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Review of  Reciprocals and Semantic Typology

Reviewer: Lucía Quintana Hernández
Book Title: Reciprocals and Semantic Typology
Book Author: Nicholas Evans Alice Rose Gaby Stephen Curtis Levinson Asifa Maji
Publisher: John Benjamins
Linguistic Field(s): Linguistic Theories
Issue Number: 23.2835

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EDITORS: Nicholas Evans, Alice Gaby, Stephen C. Levinson and Asifa Majid
TITLE: Reciprocals and Semantic Typology
SERIES TITLE: Typological Studies in Language 98
PUBLISHER: John Benjamins
YEAR: 2011

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

This edited collection describes the semantics of reciprocals in twenty
languages spanning every continent. It adds information about languages not
covered in Nedjalkov’s 2007 survey of reciprocal constructions. More
specifically, it is an empirical approach to semantic typology of reciprocals.
This book grew out of the project Reciprocals Across Languages from 2003-2006
and aims to present cross-linguistic evidence that all languages have
reciprocals, and that there is a basic universal meaning for reciprocity and
structural diversity across languages. All papers use the same experimental
methodology to elicit the relevant categories for each language.

The first and second chapters present the relevant questions about the semantics
of reciprocal constructions and the method used to elicit data from each
language treated. The other chapters, except the last, are devoted to the
results of the experiment applied to twenty languages. Finally, the last chapter
summarizes the findings of this project.

Chapter 1: Reciprocals and semantic typology, Nicholas Evans, Alice Gaby,
Stephen C. Levinson and Asifa Majid
This introductory chapter presents the relevant questions related to the
semantics of reciprocals which motivate the discussions throughout the whole
book: Is there universal meaning for reciprocity? Why do we have so much
structural diversity to express reciprocity? Do all languages have reciprocal
constructions? It also presents the details of the design of the study and an
overview of findings.

Chapter 2: The semantics of reciprocal constructions across languages, Nicholas
Evans, Alice Gaby, Stephen C. Levinson and Asifa Majid
This chapter presents a cross-linguistic overview of reciprocal constructions.
First, it describes the video stimuli and video data collection methods used by
researchers. Second, it explores the semantics of reciprocal constructions by
analyzing the data collected for each language in this book. The results show
considerable agreement between languages, although different devices are
employed to express reciprocity: some languages use a sloppy ‘general mutual
involvement’ resource to express reciprocity while others use a more restricted
one. The former use the reciprocal construction for many situation types,
asymmetric situations included, while the latter do not. This leads to much
debate on what counts as a reciprocal construction across languages.

Chapter 3: Semantics of Khoekhoe reciprocal construction, Christian J. Rapold
This chapter defines the semantics of the Khoekhoe reciprocal construction. The
results obtained from native speakers show a wide range of situations which can
be coded by a reciprocal strategy, not only symmetric situations. Thus, Khoekhoe
uses a non-restricted reciprocal construction.

Chapter 4: reciprocal constructions in English: Each other and beyond, Peter
Hurst and Rachel Nordlinger
This chapter describes the semantics of English spoken in Melbourne. The authors
present the semantics of several devices used to express reciprocity aside from
the reciprocal expression ‘each other’. The results also show that a wide range
of situations can be coded by a reciprocal strategy.

Chapter 5: Reciprocal constructions in Indo-Pakistani Sign Language, Ulrike
Zeshan and Sibaji Panda
This chapter focuses on the semantics of reciprocal constructions in
Indo-Pakistani Sign Language. This language has a dedicated reciprocal
construction which is part of the larger family of aspect/Aktionsart derivations
of limited applicability. The results show that reciprocal event types involving
spatial arrays of either animate or inanimate referents are not subsumed under
reciprocal constructions.

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

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

Chapter 8: Reciprocal constructions in Mah Meri, Nicole Kruspe
This chapter shows that, as with Asian languages, there are neither reflexive
nor reciprocal pronouns but some specialized constructions to express
reciprocity with reciprocal verbs in Mah Meri. The results reveal that
reciprocal constructions are only used for situations of strict reciprocity
where the event is symmetrical.

Chapter 9: The coding of reciprocal events in Jahai, Niclas Burenhult
This chapter shows Jahai’s three different constructions to express reciprocity.
One is a derivational Aktionsart category while the others are similar to what
it is found in other languages, verbal affixes and adjuncts. There is no
dedicated marker of general reciprocity and further research is needed to
understand Jahai reciprocals.

Chapter 10: Reciprocals in Yélî Dnye, the Papuan language of Rossel Island,
Stephen C. Levinson
This chapter describes the two dedicated reciprocal constructions available in
Yélî Dnye. One uses a reciprocal pronoun in argument position and the other uses
a different pronoun in oblique positions. A third periphrastic construction is
not 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 that
understanding the third strategy requires reference to pragmatic factors.

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 16: Reciprocal constructions in Olutec, Roberto Zavala Maldonado
This chapter describes the three reciprocal constructions available in Olutec,
distinguished by the degree of prominence of the participants in the reciprocal
event. The results reveal that pragmatic factors of the reciprocal scene are
relevant for reciprocal constructions.

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

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

Chapter 19: Reciprocals and semantic typology. Some concluding remarks, Ekkehard
This chapter offers concluding remarks about the concept of reciprocity from
different perspectives, arguing that the responses given by the informants in
the studies presented in this book reinforce several findings already attested
in previous work: there are multiple ways to express reciprocity within
languages and across languages; there is a universal meaning for reciprocity,
namely symmetry; and reciprocity is clearly influenced by culture-specific
conceptualisations. The data presented contributes both to the description of
new languages and to the general typology of reciprocity (Nedjalkov 2009). As
noted, it confirms findings of earlier cross-linguistic studies and raises
questions for further research.

This book is especially useful for all researchers interested in typological
studies but also for those interested in reciprocal constructions from other
perspectives. It is undoubtedly a valuable contribution to language variation
studies which theoretically-oriented researchers (Ekkehard & Volker 2008, among
others), 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 dedicated
reciprocal constructions, which makes sense if we want to include even those
languages like Kilivila which have no other resource for expressing reciprocity,
apart from paraphrasing, i.e. biclausal constructions. The fact that symmetric
relationships are reciprocal crosslinguistically, supports the proposal made by
Dimitriadis in Ekkehard & Volker (2008). Dimitriadis proposes irreducible
symmetry in reciprocal constructions and Evans et al. finds out that the
universal meaning of reciprocity is symmetry. Thus, theoretical proposals based
on isolated languages such as Dimitradis’s, find support in this valuable
typological study. Further research on the feature of symmetry from either
perspective will even shed light on the syntax of reciprocal constructions.

Furthermore, some descriptive features are highly valuable for theoretical
studies which propose that aspectual factors should be taken into account to
explain the syntactic and semantic behavior of reciprocals (Quintana Hernández
2011). 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-Pakistani
Sign Language and Jahai) and others like Balinese make a distinction between
simultaneous and sequential reciprocation (Green 1989: 120). Even the chapter on
English points out the relevance of aspect. As proposed by Quintana Hernández
(2011), Aktionsart is also relevant for languages, like Spanish, which do not
generally have explicit aspectual markers. This suggests that aspectual factors
should begin being taken into account when describing reciprocals.

Additionally, as proposed by Quintana Hernández (2011), the correlation between
unaccusativity (Levin & Rapapport 1995; Alexadiou, Anagnostopoulou & Everaert
2004) and telicity (Vendler 1957) in inherent reciprocal verbs in Spanish should
guide future research on reciprocal constructions to better understand both the
syntax and semantics of reciprocals. It would be valuable to investigate whether
that correlation holds cross-linguistically. Future research in this direction
could also clarify controversy about reciprocals in split intransitivity, which
is not clearly stated in this book, even though Stuart Robinson explicitly says
that “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 reciprocal
constructions are highly dependent on pragmatic factors and subsequently they
are closely related to information structure. Olutec is one of those languages
which have different linguistic strategies to indicate that one participant is
more prominent than another in a reciprocal situation, i.e. the syntactic
position of the argument is motivated by prominence. “The existence of these
three strategies within a language indicates that the pragmatic status of the
reciprocants should be another of the parameters to consider in the
cross-linguistic study of reciprocal constructions” (Zavala Maldonado, p. 274).
Further work with this data should connect the relation between split
intransitivity 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 better
understand some topics, specifically the argument structure of reciprocal
constructions regarding transitivity/intransitivity patterns. In the final
chapter, König says that verbal reciprocals are typically intransitive and that
the verbal markers reduce the valence of the verb. However, he does not say
which valence is reduced, the subject or the object. In this sense, and as
already said, Stuart Robinson says that something else needs to be said about
split intransitivity (p. 209). Introducing the unaccusative / unergative
(Reinhart & Siloni 2004, 2005) distinction in cross-linguistic studies will shed
some light on the argument structure of reciprocal constructions and
subsequently on understanding transitivity patterns and finding some more things
in common among the different reciprocal structures across languages. Not all
verbal reciprocals are intransitive as in the following examples in Spanish and
English: El concejal casó a la pareja, ‘The mayor married the couple’.

The description presented is a fantastic contribution to typological studies but
also to further research on morphology, syntax, semantics and pragmatics of
reciprocals across languages. Since reciprocity it is an important concept in
human relations, other disciplines may also benefit of further linguistic
research on this topic. Undoubtedly, and as pointed out in the final chapter,
the concept of reciprocity has been widely covered by different disciplines
because it is pertinent in the representation of social relationships. This book
is very important in showing that linguists should look at work in other
disciplines on reciprocity to further understand the meaning of ‘mutual

Alexadiou, Artemis, Anagnostopoulou, Elena & Everaert, Martin, eds. 2004. The
Unaccusativity Puzzle. Explorations of the Syntax-Lexicon Interface. Oxford
Studies in Theoretical Linguistics 5. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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

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

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

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

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

Quintana Hernández, Lucía. 2011. Unaccusativity, Telicity and Inherent
reciprocals, selected paper for the Proceedings of the Hispanic Linguistics
Symposium 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 of
Reflexives. 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. In The Philosophical Review 66: 143-160.

Lucía Quintana Hernández, PhD in Linguistics (2001), is an adjunct professor in the Departamento de Filología y Traducción de la Universidad Pablo de Olavide de Sevilla, Spain. Her main interests are theoretical linguistics, language acquisition and applied linguistics with a focus on binding theory, argument structure, aspect, reciprocal constructions and acquisition and teaching of aspect.