LINGUIST List 13.2566

Tue Oct 8 2002

Sum: Development of Agreement Morphology/Pt2

Editor for this issue: Steve Moran <>


  1. Eric Fuss, Summary, Part 2

Message 1: Summary, Part 2

Date: Mon, 07 Oct 2002 17:36:56 +0200
From: Eric Fuss <>
Subject: Summary, Part 2

This is the follow-up to the first part of my summary
(Linguist 13.2514) 'development of agreement morphology'.

First, I want to thank Suzanne Alberse for pointing out a typo in the
first part of my summary. In the gloss of the Bavarian example, it
should have been 1pl (twice), that is

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

Various Northern Italian dialects represent another case in
point. Cecilia Poletto pointed out to me that in some Lombard and
Rhaeto-romance varieties, subject clitics occur not only in preverbal,
but also in postverbal position. Furthermore, these postverbal forms
appear to be completely morphologized, as they are obligatory in all
environments, do not change their position and are never split from
the verb by any other type of element. As in many other languages
(cf. the East Caucasian and Southern German data), these elements are
only found in the first and second person (singular and plural) but
never with the third person. Furthermore, Cecilia Poletto took the
time to work out some generalizations on the distribution of these
postverbal markers, for which I am very grateful. Her findings are:
(i) enclitics of the morphologized type are often found in the present
and imperfect but very rarely in the future tense (apparently, they
develop first in the imperfect) (ii) they are generally found with the
indicative (iii) they are generally found with main verbs, less with

David Kaiser provided another example of a language that possibly
exhibits an early stage in the development of subject-verb agreement
morphology. In Macedonian, clitics are fusing to the verb, resulting
in what some people call a "poly-personal" verb.

Mira Ariel was so kind to provide references to her most recent work
where she discusses the development of a new series of agreement
markers in the future tense of colloquial Hebrew. Her basic
observations are: (i) in contrast to other tenses, overt subject
pronouns apparently begin to be obligatory in the future tense; (ii)
there's a high frequency of reduced forms (proclitics on the verb) for
first and second person pronouns (in contrast to third persons) in the
colloquial future tense (again paralleling developments in other
languages, see above). Ariel argues that the reduced forms develop
into a new way of subject agreement marking on the verb, thereby
reinforcing the existing agreement markers. She attributes this
development to the fact that in the future tense, the pronominal
origin of the "old" agreement markers is not transparent
anymore. Therefore, they are not considered to be referential and do
not license zero subjects, giving rise to obligatory overt
pronouns. These are in turn reduced to clitics (and, ultimatively,
agreement morphology).

Finally, Larry Hutchinson pointed out to me that not all cases of
apparent (developing) subject-verb agreement are what they seem to be
at first sight. He argues that Temne (Sierra Leone) has no
subject-verb agreement, but requires the presence of a obligatory
subject pronoun in all instances, even if there is also a full subject

(2) a. i fumpo.
 'I fell.'
 b. o fumpo.
 'He fell.'
 c. obai o fumpo.
 'The chief he fell'

Analyzing the preposed person/number markers as agreement morphology
requires either that verbs don't agree with pronominal subjects (only
with nominal ones), or that verbs agree with pronominal subjects which
then undergo obligatory pro-drop. Note that Marianne Mithun (in
various papers) reports similar facts for many Northern American
indigenous languages. Here, bound pronominal affixes are obligatory as
well. Furthermore, these pronouns seem to be the actual arguments of
the verb, whereas full noun phrases are merely optional appositive

An extended version of this summary including (selected) references is
available at:

Eric Fuss
Institut fuer deutsche Sprache und Literatur II
University of Frankfurt
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