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Agreement in the Romance Languages  

Michele Loporcaro

This article examines agreement in the Romance languages in light of current studies and with the toolkit of linguistic typology. I will first introduce the definition of agreement assumed in the article, demonstrating its superiority to the alternatives proposed in the literature, and then move on to consider empirical data from all branches of the Romance language family, illustrating how agreement works in all its components. This will require dealing with, in order, the controllers and targets of agreement, then the morphosyntactic features that are active in the agreement rules, then the conditions that may constrain those rules, and finally the syntactic domains in which agreement takes place. In the first half of this overview, the focus will be mainly on what is common to all Romance languages, while in the second half I will concentrate on the phenomena of agreement that are remarkable, in that they are rare and/or unexpected, from a crosslinguistic perspective. It will become clear from this survey that there is no dearth of such unusual phenomena, and that the Romance language family, especially through its lesser-known nonstandard local vernaculars (which will be treated here with equal dignity to the major literary languages), holds in store considerable richness that must be taken into serious consideration by any language typologist interested in agreement.


Alignment and Word Order in the Romance Languages  

Francesco Rovai

The term “alignment” refers to the formal realization of the argument structure of the clause, that is, the ways in which the core arguments of the predicate are encoded by means of three main morphosyntactic devices: nominal case marking (morphological case, adpositions), verb marking systems (verbal agreement, pronominal affixes, auxiliaries, voice distinctions, etc.), and word order. The relative importance of these mechanisms of argument coding may considerably vary from language to language. In the Romance family, a major role is played by finite verb agreement and, to a lesser extent, auxiliary selection, participial agreement, voice distinctions, and word order, depending on the language/variety. Most typically, both transitive and intransitive subjects share the same formal coding (they control finite verb agreement and precede the verb in the basic word order) and are distinguished from direct objects (which do not control finite verb agreement and follow the verb in the basic word order). This arrangement of the argument structure is traditionally known as “nominative/accusative” alignment and can be easily identified as the main alignment of the Romance languages. Note that, with very few exceptions, nominal case marking is instead “neutral,” since no overt morphological distinction is made between subject and object arguments after the loss of the Latin case system. However, although the Romance languages can legitimately be associated with an accusative alignment, it must be borne in mind that, whatever the property selected, natural languages speak against an all-encompassing, holistic typology. A language “belongs” to an alignment type only insofar as it displays a significantly above-average frequency of clause structures with that kind of argument coding, but this does not exclude the existence of several grammatical domains that partake of different alignments. In the Romance family, minor patterns are attested that are not consistent with an accusative alignment. In part, they depend on robust crosslinguistic tendencies in the distribution of the different alignment types when they coexist in the same language. In part, they reflect phenomena of morphosyntactic realignment that can be traced back to the transition from Latin to Romance, when, alongside the dominant accusative alignment of the classical language, Late Latin developed an active alignment in some domains of the grammar—a development that has its roots in Classical and Early Latin. Today, the Romance languages preserve traces of this intermediate stage, but in large part, the signs of it have been replaced with novel accusative structures. In particular, at the level of the sentence, there emerges an accusative-aligned word order, with the preverbal position realizing the default “subject” position and the postverbal position instantiating the default “object” position.


Cognitive Semantics in the Romance Languages  

Ulrich Detges

Cognitive semantics (CS) is an approach to the study of linguistic meaning. It is based on the assumption that the human linguistic capacity is part of our cognitive abilities, and that language in general and meaning in particular can therefore be better understood by taking into account the cognitive mechanisms that control the conceptual and perceptual processing of extra-linguistic reality. Issues central to CS are (a) the notion of prototype and its role in the description of language, (b) the nature of linguistic meaning, and (c) the functioning of different types of semantic relations. The question concerning the nature of meaning is an issue that is particularly controversial between CS on the one hand and structuralist and generative approaches on the other hand: is linguistic meaning conceptual, that is, part of our encyclopedic knowledge (as is claimed by CS), or is it autonomous, that is, based on abstract and language-specific features? According to CS, the most important types of semantic relations are metaphor, metonymy, and different kinds of taxonomic relations, which, in turn, can be further broken down into more basic associative relations such as similarity, contiguity, and contrast. These play a central role not only in polysemy and word formation, that is, in the lexicon, but also in the grammar.


Usage-Based Linguistics  

Holger Diessel

Throughout the 20th century, structuralist and generative linguists have argued that the study of the language system (langue, competence) must be separated from the study of language use (parole, performance), but this view of language has been called into question by usage-based linguists who have argued that the structure and organization of a speaker’s linguistic knowledge is the product of language use or performance. On this account, language is seen as a dynamic system of fluid categories and flexible constraints that are constantly restructured and reorganized under the pressure of domain-general cognitive processes that are not only involved in the use of language but also in other cognitive phenomena such as vision and (joint) attention. The general goal of usage-based linguistics is to develop a framework for the analysis of the emergence of linguistic structure and meaning. In order to understand the dynamics of the language system, usage-based linguists study how languages evolve, both in history and language acquisition. One aspect that plays an important role in this approach is frequency of occurrence. As frequency strengthens the representation of linguistic elements in memory, it facilitates the activation and processing of words, categories, and constructions, which in turn can have long-lasting effects on the development and organization of the linguistic system. A second aspect that has been very prominent in the usage-based study of grammar concerns the relationship between lexical and structural knowledge. Since abstract representations of linguistic structure are derived from language users’ experience with concrete linguistic tokens, grammatical patterns are generally associated with particular lexical expressions.