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Rethinking agreement: Cognition-to-form mapping

Andrej A. Kibrik
From the journal Cognitive Linguistics

Abstract

The prevailing assumption is that an [1]agreement feature originates in one linguistic element, that is a controller, and is copied onto another one, a target. This form-to-form approach encounters massive difficulties when confronted with data, such as missing controllers or feature mismatches. A cognition-to-form mapping approach is proposed instead, suggesting that agreement features, such as person, number, and gender, are associated with referents in the cognitive representation. They serve to specify referents on either notional or conventional grounds, and are thus referential features. Referential features are mapped onto various sites in linguistic structure, including inflections. Parallel agreement between various sites is observed, as a side effect of mappings from the same cognitive source. Languages differ in which and how many sites for marking referential features they require. Analysis of Russian evidence suggests that the cognition-to-form mapping approach has a much greater explanatory force than the traditional form-to-form approach. There are only peripheral classes of instances in which form-to-form agreement may be needed as a supplementary factor. In general, the roots of agreement lie in cognitively motivated discourse processes associated with reference.

Acknowledgements

I am grateful to Olga Fedorova, Diana Forker, Geoffrey Haig, Laura Janda, Tore Nesset and Adam Schembri, as well as anonymous reviewers of the journal, for providing useful comments to various draft versions of this paper. I also thank Mira Bergelson and Ekaterina Lyutikova for helpful discussions of certain issues raised in this paper. All faults remain mine. Versions of this paper were presented at the workshop “Agreement in discourse” (Bamberg, February 2013), at the workshop “Reference in discourse” (Turku, March 2013) and at the Slavic Cognitive Linguistics Conference (Sheffield and Oxford, December 2015). I am grateful to the audiences of these meetings (particularly Greville Corbett, Marja-Liisa Helasvuo, Tore Nesset, Lenore Grenoble, and Maria Tagabileva) for their input.

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Received: 2017-03-20
Revised: 2018-01-29
Accepted: 2018-07-05
Published Online: 2019-01-30
Published in Print: 2019-02-25

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