The Evolution of Morphological Agreement
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The Evolution of Morphological Agreement

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Presentation at Evolang 9 in Kyoto, 2012.

Presentation at Evolang 9 in Kyoto, 2012.

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  • Agreement phenomena evolved simultaneously, or at least not far after, syntax. Because: Overt sign of compositional structure on the combinatorial level redundancy for the hearer the many different proposed functions of agreement the inadequacy of historical analyses and syntactic models to discount morphology evolutionarily I’ll go on to say that the canonical hierarchy could be used as a diagnostic on early fossilization, before complexity was introduced too much I’m not going to be focusing in too much depth on the evolution of morphology – that has been covered much better elsewhere, including in this conference.
  • Agreement phenomena evolved simultaneously, or at least not far after, syntax. Because: Overt sign of compositional structure on the combinatorial level redundancy for the hearer the many different proposed functions of agreement the inadequacy of historical analyses and syntactic models to discount morphology evolutionarily I’ll go on to say that the canonical hierarchy could be used as a diagnostic on early fossilization, before complexity was introduced too much I’m not going to be focusing in too much depth on the evolution of morphology – that has been covered much better elsewhere, including in this conference.
  • Of course, the amount of agreement differs between languages.
  • This is partly why agreement hasn’t been considered much by evolutionary linguistics. Archi
  • Two contrasting views: last, or first? I should clarify here that when I say grammaticalization, I mean the full theory laid out by Heine and Kuteva. As far as an increase in productivity and generality against a decrease in compositionality – I don’t think that this is at ends with my stance. My problem is mainly that agreement is normally taken to happen at the very end of the evolutionary road, which I think doesn’t work as well evolutionarily. I agree with Hurford here that it is part of the mapping, but also that it is useful for the hearer, as well as the speaker.
  • Now, agreement lies on the interface between syntax and semantics So all of this has to be incorporated into a theory that unifies them, which means that describing a straightforward origin of a single marker will not help. Next: Why is agreement important?
  • So, what are the different functions of agreement that we see in the literature?
  • The ability to use pro-drop correctly often develops much later in children than other morphological agreement abilities (e.g. Snyder,Senghas & Inman, 2001). However, pro-drop may be different from other agreement phenomena. Antonella Sorace sees pro-drop as an interface phenomenon - it must be processed on-line by combining information from the syntactic and pragmatic domains (see <a />Sorace, 2011</a>). 2. This is apparently attested in Tok Pisin, where ‘him’ has grammaticalised into a marker for transitive verbs. (Givón 1976: 168). 4. This is useful when, for a short time, agreement differentiates between the stable subordinate clauses and the innovative environment of the main clause.
  • Siewierska (1998: 505-8) noted that freer word order leads to more agreement. You’ll notice that most of these work within the syntactic-semantic interface. We can see other functions outside of this interface in the agreement hierarchy laid out by Corbett (which I’ll get to in a minute), and in the neural processing that I already mentioned from Hurford. Now, the grammaticalisationists and pro-protosyntacticians would argue that pidgins, creoles, and the like show that agreement isn’t that important or doesn’t occur earlier diachronically, using modern examples.
  • This study was done on Greek. I wish it had been done on Archi, which has 1.5 million contrastive forms. over 1.5 million contrasting forms.) (Atsos 2011, Samson 2009) I think that this is, then, another case where ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny.
  • Grammaticalisation assumes syntax having a stronger role than morphology in protolanguage, which I don’t think is a given on an evoutionary scale. So what would early agreement look like? >>> canonicity in agreement?
  • It should be noted that the hierarchy specified here is not based on distribution of typological features, but rather on what is the clearest example of agreement. (as shown by next slide)
  • So what I’m saying is that the hierarchy, as the simplest and clearest, might be justifiably viewed as a baseline for what early morphology might have looked like. Teasing apart simplicity of the system from complexity in reality is, of course, a difficult task – and one I would like to do in experimental work in the future. But here are some examples of canonical features that will illustrate what I am trying to get at.
  • So, what do I hope you take from this? That canonical agreement, would be clearly beneficial to mapping onto strings in it’s simple make-up, and that it would provide clear, redundant information that could be used by the receiver. What’d I’d also like to point out is that it is possible that canonical agreement could give clear clues that could be used in place of syntax.
  • Here’s a good example. In such canonical, non-opaque alliterative noun adjective agreement, if regular, we could see how easily this would be used in place of syntax What’s clear in this example – and for all agreement phenomena – is that we see a physical, phonetic presence on the combinatorial level (a lá Kirby’s talk where he didn’t want to use the term duality of patterning ) for compositional structure.
  • Relevant to Luke McCrohon’s talk on the borrowing hierarchy, where we run into the same problem. I think the latter is true – due to the nature of cultural evolution, complexity gets introduced into the system, which causes the gap between the hierarchy and the typological distribution we see today. There’s been a of work, of course, on that distribution – Greenberg, or the Dunn, Gray, Greenhill group, or Daumé and Campbell 2010 – but what I want to focus on now is the forces that influence that complexity, and why it is possible that morphological agreement and morphology have been sidelined by syntacticians who work mainly with larger languages.
  • The essential notion is that there would be smaller community sizes and less pressure to keep the language simple, as we’ve seen can affect morphological complexity (and complexity as a whole – tones in Pirahã might be a good example of this.) When thinking about varying complexity, and agreement, we need to think about what would have been the situation for protolanguage communities. And this will be more beneficial in the long run for us than getting stuck in historical analyses.

The Evolution of Morphological Agreement The Evolution of Morphological Agreement Presentation Transcript

  • The Evolution of Morphological Agreement Richard Littauer Saarland University" @Richlitt
  • OUTLINE•  What  I  mean  by  agreement  •  The  evolu3on  of  morphology  •  The  arguments  regarding  simultaneous  evolu3on  •  Using  the  agreement  hierarchy  •  Differences  in  protolanguage  communi3es  
  • What is Agreement•  “The  term  agreement  commonly  refers  to  some  systema3c   covariance  between  a  seman3c  or  formal  property  of  one  element   and  a  formal  property  of  another.”  (Steele  1978:  610)  •  “The  essen3al  no3on  is  the  covariance  or  matching  of  feature   specifica3ons  between  two  separate  elements.”  (CorbeM  1998:   191)  
  • What is Agreement  •  The  most  produc3ve  case  of  agreement  across  languages  appears   to  be  subject-­‐verb  agreement.  Even  languages  with  liMle  or  no   agreement  elsewhere  in  their  grammars,  such  as  English,  may   exhibit  subject-­‐verb  agreement,  however  residually.   –  Hawkins  1994:  370  
  • What is Agreement  •  Controller:  the  element  that  determines  the  agreement.  (also   trigger,  source)    •  Target:  The  element  whose  form  is  determined  by  agreement  .    •  Domain:  The  syntac3c  environment  in  which  agreement  occurs.    •  Features:  The  means  or  manner  in  which  agreement  operates.  (also   category)    •  Condi2ons:  other  factors  which  have  an  effect  on  agreement  but   are  not  directly  reflected.  (CorbeM  1998:  191)    
  • Simultaneous Evolution•  Where  did  morphology  come  from?  •  Uses  for  agreement  •  Varying  complexity  •  The  case  of  pidgins,  creoles,  and  gramma3caliza3on  
  • Whence Morphology?•  “The  conven3onal  historical  explana3on  for  morphology  traces  it  to   proto-­‐syntax  and  phonology.”   –  Carstairs-­‐McCarthy  1994:  46  •  There  are  clear  controversies  over  where  to  put  morphology:   –  its  own  component  (Aranoff  1993)   –  wherever  it  is  relevant  to  the  syntax  (Anderson  2004)   –  out  of  access  of  the  syntax  en3rely  (Chomsky  1970)   –  in  the  lexicon  (Jensen  2004:  237)   –  as  a  cohesive  whole  with  syntax  (Bickerton  1990)   –  par3ally  overlapping  with  syntax  (Sadock  2004)  
  • Whence Morphology?  •  There  is  also  a  common  view  of  morphology  as  independently  built   on  top  of  protolanguage,  at  the  same  3me  as  syntax.  •  There  are  arguments  for  this:   –  Agreement  markers  do  not  always  follow  syntac3c  order   (Comrie  1980)   –  Rela3vely  free  word  order  of  some  languages  (like  La3n)   (Samson  2009:  4)   –  Its  use  for  clause  combining  (Heine  &  Kuteva  2007:  349)  
  • Whence Morphology?  •  “Thus  we  might  think  of  phrasal  syntax  and  morpho-­‐syntax  as   independently  evolved  systems,  each  built  on  top  of  the  system  of   protolanguage,  each  refining  communica3on  through  its  own   expressive  techniques.  In  a  similar  vein,  Casey  and  Kluender  (1995)   suggest  that  agreement  inflec2on  evolved  as  an  extra  system  to   provide  redundant  (and  hence  more  reliable)  informa3on  about   seman3c  rela3ons  of  arguments.  I  see  no  immediate  reason  to   assert  the  temporal  priority  of  one  of  these  systems  over  the   other  in  the  course  of  evolu2on.”   –  Jackendoff  2002:  260  
  • Whence Agreement?  •  Six  gradual  stages  from  protolanguage  to  modern,  and  agreement   occurs  on  the  sixth.     –  Heine  and  Kuteva  (2007)  •  “Agreement  is  a  purely  morpho-­‐syntac3c  phenomenon,  and  serves   the  purpose  of  marking  those  cons3tuents  that  are  bound  together   in  close  gramma3cal  rela3onships.  Such  close  gramma3cal   rela3onships  ofen  reflect  closeness  in  the  conceptual   representa3on,  but  clearly  in  the  mental  representa3on  itself  such   closeness  is  inherent  and  does  not  stand  in  need  of  marking.   Agreement  is  part  of  the  apparatus  for  mapping  pre-­‐linguis2c   representa2ons  onto  strings.”   –  Hurford  (2002:  332)  
  • Whence Agreement?  •  The  historical  sources  of  various  agreement  markings  in  modern   languages  are  ofen  used  diagnos3cally  to  suggest  late  evolu3on.    •  However,  agreement  is  not  always  telis3c,  nor  affected  only  by   erosion  (CorbeM  2006:  273)  •  “A  purely  historical  explana3on  for  why  morphology  exists  amounts   to  an  asser3on  that  all  morphological  phenomena  can  be  traced   back  to  ancestral  phenomena  that  were  en3rely  non-­‐ morphological,  involving  only  syntax  or  phonology.”   –  Carstairs-­‐McCarthy,  2010:  46)  
  • Why Agreement?      •  "Given  that  the  evidence  for  each  of  the  proposed  func3ons  is  not   fully  convincing,  it  appears  unlikely  that  agreement  is  to  be   explained  in  terms  of  a  single  func3on.  Rather,  it  has  different   combina3ons  of  func3ons  in  different  languages."       –  Carstairs-­‐McCarthy  2010:  275  
  • Why Agreement?  •  Givón  (1976:  173)  gives  many  examples:     1.  Pro-­‐drop  (arguable)   2.  In  Redundant,  predictable,  obligatory  verb-­‐  subject  agreement   cases,  the  agreement  can  become  a  way  of  signaling  the   syntac3c  type.     3.  Correct  case  marking  in  iden3cal  parsed  forms  can  be   iden3fied  due  to  mismatching  of    agreement  features.   4.  Agreement  allows  a  synchronic  analysis  of  evolu3onarily   transi3onal  processes   5.  Verb  agreement  marks  the  verb’s  syntac3c  type,  as  well  as  its   general  seman3c-­‐selec3onal  typology.  
  • Why Agreement?  •  Pro  drop  (cont.)   •  The  ability  to  use  pro-­‐drop  correctly  ofen  develops  much  later   in  children  than  other  morphological  agreement  abili3es  (e.g.   Snyder,  Senghas  &  Inman,  2001).    However,  pro-­‐drop  may  be   different  from  other  agreement  phenomena.    Pro-­‐drop  can  be   viewed  an  interface  phenomenon  -­‐  it  must  be  processed  on-­‐line   by  combining  informa3on  from  the  syntac3c  and  pragma3c   domains  (Sorace,  2011)  
  • Why Agreement?  •  "Uninterpretable  features  are  the  mechanism  that  implements  the   displacement  property.”     –  Chomsky  2000:  12;13-­‐14  •  Carstairs-­‐McCarthy  disputes  this,  using  La3n  as  an  example.  
  • Why Agreement?  •  Some  other  proposed  uses  for  agreement:   –  Syntac3c  agreement  may  be  a  way  of  marking  nodes  for  help   in  parsing.  (Hawkins  (1994)  Kirby  (1999)  followed  this  up  in   simula3ons.   –  Help  with  reference  tracking.  (Levin  2001)   –  Marking  cons3tuency.  (Levin  2001)   –  Agreement  allows  expression  of  different  seman3c   perspec3ves  (the  commiMee  has/have  ...)  (CorbeM  1999)   –  Signals  thema3c  roles.  (Jackendoff  2002)   –  Pronominal  effect,  which  allows  pro-­‐drop.  (Anderson,  others)   –  Agreement  markers  as  arguments,  in  Autolexical  syntax.   (Sadock  1991)  
  • Modern Morphogenesis•  Pidgins?   –  Almost  no  inflec3onal  morphology.   –  The  closest  example  has  been  that  of  Palu’e,  an  Austronesian   language  from  Indonesia,  which  has  begun  to  cli3cize  its  first   person  pronoun  subject  to  the  front  end  of  the  verb.  (CorbeM   2006:  266)  
  • Modern Morphogenesis  •  Children?   –  Children  figure  out  the  basic  proper3es  of  the  agreement   system  very  early  on,  at  the  same  3me  as  syntac3cally   significant  produc3on  (Cinque  &  Kayne  2005:  99)   –  Children  learning  languages  with  complex  morphological   systems  learn  agreement  markers  faster.  (Atsos  2011)  
  • Modern Morphogenesis  •  Pathological  cases?   –  “Brocas  and  Wernickes  aphasics  both  seem  to  be  significantly   impaired  in  the  produc3on  of  gramma3cal  morphology  -­‐   par3cularly  when  their  performance  is  compared  with   evidence  for  sparing  of  pragma3cs  and  word  order  in  the  same   transcripts.”  (Batalli  2004:  291)  
  • Modern Morphogenesis  •  Primate  cogni3ve  abili3es?   –  AnBn  grammars:  “no  syntac3c  rules  implemen3ng  embedded   nonadjacent  dependencies  were  learned  in  these  experiments”     –  “Distribu3onal  regulari3es  explain  the  data  beMer  than   grammar  learning.”   •  Hochmann  et  al.  2008    
  • Modern Morphogenesis  •  ”Gramma3caliza3on  can  hardly  explain  fully  the  origin  of   morphology  as  a  paMern  of  gramma3cal  organiza3on  dis3nct  from   syntax.”  (Carstairs-­‐McCarthy  2010:  50)  •  Furthermore,  studies  like  Dunn,  Gray,  &  Greenhill    suggest  that   phylogeny  is  more  important  for  language  change  than  universals   or  UG.  Quick,  almost  a  priori  languages  such  as  pidgins  and  creoles   may  not  be  the  best  guide.  
  • Agreement Hierarchy•  CorbeM  reduced  his  hierarchy  to  three  basic  principles,  which  fit  the   bill  for  what  proto-­‐morphology  might  have  looked  like  (CorbeM   2006:  26-­‐7):   I.  Canonical  agreement  is  redundant  rather  than  informa3ve.   II.  Canonical  agreement  is  syntac3cally  simple.   III.  The  closer  the  expression  of  agreement  is  to  canonical   inflec3onal  morphology,  the  more  canonical  it  is  as   agreement.  
  • Agreement Hierarchy  •  What  is  canonicity?   –  “’Canonical’  instances  of  agreement  [are  the]  “best,  clearest,   indisputable  (according  to  the  canon);  such  cases  need  not  be   common.”     (CorbeM  2001:  109)  
  • Agreement Hierarchy  •  Some  examples:   –  Controller  present  >  controller  absent   –  Controller’s  part  of  speech  irrelevant  >  relevant   –  Bound  >  free   –  Inflec3on  marking  >  cli3c  >  free  word   –  Obligatory  >  op3onal  
  • Agreement Hierarchy  •  Some  examples:   –  Regular  >  supple3ve   –  Allitera3ve  >  opaque   –  Produc3ve  >  sporadic   –  Doubling  >  independent  only   –  Target’s  part  of  speech  irrelevant  >  relevant   –  Local  >  non-­‐local  
  • Agreement Hierarchy  •  A  quick  example  of  one  of  the  canonical  hierarchies  (allitera3ve   agreement):     ki-­‐kapu      ki-­‐kubwa    ki-­‐moja    ki-­‐lianguka       7-­‐basket    7-­‐one      7-­‐fell      7-­‐large     one  large  basket  fell’     (CorbeM  2001:  116)  
  • Agreement Hierarchy  •  “It  is  not  good  enough  simply  to  define  a  structural  complexity   hierarchy  and  assume  it  directly  gives  rise  to  a  cross-­‐linguis3c   hierarchy,  because  one  needs  to  explain  why  not  all  languages  opt   for  minimum  complexity.”  (Kirby  1999:  119)  •  Complexity  may  arise  from  constraints  regarding  costs,  benefits,   and  func3onal  load.  Alterna3vely,  it  may  be  due  to  the  possible   nature  of  “language  universals  as  products  of  cultural   influence.”  (Sampson  2009:  15)  
  • Varying Complexity•  Languages  differ  in  complexity.  (eg.  Sampson  2009)  See  Lupyan  and   Dale  (2010),  LiMle  (2011),  and  other  studies  on  community  size,   second  language  learners,  foreigner-­‐directed  speech,  etc.  and   morphological  complexity.    •  “Complexi3es  in  morphology  are  accompanied  by  complexi3es  in   syntax."  (Dahl  2009:  63)  
  • Evolutionary Environment?•  Smaller  communi3es  =  more  agreement.  •  As  Hurford  (2012)  states,  language  evolved  gradually  –  complexity   on  the  scale  of  modern  language  comes  into  it  later.  •  Gramma3caliza3on  not  necessarily  a  good  theory  for  showing  early   language  change.  
  • Future Work?  •  Possible  future  work  would  include:   –  Cross-­‐linguis3c  first  language  agreement  acquisi3on  (specifically   across  families)   –  More  studies  into  linguis3c  complexity  involving  speaking   community  size   –  Experimental  studies  using  agreement  morphology  in  lieu  of   syntax  to  convey  meaning   –  simula3ons  of  morphological  redundancy  (which,   computa3onally,  may  not  be  easy.)  
  • Conclusion  “Nothing  in  biology  makes  sense  except  in  the  light  of   evolu3on.”  (Dobzhansky  1973)         Agreement  may  be  a  living  fossil  of  protolanguage.  
  • THANKS!     (Refs on request) www.replicatedtypo.com @richlitt