O-only agreement

Dan I. Slobin slobin at BERKELEY.EDU
Sun Sep 20 18:29:32 UTC 2009

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
>Prof. Sonja Erlenkamp
>University College of Sør-Trøndelag
>Department of teacher - and sign language education
>2004 Trondheim
> > 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 uclan.ac.uk
> > 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 
>you want.

Dan I. Slobin
Professor Emeritus of Psychology and Linguistics

Department of Psychology           email: slobin at berkeley.edu
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

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