LINGUIST List 16.1000

Sat Apr 02 2005

Sum: The Origin of Agreement Systems

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        1.    Greville Corbett, The Origin of Agreement Systems

Message 1: The Origin of Agreement Systems

Date: 31-Mar-2005
From: Greville Corbett <>
Subject: The Origin of Agreement Systems

Fund Drive 2005 is now on! Visit to donate now!
Regarding query:

I am very grateful to all of the following for taking the trouble to reply:
Mira Ariel, Miriam Butt, Bernard Comrie, Tonya Kim Dewey, Mark Donohue, Dan
Everett, Joel Hoffman, Mélanie Jouitteau, Boyan Nikolaev, Juan Romero, Jouni
Rostila, Wolfgang Schulze, Michelle Sheehan, Joshua Viau, Helmut Weiß.

I have not yet been able to obtain all of the material they kindly cited, and so
cannot do full justice to their responses, but I but thought it was time to post
a summary of what I had received.

In broad terms, the answers were clear. For verb agreement, there is additional
evidence to support the generally held belief that pronouns, become clitics,
become agreement markers. Most of the evidence involves the renewal of an
existing system (for example in Skou: Donohue 2003). No-one sent in a digital
picture (with sound file) of the first instance of agreement in a language with
no previous agreement system, though a couple of researchers believed they were
close to it. Fay Wouk suggest that Sasak, spoken on the island of Flores,
Indonesia, in particular a dialect spoken in the eastern part, around the town
of Selong is developing an agreement system. This is clearly a good part of the
world, since Mark Donohue offers this example:

"In Palu'e (Austronesian, Flores, Indonesia) there's no agreement; none of the
close relatives has agreement; if there was (which is likely) agreement some
time in the past, it's the distant past now, and so agreement renewal is not an

But it does have one agreement clitic, the proclitic ak=, related to aku '1SG'.
Ak= can only mark a nominative argument, and is exclusory of any free pronoun.
It's clearly part of the same phonological word as the verb it attaches to.
This, I think, would qualify.

Aku pana
1SG go
'I went'

'I went'

* Aku ak-pana"

That's a situation to watch (for some years!) to see if Mark is right.

Miriam Butt has a forthcoming paper on Punjabi. She adds "it turns out that
pronominal cliticization (or suffixation as it tends to be called) is an areal
characteristic of South Asian languages (landmark paper by Emenau in 1968) and
that these pronominal clitics regularly get absorbed into the agreement system.
There are some early papers by the eminent Grierson (Survey of Indian
Languages), where he reconstructs this for several South Asian Languages."

So this part of the generally accepted story, the pronominal origin, does seem
to be true. However,it may not be the only origin. Wolfgang Schütze points to
the importance of Daghestanian languages for this, where he suggests "focus
marking techniques" as a source (and refers to his 2004 review of Harris 2002).

On the other hand, when we consider the mechanism(s) responsible for setting off
the development, the picture appears to be more varied than Givón suggested. An
important problem for Givón's analysis was pointed out early on by Comrie
(1980). I surveyed the issues (Corbett 1995), and more recently Ariel (2000)
considers the problem at length and provides a good bibliography.

There was a related query on the development of agreement morphology by Eric
Fuss; he posted very useful summaries as 13-2514 and 13-2566.

It isn't just a question of verbal agreement of course. Weiß (forthcoming)
provides a survey of the intricacies of complementizer agreement in Germanic.
Here the complementizer agreement is new, but within an existing agreement system.

For the rise of agreement within the noun phrase there were no takers at all. I
was surprised at this, since some of the languages likely to provide the
necessary data have been researched in recent years.

References suggested (cited as received, with my thanks to all):

Ariel, Mira 1998. Three grammaticalization paths for the development of person
verbal agreement in Hebrew. In Jean-Pierre Koenig (ed.) Discourse and cognition:
Bridging the gap. Stanford: CSLI/Cambridge University Press.

Ariel, Mira. 2000. The development of person agreement markers: from pronouns to
higher accessibility markers. In Michael Barlow and Suzanne Kemmer eds.
Usage-based models of language. Stanford: CSLI. 197-260.

Butt, Miriam. Forthcoming. The Role of Pronominal Suffixes in Punjabi.

Bynon, Theodora. Pronominal Attrition, Clitic Doubling and Typological Change.
Folia Linguistica Historica XIII/1-2, 27-63.

Comrie, Bernard. 1980. 'Morphology and word order reconstruction: problems and
prospects'. In Jacek Fisiak, ed.: Historical Morphology (Trends in Linguistics,
Studies and Monographs 17), 83-96. The Hague: Mouton. [Reprinted in Mouton
Classics, 359-372. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, 2002.]

Corbett, Greville G. 1995. Agreement (Research into Syntactic Change). In:
Joachim Jacobs, Arnim von Stechow, Wolfgang Sternefeld and Theo Vennemann. (eds)
Syntax: An International Handbook of Contemporary Research, Volume 2, 1235-1244.
Berlin: Walter de Gruyter.

Donohue, Mark. 2002. Which sounds change: descent and borrowing in the Skou
family. Oceanic Linguistics 41 (1): 157-207. (cited as helpful background for
the more directly relevant Donohue 2003)

Donohue, Mark. 2003. Agreement in the Skou language: a historical account.
Oceanic Linguistics 42 (2): 479-498. (This describes cycles of cliticization in
Skou. Donohue 2002 gives background information.)

Givón, Talmy. 1976. Topic, pronoun and grammatical agreement. In: Charles N. Li
(ed.) Subject and Topic, 149-88. New York: Academic Press.

Greenberg, Joseph H. 1978. How does a language acquire gender markers? In:
Joseph H. Greenberg, Charles A. Ferguson & Edith A. Moravcsik (eds) Universals
of Human Language: III: Word Structure, 47-82. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Harris, Alice C. 2002. Endoclitics and the Origins of Udi Morphosyntax.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Meyerhoff, M. 2000. The emergence of creole subject-verb agreement and the
licensing of null subjects, Language Variation and Change, 12.203-230.

Reid, Nicholas. 1997. Class and classifier in Ngan'gityemmeri. In: Mark Harvey &
Nicholas Reid (eds) Nominal Classification in Aboriginal Australia (Studies in
language companion series 37), 165-228. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Schulze, Wolfgang 2004. Review of Alice C. Harris. 'Endoclitics and the Origins
of Udi Morphosyntax' in Studies in Language 28.419-441.

Weiß, Helmut. Forthcoming. Inflected Complementizers in Continental West
Germanic Dialects. To appear in Zeitschrift für Dialektologie und Linguistik

Wouk, Fay. 1999. 'Sasak is different: A discourse perspective on voice'. Oceanic
Linguistics. 38.91-114.

Wouk, Fay. 2001. 'Voice in the languages of Nusa Tenggara Barat.' In Wouk, F.
and Ross, M. (eds) Proceedings from the special workshop on voice at the Eighth
International Conference on Austronesian Linguistics, Taipei, December 1997,
The Historical and Typological Development of Western Austronesian Voice
Systems. Canberra: Pacific Linguistics.

Linguistic Field(s): Historical Linguistics
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