Japanese is a language where the grammatical status of arguments and adjuncts is marked exclusively by postnominal case markers, and various argument realization patterns can be assessed by their case marking. Since Japanese is categorized as a language of the nominative-accusative type typologically, the unmarked case-marking frame obtained for transitive predicates of the non-stative (or eventive) type is ‘nominative-accusative’. Nevertheless, transitive predicates falling into the stative class often have other case-marking alignments, such as ‘nominative-nominative’ and ‘dative-nominative’. Consequently, Japanese provides much more varying argument realization patterns than those expected from its typological character as a nominative-accusative language.
In point of fact, argument marking can actually be much more elastic and variable, the variations being motivated by several linguistic factors. Arguments often have the option of receiving either syntactic or semantic case, with no difference in the logical or cognitive meaning (as in plural agent and source agent alternations) or depending on the meanings their predicate carry (as in locative alternation). The type of case marking that is not normally available in main clauses can sometimes be obtained in embedded contexts (i.e., in exceptional case marking and small-clause constructions). In complex predicates, including causative and indirect passive predicates, arguments are case-marked differently from their base clauses by virtue of suffixation, and their case patterns follow the mono-clausal case array, despite the fact that they have multi-clausal structures.
Various case marking options are also made available for arguments by grammatical operations. Some processes instantiate a change on the grammatical relations and case marking of arguments with no affixation or embedding. Japanese has the grammatical process of subjectivization, creating extra (non-thematic) major subjects, many of which are identified as instances of ‘possessor raising’ (or argument ascension). There is another type of grammatical process, which reduces the number of arguments by virtue of incorporating a noun into the predicate, as found in the light verb constructions with suru ‘do’ and the complex adjective constructions formed on the negative adjective nai ‘non-existent.’
The Kiowa-Tanoan family is a small group of Native American languages of the Plains and pueblo Southwest. It comprises Kiowa, of the eponymous Plains tribe, and the pueblo-based Tanoan languages, Jemez (Towa), Tewa, and Northern and Southern Tiwa. These free-word-order languages display a number of typologically unusual characteristics that have rightly attracted attention within a range of subdisciplines and theories.
One word of Taos (my construction based on Kontak and Kunkel’s work) illustrates. In tóm-múlu-wia ‘I gave him/her a drum,’ the verb wia ‘gave’ obligatorily incorporates its object, múlu ‘drum.’ The agreement prefix tóm encodes not only object number, but identities of agent and recipient as first and third singular, respectively, and this all in a single syllable. Moreover, the object number here is not singular, but “inverse”: singular for some nouns, plural for others (tóm-músi-wia only has the plural object reading ‘I gave him/her cats’).
This article presents a comparative overview of the three areas just illustrated: from morphosemantics, inverse marking and noun class; from morphosyntax, super-rich fusional agreement; and from syntax, incorporation. The second of these also touches on aspects of morphophonology, the family’s three-tone system and its unusually heavy grammatical burden, and on further syntax, obligatory passives. Together, these provide a wide window on the grammatical wealth of this fascinating family.
Nora C. England
Mayan languages are spoken by over 5 million people in Guatemala, Mexico, Belize, and Honduras. There are around 30 different languages today, ranging in size from fairly large (about a million speakers) to very small (fewer than 30 speakers). All Mayan languages are endangered given that at least some children in some communities are not learning the language, and two languages have disappeared since European contact. Mayas developed the most elaborated and most widely attested writing system in the Americas (starting about 300 BC).
The sounds of Mayan languages consist of a voiceless stop and affricate series with corresponding glottalized stops (either implosive and ejective) and affricates, glottal stop, voiceless fricatives (including h in some of them inherited from Proto-Maya), two to three nasals, three to four approximants, and a five vowel system with contrasting vowel length (or tense/lax distinctions) in most languages. Several languages have developed contrastive tone.
The major word classes in Mayan languages include nouns, verbs, adjectives, positionals, and affect words. The difference between transitive verbs and intransitive verbs is rigidly maintained in most languages. They usually use the same aspect markers (but not always). Intransitive verbs only indicate their subjects while transitive verbs indicate both subjects and objects. Some languages have a set of status suffixes which is different for the two classes. Positionals are a root class whose most characteristic word form is a non-verbal predicate. Affect words indicate impressions of sounds, movements, and activities. Nouns have a number of different subclasses defined on the basis of characteristics when possessed, or the structure of compounds. Adjectives are formed from a small class of roots (under 50) and many derived forms from verbs and positionals.
Predicate types are transitive, intransitive, and non-verbal. Non-verbal predicates are based on nouns, adjectives, positionals, numbers, demonstratives, and existential and locative particles. They are distinct from verbs in that they do not take the usual verbal aspect markers. Mayan languages are head marking and verb initial; most have VOA flexible order but some have VAO rigid order. They are morphologically ergative and also have at least some rules that show syntactic ergativity. The most common of these is a constraint on the extraction of subjects of transitive verbs (ergative) for focus and/or interrogation, negation, or relativization. In addition, some languages make a distinction between agentive and non-agentive intransitive verbs. Some also can be shown to use obviation and inverse as important organizing principles. Voice categories include passive, antipassive and agent focus, and an applicative with several different functions.