Definiteness and Verbs

Dunstan Brown d.brown at SURREY.AC.UK
Mon Nov 1 14:23:27 UTC 1999

Many thanks to Edith Moravcsik and Maria Koptjevskaja-Tamm for
pointing to Hungarian as a possible counterexample, and to Martin
for the useful comment on this.  We were careful to formulate the
question with
the rider about a definite NP as a pre-requisite for agreement.  We are
in agreement in definiteness, rather than in cases where the
definiteness of the
NP is a pre-requisite for agreement in some other feature.

Given that, it looks as though we still have no counterexample.
I would like to forward this email from Andrew Spencer with
regard to this question.

"Spencer, Andrew J" wrote:

> Dunstan,
> I was intrigued by your question. Like Edith Moravcsik, my first
thought was
> the large numbers of languages like Hungarian where you get
'agreement' with
> the definite direct object, but then I read your rider and concluded
> that you were (more or less) explicitly ruling out such cases: as you
> know, Hungarian verbs *don't* agree with their objects, rather they
take a
> special kind of subject agreement in the presence of 'definite'
objects and
> then only with 3rd person objects (except for the 1stSUBJ - 2(fam)OBJ
> -lek/lak).
> Similarly, you'd want to exclude cases of 'object agreement' in Bantu,
> the object marker prefix only coreferences a definite object. This is
> probably better handled as a case of 'pronoun incorporation' (as in
> and Kanerva's analysis of Chichewa).
> But then I started asking myself what it would look like for a verb to
> *just* in definiteness. If the language were to take the semantic
value of
> the feature seriously it would have to have a special marker for all
> pronominal objects and all definite NP objects. Thus, you'd get a
> like:
> (you/he/John/they) hit-def me
> (you/he/John/they) hit-def you
> (you/he/John/they) hit-def it, hit-def the ball, hit-0 a ball
> (you/he/John/they) hit-def us
> (you/he/John/they) hit-def you
> (you/he/John/they) hit-def them, hit-def the balls, hit-0 the balls
> [where -def is the definiteness marker and hit-0 is 'hit' with a null
> suffix]
> Even better, of course, would be overt agreement, with hit-indef a
> balls
> I'd be surprised if this could be ruled out a priori. What's harder to
> is how it would arise historically. It could, just about, arise from
> incorporation of an encliticized definite article migrating from a
> DP and then generalized to pronouns. Alternatively, it could arise
> reanalysis of a pronominal ex-clitic as an agreement marker (i.e.
> at a later stage of grammaticalization). But in order to fit your
> this would have to occur in the absence of other types of agreement,
and the
> 3rd person features of the original pronoun would have to be lost so
that it
> could cooccur with pronoun objects of other persons. So you'd need a
> non-agreeing language with pronoun clitics or a definite article in
> right place which could then be reanalysed without the development of
> person/number agreement. This seems a rather unlikely scenario. But
> you want to exclude such a thing in principle?
> Andrew
> *******************************
> Andrew Spencer
> Dept. of Language and Linguistics
> University of Essex
> Colchester, CO4 3SQ, UK
> tel:    +44 1206 872188
> fax:    +44 1206 872085
> email:  spena at
> Visit the CHUKCHEE GRAMMAR website:
> *******************************
> > -----Original Message-----
> > From: Dunstan Brown [SMTP:d.brown at SURREY.AC.UK]
> > Sent: Thursday, 28 October, 1999 9:31 AM
> > Subject:      Definiteness and Verbs
> >
> > Dear ALT Discussion List,
> >
> > It appears to be the case that we would not expect a language to
have a
> > verb which agrees in definiteness with one of its arguments. In
> > this, we do not intend to refer to verbs which agree in other
> >
> > only in the environment of a definite NP, i.e. where definiteness is
> > prerequisite for agreement. Does anybody know of any counterexamples
> >
> > also does anyone know if this claim has been made before?
> >
> > Thanks
> > --
> > Dunstan Brown

Dr Dunstan Brown
Lecturer in Linguistics and Russian Language
University of Surrey
Surrey GU2 5XH
Tel: +44 1483 259957
Fax: +44 1483 259527
Email: d.brown at

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