The alignment of modification coding

bingfu Lu lubingfu at YAHOO.COM
Wed May 6 08:36:31 UTC 2009

We are investigating
the alignment of modification coding, and requesting for more related
cross-linguistic data and references.

      Some languages have modification markers
whose function is to signify the statue of modifiers within NPs, such as
Mandarin enclitic ‘de’, which follows nouns (genitives), adjectives and verbs
(relative clauses) and make them modifiers of head nouns; as well as Japanese ‘no’,
which follows determiners, numerals and nouns to make them modifiers of head
nouns. We noticed that in most cases, modification markers are aligned
continually on the following series of categories.


Numerals,  Nouns,
Adjectives,  Verbs

Thus, Chinese ‘de’ is
used with the three categories on the right side, while Japanese ‘no’ is used
with the three categories on the left side. 
Amis, a Austronesian language in Taiwan, ‘a’ is used with all these five

            The following is a simple summery of
our result so far.




In the above table, 0
stands for zero markers. 

Type 1:  Amis, Paiwan, Pazeh (Austronesian) ; Lingao
(Kam, in Sino-Tibetan). All modifiers use a same non-zero markers.  4 languages.

Type 2: Mandarin, Lahu  (Yi, in Tibentan-Burman); Zaiwa (Burman, in
Tibentan-Burman); Mulam, Maonan, Biao, Dong, Mulao, Bugan, Cun (Kam, in
Sino-Tibetan); Miao, Mien, She  (Hmong-Mien,
in Sino-Tibetan).  Excluding determiners
and numerals, all other modifiers use a same marker.  13 languages.

Type 3: Japanese; Bunun,
Thao (Austronesian).  Excluding adjectives
and relative clauses (predicate-type modifiers) use a same marker ‘no’.   language

Type 4:  Jinuo (Yi, in Tibentan-Burman); Kachin
(Kachin, in Tibentan-Burman); Achang, Langsu, Xiandao, Bola (Burman, in
Tibentan-Burman); Namuyi (Qiang, in Tibentan-Burman); Mo, Li (Kam, in
Sino-Tibetan).  Excluding determiners
and numerals, the remaining modifiers are divided into two categories, each
using a marker.  9 languages, 

Type 5:  Naxi (Yi, in Tibentan-Burman). Excluding
determiners and numerals, genitives and adjectives share the same marker ‘ge’
while relative clauses use another marker ‘be’. 1 language


Any data and
references related to the above issue are most welcome!  We will make a summary if feedback
information is enough.


Bingfu Lu (Max Plank
Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology )

Zhenglin Qu (Shanghai
Normal University)

Please send your
corresponding messages to the following addresses simultaneously:

bingfu_lu at eva.mpg.dequzl at


colleagues may read the following for the background information.

This project is
inspired by Foley (1980) and (Gil 2005) and 


Foley (1980) proposes the following hierarchy of boundedness of modifiers
(> means that the modifier is bound to its head noun ‘more strongly than’):


Articles > Deictics > Interrogatives >
Quantifiers/Indefinites > Adjectives > 
Relative Clauses.


Based on the data of several
Austronesian languages, Foley claims that if a language uses a ‘ligature’ in
certain modifier category, modifier categories of weaker boundedness must use
the ligature as well.   In other words,
the more bounded a modifier is, the less it requires a ligature.  The essence of the proposal is that a
ligature must cover a continuous region on the boundedness hierarchy.  In what follows, we take such ligatures as
kind of  ‘modification markers’.     

       However, MMs in many languages do not fit
Foley’s description of MM distribution. 
For example, Japanese MM ‘no’ appears with deictics and
quantifiers, but not with adjectives and relative clauses, as well as in
Austronesian Bunun and Thao.

      According to the coding alignment of
three attributive expressions (genitives, adjectives and relative clauses, Gil
2005), language can be grouped into 5 types:

Weakly differentiated, such as Mandarin,
     using the enclitic‘de’ as the modification marker for all the three
     attributives. (15 languages in Gil’s 138-language data base) Moderately differentiated, with genitives
     and adjectives collapsed, such as the Västerbotten dialect of Swedish.  8 lgs.Moderately differentiated, with genitives
     and relative clauses collapsed, such as the Jewish Arbel dialect of
     Aramaic.  2 lgs.Moderately differentiated, with
     adjectives and relative clauses collapsed, such as Tagalog 33 lgs.Moderately differentiated; other, like
     Tai, where, on one hand, with genitives and adjectives collapsed, on the
     other hand, with adjectives and relatives collapsed.  3Highly differentiated, like English,
     where the three attributives are coded differently one another.  77 lgs.


Since types 3 and 5
are rarely attested, we temporarily ignore them.  Thus, we propose the following attribution table, where the
coding alignment is continuous. 

  Relative clauses
  1 weakly diff.
  2 moderately diff.
  3 moderately diff.
  4 highly diff.


Furthermore, we extend
the attributive expressions to more modifying expressions, including
determiners and numerals.  Our investigation
is mainly based on the data from 40 ethnic languages in China,
which carry certain modification markers.   However, we would like to expand the data base to more languages.



Gil. David 2005. Genitives, Adjectives
and Relative Clauses

Foley, William A. 1980. Toward a
universal typology of the noun phrase. Studies in language 4:171-199.


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