LINGUIST List 23.2835

Tue Jun 26 2012

Review: Semantics; Syntax; Typology: Evans et al. (2011)

Editor for this issue: Joseph Salmons <>

Date: 26-Jun-2012
From: Lucía Quintana Hernández <>
Subject: Reciprocals and Semantic Typology
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EDITORS: Nicholas Evans, Alice Gaby, Stephen C. Levinson and Asifa MajidTITLE: Reciprocals and Semantic TypologySERIES TITLE: Typological Studies in Language 98PUBLISHER: John BenjaminsYEAR: 2011

Lucía Quintana Hernández, Departamento de Filología y Traducción, UniversidadPablo de Olavide de Sevilla, Spain

SUMMARYThis edited collection describes the semantics of reciprocals in twentylanguages spanning every continent. It adds information about languages notcovered in Nedjalkov's 2007 survey of reciprocal constructions. Morespecifically, it is an empirical approach to semantic typology of reciprocals.This book grew out of the project Reciprocals Across Languages from 2003-2006and aims to present cross-linguistic evidence that all languages havereciprocals, and that there is a basic universal meaning for reciprocity andstructural diversity across languages. All papers use the same experimentalmethodology to elicit the relevant categories for each language.

The first and second chapters present the relevant questions about the semanticsof reciprocal constructions and the method used to elicit data from eachlanguage treated. The other chapters, except the last, are devoted to theresults of the experiment applied to twenty languages. Finally, the last chaptersummarizes the findings of this project.

Chapter 1: Reciprocals and semantic typology, Nicholas Evans, Alice Gaby,Stephen C. Levinson and Asifa MajidThis introductory chapter presents the relevant questions related to thesemantics of reciprocals which motivate the discussions throughout the wholebook: Is there universal meaning for reciprocity? Why do we have so muchstructural diversity to express reciprocity? Do all languages have reciprocalconstructions? It also presents the details of the design of the study and anoverview of findings.

Chapter 2: The semantics of reciprocal constructions across languages, NicholasEvans, Alice Gaby, Stephen C. Levinson and Asifa MajidThis chapter presents a cross-linguistic overview of reciprocal constructions.First, it describes the video stimuli and video data collection methods used byresearchers. Second, it explores the semantics of reciprocal constructions byanalyzing the data collected for each language in this book. The results showconsiderable agreement between languages, although different devices areemployed to express reciprocity: some languages use a sloppy 'general mutualinvolvement' resource to express reciprocity while others use a more restrictedone. The former use the reciprocal construction for many situation types,asymmetric situations included, while the latter do not. This leads to muchdebate on what counts as a reciprocal construction across languages.

Chapter 3: Semantics of Khoekhoe reciprocal construction, Christian J. RapoldThis chapter defines the semantics of the Khoekhoe reciprocal construction. Theresults obtained from native speakers show a wide range of situations which canbe coded by a reciprocal strategy, not only symmetric situations. Thus, Khoekhoeuses a non-restricted reciprocal construction.

Chapter 4: reciprocal constructions in English: Each other and beyond, PeterHurst and Rachel NordlingerThis chapter describes the semantics of English spoken in Melbourne. The authorspresent the semantics of several devices used to express reciprocity aside fromthe reciprocal expression 'each other'. The results also show that a wide rangeof situations can be coded by a reciprocal strategy.

Chapter 5: Reciprocal constructions in Indo-Pakistani Sign Language, UlrikeZeshan and Sibaji PandaThis chapter focuses on the semantics of reciprocal constructions inIndo-Pakistani Sign Language. This language has a dedicated reciprocalconstruction which is part of the larger family of aspect/Aktionsart derivationsof limited applicability. The results show that reciprocal event types involvingspatial arrays of either animate or inanimate referents are not subsumed underreciprocal constructions.

Chapter 6: Mundari reciprocals, Nicholas Evans and Toshiki OsadaThis chapter aims to describe the restricted use of reciprocals in Mundari.Though this language has several strategies to express reciprocity, results showthat the basic construction is not acceptable for sequential chainingsituations, which employ a specialized construction.

Chapter 7: Description of reciprocal situations in Lao, N. J. EnfieldThis chapter describes the collaborative marker used to express reciprocity inLao. The results show that the standard way to describe reciprocal situations inLao is not a dedicated marker of reciprocity. In fact, the device used toexpress reciprocity has a meaning more general than reciprocal, used in a widerange of situations.

Chapter 8: Reciprocal constructions in Mah Meri, Nicole KruspeThis chapter shows that, as with Asian languages, there are neither reflexivenor reciprocal pronouns but some specialized constructions to expressreciprocity with reciprocal verbs in Mah Meri. The results reveal thatreciprocal constructions are only used for situations of strict reciprocitywhere the event is symmetrical.

Chapter 9: The coding of reciprocal events in Jahai, Niclas BurenhultThis chapter shows Jahai's three different constructions to express reciprocity.One is a derivational Aktionsart category while the others are similar to whatit is found in other languages, verbal affixes and adjuncts. There is nodedicated marker of general reciprocity and further research is needed tounderstand Jahai reciprocals.

Chapter 10: Reciprocals in Yélî Dnye, the Papuan language of Rossel Island,Stephen C. LevinsonThis chapter describes the two dedicated reciprocal constructions available inYélî Dnye. One uses a reciprocal pronoun in argument position and the other usesa different pronoun in oblique positions. A third periphrastic construction isnot exclusively reciprocal but can have a systematic reciprocal interpretation.The first two constructions are constrained to prototypical reciprocal scenes,while the other is used in a wide range of situations. The author argues thatunderstanding the third strategy requires reference to pragmatic factors.

Chapter 11: Reciprocals in Rotokas, Stuart RobinsonThis chapter illustrates the syntax and semantics of several reciprocalconstructions in the central dialect of Rotokas. Reciprocal marking can be onverbs, pronouns or nouns. Contrary to some languages, the results show that allof these are compatible with a wide range of reciprocal interpretations (strong,chaining, etc.).

Chapter 12: Expression of reciprocity in Savosavo, Claudia WegenerThis chapter shows that the main strategy to express reciprocity in Savosavo isthe use of a reciprocal nominal. Another strategy exists for expressing jointactivities which are frequently reciprocal. The results show that the use of thereciprocal nominal is broadly used to describe even asymmetric situations.

Chapter 13: To have and have not. Kilivila reciprocals, Gunter SenftThis chapter presents one of the languages that lacks dedicated reciprocalforms, Kilivila. Reciprocity is expressed periphrastically or covertlyimplicated. Though it does not present a dedicated reciprocal construction,Kilivila uses inherently reciprocal verbs.

Chapter 14: Strategies for encoding reciprocity in Mawng, Ruth SingerThis chapter describes the three strategies for expressing reciprocity in Mawng.This language uses verbal suffixes, natural reciprocal predicates and a complexconstruction which has developed from a biclausal reciprocal construction. Thelatter is the productive way to form reciprocals with multivalent verbs in thelanguage. The results show that speakers mostly use reciprocal constructions todescribe symmetric situations.

Chapter 15: Reciprocal-marked and marked reciprocal events in Kuuk Thaayorre,Alice GabyThe description of the multiple reciprocal constructions in Kuuk Thaayorreindicates that when the event described approaches the prototypical reciprocalscene, i.e. a symmetric situation, the reciprocal mark is omitted, but when theevent described is not prototypical, overt reciprocity coding is preferred.Furthermore, prototypical reciprocal events are culture-specific and thereforedetermined by context.

Chapter 16: Reciprocal constructions in Olutec, Roberto Zavala MaldonadoThis chapter describes the three reciprocal constructions available in Olutec,distinguished by the degree of prominence of the participants in the reciprocalevent. The results reveal that pragmatic factors of the reciprocal scene arerelevant for reciprocal constructions.

Chapter 17: Reciprocal constructions in Tsafiki, Connie DickinsonThe description of Tsafiki reciprocal constructions shows that reciprocals arecoded by elements which are already grammaticalized for other functions. Thissuggests that there is not a dedicated reciprocal construction in this language,though the strategies used to express reciprocity differentiate positionalsymmetry from action symmetry. Thus, the results imply that no single element isdedicated to the coding of symmetry and that symmetry is lexically coded.

Chapter 18: Reciprocal constructions in Hup, Patience EppsThis chapter describes the three possible reciprocal constructions in Hup.Technically, this language has reciprocal verbal preforms, other verbal preformsthat can also express reciprocity, and a polyfunctional verbal prefix, which isthe only productive reciprocal strategy. The results show that the latterstrategy is used for nearly all the situations (strong, chaining, etc.), whilethe others appear only rarely.

Chapter 19: Reciprocals and semantic typology. Some concluding remarks, EkkehardKönigThis chapter offers concluding remarks about the concept of reciprocity fromdifferent perspectives, arguing that the responses given by the informants inthe studies presented in this book reinforce several findings already attestedin previous work: there are multiple ways to express reciprocity withinlanguages and across languages; there is a universal meaning for reciprocity,namely symmetry; and reciprocity is clearly influenced by culture-specificconceptualisations. The data presented contributes both to the description ofnew languages and to the general typology of reciprocity (Nedjalkov 2009). Asnoted, it confirms findings of earlier cross-linguistic studies and raisesquestions for further research.

EVALUATIONThis book is especially useful for all researchers interested in typologicalstudies but also for those interested in reciprocal constructions from otherperspectives. It is undoubtedly a valuable contribution to language variationstudies which theoretically-oriented researchers (Ekkehard & Volker 2008, amongothers), will also profit from, as we will see. As already said, Evans et al.come to the conclusion that symmetric predicates should be counted as dedicatedreciprocal constructions, which makes sense if we want to include even thoselanguages like Kilivila which have no other resource for expressing reciprocity,apart from paraphrasing, i.e. biclausal constructions. The fact that symmetricrelationships are reciprocal cross-linguistically, supports the proposal made byDimitriadis in Ekkehard & Volker (2008). Dimitriadis proposes irreduciblesymmetry in reciprocal constructions and Evans et al. finds out that theuniversal meaning of reciprocity is symmetry. Thus, theoretical proposals basedon isolated languages such as Dimitradis's, find support in this valuabletypological study. Further research on the feature of symmetry from eitherperspective will even shed light on the syntax of reciprocal constructions.

Furthermore, some descriptive features are highly valuable for theoreticalstudies which propose that aspectual factors should be taken into account toexplain the syntactic and semantic behavior of reciprocals (Quintana Hernández2011). According to Zeshan & Panda and Burenhult in the present volume,Aktionsart is explicitly relevant for some languages when using reciprocals.Some languages use an Aktionsart marker to express reciprocity (Indo-PakistaniSign Language and Jahai) and others like Balinese make a distinction betweensimultaneous and sequential reciprocation (Green 1989: 120). Even the chapter onEnglish points out the relevance of aspect. As proposed by Quintana Hernández(2011), Aktionsart is also relevant for languages, like Spanish, which do notgenerally have explicit aspectual markers. This suggests that aspectual factorsshould begin being taken into account when describing reciprocals.

Additionally, as proposed by Quintana Hernández (2011), the correlation betweenunaccusativity (Levin & Rapapport 1995; Alexadiou, Anagnostopoulou & Everaert2004) and telicity (Vendler 1957) in inherent reciprocal verbs in Spanish shouldguide future research on reciprocal constructions to better understand both thesyntax and semantics of reciprocals. It would be valuable to investigate whetherthat correlation holds cross-linguistically. Future research in this directioncould also clarify controversy about reciprocals in split intransitivity, whichis not clearly stated in this book, even though Stuart Robinson explicitly saysthat "something else needs to be said about split intransitivity" on p. 209.This needs further exploration.

Another interesting topic raised is that in some languages reciprocalconstructions are highly dependent on pragmatic factors and subsequently theyare closely related to information structure. Olutec is one of those languageswhich have different linguistic strategies to indicate that one participant ismore prominent than another in a reciprocal situation, i.e. the syntacticposition of the argument is motivated by prominence. "The existence of thesethree strategies within a language indicates that the pragmatic status of thereciprocants should be another of the parameters to consider in thecross-linguistic study of reciprocal constructions" (Zavala Maldonado, p. 274).Further work with this data should connect the relation between splitintransitivity and pragmatic factors, meaning that the position of arguments(subject, object, derived subject) might be driven by pragmatic factors.

However good the present contribution is, further research is needed to betterunderstand some topics, specifically the argument structure of reciprocalconstructions regarding transitivity/intransitivity patterns. In the finalchapter, König says that verbal reciprocals are typically intransitive and thatthe verbal markers reduce the valence of the verb. However, he does not saywhich valence is reduced, the subject or the object. In this sense, and asalready said, Stuart Robinson says that something else needs to be said aboutsplit intransitivity (p. 209). Introducing the unaccusative / unergative(Reinhart & Siloni 2004, 2005) distinction in cross-linguistic studies will shedsome light on the argument structure of reciprocal constructions andsubsequently on understanding transitivity patterns and finding some more thingsin common among the different reciprocal structures across languages. Not allverbal reciprocals are intransitive as in the following examples in Spanish andEnglish: El concejal casó a la pareja, 'The mayor married the couple'.

The description presented is a fantastic contribution to typological studies butalso to further research on morphology, syntax, semantics and pragmatics ofreciprocals across languages. Since reciprocity it is an important concept inhuman relations, other disciplines may also benefit of further linguisticresearch on this topic. Undoubtedly, and as pointed out in the final chapter,the concept of reciprocity has been widely covered by different disciplinesbecause it is pertinent in the representation of social relationships. This bookis very important in showing that linguists should look at work in otherdisciplines on reciprocity to further understand the meaning of 'mutualinvolvement'.

REFERENCESAlexadiou, Artemis, Anagnostopoulou, Elena & Everaert, Martin, eds. 2004. TheUnaccusativity Puzzle. Explorations of the Syntax-Lexicon Interface. OxfordStudies in Theoretical Linguistics 5. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

König, Ekkehard & Gast Volker. 2008. Reciprocals and Reflexives. Theoretical andTypological Explorations. Trends in Linguistics. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Green, Ian. 1989. Marrithiyel. A Language of the Daily River Region ofAustralia's Northern Territory. PhD dissertation, ANU.

Levin, Beth & Rappaport, Malka. 1995. Unaccusativity: At the Syntax-LexicalSemantics Interface. Linguistic Inquiry Monograph 26. Cambridge: MIT Press.

Nedjalkov, Vladimir P. 2007. Reciprocal constructions. Typological Studies inLanguage 71, 5 vols. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Quintana Hernández, Lucía. In progress. Construcciones recíprocas. Cuadernos deLengua Española. Madrid: Arco Libros.

Quintana Hernández, Lucía. 2011. Unaccusativity, Telicity and Inherentreciprocals, selected paper for the Proceedings of the Hispanic LinguisticsSymposium 2011, University of Georgia, USA.

Reinhart, Tanya & Siloni, Tal. 2005. The Lexicon-Syntax Parameter:Reflexivization and other Arity Operations. Linguistic Inquiry 36: 389-436.

Reinhart, Tanya & Siloni, Tal. 2004. Against an Unaccusative Analysis ofReflexives. In Alexadiou Artemis, Anagnastopoulou, Elena & Everaert, Martin(eds.) The Unaccusativity Puzzle. Explorations of the Syntax-Lexicon Interface.Oxford Studies in Theoretical Linguistics 5. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Vendler Zeno. 1967. Verbs and Times. The Philosophical Review 66: 143-160.

ABOUT THE REVIEWERLucía Quintana Hernández, PhD in Linguistics (2001), is an adjunctprofessor in the Departamento de Filología y Traducción de la UniversidadPablo de Olavide de Sevilla, Spain. Her main interests are theoreticallinguistics, language acquisition and applied linguistics with a focus onbinding theory, argument structure, aspect, reciprocal constructions andacquisition and teaching of aspect.

Page Updated: 26-Jun-2012