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Patricia Cabredo Hofherr

Agreement is defined as the systematic covariance of one element with another. The most uncontroversial agreement configuration is that between a controller—an element intrinsically specified for a value of an agreement feature—and the target of agreement—the element reflecting a displaced feature value of the controller. The distribution of morphological agreement markers is however much wider than controller–target configurations: targets can express agreement values for features that are not visible on the controller and even show agreement morphology in the absence of a lexical controller. A second source of variation is due to the fact that in certain contexts there is a choice between syntactic agreement (with formal features of the controller) and semantic agreement (with semantic features of the referent of the controller). The choice between syntactic and semantic agreement is correlated in part with cross-linguistically observed regularities that have been formulated as the agreement hierarchy and the animacy hierarchy. Agreement morphology harnesses the same morphological devices found with derivation and inflection. Like inflectional morphology more generally, agreement morphology is only present in a subset of the world’s languages.


In the Principles and Parameters framework of Generative Grammar, the various positions occupied by the verb have been identified as functional heads hosting inflectional material (affixes or features), which may or may not attract the verb. This gave rise to a hypothesis, the Rich Agreement Hypothesis (RAH), according to which the verb has to move to the relevant functional head when the corresponding inflectional paradigm counts as “rich.” The RAH is motivated by synchronic and diachronic variation among closely related languages (mostly of the Germanic family) suggesting a correspondence between verb movement and rich agreement. Research into this correspondence was initially marred by the absence of a fundamental definition of “richness” and by the observation of counterexamples, both synchronically (dialects not conforming to the pattern) and diachronically (a significant time gap between the erosion of verbal inflection and the disappearance of verb movement). Also, the research was based on a limited group of related languages and dialects. This led to the conclusion that there was at best a weak correlation between verb movement and richness of morphology. Recently, the RAH has been revived in its strong form, proposing a fundamental definition of richness and testing the RAH against a typologically more diverse sample of the languages of the world. While this represents significant progress, several problems remain, with certain (current and past) varieties of North Germanic not conforming to the expected pattern, and the typological survey yielding mixed or unclear results. A further problem is that other Germanic languages (Dutch, German, Frisian) vary as to the richness of their morphology, but show identical verb placement patterns. This state of affairs, especially in light of recent minimalist proposals relocating both inflectional morphology and verb movement outside syntax proper (to a component in the model of grammar interfacing between narrow syntax and phonetic realization), suggests that we need a more fundamental understanding of the relation between morphology and syntax before any relation between head movement and morphological strength can be reliably ascertained.


Giorgio Francesco Arcodia and Bianca Basciano

Sino-Tibetan is a highly diverse language family, in which a wide range of morphological phenomena and profiles may be found. The family is generally seen as split into two major branches, i.e., Sinitic and Tibeto-Burman, but while Sinitic is a fairly homogeneous group in terms of morphology, the so-called Tibeto-Burman branch of the family includes isolating languages like Karen, languages with transparent and regular agglutinative morphology (Lolo-Burmese, Tibetic, and Boro-Garo), but also paradigmatically complex languages, with elaborate argument indexation and transitivity management systems; while in some languages morphological complexity is mostly a conservative trait (e.g., Rgyalrongic and Kiranti), other languages developed innovative paradigms, with only few vestiges of the archaic system (Kuki-Chin). Some notable morphological phenomena in modern Tibeto-Burman languages are verb stem alternation, peculiar nominalization constructions, and long sequences of prefixes, which in some languages (Chintang) may even be freely permutated without any relevant change in meaning. Also, while Sinitic languages are normally taken to be a prototypical example of the (ideal) isolating morphological type (with virtually no inflection, stable morpheme boundaries, no cumulative exponence, and no allomorphy or suppletion), phenomena of strong reduction of morphemes, blurring of morpheme boundaries and fusion between root and suffix, and nonconcatenative morphology, as well as allomorphy and (proto-)paradigmatic organization of morphology, are attested in some Chinese dialects, mostly concentrated in an area of Northern China (Shaanxi, Shanxi, Henan, Hebei, and Shandong provinces). Moreover, ‘Altaic-type’ agglutinative morphology, including case marking, is found in Sinitic languages of the so-called Qinghai-Gansu Sprachbund; in this case, the development of agglutination, as well as other typological traits (as SOV word order), is clearly the product of intense and prolonged contact between Northwestern Chinese dialects and Tibetic and Mongolic languages of China. On the other hand, Southern Chinese dialects have developed in closer contact with Hmong-Mien, Tai-Kadai, and Austroasiatic languages, and are thus closer to the typology of Mainland Southeast Asian languages, with a very strong isolating profile.