The interaction of animacy and number agreement: An experimental investigation

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Zusammenfassung

This paper investigates subject–verb agreement in Turkish with particular focus on the role the animacy of plural subjects plays in verbal number marking. Previous descriptive grammars of Turkish (e.g., Sezer, 1978) report an asymmetry in number marking for plural subjects: if the plural subject denotes an animate entity, both plural and singular verbs are possible, whereas only singular verbs are possible when the plural subject denotes an inanimate entity. Using the magnitude estimation method, we measured the well-formedness of simple Turkish sentences consisting of a plural subject and a verb in two groups of participants that differ only in age (mean: 28 years old and 43 years old). The overall results provide an empirical validation of the proposed split between animate and inanimate subjects and suggest that the acceptability of plural agreement is sensitive to even more fine-grained distinctions of animacy. In particular, the plural dispreference was reduced for inanimates with a teleological capacity (in the sense of Folli and Harley, 2008) and for body parts, in comparison to true inanimates (e.g., furniture and clothes). Accordingly, we propose an animacy hierarchy for Turkish that is in line with typological observations (e.g., 0075 and 0080) and augment it with a further distinction between quasi-animates and inanimates.


Although less pronounced in sentences with animate subjects, we observed a higher preference for singular verbs over plural verbs across all conditions. This suggests that the singular marking on the verb, which is zero marked in Turkish, is the default. Furthermore, we find a significant effect of age: in the older group, the singular preference is less pronounced across the conditions and almost absent in sentences with an animate subject. Moreover, the older participants made finer distinctions in the animacy hierarchy, further differentiating between two types of quasi-animates (teleologically capable entities vs. entities with inherited animacy). The two generations in our study share the animate–inanimate split as well as the sharp contrast between singular and plural agreement in sentences with inanimate subjects; they differ, however, in degree of optionality. Altogether, these results suggest a decrease in the degree of optionality across generations. As in research on language attrition and bilingualism (0215, 0300 and 0400), the results accord with the idea that interface phenomena are vulnerable to change; however, non-convergence between generations in our study stemmed from areas that yield gradient rather than categorical results.

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Fachgebiet (DDC)
400 Sprachwissenschaft, Linguistik
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Subject verb agreement in Turkish, Number marking, Animacy, Optionality, Gradience, Semantics morphosyntax interface, Language change
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ISO 690BAMYACI, Elif, Jana HÄUSSLER, Baris KABAK, 2014. The interaction of animacy and number agreement: An experimental investigation. In: Lingua. 2014, 148, pp. 254-277. ISSN 0024-3841. eISSN 1872-6135. Available under: doi: 10.1016/j.lingua.2014.06.005
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@article{Bamyaci2014inter-29276,
  year={2014},
  doi={10.1016/j.lingua.2014.06.005},
  title={The interaction of animacy and number agreement: An experimental investigation},
  volume={148},
  issn={0024-3841},
  journal={Lingua},
  pages={254--277},
  author={Bamyaci, Elif and Häussler, Jana and Kabak, Baris}
}
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