LINGUIST List 6.59

Mon 16 Jan 1995

Disc: Verb agreement with neuter subjects

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  1. "Valiquette, Philippe Luc", Re: Greek & Latin verb agreement

Message 1: Re: Greek & Latin verb agreement

Date: Sat, 14 Jan 95 11:44:16 ESRe: Greek & Latin verb agreement
From: "Valiquette, Philippe Luc" <>
Subject: Re: Greek & Latin verb agreement

In reply to my earlier posting, Dave Wharton (
added the following note: 'For the record, Latin neuter plural nouns do
not trigger singular verb agreement'. This is obviously unquestionable
-- Latin as we know it did not offer this type of agreement -- but clearly
misses my point: both languages, regardless of the fact one favored the
agreement and the other did not, are showing the same strong evidence that,
on both parts, syllepsis always had a major influence, moreover in those
numerous cases where a sg. subject with a collective meaning has triggered
pl. agreement on a verb. Alexis Manaster Ramer indicated, in reply to the
original message, that:

)the fact that the rule of sg. verb with neuter pl. subject noun was not
)always followed in Greek, say, would be taken to mean that the language
)was precisely moving away from an irregularity (which therefore is likely
)to reflect the prehistory) to a more regular situation. And the standard
)Indo-Europeanist account discussed by Meillet is that what was
)synchronically irregular in Ancient Greek and Gathic, say, had been
)regular in Proto-IE because the neuter plurals are reconstructed as coming
)from collectives nouns, which would have been singular in PIE. So it
)would be a classic example of a synchronic irregularity shared by two (or
)more) languages in a family, hence likely to be inherited from a
)proto-language (in which we find that the apparent irregularity was really
)regular after all).

And if the irregularity had always been there? *Extending* the (<standard
account)> so that it could authorize to postulate in Proto-IE a particular
syntactic agreement between a subject and a predicate is a proposal
Meillet himself(1960: 598, par. 874) felt could not be validated:

)Pas plus dans la phrase nominale que dans la phrase verbale, il n'y a lieu
)de parler en indo-europeen d'accord entre le sujet et le predicat [...].
)La ou il est question d'etres multiples, le nom sujet et le verbe predicat
)sont naturellement tous deux au pluriel, mais independamment l'un de
)l'autre et sans qu'on ait le droit de supposer un (<accord>>. [...] Cela
)resulte toujours du caractere d'autonomie du mot indo-europeen: chaque
)element de la phrase a par lui-meme la forme qu'appelle le sens a exprimer.

Meillet, A., Vendryes, J. (1960). Traite de grammaire comparee des langues
classiques, 3e edition, Paris: Librairie Champion, 779 p.

PV [95/01/14;11:19:35 EDT]
Universite Laval, Dep. Linguistique
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