Antw: Re: O-only agreement - Sign languages

Frans Plank frans.plank at UNI-KONSTANZ.DE
Mon Sep 21 14:39:58 UTC 2009

Snow scenario 2 is reminiscent of "percolation".

For instance, case, assigned to an NP or DP in its entirety (unlike  
e.g. a gender, inherent in a noun and spread from there to other NP/DP  
constituents), has been assumed to be spread by percolation, coming  
from above and trickling (well, snowing) down onto every susceptible  
constituent within the domain concerned, unless blocked by something  
in its downward path.

Is percolation agreement?

Frans Plank

On Sep 21, 2009, at 10:04 AM, Greville Corbett wrote:

> Consider this analogy. Imagine two houses in a street, both white.  
> We ask why:
>> Scenario 1: Mrs White, in number 10, paints her house white, and  
>> Mrs Green, in number 12, likes the look of it and paints hers white  
>> too. That’s the analogy of agreement (street-internal if you like).
>> Scenario 2: it snows on both houses. That’s not agreement – they  
>> are white from the same outside cause.
> From what I’ve  read, and from several discussions with people who  
> work on sign languages, I think the situation in sign languages is  
> more like scenario 2, than 1. So I’ve have agreed with those,  
> including in earlier postings,  who say that as yet we have no  
> evidence for agreement in sign languages (Corbett, Agreement CUP  
> 2006, pages 264, also 19-20).
> Greville Corbett
> Surrey Morphology Group
> On 21/09/2009 08:40, "Franz Dotter" <Franz.Dotter at UNI-KLU.AC.AT>  
> wrote:
>> Dear colleagues,
>> I am rather sad about the fact that the "language units have to be  
>> arbitrary"-stereotype gets revived in morphology now. That goes  
>> together with the fashion of the use of "blending" (following  
>> Liddells publications): If one finds an item which has some  
>> existence outside language (as, e.g. location), then they argue  
>> that we have "blending of language and non-language".
>> I take a cognitive perspective which says that language is "a  
>> phenomenon of the whole body" and only asks whether there is "some  
>> coding for some meaning" (keeping the axiom that cognitive/meaning  
>> items can be a basic standard of comparison of languages). Under  
>> this respect it is more adequate for me to interprete what some  
>> people call "blending", is the human procedure to exploit the non- 
>> language area for items which can be used as languae units.
>> From that standpoint it is also clear that sign languages can  
>> transport what linguists call 'roles', especially by using location  
>> or sign movement direction. For me it is not adequate (neither for  
>> spoken nor for signed languages) to hypothesize that any language  
>> utterance may systematically consist of sequences like: "language  
>> unit(s) - non-language unit(s) - language unit(s) - non-language  
>> unit(s) - …".
>> In other words: From a phenomenological view, we have "coding for  
>> roles" in sign languages. Which formal status these coding may have  
>> (e.g. whether they can be derived from other language phenomena in  
>> a certain model by certain means), is a secondary question,  
>> interesting for anthropology, cognition, psychology, linguistics,  
>> etc. That you can find a model which exactly describes the  
>> "language unit(s)-non-language unit(s)"-sequences as underlying  
>> normal utterances (= communication in natural language), is no  
>> argument that there is any relation to "reality" behind such a  
>> model assumption.
>> There is no scientific possibility "to show" = to prove (as Sonja  
>> Erlenkamp) writes " there is nothing  of a linguistic structure  
>> that the verb and the noun phrases actually share". Neither you can  
>> show (as Dan Slobin writes) that "there is no formal motivation to  
>> label any of these participants in the syntactic terms of  
>> grammatical relations, grammatical cases". You can only make that  
>> rationally valid in a special model of language with special  
>> axioms. We all have learned that terms like subject, direct object,  
>> indirect object, nominative, accusative, dative or ergative,  
>> absolutive, oblique etc. are model dependent and are not definable  
>> uniquely for all languages.
>> From the standard of comparison, meaning, I would hold the  
>> assumption that sign languages do show (= can code) semantic roles.
>> As you may notice, I separate "language" and "linguistic" in order  
>> to separate the object area (= language as a phenomenon) from the  
>> model area (= linguistic models about the functioning of language).  
>> (In brackets: No speaker or signer has ever used a "linguistic  
>> unit"; they only use "language units") From that perspective, the  
>> phenomenon "location" or "movement direction", are language units  
>> (following my axiom that a language utterance consists of coding  
>> elements used for language in this moment). Which different forms  
>> of status they can get in different linguistic models, depends on  
>> the model, not on the language.
>> Sonja Erlenkamp and Dan Slobin talk about their linguistic models.  
>> They should not mix up them with language or "reality" (e.g. by  
>> saying: "the language phenomenon X IS a subject or an agreement").
>> Best Regards
>> Franz Dotter
>> University of Klagenfurt
>> Center for Sign Language and Deaf Communication
>> Funded by: Provincial government of Carinthia, Bundessozialamt  
>> Kaernten, European Social Fund
>> Head: Franz Dotter (hearing)
>> Collaborators: Elisabeth Bergmeister (deaf), Silke Bornholdt  
>> (deaf), Jennifer Dörrschuck (hearing), Katja Hablich (hearing),  
>> Christian Hausch (deaf), Marlene Hilzensauer (hearing), Petra Käfer  
>> (hearing), Klaudia Krammer (hearing), Christine Kulterer (hearing),  
>> Andrea Lackner (hearing), Anita Pirker (deaf), Andrea Skant  
>> (hearing), Nathalie Slavicek (hard of hearing), Natalie Unterberger  
>> (deaf)
>> Homepage:
>> Deaf server (in German):
>> Fax: ++43 (0)463 2700 2899
>> Phone: ++43 (0)463 2700 /2821 (Franz Dotter), /2822 (Andrea  
>> Skant), /2823 (Marlene Hilzensauer), /2824 (Klaudia Krammer), /2829  
>> (Christine Kulterer)
>> Email addresses: firstname.lastname at
>> >>> "Dan I. Slobin" <slobin at BERKELEY.EDU> 9/20/2009 8:29 >>>
>> I agree entirely with Sonja Erlenkamp's response, on the basis of  
>> linguistic work on several sign languages.  The directionality of a  
>> sign (often along with gaze direction) encodes the relationship  
>> between the participants, whose identity has already been  
>> established by various means.  There is no formal motivation to  
>> label any of these participants in the syntactic terms of  
>> grammatical relations (subject, direct object, indirect object),  
>> grammatical cases (nominative, accusative, dative or ergative,  
>> absolutive, oblique), or semantic roles (agent, patient,  
>> recipient).  All of the necessary information for clause  
>> interpretation is present in the meanings of spatial locations,  
>> handshapes, and motion; and the interpretation itself does not seem  
>> to need anything but some set of semantic roles.  It follows that  
>> there is no such thing as “grammatical agreement” in these  
>> languages.
>> I am presently working on a paper on sign languages and typology,  
>> in which I suggest that sign languages constitute a possibly unique  
>> linguistic type, with no alignment pattern at all.  This is because  
>> there are no arbitrary grammatical categories to align with formal  
>> markers -no nominative/accusative or ergative/absolutive or active/ 
>> stative or agent/patient, and no relevant formal markers.  In fact,  
>> alignment may be a peculiarity of the auditory modality, and not a  
>> necessary linguistic universal.
>> Dan Slobin
>> Psychology & Linguistics
>> University of California, Berkeley
>> At 08:18 AM 9/20/2009, Sonja Erlenkamp wrote:
>>> Well, I have to say, I don't agree with Ulrike on agreement (no  
>>> pun intended). Most signed languages do - as far as I can tell -  
>>> show no agreement patterns at all. There are constructions which  
>>> are called "agreement" verbs by some researchers, but as for  
>>> example Scott Liddell has shown for ASL (American Sign Language)  
>>> in several of his publications from 1998 to this day, these  
>>> constructions are not agreement patterns, since there is nothing   
>>> of a linguistic structure that the verb and the noun phrases  
>>> actually share. They both make use of spatial locations to create  
>>> reference to participants, but spatial locations are not morphemes  
>>> in themselves. Signs can be placed at spatial locations, as well  
>>> as verbs directed to, but space in itself cannot be a morpheme.   
>>> There are several other reasons why the application of the term  
>>> "agreement" on this construction is misleading, but I won't go  
>>> into detail on that one here. The number of researchers who agree  
>>> with Liddell on this issue for different signed languages has been  
>>> increasing since he started the debate.
>>> My own research on Norwegian Sign Languages (and German Sign  
>>> Language), shows that these two signed languages do use different  
>>> markings of grammatical relations in different construction types  
>>> withou any clear S/A or S/O correspondence. The directionality you  
>>> mention (where movements are directed in space to mark relations  
>>> between participants by means of prompting mental connections  
>>> between spatial locations and referents) is only one type of  
>>> construction, which is not even very frequent in signed language  
>>> utterances due to the fact that the verbs involved are often  
>>> ditransitive verbs. It seems as if this verb class consists mostly  
>>> of verbs conceptualizing some kind of either concrete or  
>>> metaphorical transfer, where the movement direction resembles the  
>>> path of the transfer. In fact the directional movement in these  
>>> verbs moves from the location related to the A towards the  
>>> location related to the indirect "object", not the O. I have never  
>>> seen a directional verb in the signed languages I have looked at  
>>> that had a movement towards the O exclusively, but there are some  
>>> verbs that can only be moved away from the spatial location  
>>> related to the A, something which often involves another  
>>> construction: surrogate blends. I wouldn't call that agreement  
>>> though.
>>> All the best
>>> Sonja
>>> Prof. Sonja Erlenkamp
>>> University College of Sør-Trøndelag
>>> Department of teacher - and sign language education
>>> 2004 Trondheim
>>> Norway
>>> > Date: Sun, 20 Sep 2009 10:23:57 +0100
>>> > From: uzeshan at UCLAN.AC.UK
>>> > Subject: Re: O-only agreement
>>> >
>>> > Hi, though this is only partially what you are looking for, the  
>>> majority of sign languages have the following agreement patterns:
>>> >
>>> > - no agreement with intransitive S
>>> > - agreement with both A and O for some transitive verbs
>>> > - agreement with O only for some other transitive verbs
>>> >
>>> > Interestingly, agreement with A only in transitive verbs does  
>>> not occur.
>>> >
>>> > Verb agreement with transitive verbs is also known as  
>>> "directionality" in sign linguistics (due to the agreement being  
>>> shown by the direction of the hand movement during production of  
>>> the verb).
>>> >
>>> > Ulrike
>>> >
>>> >
>>> >
>>> > Prof. Ulrike Zeshan
>>> > Director, International Centre for Sign Languages and Deaf Studies
>>> > Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences
>>> > Livesey House, LH212
>>> > University of Central Lancashire
>>> > Preston PR12HE, UK
>>> > uzeshan at
>>> > Ph. +44-1772-893104
>>> >
>>> > >>> peterarkadiev <peterarkadiev at YANDEX.RU> 19/09/09 2:51 PM >>>
>>> > Dear typologists,
>>> >
>>> > while Paul Hopper has come up with an example of A-only  
>>> agreement in Malay (see references below), I ask a follow-up  
>>> question concerning the mirror-image situation: are there any  
>>> languages where the verb would agree exclusively with the  
>>> transitive O (patient, undergoer, direct object), but neither with  
>>> the transitive A nor with the intransitive S?
>>> >
>>> > Many thanks and best wishes,
>>> >
>>> > Peter Arkadiev
>>> >
>>> >
>>> > Paul J. Hopper, 1987 Stability and change in VN/NV Alternating  
>>> Languages:
>>> > A study in pragmatics and linguistic typology. In M. Bertuccelli  
>>> Papi and
>>> > J.Verscheuren, eds., The Pragmatic Perspective, 455-476.  
>>> Amsterdam: John
>>> > Benjamins.
>>> >
>>> > Paul J. Hopper, 1983 Ergative, passive, and active in Malay  
>>> narrative
>>> > discourse. In F. Klein-Andreu, ed., Discourse Perspectives on  
>>> Syntax,
>>> > 64-87. New York: Academic Press.
>>> Share your memories online with anyone you want anyone you want. < 
>>> >
>> >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
>> Dan I. Slobin
>> Professor Emeritus of Psychology and Linguistics
>> Department of Psychology           email: slobin at
>> 3210 Tolman #1650                    phone (Dept):  1-510-642-5292
>> University of California                phone (home): 1-510-848-1769
>> Berkeley, CA 94720-1650, USA   fax: 1-510-642-5293
>>  <>  
>> >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
> -- 
> Greville G. Corbett
> Surrey Morphology Group
> English (J1)
> Faculty of Arts and Human Sciences
> University of Surrey
> Guildford                                   email: g.corbett at
> Surrey, GU2 7XH
> Great Britain                               phone:  +44 1483 682849
>            fax:  +44 1483 686231

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