Tag Archives: pronouns

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.

Indefinite Pronouns in Ayeri

I think it was Miekko who pointed this out to me a whole while ago. There’s a long-decommissioned page by Apollo Hogan on which he summarizes bits on the typology of indefinite pronouns from the book Indefinite Pronouns by Martin Haspelmath.1

Some Theoretical Underpinnings

According to Haspelmath’s classification, there are 9 groups of indefinite pronouns:2

SpecificKnown to speakerSK (1)
Unknown to speakerSU (2)
Non-specificIrrealis contextI/NS (3)
Negative polarityConditional protasisCOND (5)
Polar questionQU (4)
Standard of comparisonCOMP (8)
Indirect negationIN (6)
Direct negationDN (7)
Free choiceFC (9)

What is interesting here is that languages form contiguous groups from these elements according to the item indices above. For example, English is indicated as 12345 (some-), 456789 (any-), 7 (no-); German is indicated as 123456 (etwas), 23456+89 (irgend-), 456+8 (je-), 6+89 (jemand-), 7 (n-):3

(7) DN
(1) SK(2) SU(3) I/NS(4) QU(6) IN
(5) COND(8) COMP
(9) FC

A Little Survey of Ayeri

Let us now see how this translates into Ayeri. In the following, I will more or less faithfully translate and adapt some of the example sentences given on the website linked above, which are probably quoted straight from Haspelmath:

  1. Specific, known to speaker (SK):
    1. Ang no naraya arilinya vaya – leku sinyāng!
      Ang
      AT
      no
      want
      nara-ya
      talk-3SG.M
      arilinya.Ø
      someone.TOP
      vaya
      you.LOC
      lek-u
      guess-IMP
      sinya-ang!
      who-A

      ‘Somebody wanted to talk to you – guess who!’
    2. Le rua ningyang arilinya vayam.
      Le
      PT.INAN
      rua
      must
      ning-yang
      tell-1SG.A
      arilinya.Ø
      something.TOP
      vayam.
      you.DAT

      ‘I must tell you something.’
  2. Specific, unknown to speaker (SK):
    1. Le tangyang arilinya, nārya ming naroyyang, adareng sinyaley.
      Le
      PT.INAN
      tang-yang
      hear-1SG.A
      arilinya.Ø,
      something.TOP,
      nārya
      but
      ming
      can
      nara-oy-yang,
      say-NEG-1SG.A,
      ada-reng
      that-A.INAN
      sinya-ley.
      what-P.INAN

      ‘I heard something, but I can’t say what it was.’
    2. Ang pegaya arilinya pangisley nā!
      Ang
      AT
      pega-ya
      steal-3SG.M
      arilinya.Ø
      steal.TOP
      pangis-ley
      money-P.INAN
      my

      ‘Somebody stole my money!’
  3. Irrealis, non-specific (I/NS):
    1. Pinyan, prantu yāril palung.
      Pinyan,
      Please,
      prant-u
      ask-IMP
      yāril
      somewhere
      palung.
      different

      ‘Please ask somewhere else.’
    2. Intu arilinyaley kondanyam yām!4
      Int-u
      Buy-IMP
      arilinya-ley
      something-P.INAN
      kond-an-yam
      eat-NMLZ-DAT
      yām!
      me.DAT

      ‘Buy me something to eat!’
  4. Polar question (QU):
    1. Ang ningya arilinya vayam arilinyaley adanyana?
      Ang
      AT
      ning-ya
      tell-3SG.M
      arilinya.Ø
      anybody.TOP
      vayam
      you.DAT
      arilinya-ley
      anything-P.INAN
      adanya-na?
      that.one-GEN

      ‘Did anybody tell you anything about it?’
    2. Ang koronva arilinyaley edanyana?
      Ang
      AT
      koron-va.Ø
      know-you.TOP
      arilinya-ley
      something-P.INAN
      edanya-na
      this.one-GEN

      ‘Do you know something/anything about this?’
  5. Conditional protasis (COND):
    Le silvvāng arilinya, ningu yām adanyana!
    Le
    PT.INAN
    silv-vāng
    see-2SG.A
    arilinya.Ø,
    something.TOP,
    ning-u
    tell-IMP
    yām
    me.DAT
    adanya-na
    that.one-GEN

    ‘If you see something/someone, tell me about it!’
  6. Indirect negation (IN):
    Paronoyyang, ang koronya arilinya guratanley.
    Parona-oy-yang,
    Believe-NEG-1SG.A,
    ang
    AT
    koron-ya
    know-3SG.M
    arilinya.Ø
    anybody.TOP
    guratan-ley
    answer-P.INAN

    ‘I don’t think that anybody knows the answer.’
  7. Direct negation (DN):
    1. Ang koronya ranya guratanley.
      Ang
      AT
      koron-ya
      know-3SG.M
      ranya.Ø
      nobody.TOP
      guratan-ley
      answer-P.INAN

      ‘Nobody knows the answer.’
    2. Le koronyang ranya.
      Le
      PT.INAN
      koron-yang
      know-1SG.A
      ranya.Ø
      nothing.Ø

      ‘I know nothing/I don’t know anything.’
  8. Standard of comparison (COMP):
    1. Engara simingreng edaya ban yanen palung.
      Eng-ara
      be.more-3SG.INAN
      siming-reng
      weather
      edaya
      here
      ban
      good
      yanen
      anywhere
      palung
      else

      ‘The weather here is better than anywhere else.’
    2. Engyeng larau enyās palung.
      Eng-yeng
      be.more-she.A
      larau
      nice
      enya-as
      everyone-P
      palung
      else

      ‘She is nicer than anyone else.’
  9. Free choice (FC):
    Ang ming guraca enya eda-prantanley.
    Ang
    AT
    ming
    can
    gurat-ya
    answer-3SG.M
    enya.Ø
    anyone.TOP
    eda=prantan-ley
    this=question-P.INAN

    ‘Anyone can answer this question.’

It turns out that Ayeri merges all of (1) through (6) as arilinya ‘somebody, something’, has a separate (7) ranya ‘nobody, nothing’, and then also merges (8) and (9) as enya ‘anyone, everyone’. Among the dozen or so of natural languages cited as example types, Ayeri is thus closest to Catalan, given as 123456 (algun), 45678 (cap), 89 (qualsevol). What Ayeri doesn’t have, however, is an indefinite negative pronoun in the fashion of French personne or Catalan cap, since ranya can only be used for direct negation and arilinya is inspecific as to affirmative or negative expectation or reference. Comparing the results to the first table above, it should be clear that Ayeri lacks a polarity distinction in that negative polarity is not a distinct category but pronouns overlap with both negative and positive (or non-negative?) categories.

  1. My university’s Linguistics department library has a copy of the book, however, I don’t have it at hand now, so I’ll maybe add proper page references later. For the time being, I’ll rely on the information on Hogan’s page.
  2. This table copied from Hogan’s page, linked above.
  3. This table, too, is lifted from Hogan’s page.
  4. Not quite sure about the kondanyam part here, maybe better: Intu arilinyaley yām siley ming konjang ‘… which I can eat.’ (… REL-P.INAN can eat-1SG.A).

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 …

Pronoun worries

By the way, I’ve lately been thinking that animate 3rd person pronouns in Ayeri are terrible from a naturalistic point of view: it’s -ya for masculine, -ye for feminine, -yo for ‘neuter’ (effectively, things considered animate but 1. whose gender is unknown; 2. which don’t overtly display, or don’t possess, sexual dimorphism; 3. also occasionally groups of mixed gender). I think it’s rather untypical for natural languages to exhibit that kind of regular vowel alternation to show changes in the same category?

Plus, animacy actually doesn’t play any important role in Ayeri, that is, there are no syntactic restrictions imposed on inanimate constituents, for example – which doesn’t preclude introducing some in the future, but I wasn’t aware of this for a long time and I am somewhat hesitant to break continuity. But anyway, animacy in Ayeri is mostly just a formal thing that is limited to third-person verbs, noun case suffixes, and pronouns (besides, 8 × 12 distinct personal pronouns – minus a few mergers – are also kind of silly). It could just as well be dropped and nothing would be lost. On the other hand, a certain level of redundancy in signals is actually a good thing if the transmitting channel is impaired. If you’ve ever had a conversation in a loud environment, you know what I mean. But still, meh.

Comments are open, should you have any suggestions or natlang evidence you want to share.