LINGUIST List 13.2514

Wed Oct 2 2002

Sum: Development of Agreement Morphology/Pt 1

Editor for this issue: Steve Moran <>


  1. Eric Fuss, Development of Agreement Morphology - part 1

Message 1: Development of Agreement Morphology - part 1

Date: Tue, 01 Oct 2002 12:04:11 +0000
From: Eric Fuss <>
Subject: Development of Agreement Morphology - part 1

Some weeks ago I posted a query (LINGUIST 13.2217) asking for
information on languages which currently show a development of subject
agreement morphology from pronouns (or have undergone such a change in
their recent history).

I want to thank all who responded for their very helpful and in many
cases detailed messages, which provided me not only with a lot of
interesting data but also helped me to gain new insights in my topic
(the development of agreement morphology and its syntactic
consequences). Thanks a lot!

Several people (Werner Abraham, Stefan Ploch, and Helmut Weiss)
referred me to the well-known phenomenon of complementizer agreement
which is found in a variety of southern German dialects. Here, the
relevant agreement morphology developed out of enclitic subject
pronouns which attach to the second clausal position (occupied by the
finite verb in main clauses and the complementizer in subordinate
clauses). The fact that the inflected complementizer co-occurs with
another subject shows that the former pronoun has been reanalyzed as
an agreement marker, thereby losing its argument
status. Interestingly, in some dialects, weak pronouns of this kind
also developed into a new marker of verbal agreement, which can be
seen from the fact that the relevant morphology spread to finite verbs
in clause final position as well (only 1st & 2nd ps):

(1)wa'ma doch zwou kei kod hama
 because-2pl particle two cows had have-2sg
 '...because we had two cows'

Wolfgang Schulze turned my attention to the East Caucasian languages,
where very interesting developments are underway. The languages spoken
in the Eastern Caucasus are often characterized by a system of noun
classes which are marked on the verb in an Erg/Abs fashion. Apart from
this kind of (ergative) noun class agreement, however, many languages
(e.g. Lak, Tabasaran, Awar, Dargwa) have developed (and still develop)
an additional agreement paradigm of person (and sometimes number)
marking on the verb. Interestingly, this new agreement paradigm is
often Nom/Acc oriented. The degree of grammaticalization of this new
paradigm varies greatly from language to language. The first
distinction that arises is apparently first person vs. non-first
person agent. Finer-grained systems referring to other person/number
distinctions may develop subsequently.

Bill Morris took considerable time to give me some detailed
information on Kapampangan (Northern Philippines) which has undergone
a shift from pronouns to obligatory ergative and absolutive
agreement. The resulting agreement cluster is usually in second
position right after the verb, but it can appear in front of the verb
in some contexts. Furthermore, the agreement cluster can be divided
into ergative and absolutive agreement clitics by a particle meaning
'just now'. These facts suggest that the agreement cluster has not yet
developed into a verbal affix.

Mark Donohue reported that Skou (North-Central New Guinea) is
currently developing a second cycle of agreement markers. Skou
exhibits a bewildering number of different strategies to mark
agreement with a subject (pronominal agreement clitics, vowel and
consonant alternations on the verb, as well as combinations of
these). In a recent paper, Donohue shows that the kind of multiple
exponence/agreement found in Skou can be attributed to repeated
cliticization of pronominal subjects in the history of this language:
the consonant alternations on the verb are apparently the result of an
earlier process in which subject pronouns fused to the verb. The
subsequent reduction of this kind of distinctive agreement morphology
is in turn compensated by a second wave of cliticization in the
present day language.

To be continued in Part 2. 
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