Tag Archives: agreement

A Question of Alignment VI: Syntactic Pivot

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


Since we have just dealt with aspects of syntactic alignment in the last installment and found that Ayeri behaves a little oddly with regards to this, it may be interesting to perform another test on declarative statements and their syntactic pivot as well. A simple test which Comrie (1989: 111–114) describes in this regard is to test coreference in coordinated clauses. In coordinated clauses, it seems to be not uncommon for the subject of the second conjunct to drop out. Thus, in English, which behaves very much in terms of NOMACC alignment in this regard, we get the following result:

In the English example in (1), the cat constitutes the coreferential subject in (1d). This NP is the intransitive subject S of (1b) and the agent A of (1a). English thus typically has NOMACC alignment, since it treats S and A alike. In an ERGABS language, then, we would expect the opposite case: S and P should be treated alike. In Dyirbal, we find the situation depicted by the examples in (2).

  1. Dyirbal (adapted from Comrie 1989: 112):

In (2), we find that balan dʸugumbil ‘the woman’ is coreferential in (2d). This is the S of (2c), and the P of (2a). Dyirbal, thus, treats S and P alike, as predicted for an ERGABS language—at least in this case, since Comrie (1989: 113) also explains that 1SG and 2SG pronouns in Dyirbal behave in terms of NOMACC. Comrie (1989) also notes that some languages do not show a clear preference for whether the A or P of the transitive clause in the first conjunct is the preferred reference of the S of the intransitive clause in the second conjunct.

For Tagalog, as Kroeger (1991) explains, “the deletion is not obligatory but null nominative arguments are always interpreted as referring to the nominative argument of the main clause” (30). Due to the way Tagalog treats subjects, however, the nominative argument can be formed by either NP in (3) with the voice marked accordingly on the verb.1

  1. Tagalog (adapted from Kroeger 1991: 31, from Ramos and Cena 1990: 151–152):

What can be observed in Tagalog is that in (3a), the dropped S argument in the second conjunct, bago umalis … ‘before … leaves’, is coreferential with Marvin, since he is marked as the subject of the first conjunct. Since Marvin is the theme (above marked P for ‘patient’ more generally) of tanong ‘ask’, the clause needs to be marked for objective voice. On the other hand, in (3b), it is Derek who is the subject of the clause, so it is also he who leaves; the verb in the first conjunct clause is marked for actor voice according to the asker as the actor (A) being the subject.

In order to now investigate what the situation is in Ayeri, let us return to our initial set of examples. These examples feature two animals which are treated both as animate neuters. Anaphoric reference is thus potentially ambiguous between paral ‘cat’ and prabara ‘mouse’.

While it is possible in Ayeri to not repeat the coreferential NP in a conjunct clause verbatim, Ayeri still appears to avoid an empty subject slot. Thus, the verb sahayong ‘it comes’ in (4b) displays a pronominal clitic, -yong ‘it’, which constitutes the resumptive subject pronoun of the clause. In (4d) at least, this pronoun is coreferential with the subject in the first conjunct, paral ‘cat’. Seeing as Tagalog switches the subject around by altering the voice marking on the verb, it is certainly illustrative to check how Ayeri fares if the topic is swapped to prabara ‘mouse’.

In (5), the resumptive pronoun is indicated to not refer to the first conjunct’s agent/subject, paral, but to its theme/object, prabara. This may be explained by topicalization: the sentence is about the mouse, so the underspecified argument in the second conjunct, in absence of topic marking that would indicate otherwise, corresponds to the topic. Interestingly, the result is structurally similar to the example of Tagalog in (3) above. It is too early yet, however, to conclude that what was called ‘topic’ so far is the subject; Ayeri is merely not completely unambiguous in this context. Since Tagalog allows any NP of a clause to be the subject, as illustrated by (1) of installment 4 in this series, let us test whether the behavior just described for Ayeri also holds in other contexts of topicalization. The following example presents sentences of differently case-marked topic NPs each, but in every case, the agent NP and the topicalized NP consist of a human referent. Both referents share the same person features so that the verb in the coordinated intransitive clause can theoretically license either of them as its antecedent.

    1. {Yam ilya} {ang Akan} ilonley Maran nay sarayāng.

      yam=il-ya ang=Akan ilon-ley Ø=Maran nay sara=yāng

      DATT=give-3SG.M A=Akan present-P.INAN TOP=Maran and leave=3SG.M.A

      ‘Maran, Akan gives him a present, and he leaves.’ (Maran leaves)

    2. {Na pahya} {ang Maran} ilonley Diyan nay sarayāng.

      na=pah-ya ang=Maran ilon-ley Ø=Diyan nay sara=yāng

      GENT=take.away-3SG.M A=Maran present-P.INAN TOP=Diyan and leave=3SG.M.A

      ‘Diyan, Maran takes the present away from him, and he leaves.’ (Diyan leaves)

    3. {Ya bahaya} {ang Diyan} Maran nay sarayāng.

      ya=baha-ya ang=Diyan Ø=Maran nay sara=yāng

      LOCT=baha-3SG.M A=Diyan TOP=Maran and leave=3SG.M.A

      ‘Maran, Diyan shouts at him, and he leaves.’ (Maran leaves)

    4. {Ri su-sunca} {ang Diyan} ilonley Sedan nay sarayāng.

      ri=su~sunt-ya ang=Diyan ilon-ley Ø=Sedan nay sara=yāng.

      INST=ITER~claim-3SG.M A=Diyan present-P.INAN TOP=Sedan and leave=3SG.M.A

      ‘Sedan, Diyan reclaims the present with his help, and he leaves.’ (Sedan leaves)

    5. {Sā pinyaya} {ang Maran} tatamanyam Sedan nay sarayāng.

      sā=pinya-ya ang=Maran tataman-yam Ø=Sedan nay sara=yāng

      CAUT=ask-3SG.M A=Maran forgiveness-DAT TOP=Sedan and leave=3SG.M.A

      ‘Sedan, he makes Maran ask for forgiveness, and he leaves.’ (Sedan leaves)

In each of the sentences in (6), it is the topicalized NP which is identified as the antecedent for sarayāng ‘he leaves’. Does this mean Ayeri does, in fact, use Austronesian alignment? While the above examples certainly suggest it, let us not forget that the verb in the coordinated clause could theoretically pick either the agent NP or the topicalized NP as its controller. Things look slightly different, however, if the reference of the verb is unambiguous, for instance, because the topicalized argument cannot logically be the agent of the coordinated clause:

In (7), the first conjunct’s verb, as the head of its clause, specifies that the topic of the clause is the patient (P), which is embodied by ilon ‘present’. This NP, however, is not a very typical agent for the verb in the second conjunct, sara- ‘leave’. Besides, this verb is conjugated so as to require an animate masculine controller, whereas ilon is inanimate, as shown by the topic marker le. Ilon is thus not a suitable controller for sarayāng, since their person-feature values clash with each other—the ANIM and GEND values in particular:

    1. ilonN
      (↑ PRED)=‘present’
      (↑ INDEX)=
       (↓ PERS)=3
       (↓ NUM)=SG
       (↓ ANIM)=
       (↓ GEND)=INAN
    2. sarayāngI
      (↑ PRED)=‘leave ‹(↑ SUBJ)›
      (↑ SUBJ)=
       (↓ PRED)=pro
       (↓ PERS)=3
       (↓ NUM)=SG
       (↓ ANIM)=+
       (↓ GEND)=M
       (↓ CASE)=A

As before, there are two masculine NPs in the first conjunct which form suitable antecedents on behalf of being animate masculine as required: the agent (A) Akan and the recipient (R) Maran. Of the remaining non-topic NPs, Ayeri considers the agent to rank higher as a secondary topic on the thematic hierarchy than the recipient. The agent hence forms the preferred controller for sarayāng.

  1. Thematic hierarchy (Bresnan et al. 2016: 329):agent > beneficiary > experiencer/goal > instrument > patient/theme > locative

In cases where the topic in the first conjunct can safely be ruled out as the controller of the pronominal in the second conjunct, the syntactic pivot, thus, defaults to the highest-ranking semantically coherent NP. In most cases, Ayeri will therefore group the intransitive subject and the transitive agent together. For most verbs, this is also reflected by case marking, as we have seen above in (4): the S of an intransitive clause receives the same case marker as the A of a transitive clause: -ang/ang for animate referents, and reng/eng for inanimate referents. The case described initially, where the topic marking basically determines the controller of the coordinated intransitive clause, which is reminiscent of Tagalog’s syntax, is essentially a strategy to disambiguate between two possible controllers for the same target.

When only one of the referents in the transitive conjunct is eligible as the controller of the subject of the intransitive conjunct at the same time, A and P are regularly indicated by person agreement, since Ayeri requires a resumptive pronominal clitic in the intransitive clause, as indicated above. The affix on the verb thus has the status of a pronominal predicator, compare (10).

In (10a), the verb in the second conjunct, sarayāng ‘he leaves’ is marked for a masculine third-person subject. The only available controller in the first conjunct is Lita on behalf of being male, since Kumang is female. Hence, in (10b) the verb of the intransitive conjunct, sarayeng ‘she leaves’, finds its controller only in Kumang.

  • Bresnan, Joan et al. Lexical-Functional Syntax. 2nd ed. Chichester: Wiley Blackwell, 2016. Print. Blackwell Textbooks in Linguistics 16.
  • Comrie, Bernard. Language Universals and Linguistic Typology. Syntax and Morphology. 2nd ed. London: Blackwell, 1989. Print.
  • 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›.
  • Ramos, Teresita V. and Resty M. Cena. Modern Tagalog: Grammatical Explanations and Exercises for Non-native Speakers. Honolulu, HI: University of Hawaiʻi Press, 1990. Print.
  1. Thus, compare the English passive sentence Marvini was asked by Derekj before hei left with (3a). In English, the reference of he is ambiguous between the syntactic subject Marvin and the agent Derek, however. As we have seen above, though, Tagalog would also be able to make a subject of an oblique argument, not just of the patient/theme or the recipient. The actor of the Tagalog sentence is also basically an object, not demoted to an adverbial as in English (Kroeger 1991: 38–44).

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.

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


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.

Some Further Thoughts on Agreement in Ayeri

Ayeri makes use of grammatical gender to at least some degree. As a category, gender is by far not as pervasive as in Romance languages, though, since in Ayeri it only matters in picking the correct case suffix for agents and patients (animate vs. inanimate) as well as in 3rd person pronouns and verb agreement (masculine/feminine/neuter animate vs. inanimate). The fact that gender plays a role in verb agreement opens up possibilities for adding some quirks. As pointed out in a previous blog article,

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 [2006:] 180). This conveniently explains why verbs can agree with patients as well if the agent NP is absent.

This brings up the idea that Ayeri should likely exhibit agreement with the closest conjunct when a word is forced to agree with coordinated NPs of different genders, instead of finding some way to resolve conflicting gender features. Yet, however, I have often been following the rule that a masculine entity and a feminine entity, regardless of number, resolve to masculine as the default gender, though sometimes I have also used the neuter as a third category to escape to (Wechsler 2009 actually quotes Icelandic as following this route):

M+F=M(N attested)
F+M=M(N attested)

I was originally wondering if I should get rid of this system and instead use nearest-conjunct agreement throughout, but—why not have both? In this little blog article I basically want to sketch out an idea I had in the hope that it is well within the confines of what natural languages do. Note that the tables given in the following refer strictly to verb agreement, where the verb precedes any NPs it agrees with. Thus, for the outcome of nearest-conjunct agreement, it is assumed that the agreement target precedes the agreement controller, so that the verb should in most cases agree with the first conjunct.

Now, if NPs referring to people or other entities to which masculine and feminine apply as grammatical categories have their diverging gender features resolved to masculine as the default, what about combining either masculine or feminine with neuter? This is shown in the following table:

M+N=M
N+M=N
F+N=M(F possible)
N+F=N

From this table we can gather that in general, there is nearest-conjunct agreement for combinations of masculine/feminine and neuter, though feminine and neuter equally resolve to masculine as the default if the feminine conjunct is closer to the agreement target. Note that for agreement with simplex NPs, there is no default gender, so masculine gender will trigger masculine agreement, feminine gender will trigger feminine agreement, etc. As indicated in the table above, true nearest-conjunct agreement with the feminine conjunct is possible as well, however, basically ignoring any further complications. It takes not a lot of imagination to assume that the regularization towards nearest-conjunct agreement would be a point of divergence between the formal and the colloquial language and also very likely a fertile ground for prescriptivist bickering.

So far, we have only looked at the combinations within the animate tier. The following table lists the possible permutations for combinations of animate and inanimate NPs:

M+INAN=M
INAN+M=INAN
F+INAN=M(F possible)
INAN+F=INAN
N+INAN=N
INAN+N=INAN

For consistency, the same rules as above operate here: masculine and feminine mixed with inanimate show nearest-conjunct agreement. If, however, a feminine conjunct comes first, agreement will default to masculine, though again, nearest-conjunct agreement to feminine is possible.

Wechsler (2009: 571–73) furthermore discusses Corbett (1991)’s observation that there may be differences in how languages go about gender resolution with regards to semantic and syntactic resolution—i.e. resolution of conflicts in gender between the semantics and the form of a word—and finds that animacy plays a role in that. This is relevant in cases where grammatical and semantic gender diverge, as in hybrid nouns like German Mädchen ‘girl’. Mädchen semantically refers to a female person but by its form is of neuter gender, since the diminutive suffix -chen always derives neuter nouns. The question now is, which gender do pronouns and agreement referring to the girl have, neuter or feminine? In fact, variation can be observed in these cases.

While Ayeri assigns masculine and feminine semantically (with neuter for the remainder of animate entities which are neither male nor female), there are occasional idiosyncrasies with nouns very obviously referring to non-living things being assigned animate neuter gender, such as nanga ‘house’. It might be interesting to develop some further ideas for likely outcomes in that regard even though canonically, nearest-conjunct agreement should operate in those cases and conlangs, by their nature, probably produce a lot less variation than actual natural languages do.

  • Corbett, Greville G. Agreement. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2006. Print. Cambridge Textbooks in Linguistics.
  • ———. Gender. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1991. Print. Cambridge Textbooks in Linguistics.
  • Wechsler, Steven. “‘Elsewhere’ in Gender Resolution.” The Nature of the Word: Studies in Honor of Paul Kiparsky. Ed. by Kristin Hanson and Sharon Inkelas. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2009. Print. 567–586. Current Studies in Linguistics.
  • I can’t seem to keep my terminology straight: I corrected *nearest-conjunct resolution to nearest-conjunct agreement in a few places.

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 pronounsII. TransitionalIII. Verb agreement
Inflectional categoriesPerson
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-argumentargument
linguistic element:‘pure’ agreement markerpronominal affixfree pronoun
morphology:inflectional formfree 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.

Some Ideas for Person Marking

A while ago, I posted a short blog article on how I found Ayeri’s 3rd-person marking strange. I was reminded by a commenter that since Swedish uses han and hon for ‘he’ and ‘she’ respectively (and recently also hen as a gender-neutral pronoun), Ayeri’s -ya, -ye, -yo for ‘he’, ‘she’, ‘~it’ isn’t too unnatural. However, this would-be issue didn’t let go of me, and neither did the fact that Ayeri’s topics still bear large similarities to subjects. So if I should ever get around to making a dialect, sister-, daughter- or proto-language for Ayeri, I thought of some changes in grammar to consider.

The following bit is just two sentences of current standard Ayeri:

Ang
AT
silvyo
see-3SG.N
peljas
horse-PL-P
turayya
hill-LOC
mavi
sheep(.T)
si
REL(.A)
sapaya
wool-LOC
kayvay.
without.
Na
GENT
kacyong
pull-3SG.N.A
pelye
horse-PL(.T)
men
one
savaley
wagon-P.INAN
hagin
heavy

“A sheep which was without wool saw horses on a hill. One of the horses was pulling a heavy wagon …”

In this example – as usually –, verbs agree in number and gender with the agent of the clause (masculine/feminine/”neuter” animate vs. inanimate); if the agent NP is a non-topic pronoun, verb agreement additionally includes agent case marking. However, if we reduce gender to just animate/inanimate and also eliminate number marking in verb agreement (pronouns get -n, nouns -ye/-j?!), things could look like this:

Ang
AT
silvya
see-3
peljas
horse-PL-P
turayya
hill-LOC
mavi
sheep(.T)
si
REL(.A)
sapaya
wool-LOC
kayvay.
without.
Na
GENT
kacyāng
pull-3.A
pelye
horse-PL(.T)
men
one
savaley
wagon-P.INAN
hagin
heavy

And also, to decrease the subject-likeness of the topic, let’s make verbs not generally agree with the actor (or the patient in impersonal statements where there is no actor), but with the topic of the clause (While we’re at it, we could maybe also introduce syntactic restrictions to relative clauses!):

Silvyāng
See-3.AT
peljas
horse-PL-P
turayya
hill-LOC
mavi
sheep(.T)
si
REL(.T)
sapaya
wool-LOC
kayvay.
without.
Kacana
pull-3.GENT
yāng
3.A
pelye
horse-PL(.T)
men
one
savaley
wagon-P.INAN
hagin
heavy

(Or maybe I should keep ang … -ya, na … -ya etc. instead of using the normal, case-marked pronoun versions as clitics?)

In order to avoid having -yāng all over the place (Ayeri prefers actor topics, so its ancestor may have had a NOM/ACC alignment before probably developing a split-S system that resulted in the current, rather idiosyncratic variant of the Philippine alignment), reduce it to -a:

Silva
See-3.AT
peljas
horse-PL-P
Kacana
pull-3.GENT
a
3.A
pelye
horse-PL(.T)
men
one
Naraya
Say-3.A
peljang
horse-PL-A

Just some ideas …