[Lingtyp] Call for papers: coexpression across modification constructions.

shahar shirtz shahar.shirtz at gmail.com
Thu Oct 10 13:22:31 UTC 2019

*Apologies for cross posting*

Dear all,

Please note the call for papers, pasted below, for a workshop Spike Gildea
and I want to propose for the next SLE meeting (Bucharest, Romania).
Please, do not hesitate to contact us with any questions or suggestions you
might have.

In addition, we uploaded the call as a session to the academia.edu website,
and welcome any discussion or proposals there. Link to discussion:

Looking forward to hearing from you!


*Isomorphic coexpression across modification constructions:*

*Modifiers that act like heads in possession constructions*

A workshop proposal for SLE 2020 (Bucharest, Romania)

As descriptive linguists, we have both found ourselves perplexed by noun
modifying constructions that seem to reverse the syntactic relationship
expected for the noun and its modifier. In Cariban, there is one
construction where the modifier acts as the grammatical head and the noun
acts as the grammatical dependent; in Alsea (Oregon Coast), this sort of
“reversed” construction is a very common strategy for expressing
attributive modification. Interestingly, in both languages these
modification constructions appear to be identical to attributive
possession, with the modifier in the slot of the possessum and the modified
N in the slot of the possessor. Our joint effort to understand these
constructions has led us to the realization that this counter-intuitive
sort of construction is far from unusual, although rarely the default
modification construction in a given language. There appears to be little
typological attention paid to such reversed modification constructions
(with Malchukov 2000 as a notable exception), nor a common term to describe
them. The earliest study we found that names such a construction comes from
Ross’ (1998): Possessor-Like Attributive Constructions, or PLACs.

Typological studies of nominal modification have often concentrated on
variation in the coding means expressing the modifying relation (e.g.,
flagging, concord, relative order; e.g., Plank 1995) and on the
relationship between the grammatical expression of different types of
modifiers. Gil (2013), for example, compares the grammatical expression of
genitives, adjectives, and relative clauses, and asks which coexpression
combinations are attested and what are their global distributional
patterns. Comparing the grammar expressing different types of modifiers,
then, Gil asks about *functionally congruent *coexpression patterns in the
nominal modification domain.

However, in the situation we consider here, the coding means associated
with semantic heads in a possessive NP are associated with semantic
modifiers in the PLAC NP. As such, we have a PLAC when we can identify
a *functionally
incongruent *coexpression of heads and modifiers. These situations might
seem to be rare, but have been identified in a surprisingly growing set of
languages from different parts of the world. Ross (1998) identified them in
four Northwest Melanesian languages and Malchukov (2000) analyzed a handful
more examples from around the world. To illustrate this coexpression
pattern, consider the examples in (1a-b). The semantic head of (1a),
“leaf”, and the semantic modifier of (1b), “heavy” are both preceded by an
article, while the semantic modifier of (1a), “tree”, and the semantic head
of (1b), “stone”, are both preceded by *na*. In (1a-b), then, we find
incongruent *coexpression: the semantic head behaves like the syntactic
dependent and the semantic modifier behaves like the syntactic head.

Tulai (Austronesian; Ross 1998:240)

(1a)      *a      mapi na   davai               *‘leaves of a tree’

            art leaf    lig tree

(1b)     *a     mamat na   vat                 *‘a heavy stone’ (lit. ‘a
heavy of stone’)

            art heavy   lig stone

We also began our work under the mistaken impression that PLACs are
crosslinguistically rare. We discovered that in many (perhaps most)
languages, PLACs are attested but not described as the “default” or
“dominant” construction, potentially because they are rare in natural
language use. Examples (2a-b) illustrate this situation in Modern Hebrew,
where *ʃel *‘of’ precedes the possessor in (2a) and the semantic head in
(2b). The translations of (2a-b) illustrate this situation in English. Even
though PLACs are not “default” or “dominant” modification construction type
in either English or Modern Hebrew, they are a part of the systems of
nominal modification in these languages and have a structural and
functional niche in which they are used.

Modern Hebrew (Afro-Asiatic, Semitic; own knowledge)

(2a)      *tmuna     ʃel ʔetz                      *‘a picture of a tree’

            picture   of  tree

(2b)     *yofi      ʃel tmuna                     *‘a beauty of a picture’

            beauty of  picture

Since the publication of Ross’ and Malchukov’s works, PLACs have been
identified in a wide variety of languages and language families. In Mekens
(Tupian), for example, attributive possession is expressed by juxtaposing
the possessor and the possessum, resulting in a NP with modifier – head
word order, as illustrated in (3a). The relative word order of the head and
the modifier is reversed when the modifier expresses a property as in (3b)
where the semantic head ‘man’ precedes the modifier ‘good’. In Ulwa
(Misumalpan), -*ka *is suffixed to the possessum as in (4a) but is also
suffixed to property term modifiers as in (4b). In Alsea (Oregon Coast),
the possessum is circumfixed by *ts- -kʸ *as in (5a) where the possessum,
‘tracks’ is a nominalization of the verb ‘go’. In (5b) the same circumfix
is found around the property term ‘noisy’ which is a nominalization of
‘make sound’.

Mekens (Tupian; Vilacy Galucio 2001: 31-32)

(3a)      *sakɪrap                        okway             *‘spider-monkey’s

            spider.monkey tail

 (3b)    *aose             same                    *‘handsome man’ (lit.
‘man’s handsome’)

            man/people good/well

Ulwa (Misumalpan; Koontz-Garboden & Francez 2010: 200, their glosses)

(4a)      *Alberto pan-ka                                    *‘Alberto’s

            Alberto stick-ka

(4b)     *Al    adah-ka     as       tal-ikda                        *‘I
saw a short man’ (lit. ‘a man’s short’)

            man short-ka    indef see-1sing.past

Alsea (Oregon Coast; examples from Frachtenberg 1920, our glosses)

(5a)      *tas       hī́tsləm   ts-yaíx-ai-t’-əx-kʸ*
‘(they met with) tracks of people’

            dem      person   poss-go-inch-pl-nmz-poss

(5b)     *tas       hī́təsləm  ts-pī́ūsx-ams-kʸ                     *‘(the
dice players were) noisy people’

            dem      person    poss-make.sound-nmz-poss  (lit. ‘noisy of

Apart from those mentioned above, PLACs were identified in further Semitic
and Afro-Asiatic languages (e.g., Gai 2013, who showed that PLACs are
present in several branches of Semitic), some Bantu languages (e.g., Van de
Velde 2013:233-235), Hausa [Chadic] and Anejom [Oceanic] (Creissels 2017),
and we have found them ourselves in grammatical descriptions of Cariban,
Tupian, Je, Mayan, Arawakan, Tibeto-Burman, and Indo-European. Some of
these sources give an in-depth analysis of PLACs, while others only mention
their existence briefly. In a few of these languages PLACs are a “dominant”
or even “default” construction, but in most their distribution is limited
to functional or structural niches. Due to their limitations in
distribution, we suspect that PLACs might exist, but be overlooked in
reference or sketch grammars, and hence their crosslinguistic frequency is
likely to be underestimated.

Now that we are paying attention, we want to ask many questions about the
crosslinguistic variation and similarities in the structure and usage of
PLACs, as well as the different historical pathways that may lead to their
emergence. Malchukov (2000) shows that PLACs crosslinguistically vary with
regard to properties traditionally associated with syntactic headedness: In
some PLACs, morphosyntactic head properties align with the semantic head
while in others with the semantic modifier. The Gender of the Modern Hebrew
NP in (2b), for example, is Feminine, and is determined by the semantic
head “picture” and not by the semantic modifier “beauty” which is Masculine.

Ross (1998) and Malchukov (2000) propose some preliminary diachronic
pathways leading to the emergence of PLACs, as well as some structural and
functional generalizations about them. At this stage, we invite short (up
to 300 words) abstracts of studies focusing on the grammatical properties
and discourse distribution of PLACs in a specific language or language
family, or from a typological perspective. We welcome studies with other
foci, but we especially invite papers tackling one or more of the questions
below, directly adding to and/or testing the proposals put forth by Ross
and Malchukov.

1.     What is the internal structure of PLACs in a specific
language/family? How are different grammatical categories (e.g., number,
gender, case) expressed and distributed within PLACs? How do PLACs behave
with reference to properties associated with syntactic heads in that

2.     What are the functional or structural niches in which PLACs occur in
a specific language/family? What is their relationship with other
modification constructions? What is their place within the system of
nominal modification in this language?

3.     What are the external usage patterns of PLACs? What function(s) do
they tend to have in larger, clausal, constructions?

4.     What are the historical processes by which PLACs emerge? What are
the source constructions of PLACs? What conditions lead to the expansion of
the functional scope of an existing PLAC?

5.     How diachronically stable are PLACs? To what degree do we find
cognate grammar in PLACs across a family?

6.     What types of grammatical changes can we identify within PLACs, that
distinguish them from (very similar) possessive constructions? How does the
redistribution of morphosyntactic headedness properties take place? Do some
properties change quickly, while others take longer?


Creissels, Denis. 2017. Construct forms in nouns in typological
perspective. *50th Annual Meeting of the Societas Linguistica Europaea*.
University of Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland, September 10-13.

Frachtenberg, Leo. J. 1920. *Alsea texts and myths*. Washington: Government
Printing Office.

Gai, Amikam. 2013. Kəpurtə d Atalja – Ellat puratti: A Rare Syntactic
Construction in Modern Syriac and Akkadian. *Le Muséon *126.1-2.

Gil, David. 2013. Genitives, Adjective, and Relative Clauses. In: Dryer,
Matthew S. & Haspelmath, Martin (eds.) The World Atlas of Language
Structures Online. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary
Anthropology. (Available online at http://wals.info/chapter/60, Accessed on

Koontz-Garboden, Andrew and Itamar Francez. 2010. Possessed properties in
Ulwa. *Natural Language Semantics*. 18.2.

Malchukov, Andrej. 2000. *Dependency reversal in noun attributive
constructions*: *towards a typology*. Munich: Lincom Europe.

Plank, Frans. 1995. (Re-)introducing suffixaufnahme. In: Frans Plank
(ed.) *Double
case: agreement by Suffixaufnahme*. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Ross, Malcolm. 1998. Possessive-like attributive constructions in the
Oceanic languages of Northwest Melanesia. *Oceanic Linguistics* 37.

Van de Velde, Mark. 2013. The Bantu connective construction. In: Carlier
Anne & Verstraete Jean-Christophe (eds). *The Genitive*. Amsterdam,
Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

Vilacy Galucio, Ana. 2001. The Morphosyntax of Mekens (Tupi). Doctoral
dissertation, University of Chicago.
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