Research talk

March 9, 16-17.30 h.,Erasmusbuilding 14.11

Yukiko Morimoto, ZAS Berlin

On the Role of Referential Properties in Morphosyntactic Change

Abstract: Variation in argument coding in two different language types are observed to be conditioned by animacy: (i) null vs. overt 3rd DO pronouns in Brazilian Portuguese (BP) (Schwenter and Silva 2002, 2003), and (ii) variable object agreement in Bantu languages (Morimoto 2002, 2004). Although the forms of expression differ, these cases both strikingly parallel differential object marking (DOM) observed in case marking languages (Bossong 1985). The generalization for DOM given by Aissen (2003) extends to the above cases in (i) and (ii) as well: the higher in animacy a direct object the more likely it is to be overtly case marked. Additional facts suggest that (i) and (ii) above represent a stage in a diachronic process, and they co-occur with other concomitant phenomena. Besides (i), BP exhibits a shift from null to overt subject pronouns (Tarallo 1997) and loss of VS word order (Berlinck 1989). Besides (ii) Bantu language exhibit a shift from topic to obligatory subject marking and also loss of VS word order (Morimoto 2003). What's remained of (O)VS order in Bantu is limited to configurations where the subject outranks object in animacy. Here again, animacy seems to be the driving force of the variation and langauge change in progress.
The role of referential properties in language change, then, can only be understood through careful attention to variation across and within languages as those attested in (i) and (ii) within formal theory of grammar and effort to relate such variation to a broader set of diachronic change whenever possible (also argued by Jäger and Rosenbach 2004, Morimoto 2004).