Saturday, June 27, 2015

How Korandje made "with" agree it-with its subject

Korandje, the language of Tabelbala in southwestern Algeria, requires the comitative preposition "with" to agree in person and number, not with its object, but with its subject (strictly speaking, with its external argument):
ʕa-ddər ʕ-indza xaləd, I-went I-with Khaled.
nə-ddər n-indza xaləd, you-went you-with Khaled.
This seems to be vanishingly rare worldwide. The nearest parallels I have encountered are ones in which the comitative is expressed using a serial verb, but a closer look at the syntax and morphology of Korandje shows that indza is indeed a preposition, not a verb or a noun. Perhaps most strikingly, when you relativise on its object, you pied-pipe not only the preposition but the agreement marker on it too:
ʕan bạ-yu ʕ-indz uɣudz əgga ʕa-b-yəxdəm
my friend-s I-with whom PAST I-IMPF-work
"my friends with whom I was working"
Its historical source, proto-Songhay *ndá "with, and, if", was also a preposition, and did not display agreement. Comparative data makes it possible to reconstruct how this change took place: it developed out of a strategy, common in Berber and found in some Songhay languages, of expressing "I went with Khaled" as "I went, I and Khaled", which seems to be the result of reinterpretation of a postverbal subject as part of the adjacent comitative phrase. This development in turn provides the first attested way to reverse the well-known grammaticalisation chain "with" > "and". If you want to know more, read my article, which has just been published:

"How to make a comitative preposition agree it-with its external argument: Songhay and the typology of conjunction and agreement". In Paul Widmer, Jürg Fleischer, and Elisabeth Rieken (eds.), Agreement from a diachronic perspective, Berlin: De Gruyter, pp. 75-100, 2015. (offprints available on request - just email me.)

Here's the abstract:

This article describes two hitherto unreported comitative strategies exemplified in Songhay languages of West Africa – external agreement, and bipartite – and demonstrates their wider applicability. The former strategy provides the first clear-cut example of a previously unattested agreement target-controller pair. Based on comparative evidence, this article proposes a scenario for how these could have developed from the typologically unremarkable comitative and coordinative strategies reconstructible for proto-Songhay, in a process facilitated by contact with Berber. The grammaticalisation chain required to explain this has the unexpected effect of reversing a much better-known one previously claimed to be unidirectional, the development COMITATIVE > NP-AND.


John Cowan said...

Wow. This reminds me slightly of a sentence from the section on Americanized Arabic in Mencken's The American Language, where an old woman from Syria says Everytin you buy-it-in, the house-in-it you make-it-in 'Everything you [could] buy, you [can] make it in the house'.

David Marjanović said...


Conor Quinn said...

This is wicked fun! It'd be interesting to see if one could model it together with subset plurals like we find (in lots of places but they're especially fun) in Passamaquoddy,


nilùn John
1pl.exclusive John
'me and John'

n-macaha-p-òn John
1-leave-IDC-1pl John
'I leave with John'

are the main strategies for expressing comitative relations of this sort. I.e. relentlessly head-marking.

Lameen Souag الأمين سواق said...

That's a rather neat strategy. What does IDC stand for?

Conor Quinn said...

IDC = indicative mood; basically the main-clause form. Interesting in that historically, the Idc element is a nominalizer, and the main clause forms are possessed nominals (i.e. that 1-...-1pl morphology is identical to that for a noun's possessor). Looks like a classic case of insubordination from a Turkic-style possessed-nominalized subordinate clause.

But yes: there are all kinds of trippy ways this kind of radical head-marking approach to comitative/sociativity works out, especially with the primary (main) and secondary (dependent) 3rd person contrast of Algonquian ("proximate" vs. "obviative"), and with reciprocals and the like.

Lameen Souag الأمين سواق said...

So how do you distinguish "They went with John and Mary" from "John and Mary went"? Something to do with the obviative?

Conor Quinn said...

Yep, exactly that: 'they went with John and Mary' would have 'J and M' in obviative form. This use of the obviative is one of the less famous uses, but I think it helps round out a sense of what the obviative actually is/does. Particularly since here again, the 1st/2nd forms systematically have no need of this, i.e. just 'we go John' or 'you-PL go John' is enough to get the 'with John' sense. I understand that many languages (e.g. Russian and Turkish) have 'we-' (etc.)-type agreement in these contexts---what's striking about Algonquian languages (and I think Iroquoian as well) is that they're so intensely head-marking that they don't actually have any with-type marking on the noun.

(The only overt marking ever---and that's in these 3 on 3 cases only---is this obviative...which might actually have some other reasons to relate it to a with-type element.)

Lameen Souag الأمين سواق said...

Pretty mind-blowing - I think that does bring me a little closer to understanding the obviative, actually. You should do a post on that sometime!