The Origin of Agreement Systems
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Regarding query: http://www.linguistlist.org/issues/16/16-645.html#2
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
"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 explanation.
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 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
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
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
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.
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