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Grammatical sketch of Beng

Number and agreement

Section 9
Denis Paperno
p. 49-55

Texte intégral

9.1. Number expression within a noun phrase

1Generally, the number of a noun phrase is not manifested in the head noun. The single exception is the suppletive pair:

(76)

lɔ́kló ‘child’

lɔ́mléŋ̀ ‘children’

2It is clear however that historically even this pair contains an invariable noun and a number-marked adjective kló (singular) / plé (plural) ‘little’. The plural form also incorporates two copies of ŋ̀, probably a reduced version of the plural marker nṵ̀ŋ̀, so the plural form lɔ́mléŋ̀ is derived from *lɔ́-ŋ̀-plé-ŋ̀. The same ŋ, although not a productive plural marker synchronically, might be responsible for the final consonant in Beng numerals such as plāŋ̄ ‘two’, the initial consonant of the 3pl pronoun ŋ, and the final consonant of the 1pl pronoun ā̰ŋ̄. Other South Mande languages have no nasal sonorant in cognate forms, compare for instance Mwan forms plɛ̄ ‘two’, 3pl pronoun , 1pl exclusive , Dan-Gwetaa plɛ̀ ‘two’, 3pl pronoun wȍ, 1pl exclusive yī, Yaure flí ‘two’, 3pl pronoun , 1pl exclusive kʋ̀, etc. (Vydrin 2006, 2009), (Perexval’skaja ms.). The only South Mande language that seems to consistently share the “nasal plural” element with Beng is Wan, with pīlɔ̄ŋ̄ ‘two’, á̰ ‘three’, 3pl pronoun à̰, 1pl exclusive kà̰ (Nikitina ms.); Gban has an odd nasality in fɛ̰̋ḭ̋ ‘two’ but not in yȉȁ ‘three,’ 3pl ɔ̏ or 1pl .

The most universal marker of plurality is nṵ̀ŋ̀:

(77)

glāŋ̄

púú

nṵ̀ŋ̀

loincloth

white

pl

‘white loincloths’

3The plural marker is optional when followed by an NP-doubling plural pronoun (see (Paperno 2005) for more detail):

(78)

Ŋ-ó

mlà̰

(nṵ̀ŋ̀)

ŋò

yē-lɛ̀.

1sg-St+

drum

pl

3pl

see-Res

‘I see drums’.

4Here’s another striking example showing optionality of the plural marker nṵ̀ŋ̀:

(79)

Bíè

ŋò

nà̰

cīyà

ŋò

lō

ŋó

nṵ̂.

elephant

3pl

and

bushbuck

3pl

with

3pl:Pst

come:L

‘Elephants and bushbucks came’,

with three instances of the 3pl pronoun: one doubling the NP ‘elephants’, another one doubling the NP ‘bushbucks’, and the third one doubling the coordinate NP ‘elephants and bushbucks’. The sentence does not contain a single instance of the plural marker nṵ̀ŋ̀.

5Noun phrases with numerals behave as singular when semantically indefinite and as plural when definite. This includes numerals used both as attributes within a noun phrase and a predicates.

9.2. Reduplication as number agreement

6Plural number of a noun phrase can be manifested through the reduplication of adjectives in that NP. Plural-marking reduplication is also observed in predicative adjectives and verbs, where reduplication marks the plurality of a direct object or an intransitive subject:

(80)

Bléŋ́

nṵ̀ŋ̀

ŋò-ó

drà~drá-lɛ̀.

chair

PL

3pl-St+

fall~Pl-Res

‘Chairs are fallen’.

(81)

*Bléŋ́

dō

ò-ó

drà~drá-lɛ̀.

chair

one

3sg-St+

fall~Pl-Res

(‘A chair is fallen’).

7So adjective and verb reduplication functions as number agreement. At least in the case of verbs such agreement seems to be semantic in nature; the NP whose plurality is signalled by reduplication can have no other indication of plurality:

(82)

Ŋò-ó

kɔ́ŋ́

blā~blâ.

3sg-St+

peg

stick~Pl/Iter

‘They will stick in pegs’.

(multiple pegs; another possible reading is event plurality whereby the sentence may refer to multiple acts of sticking in the same peg).

(83)

Ŋò-ó

kɔ́ŋ́

dō

blä.

3sg-St+

peg

one

stick

‘They will stick in a peg’.

8In most cases, while the reduplicated form may indicate participant plurality, the corresponding stem without reduplication does not imply singular number of the participant. A handful of verbs, however, strictly associate presence or absence of reduplication with plural vs. singular participant, compare:

(84)

Ŋ́

blànâ

dè

yrí-drǎ

lɛ̀

ló.

1sg:Pst+

banana

put:L

tree-fall

Def

SUPER

‘I put a banana/*bananas on the fallen tree’.

(85)

Ŋ́

blànâ

dè~dè

yrí-drǎ

lɛ̀

ló.

1sg:Pst+

banana

put~Pl:L

tree-fall

Def

SUPER

‘I put bananas/*a banana on the fallen tree’.

9In a similar vein, while many adjectives use reduplication as a form of plural agreement marking, only two have a specialized form restricted to singular NPs: bɛ́ɛ̄ ‘big’, plural bɛ́bɛ̄, and kló ‘little’, plural plé.

9.3. Pronominal doubling and the status of pronouns

10Pronominal doubling is widespread in Beng. Personal pronouns are often used after a full NP, as if backing it up. Literal translation of some sentences with pronominal doubling is something like “David he is a pagan”, “I see horses them”, “Kola she goes to her uncle him”.

11So Beng personal pronouns are functionally analogous to agreement affixes of other languages. Can Beng pronouns themselves be analyzed as affixes? The idea has certain appeal; indeed, personal pronouns largely immediately precede their syntactic host: direct object pronouns precede the verb, possessor pronouns precede the head noun, other ones precede postpositions; subject pronouns can be treated as TAMP particles with personal agreement affixes, and similarly for other pronominal series. Unavailability of pronominal doubling (e.g. in the secondary object position – see 12.2 below) can be explained by the lack of syntactic head in those positions that could host agreement markers.

12However, some syntactic facts speak in favor of their autonomous status. First, direct object pronouns can be separated from the verb by certain particles, including gbɔ̀ also and kló a bit (86a,b,c). Second, possessor pronouns are separated from the head noun by temporal and locative modifiers that can be syntactically complex, so we are sure that we are dealing with phrasal modification and not compounding (86d). Third, in nominalization the subject is expressed as a possessor; in particular, it can be instantiated as a non-subject pronoun. Then in nominalization direct object is expressed immediately before the verb stem, just like in a finite clause, so the Subject – Object – Verb order is maintained in nominalization. In addition, in nominalization clausal modifiers can precede the nominalized verb and its direct object (86e), separating them from the pronominal subject. An indirect object with a postposition can also intervene between the subject and the verb stem in nominalization (86f). Since direct and indirect objects, as well as clausal modifiers, can be arbitrarily complex, and can also combine with each other, it turns out that the non-subject pronoun that corresponds to the subject of a nominalized verb can be separated from the head by indefinitely long chunks of syntactic structure (in practice, many of the longer interveners would probably be hard to process because of the center-embedding structures they introduce, but that does not diminish the argument).

(86a)

gbɔ̀

blē.

3sg

also

eat

‘Eat that too’.

(86b)

Mà̰

kló

yè.

1sg:Hab+

3sg

little

see:L

‘I see that a bit’.

(86c)

kló

lɛ̄

kpèsè.

3sg

little

make

big

‘Increase it a bit’.

(86d)

mḭ̄

kùénɔ̰̄

pɔ̄

sɔ̰́

lɛ̀

2sg

this.year

POS

field

Def

‘your field of this year’

(86e)

Mḭ̄

pɔ̄ú

Kòfí

yē-lɛ̀

gɛ̄ŋ̄.

2sg

field

Kofi

see-Nmlz

3sg:Hab+

beautiful

‘It’s good that I saw Kofi in the field’.

(86f)

blā

nḭ̀

vḭ̄-lɛ̀

3sg

fight

Benef

love-Nmlz

‘his fondness of fights’

9.4. Constraints on the distribution of personal pronouns

13Factors of overt expression of personal pronouns include:

  • syntactic position;

  • presence of a noun phrase doubled by the pronoun (if a syntactic position is obligatory to fill by overt material but no full NP is present, a pronoun is unavoidable);

  • number and definiteness of the NP to be doubled by a pronoun. Indefinite singular NPs usually aren’t doubled by pronouns. Doubling of definite singular NPs is optional, and doubling of plural NPs is almost always obligatory:

(87a)

Ŋ-ó

mlà̰

lɛ̀

(à)

yē-lɛ̀.

1sg-St+

drum

Def

(3sg)

see-Res

‘I see the drum’.

(87b)

Ŋ-ó

mlà̰

nṵ̀ŋ̀

ŋò/*Ø

yē-lɛ̀.

1sg-St+

drum

pl

3pl

see-Res

‘I see (the) drums’.

14As already mentioned, a 3pl pronoun can be the only formal exponent of NP plurality, and the plural marker nṵ̀ŋ̀ is optional in the presence of a pronoun.

15Information on pronoun usage in different context are summarized in Table 7. Additional remarks are provided below the table.

Table 7. Pronoun usage

Syntactic positions

NP doubled

none

sg
indefinite

sg
definite

pl

possessor

ОК
(11.6.5)

ОК

ОК

!!

direct object, object of postposition,
conjunct, contrastive topic

!!

*

ОК

!!

subject (except presentative clauses)

!!

ОК
(see 9.4.1)

ОК
(see 9.4.1)

!!

focus, non-contrastive topic, subject
in presentative clauses, nominal predicate

!!
(focus series
only)

*

*

*

postpositionless secondary object

*

*

*

*

Notes. * – personal pronoun is ungrammatical; ОК – personal pronoun is optional; !! – personal pronoun is obligatory.

9.4.1. Personal pronouns in the subject position

16Subject position must always be filled, so a 3sg pronoun can be omitted only if it doubles a full NP, as in the following example:

(88)

[À

lɛ́ŋ́]NP

(ó)

gā-nā̰.

3sg

child

3sg:Pst+

die-Prf

‘His child has died’.

17Note however that although the subject pronoun is absent at segmental level, it still leaves a trace: a tonal change in the low tone form of the verb in (89b) (see 4.2.3). It might be preferable to analyze those examples as pronoun elision rather than pronoun optionality.

(89a)

| À

lɛ́ŋ́

gà|

lɛ́ŋ́ ó gâ.

3sg

child

3sg:Pst+

die:L

‘His child died’.

(89b)

lɛ́ŋ́

gâ.

3sg

child

die:L

‘His child died’.

18Recall however that subject pronouns serve in part to express TAMP value of the clause. If they were to be omitted freely, certain TAMP constructions would end up being indistinguishable. The need to differentiate TAMP motivates additional constraints:

  • conditional pronouns are always overt; otherwise conditional mood would merge with the optative;

  • negative series are always present (except for the stative series);

  • 3sg stative pronouns can be freely omitted, but a stative predicative marker is always present:

(90)

lɛ́ŋ́

gā-àló.

3sg

child

St+

die-Prog

‘His child is dying’.

  • (affirmative) preterite and habitual pronouns are omitted only in intransitive clauses, where TAMP value can be inferred from the tone change of the verb stem.

19Imperative is a special case: the 2sg pronoun mḭ̀ is usually absent in affirmative clauses expressing imperative; the pronoun is obligatory under negation and in embedded uses of the optative/imperative mood.

9.4.2. Possessor

20The possessor position in Beng does not have to be overtly filled even in the case of semantically relational nouns such as kinship terms and body parts, for which the possessor can be inferred. This optionality is the only feature that distinguishes the possessor position from other positions listed in the second row of Table 7, such as the direct object position:

(91)

Ŋó

(mḭ̄)

lɛ̀

à

yē-lɛ̀.

1sg:St+

2sg

father

Def

3sg

see-Res

‘I see (your) father’.

(92a)

*Ŋó

Ø

yē-lɛ̀.

1sg:St+

see-Res

(‘I see’).

(92b)

Ŋó

lɛ̀

(à)

yē-lɛ̀.

1sg:St+

father

Def

(3sg)

see-Res

‘I see the father’.

(92c)

Ŋó

*(à)

yē-lɛ̀.

1sg:St+

3sg

see-Res

‘I see him’.

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Denis Paperno, « Number and agreement », Mandenkan, 51 | 2014, 49-55.

Référence électronique

Denis Paperno, « Number and agreement », Mandenkan [En ligne], 51 | 2014, mis en ligne le 01 juin 2014, consulté le 26 avril 2017. URL : http://mandenkan.revues.org/565 ; DOI : 10.4000/mandenkan.565

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Auteur

Denis Paperno

University of Trento, Italy
denis.paperno@gmail.com

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