an inflectional form. If we compare this to the gradient given in table 1 above, it becomes evident that I definitely fulfills these criteria, and II does so as well, in fact, in that there is no agent NP that could serve as a controller if the verb inflection in II were ‘merely’ a agreement target. The inflection in III, on the other hand, appears to have all hallmarks of agreement in that there is a controller NP that triggers it, with the verb serving as an agreement target. Moreover, the person marking on the verb is not a syntactic argument of the verb. As example (7a) shows, however, marking of type III permits the verb to mark more than one case role, which makes it slightly atypical, although verbs can only carry a single instance of person marking (Corbett 103). Regarding referentiality, the person suffixes on the verb in table 1, columns I and II are independent means of referring to discourse participants mentioned earlier, whereas the person suffix in III needs support from an NP in the same clause as a source of morphological features to share:

    1. Ajān … Ang manya sa Pila.
      Ajān
      Ajān
      Ang
      AT
      man-ya.Ø
      greet-3SG.M.TOP
      sa=​Pila
      P=​Pila

      ‘Ajān … He greets Pila.’
    2. Ajān … Sa manyāng Pila.
      Ajān
      Ajān
      Sa
      PT
      man-yāng
      greet-3SG.M.A
      Ø=​Pila
      TOP=​Pila

      ‘Ajān … It’s Pila that he greets.’

    3. *Ajān … Manya sa Pila.
      Ajān
      Ajān
      Man-ya
      greet-3SG.M
      sa=​Pila
      P=​Pila

Since person marking of the type I and II is referential, as shown in example (9a) and (b), it can be counted as a cliticized pronoun (103). Pronouns in Ayeri can also refer to non-people – there are both a ‘neuter’ gender for non-people considered living (or being closely associated with living things), and an ‘inanimate’ gender for the whole rest of things; however, since mere agreement as in type III needs support from an NP within the verb’s scope, it does not have descriptive/lexical content of its own, i.e. it only serves a grammatical function (104). As for Corbett’s balance of information criterion, table 1 also highlights differences in what information is provided by the person marking. Nouns in Ayeri inherently bear information on person, number, and gender, and all three types of person inflection on verbs share these features. However, there are no extra grammatical features indicated by the first two inflection types that are not expressed by noun phrases, although under a very close understanding of Corbett, the following example (10) may still qualify as person-marking on the verb realizing a grammatical feature shared with an NP that is not openly expressed by the NP. He writes that in the world’s languages, this frequently is number (105). This, however, does not apply to Ayeri because the only time that verbs display number not expressed overtly by inflection on a noun is in agreement like in type (3a):

  1. Ang sahayan ayon kay kong nangginoya.
    Ang
    AT
    saha-yan
    come-3PL.M
    ayon-Ø
    man-TOP
    kay
    three
    kong
    into
    nanggino-ya
    tavern-LOC

    ‘Three men come into a pub.’

As shown above, verb marking of the types I and II is independent as a reference, so there is unirepresentation of the marked NP. In contrast, verb marking of type III requires a controlling NP in the same clause to share grammatical features with, so that there is multirepresentation typical of canonical agreement (106). Note that unirepresentation as outlined here is probably different from pro-drop, as in this case I would expect sentences like (9c) to be grammatical (107). A further property that hinges on types I and II being independent pronouns tacked onto verbs as clitics is that they are not coreferential with another NP of the same grammatical relation, but in complementary distribution, as commonly assumed with pronominals (108). Hence, you can’t say something like either of these two:

    1. *Lampyāng ang Ajān.
      Lamp-yāng
      walk-3SG.M.A
      ang=​Ajān
      A=Ajān
    2. *Ang lampyāng Ajān.
      Ang
      AT
      lamp-yāng
      walk-3SG.M.A
      Ø=​Ajān
      A=​Ajān

However, verb agreement with a pronoun is also not possible even though it would be expectable according to Corbett (109):

    1. Lampyāng.
      Lamp-yāng
      walk-3SG.M

      ‘He walks.’
    2. *Lampya yāng.
      Lamp-ya
      walk-3SG.M
      yāng
      3SG.M.A

In conclusion, we may assert that Ayeri appears to be in the process of grammaticalizing pronouns as verb infletions, however, how far this grammaticalization process has progressed is dependent on syntactic context. Ayeri displays a full gamut from personal pronouns (usually agents) tacked on verbs as clitics to agreement with coreferential NPs that is transparently derived from these personal pronouns. With the latter, there is the complication that coreferential pronoun NPs are not allowed as one might expect, but only properly nominal ones. Slight oddities with regards to Austronesian alignment – Ayeri’s actors bear more similarities to subjects than expected, but still without fully conflating the two notions – can possibly be explained by a strengthening of the verb-agent relationship pointed out as a grammaticalization process in this article as well. What was not discussed here, and consequently saved up for later, are more detailed questions of verb agreement such as resolution and mismatches.

  • Corbett, Greville G. Agreement. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2006. Print. Cambridge Textbooks in Linguistics 52.
  • Gelderen, Elly van. “The Grammaticalization of Agreement.” The Oxford Handbook of Grammaticalization. Ed. Heiko Narrog and Bernd Heine. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2011. 491–501. Print. Oxford Handbooks in Linguistics 7.
  • Lehmann, Christian. Thoughts on Grammaticalization. 3rd ed. Berlin: Language Science Press, 2015. Print. Classics in Linguistics 1. ‹http://langsci-press.org/catalog/book/88›.
  • Li, Charles N. and Sandra A. Thompson. “Subject and Topic: A New Typology of Language.” Subject and Topic. Ed. Charles N. Li. New York: Academic P, 1976. 457–485. Print.
  • Wasow, Thomas. “Remarks on Grammatical Weight.” Language Variation and Change 9 (1997): 81–105. Print.
  • Added a reference to Wasow 1997 in a nod to the question of plausibility of in-situ topic marking and grammatical weight.
  • When translating things in Ayeri, I find myself very often using agent topics, which may be because I’m used to subjects proper. Supposing that this is also what Ayeri prefers in-universe, it would make sense to assume the usual grammaticalization path by which topics become subjects, thereby also leading to subject-verb agreement by means of resumptive pronouns referring back to left-dislocated topics (Lehmann 121–122; van Gelderen 499–500). Lehmann (120) gives colloquial French Jean, je l’ai vu hier ‘John, I saw him yesterday’ as an example here: the object clitic l’ (← le3SG.M‘) may well develop into an agreement affix (also see van Gelderen 498 on a Spanish dialect).
  • Specifying the claim that Ayeri is not polysynthetic: the topic NP marked on the verb may be a different from the one with which it agrees in person and number, so technically, Ayeri verbs may agree with more than one NP in a very limited way. Still, I would not analyze this as polypersonal agreement, since there is only canonical verb agreement with one constituent. Topic marking should in my opinion be viewed as a separate agreement relation.
  1. “Topic” is not to be understood strictly in terms of topic/comment sentence structure (Li and Thompson 1976) here in the way e.g. Japanese or Chinese uses it, but in terms of the “Austronesian alignment.” For an analysis of how Ayeri treats topics vs. subjects, see the article “Flicking Switches: Ayeri and the Austronesian Alignment” (2012-06-27) on this blog.
  2. Some of the Ayeri examples used here come from a list of samples I provided for a bachelor’s thesis at the University of Kent in March 2016, in private conversation, on request. I don’t know what the author made of them – the questionnaire I filled out initially indicated that the thesis was probably on the syntactic typology of fictional languages regarding typical word-order correlations (VO correlating with head-first order etc.). I hope that my reflections here don’t preempt or invalidate the author’s analyses should they still be in the process of writing or their submitted thesis be in the process of evaluation and grading. I would certainly like to learn about their analysis of my examples.
  3. However, we will see that it is probably more complicated than this.
  4. Also, perhaps a little untypically, topic NPs in Ayeri are not usually pulled to the front of the phrase (at least not in the written language; cf. Lehmann 120–122), so topic-marked pronouns stay in-situ; which NP constitutes the topic of the phrase is marked on the verb right at the head of the clause. How and whether this can be justified in terms of grammatical weight (see, e.g., Wasow 95–98) remains to be seen.
  5. The question here is, though, whether this shouldn’t better be analyzed as AT …-3SG.M.TOP …-TOP …-P, with co-indexing of the topic on the person inflection of the verb, making it structurally closer to type (2). What is certain is that the VP in Ayeri is rather complex syntactically and that it should be investigated further in the future.