query: associative via noun-verb disagreement

Greville Corbett g.corbett at SURREY.AC.UK
Fri Nov 14 07:25:33 UTC 2008

Dear All

David's posting shows again that calling the whole phenomenon 'associative
plural' is inaccurate and misleading. In (2) the 'Associative Plural via
Disagreement' isn't a plural, it's a dual. The associative is orthogonal to
number: you can have associative dual and and associative plural (as in
Central Alaskan Yup'ik - Corbett/Mithun in JL 1996). Till David's posting we
had associative plural by disagreement, and he neatly fills in a gap showing
that you can have associative dual  by disagreement too. Thus associative is
orthogonal to number: we have associative dual and associative plural, and
both of these directly or by disagreement. Maybe someone out there has an
associative trial, of either flavour. (We don't get associative singulars
for similar reasons to the lack of inclusive singulars.)

By the way, even English can get the effect, but only at the top end of the
Agreement Hierarchy, with pronouns not predicates. For some speakers - well
at least one - this is OK:
   - Aunty Rosie rang.
   - Oh, how are they? (Aunty R and her family).

Very best

On 13/11/2008 15:53, "David Gil" <gil at EVA.MPG.DE> wrote:

> Dear all,
> I am interested in the cross-linguistic distribution of a construction
> type in which an associative plural meaning, eg. 'John and his
> associates', results from a singular noun triggering plural number
> agreement on the verb, as illustrated in the following examples from
> Roon (an Austronesian language spoken in the Cenderawasih bay of New
> Guinea):
> (1) Amos-i i-berif
>      Amos-PERS 3SG:ANIM-laugh
>      'Amos is laughing'
> (2) Amos-i su-berif
>      Amos-PERS 3DU:ANIM-laugh
>      'Amos and his friend are laughing'
> (3) Amos-i si-berif
>      Amos-PERS 3PL:ANIM-laugh
>      'Amos and his friends are laughing'
> Example (1) shows ordinary agreement, with a singular subject triggering
> singular verb agreement.  However, examples (2) and (3) illustrate how
> an associative plural interpretation is derived via disagreement, with
> the still-singular subject occurring in construction with dual- and
> plural-subject marked verbs respectively.  We might therefore call the
> construction in (2) and (3) an Associative Plural via Disagreement, or ASPD.
> My question is: how common is this ASPD construction in the languages of
> the world?  I would be very grateful for examples of other languages
> that have ASPDs  I would also appreciate any pointers to discussion of
> this construction in the literature.  The only mention that I am
> familiar with is that of Daniel and Moravcsik in their WALS chapter on
> associative plurals, where they cite Plains Cree as having a similar
> construction; but their chapter does not provide a clear picture of how
> widespread this construction is cross-linguistically.
> A major challenge in typology is to collect negative data, ie. reliable
> reports that a certain language lacks a particular construction (as
> opposed to it simply not being mentioned in a couple of grammar books).
> Thus, I would also greatly appreciate definitive reports that
> such-and-such a language does *not* have ASPDs.  (Whereas for languages
> with no verbal number agreement, the absence of ASPDs is a logical
> necessity, for languages with verbal number agreement, the absence of
> ASPDs becomes a substantive and interesting fact about the language.)
> For starters, English, even though it has verbal number agreement, lacks
> an ASPD: you can't say *'John are laughing' to mean 'John and his
> friends are laughing', as in (3) above. Hebrew and Russian are also like
> English in this respect.  So if the language(s) you are familiar with
> have verbal number agreement but lack an ASPD, please let me know too!
> While the above Roon example involves subject-verb agreement, one could
> also imagine ASPDs arising out of other kinds of agreement, eg.
> object-verb.  Have any examples of such other kinds of ASPDs ever been
> encountered?
> Thanks and best wishes,
> David

Greville G. Corbett

Surrey Morphology Group
English (J1) 
Faculty of Arts and Human Sciences
University of Surrey
Guildford                                   email: g.corbett at surrey.ac.uk
Surrey, GU2 7XH    
Great Britain                               phone:  +44 1483 682849
http://www.surrey.ac.uk/LIS/SMG/            fax:  +44 1483 686231

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