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Volume 56, Issue 4


Whence subject-verb agreement? Investigating the role of topicality, accessibility, and frequency in Vera’a texts

Stefan Schnell
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  • ARC Centre of Excellence for the Dynamics of Language & School of Languages and Linguistics, The University of Melbourne, Babel (Building 139), Parkville 3010 VIC, Australia
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Published Online: 2018-06-14 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/ling-2018-0010


While the grammaticalization of subject agreement appears to be a diachronic near-universal, there has been little agreement on usage-based motivations for this crosslinguistic tendency. Three usage-based approaches – Givón’s NP detachment under topicalization, Ariel’s accessibility theory, and a set of accounts in terms of frequency-driven morphologization – are examined here in the light of corpus data from the Oceanic language Vera’a. The high frequency of overt pronouns in 1st and 2nd person subjects, as well as formal reduction in some 1st-person pronouns, observed in the corpus seem suggestive of grammaticalization of subject agreement in speech-act participants (SAPs). Yet, the remaining variation between pronominal and zero forms and the distribution of reduced forms do not appear to reflect functional factors in the way of topicalization or accessibility. Overall, frequency-driven accounts appear to fare better in explaining the Vera’a facts, in particular the distribution of 1st person zero subjects and the formal reduction of 1st person subject pronouns. The overall high levels of subject pronouns, however, are not fully accounted for by any of the three approaches; I suggest that, in addition to genre effects, the deictic and shifting nature of reference to speech-act participants may be a relevant factor.

Keywords: agreement; grammaticalization; frequency effects; Oceanic languages; Vera’a


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About the article

Published Online: 2018-06-14

Published in Print: 2018-06-26

Citation Information: Linguistics, Volume 56, Issue 4, Pages 735–780, ISSN (Online) 1613-396X, ISSN (Print) 0024-3949, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/ling-2018-0010.

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