Jump to ContentJump to Main Navigation
Show Summary Details
More options …

Open Linguistics

Editor-in-Chief: Ehrhart, Sabine

Covered by:
Elsevier - SCOPUS
Clarivate Analytics - Emerging Sources Citation Index

CiteScore 2018: 0.70

SCImago Journal Rank (SJR) 2018: 0.288
Source Normalized Impact per Paper (SNIP) 2018: 0.544

Open Access
See all formats and pricing
More options …

Humans, Animals, Things and Animacy

Shiva Bayanati / Ida Toivonen
Published Online: 2019-06-15 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/opli-2019-0010


Animacy influences the patterns of subject-verb agreement marking in many languages, including Persian and Inari Saami. In Persian, animate plural subjects trigger plural agreement on the verb, whereas inanimate subjects may or may not trigger agreement. The variation is governed by factors such as personification, agency and distributivity. In Inari Saami, verbs fully agree with human subjects and verbs partially agree with inanimate subjects. Verbs may or may not agree with subjects referring to animals. We argue that the intricate interaction between biological animacy and grammatical agreement in these two languages warrants careful consideration of the tripartite distinction between biological animacy in the world, our conceptualization of animacy and formal animacy features in the grammar.

Keywords: agreement; animacy; features


  • Judith Aissen. Differential object marking: Iconicity vs. economy. Natural Language and Linguistic Theory, 21(3):435–483, 2003.Google Scholar

  • Stephen R. Anderson. A-Morphous Morphology. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1992.Google Scholar

  • Misha Becker. The Acquisition of Syntactic Structure: Animacy and thematic alignment. Clarendon Press, Oxford, 2014.Google Scholar

  • J. Kathryn Bock and Richard K. Warren. Conceptual accessibility and syntactic structure in sentence formulation. Cognition, 21: 47–67, 1985.Google Scholar

  • Joan Bresnan, Shipra Dingare, and Christopher D. Manning. Soft constraints mirror hard constraints: Voice and person in English and Lummi. In Miriam Butt and Tracy Holloway King, editors, Proceedings of the LFG01 Conference, On–line proceedings, Stanford, CA, 2001. CSLI Publications.Google Scholar

  • Joan Bresnan, Ash Asudeh, Ida Toivonen, and Stephen Wechsler. Lexical-Functional Syntax, Second edition. Wiley-Blackwell, Hoboken, NJ, 2016.Google Scholar

  • Herbert H Clark. Some structural properties of simple active and passive sentences. Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior, 4(5):365–370, 1965.CrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Bernard Comrie. Language Universals and Linguistic Typology. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, IL, 1981.Google Scholar

  • William Croft. Typology and Universals. Cambrige University Press, Cambridge, 1990.Google Scholar

  • Östen Dahl. Animacy and egophoricity: Grammar, ontology and phylogeny. Lingua, 118:141–150, 2008.Web of ScienceGoogle Scholar

  • Mary Dalrymple. Lexical Functional Grammar. Syntax and Semantics 34. Academic Press, New York, NY, 2001.Google Scholar

  • Helen de Hoop and Peter de Swart. Shifting animacy. Theoretical Linguistics, 44(1–2):1–24, 2018.CrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Aazamosadat Feizmohammadpour. Optional subject-verb agreement in Persian. PhD thesis, University of Florida, 2013.Google Scholar

  • Fernanda Ferreira. Choice of passive voice is affected by verb type and animacy. Journal of Memory and Language, 33:715–736, 1994.Google Scholar

  • Rafaella Folli and Heidi Harley. Teleology and animacy in external arguments. Lingua, 118(2):190–202, 2008.CrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • William Frawley. Linguistic Semantics. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Hillsdale, NJ, 1992.Google Scholar

  • Rochel Gelman, Frank Durgin, and Lisa Kaufman. Distinguishing between animates and inanimates: Not by motion alone. In Dan Sperber, David Premack, and Ann James Premack, editors, Causal cognition: A multidisciplinary debate, pages 1–26. Clarendon, Oxford, 1995.Google Scholar

  • Jila Ghomeshi. Plural marking, indefiniteness, and the noun phrase. Studia Linguistica, 57(2):47–74, 2003.CrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Jila Ghomeshi. Markedness and bare nouns in Persian. In Simin Karimi, Vida Samiian, and Donald Stilo, editors, Aspects of Iranian Linguistics, pages 85–111. Cambridge Scholars Publishing, Newcastle upon Tyne, 2008.Google Scholar

  • Margaret Harris. Noun animacy and the passive voice: A developmental approach. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 30:495–504, 1978.CrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Forogh Hashabeiky. The usage of singular verbs for inanimate plural subjects in Persian. Orientalia Suecana, pages 77–101, 2007.Google Scholar

  • Eloise Jelinek and Richard Demers. Predicates and pronominal arguments in Straits Salish. Language, 70:697–736, 1983.Google Scholar

  • Ronald M. Kaplan and Joan Bresnan. Lexical-functional grammar: A formal system for grammatical representation. In Joan Bresnan, editor, The Mental Representation of Grammatical Relations, pages 173–281. MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, 1982.Google Scholar

  • Kiparsky, Paul. ‘Elsewhere’ in Phonology. In A Festschrift for Morris Halle, ed. by Stephen Anderson and Paul Kiparsky, 93-106. Holt, Rinehart and Winston, New York, 1973Google Scholar

  • Seppo Kittilä, Katja Västi, and Jussi Ylikoski. Introduction to case, animacy and semantic roles. In Case, Animacy and Semantic Roles, pages 1–26. John Benjamins, Amsterdam and Philadelphia, 2011.Google Scholar

  • Ahmad R. Lotfi. Agreement in Persian. Linguistik Online, 29:123–141, 2006.Google Scholar

  • John Mace. Teach Yourself Modern Persian. The English Universities Press, London, 1962.Google Scholar

  • Shahrzaf Mahootian. Persian. Routledge, London and New York, 1997.Google Scholar

  • Britttany Dael McLaughlin. Animacy in morphosyntactic variation. PhD thesis, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, 2014.Google Scholar

  • Louise McNally. Existential sentences. In C. Maienborn, K. von Hausinger, and P. Portner, editors, Semantics: An International Handbook of Natural Language Meaning, pages 1829–1848. De Gruyter, Berlin, 2011.Google Scholar

  • Robin Melnick. Plurality Cues and Non-Agreement in English Existentials. PhD thesis, San Jose State University, San Jose, 1994.Google Scholar

  • Javier Ormazabal and Juan Romero. The object agreement constraint. Natural Language and Linguistic Theory, 25:315–347, 2007.Google Scholar

  • Gilliam Ramchand. Verb Meaning and the Lexicon: A first-phase syntax. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2008.Google Scholar

  • Elizabeth Ritter. Featuring animacy. Nordlyd, 41(1):103–124, 2014.Google Scholar

  • Fritz Rosen. Persian Grammar: A short grammar, dialogues and extracts from Nasir-Eddin Shah’s diaries, Tales, etc. and a vocabulary. Routledge, New Delhi, 1898. Reprinted in 1979.Google Scholar

  • Anousha Sedighi. Animacy: The overlooked feature in Persian. In Proceedings of the 2004 Annual Conference of the Canadian Linguistic Association, Winnipeg Meeting, 2006.Google Scholar

  • Anna Siewierska. Person. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2004.Google Scholar

  • Michael Silverstein. Hierarchy of features and ergativity. In Richard Dixon, editor, Grammatical Categories in Australian Languages, pages 112–172. Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies, Canberra, 1976.Google Scholar

  • Neal Snider and Annie Zaenen. Animacy and syntactic structure: Fronted NPs in english. In Miriam Butt, Mary Dalrymple, and Tracy Holloway King, editors, Intelligent Linguistic Architectures: Variations on themes by Ronald M. Kaplan, pages 323–338. CSLI Publications, Stanford, 2006.Google Scholar

  • Ida Toivonen. Verbal agreement in Inari Saami. In Ida Toivonen and Diane Nelson, editors, Saami Linguistics, Current issues in Linguistic Theory 288, pages 227–258. John Benjamins, Amsterdam and Philadelphia, 2007a.Google Scholar

  • Ida Toivonen. Microvariation in Inari Saami. In Antti Aikio and Jussi Ylikoski, editors, Sámit, sánit, sátnehámit: A Festschrift for Pekka Sammallahti, pages 363–374. Suomalais-ugrilainen seura, Helsinki, 2007b.Google Scholar

  • Patrice Tremoulet and Jacob Feldman. Perception of animacy from the motion of a single object. Perception, 29(8):943–51, 2000.Web of ScienceGoogle Scholar

  • Mutsumi Yamamoto. Animacy and Reference: A Cognitive Approach to Corpus Linguistics. John Benjamins, Amsterdam and Philadelphia, 1999.Google Scholar

  • Annie Zaenen, Jean Carletta, Gregory Garretson, Joan Bresnan, Andrew Koontz-Garboden, Tatiana Nikitina, Mary C. O’Connor, andGoogle Scholar

  • Tom Wasow. Animacy encoding in English: Why and how. In Proceedings of the 42nd Annual Meeting of the Association for Computational Linguistics (ACL’04), Workshop on Discourse Annotation, pages 118–125, Barcelona, 2004.Google Scholar

About the article

Received: 2017-10-31

Accepted: 2019-05-07

Published Online: 2019-06-15

Published in Print: 2019-01-01

Citation Information: Open Linguistics, Volume 5, Issue 1, Pages 156–170, ISSN (Online) 2300-9969, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/opli-2019-0010.

Export Citation

© 2019 Shiva Bayanati et al., published by De Gruyter. This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 Public License. BY 4.0

Comments (0)

Please log in or register to comment.
Log in