verb agreement in definiteness (fwd)

Edith A Moravcsik edith at CSD.UWM.EDU
Fri Nov 19 21:29:30 UTC 1999

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Thu, 18 Nov 1999 16:24:38 -0600 (CST)
From: Edith A Moravcsik <edith at>
To: lingtyp at
Subject: verb agreement in definiteness

This is response to Dunstan Brown's message on verb agreement in
definiteness as well as to two other messages on the topic that came
directly to my address, by Elisabeth Leiss and Stefan Georg.

Stefan Georg requested that I reproduce the data on Abkhaz from
Whaley's book. Here are the two sentences cited (a tilde
stands for the umlaut sign over the preceding vowel):

   l. Kassa borsa-w-in      wa~ssa~da~-w
      Kassa wallet-the-OBJ  took-it
     'Kassa took the wallet.'

   2. Kassa borsa  wa~ssa~da~
      Kassa wallet took
     'Kassa took a wallet.'

Whaley adds: "If they /=direct objects/ are definite, an agreement
suffix is used /on the verb/...; otherwise, no suffix appears."

Elisabeth Leiss asked whether this verb suffix might have to do with
perfective aspect. The currently available glosses for these sentences
do not indicate this but of course further data may yield a different
picture. Lindsay Whaley indicated in a message that he was going to
try to find more information on this pattern.

In answer to my question regarding why verb agreement in definiteness was
not expected to occur, Dunstan Brown (speaking also for Julia Barron and
Greville Corbett) said that, since NP-internal "definiteness agreement"
could always be analysed as the marking of multiple constituents within a
phrase for a feature of the entire phrase, rather than agreement in the
sense of one constituent copying a feature of another, it was crucial to
establish whether there was multiple definiteness marking across phrase
boundaries - the kind that would have to be ruled as a real, directional
agreement; such as if the verb would agree with one of its arguments in
definiteness. - While I can see that establishing whether there is or
there isn't definiteness agreement in verbs is thus an important task
given that the goal is to draw up a complete list of agreement features
- which is what Dunstan said he and his colleagues were involved in -
I couldn't quite see that it was predicted by some principle that verb
agreement in definiteness should not occur.


			 Edith A. Moravcsik
			 Department of Foreign Languages and Linguistics
			 University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
		         Milwaukee, WI 53201-0413

			 E-mail: edith at
		         Telephone: (414) 229-6794 /office/
				    (414) 332-0141 /home/
		         Fax: (414) 229-2741


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