O-only agreement

Randy LaPolla r.lapolla at LATROBE.EDU.AU
Mon Sep 21 01:44:23 UTC 2009

Dear Dan,
In saying "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)" you seem to imply that agreement must be marking grammatical or
semantic role, but hierarchical systems, where the marking reflects a
participant according to a person hierarchy (often 1>2>3) regardless of
semantic or grammatical role, are usually also talked about as agreement

On the idea of a language not having an alignment type, I have been arguing
for many years that Chinese and some Tibeto-Burman languages have not
grammaticalised the sort of constructional pivots, or restricted
neutralisations, that we associate with the different alignment systems. I
have called Chinese a "neutral" language, though it is, as you say, more
lack of any particular alignment, as it has a simple topic-comment

Some references:
LaPolla, Randy J. 2009. “Chinese as a Topic-Comment (Not Topic-Prominent and
Not SVO) Language”. In Studies of Chinese Linguistics: Functional
Approaches, ed. by Janet Xing, 9-22. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press.

LaPolla, Randy J. & Dory Poa. 2006. “On Describing Word Order”. Catching
Language: The Standing Challenge of Grammar Writing, ed. by Felix Ameka,
Alan Dench, & Nicholas Evans, 269-295. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

LaPolla, Randy J. 1993. "Arguments Against 'Subject' and 'Direct Object' as
Viable Concepts in Chinese." Bulletin of the Institute of History and
Philology 63.4:759-813.

LaPolla, Randy J. 1992. "On the Dating and Nature of Verb Agreement in
Tibeto Burman." Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies

On grammatical relations see also

LaPolla, Randy J. 2006. “On Grammatical Relations as Constraints on Referent
Identification”. Voice and Grammatical Relations: Festschrift for Masayoshi
Shibatani (Typological Studies in Language), ed. by Tasaku Tsunoda and Taro
Kageyama, 139-151. Amsterdam & Philadelphia: John Benjamins Pub. Co.

LaPolla, Randy J. 2006. "The how and why of syntactic relations". Invited
plenary address and keynote of the Centre for Research on Language Change
Workshop on Grammatical Change at the Annual Conference of the Australian
Linguistics Society, University of Queensland, 7-9 July, 2006.

Van Valin, Robert D., Jr. & Randy J. LaPolla. 1997. Syntax: Structure,
meaning and function. Cambridge University Press. (See Chapter 6)


Randy J. LaPolla, PhD FAHA
Chair of Linguistics
Director, Research Centre for Linguistic Typology

La Trobe University, VIC 3086 AUSTRALIA
Tel.: +61 3 9479-2555; FAX: +61 3 9479-1520
RCLT: http://www.latrobe.edu.au/rclt/
Linguistics: http://www.latrobe.edu.au/linguistics/
The Tibeto-Burman Domain: http://tibeto-burman.net/
Linguistics of the Tibeto-Burman Area: http://stedt.berkeley.edu/ltba/
Location of RCLT: http://www.latrobe.edu.au/rclt/location.htm

> From: "Dan I. Slobin" <slobin at BERKELEY.EDU>
> Reply-To: "Dan I. Slobin" <slobin at BERKELEY.EDU>
> Date: Sun, 20 Sep 2009 11:29:32 -0700
> Subject: Re: O-only agreement
> 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
>> Sonja
>> Prof. Sonja Erlenkamp
>> University College of Sør-Trøndelag
>> Department of teacher - and sign language education
>> 2004 Trondheim
>> Norway
>>> 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.
>> ----------
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> 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
> http://psychology.berkeley.edu/faculty/profiles/dslobin.html

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