Actualité scientifique |

Conférence de Scott De Launcey

On the Nature of “Hierarchical Alignment”

Lundi 22 octobre 2018

Séance organisée par Hilary Chappell, CRLAO-EHESS


A considerable literature refutes the idea that “hierarchical” argument indexation in the verb can be explained in terms of hierarchical ranking (DeLancey 1981, Filimonova 2005, Macauley 2009, Witzlack-Makarevich et al. 2011). If earlier characterizations are incorrect, then earlier explanations for the phenomenon must be reconsidered. Accounts in terms of agency (Silverstein 1976, Sierwierska 2004) or topicality (Givón 1994, etc.) are problematic, but not necessarily inconsistent with the typological patterns seen in the marking of mixed transitive configurations (Zuñiga 2006), with one Speech Act Participant (SAP) and one 3rd person argument. But neither approach provides any insight at all into the idiosyncratic and  inconsistent patterns observed in the local configurations 1à2 and 2à1. As suggested by Heath (1991, 1998) these phenomena are better explained in terms of sociopragmatic notions of face management in interpersonal interaction.

Among Tibeto-Burman languages local forms are often impersonal or passive (Bickel&Gaenszle 2015, Jacques to appear), or inclusive plural (DeLancey to appear). This recalls kinds of sociopragmatic substitution that we find for SAP pronominal reference: impersonal >1pl (French on), Inclusive or Exclusive plural >1sg (Cysouw 2005, Cho 2016), Inclusive >2sg (DeLancey 2013, Ozerov 2016), etc. The forms used to index local configurations suppress, through detransitivization, or diffuse, through use of plural, reference to the responsibility of the A argument in the event. In both local forms reference to the SAP O argument seems to be relatively safe, but reference to the A is dangerous. This has nothing to do with probable agency or inherent topicality; it is grammaticalization of face management.

This is a productive way to think about deictic indexation in “mixed” categories as well: the notion of “hierarchical” indexation is not about any ranking of anything, but about maintaining interpersonal relations during conversation. Dahl (2000) shows that reference to SAP’s is common in conversation, but rare in narrative; grammars, and grammatical categories, are usually based on the latter. We can see hierarchical indexation as not about “topicality”, but about Dahl’s “egophoricity” (a term now preempted elsewhere) – reference to SAP’s in conversation. Then other phenomena can be seen as closely linked. In particular, many TB languages with subject rather than hierarchical agreement have independently innovated SAP Object indexation, often involving a single form which indifferently indexes 1st or 2nd person O arguments (DeLancey 2013, to appear). This may be followed by loss of A indexation, as in Mizo or Mara, leaving something very similar to canonical hierarchical alignment.

Past attempts to interpret hierarchical alignment, and the associated phenomenon of inverse marking, in the same kinds of terms as voice, were motivated partly by superficial similarity in structure. But they also reflect the fact that we are unaccustomed to think about highly grammaticalized structures in sociopragmatic terms. Work such as Heath’s and Dahl’s point to the importance of this neglected dimension. In hierarchical indexation and related phenomena such as inverse marking and unitary SAP O indexation (Konnerth 2015, DeLancey to appear) we see the interaction of sociopragmatics with syntax.



Bickel, Balthasar, & M. Gaenszle. 2015. First person objects, antipassives, and the political history of the Southern Kirant. J. South Asian Lgs & Linguistics 2:63-86.

Cho, Kwang-ju. 2016. A history of Bantawa verbal agreement system. Workshop on Kiranti Languages, CRLAO, Paris.

Cysouw, Michael. 2005. Syncretisms involving clusivity. In Elena Filimonova (ed.), Clusivity: Typology and Case Studies of the Inclusive-Exclusive Distinction, 73-111. Amsterdam: Benjamins.

Dahl, Östen. 2000. Egophoricity in discourse and syntax. Functions of Language 7.1: 37-77.

DeLancey, Scott. 2013. Argument indexation (verb agreement) in Kuki-Chin. Presented at the 46th International Conference on Sino-Tibetan Languages and Linguistics, Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire.

DeLancey, Scott. to appear. Hierarchical and accusative alignment of Verbal Person Marking in Trans-Himalayan. Journal of South Asian Languages and Linguistics.

Filimonova, Elena. 2005. The noun phrase hierarchy and relational marking: Problems and counterevidence. Linguistic Typology 9: 77-113.

Givón, T. 1994. The pragmatics of de-transitive voice: Functional and typological aspects of inversion. In Voice and inversion, T. Givón (ed), 3-44. Amsterdam: Benjamins.

Heath, Jeffrey. 1991. Pragmatic disguise in pronominal-affix paradigms. In Paradigms: The Economy of Inflection, Frans Plank (ed), 75-89. Berlin: de Gruyter.

Heath, Jeffrey. 1998. Pragmatic skewing in 1ßà2 pronominal combinations in Native American languages. IJAL 64(2): 83-104.

Konnerth, Linda. 2015. A new type of convergence at the deictic center: Second person and cislocative in Karbi (Tibeto-Burman). Studies in Language 39(1): 24-45.

Lockwood, Hunter, & Monica Macaulay. 2012. Prominence hierarchies. Language and Linguistics Compass 6/7: 431-446.

Macauley, Monica. 2009. On prominence hierarchies: Evidence from Algonquian. Linguistic Typology 13: 357-389.

Ozerov, Pavel. 2016. Morphological complexity and hierarchical agreement in Anal. 49th SLE, Naples.

Siewierska, Anna. 2004. Person. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Silverstein, Michael. 1976. Hierarchy of features and ergativity. In R.M.W. Dixon (ed), Grammatical Categories in Australian Languages, 112-171. Canberra: AIAS.

Witzlack-Makarevich, Alena, Taras Zakharo, Lennart Bierkandt, & Balthasar Bickel. 2011. Dissecting hierarchical alignment. 44th SLE, Logroño.

Zúñiga, Fernando. 2006. Deixis and Alignment: Inverse Systems in Indigenous Languages of the Americas. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.


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