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Quite a while back ( LINGUIST 9.1462 ) I posted a query asking about the
possible interactions between definiteness and animacy. In particular I was
hoping to find out if there was any way to unify the phenomena. I had
hoped (and I was quite stunningly wrong) that animacy and overt marking of
definiteness would be in complementary distribution. I was hoping to
account for a word order alternation in various Mayan languages (discussed
extensively in England's 1991 IJAL article). The relative ordering (VOS,
VSO) in many of these languages is determined by definiteness. I had a nice
account of these facts making use of scope. However, the problem is that
many Mayan languages have the same word order alternation but do it on
the basis of animacy instead of definiteness. I'd hoped to reduce these
languages in some way to the ones that do it by definiteness by claiming
definiteness and animacy were part and parcel of the same phenomenon.
Alas, had I thought about it for about 30 seconds, I would have realized that
this was impossible. This was reflected in the many helpful responses from
LINGUIST readers who pointed out an incredible number of counter
examples. My query also lead to an extremely helpful discussion with
Eloise Jelinek (not included below), in which she pointed out that scope
phenomena often have an information structure basis, and that there is a tight
link between information structure and animacy. Her approach (outlined in a
paper in prep) actually will allow me to unify the phenomena quite nicely
without making the unmotivated claim that definiteness and animacy are the
I would like to thank all who responded. Your messages were extremely
helpful and have pushed me onto a better research path. Excerpts from these
messages are included below.
Department of Linguistics
University of Arizona
My Original Query:
I'm looking into the relatedness of definiteness and animacy. Does anyone
out there know of a language that overtly marks both (ie has both
animacy and definiteness markers) or a language that has both definite
determiners yet has a phenomenon that obeys an animacy hierarchy?
From: Daniel L Everett <email@example.com>
You might want to check out my grammar of Wari'. I discuss the the
restrictions on WH-movement and animacy. Assuming that WH-movement is
related to definiteness, this could be relevant.
From: Koontz John E <John.Koontz@Colorado.EDU>
Well, the Dhegiha Siouan languages have definite and indefinite articles
(postposed), and the definite set breaks down into three parts, an animate
proximate set, an animate obviative set, and an inanimate set. The
proximate set distinguishes singular and moving/plural. The obviative set
distinguishes standing, moving, sitting/quiescent, group. The inanimate
horizontally extended form can be used with some animates, e.g., snakes.
You can find an old summary of the Omaha-Ponca articles in Boas &
Swanton's Siouan (Dakota) article in the BAE's HBNAIL(, vol 2?). There's
a nice set of published texts in Dorsey 1890 and 1891. You can find the
full references in Chafe's Macro-Siouan (with bibliography). This was
published separately and in CTIL. There's a recent dissertation on Osage
by Carolyn Quintero, available from UMI over the Web.
The definite articles are also used as progressive and future auxiliaries
after the verb.
Other Siouan languages mark definiteness and animacy in various less
florid ways. Animacy is sometimes reflected in the verb in some persons,
for example, while all the language have definite articles (or something
verging on this). Finding documentation easily for anything but Dakotan
is sometimes difficult.
From: Kieran Snyder <kmsnyder@BABEL.ling.upenn.edu>
I've done some stuff with hearer-givenness and animacy as pertains to
double object constructions in some Bantu languages, The relationship
between hearer-givenness (in the sense of Prince 1981 and later
publications) and definiteness is not one-to-one, but the stuff I found
might provide a good starting point depending what you want to look at.
I did a couple of pretty big corpus studies, one on double object
alternations in English (which I presented at CLS last year) and another
which I will talk about somewhere this year on similar alternations in
Bantu languages. The alternation (Nixon gave Normal Mailer an idea for a
book vs Nixon gave an idea for a book vs Norman Mailer) in English is
quite predictably constrained on the basis of simply hearer-givenness.
I'll spare you the details since it's not the part that is relevant to
your questions, but the corpus work bears this out very compellingly.
Now, in the case of Bantu it's a little more complicated because there's
also object-marking to consider, but really the word order variation
where it exists (say, in Swahili) boils down again to hearer-givenness,
and the object-marking is completely determined by animacy and
hearer-givenness (this is the part which may be of interest to you):
1) if one of the two objects (direct or indirect) is animate and the
other is not, object-mark the animate one, whichever it is
2) if they are equal in animacy value but not in hearer-givenness,
object-mark the hearer-given one, whichever it is
3) if they are equal in both animacy and hearer-givenness, object mark
the recipient (ie indirect) object
In Kinyarwanda, which lacks the relevant word-order variation but
which has object-marking, the above hierarchy of hearer-givenness and
animacy also obtains.
From: Daniel E. Collins <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Both are marked in certain Slavic languages (Indo-European):
1) Old Church Slavonic and Rus'ian ("Old Russian" = Old East Slavic), where
definiteness is marked in adjectives. Here animacy is an incipient
category in the accusative singular masculine. In later Muscovite texts
animacy is extended, while the definite/indefinite distinction in
adjectives is increasingly eliminated.
2) Croatian and Serbian, where definiteness is marked in adjectives, and
animacy in the accusative singular masculine.
From: Mark Campana <email@example.com>
Interesting questions, and I've just been getting close to this stuff
myself in Passamaquoddy-Maliseet (Algonquian). PM does NOT have both
animacy & definiteness markers, but as perhaps you know, animacy
(=grammatical gender) is recorded in the verb stem itself, and certain
processes (e.g. obviation) are sensitive to it. In addition (I think),
core arguments have to be both animate AND definite to trigger
obligatory obviation. Hope this helps...
From: Takeo Kurafuji <firstname.lastname@example.org>
A Japanese nominal expression _koto_, which literary means 'fact, thing,
matter, etc', plays a role of a definite marker in some cases, and it
can be used only with [+human] nouns. I described several facts in my
paper "Definiteness of Koto in Japanese and Its Nullification", which is
downloadable from http://equinox.rutgers.edu/resources/rsrc_arch.html .
A Japanese plural marker _-tachi_ seems to be another candidate for what
you want to see. Noriko Kawasaki (1989) "Jibun-tachi and
Non-coreferential Anaphora" in Papers on Quantification, NSF Grant BNS
8719999, UMass, points out that a common noun followed by the plural
marker is interpreted as definite (i.e. student + tachi --> the
students), and it is used only with [+human] nouns.
From: Martin Haspelmath <email@example.com>
there are probably too many languages out there that fulfill your
criterion, because lots of phenomena in languages obey the animacy
For example, most European languages have a dative external possessor
construction, like (i) from German.
Dem Kind ist ein Stein auf den Kopf gefallen.
'A stone fell on the kid's head.'
This is not possible with inanimate datives. Cross-linguistically, this
is a manifestation of the animacy hierarchy, as we show in:
Koenig, Ekkehard & Haspelmath, Martin. 1998. "Les constructions a
possesseur externe dans les langues d'Europe", in: Feuilet, Jack (ed.)
Actance et valnece dans les langues d'Europe. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.
Since most of the European languages have definite articles as well,
here you have lost of examples of this kind.
From: "Hutchinson, Larry" <larry@Claritech.com>
This is common in African languages. (See Bantu)
Temne, a West Atlantic language I work on has definite/indefinite
prefixes on nouns, and uses a verbal prefix which marks animacy on the
(O = open o)
O-bai O fumpo
the-chief he fell
u-bai O fumpO
a-chief he fell
ka-bap ka fumpO
the-axe it fell
ka-yek O fumpO
the-monkey he fell
The rule is this: if the subject denotes an animate, use the O type
verbal pronoun, otherwise use the pronoun appropriate to the grammatical
gender of the subject. (There are 24 genders.)
I also received a response from Sean Witty about Animacy and Gender
in Korean. Unfortunately I seem to have deleted this message so
can't include it here. My apologies to him.
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