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Object Markers in Amharic

Ruth Kramer / Georgetown University Annual Conference on African Linguistics 41 / May 6th - 8th 2010
1 Introduction
Empirical Focus: a particular morpheme that attaches to verbs in Amharic (Ethiosemitic; SOV) This morpheme co-varies in form with the phi-features of an internal argument of the verb Referred to henceforth as the object marker (1) Almaz doro wt-u-n bll-att-w Almaz chicken stew-DEF-ACC eat.PF-3FS.S-3MS.O Almaz ate chicken stew.1 Aster doro-wa-n arrd-tt-at Aster chicken-DEF.F-ACC butcher.PF-3FS.S-3FS.O Aster butchered the hen. (Yabe 2001:2)


The Puzzle: is the complicated behavior of object markers best accounted for by analyzing them as the reflex of object agreement (realization of a bundle of phi-features on some functional head) or as doubled clitics (pronoun-like morphemes that may move to be close to the verb)? Goals: to argue that object markers are best analyzed as doubled clitics (cf. Mullen 1986, Yabe 2001) along the way: to build up a substantial body of empirical generalizations about the object marker The Puzzle in a Broader Perspective: a case study in how to distinguish clitic doubling from agreement in general using multiple diagnostics (counterpart to recent work on the diagnostics themselves; cf. Preminger 2009).

2 Background
What is the difference between agreement and clitic doubling? In much descriptive literature, agreement is used as a cover term for both (see e.g., discussion in Woolford 2003) Focus today: there are distinct theories of agreement and of clitic doubling that make falsifiable (and different!) predictions about their behavior

Many thanks to Mark Baker, Line Mikkelsen, Mark Norris, Aviad Eilam and Kyle Rawlins for helpful comments and questions. Thanks also to the Amharic consultants whose judgments shaped this work, especially Mahlet Tadesse. 1 Gloss abbreviations: 1 - first person, 2 - second person, 3 - third person, ACC - accusative case, DEF - definite marker, F - feminine, IMPF - imperfect, M - masculine, O - object marker, PF - perfect, S - subject agreement, Examples without any attributed source are from my own fieldwork.

Ruth Kramer 2.1 Theories of Agreement and Clitic Doubling


Theory of Agreement: Minimalist Agree I adopt a conventional Minimalist formalization of agreement in terms of the Agree relation (Chomsky 2000, 2001, 2004) -- a relation between a functional head and a DP established in the syntax. A functional head with unvalued phi-features (T for subject agreement, v for object agreement; the probe) searches downwards into its c-command domain for a DP with valued phi-features (the goal). vP 3 v [ _] VP V vP 3 v [val ] VP AGREE V


DP [val ] [ _ Case]

DP [val ] [ACC Case]

o o o

When the probe finds a DP with valued phi-features, they enter into the Agree relation. The DP values the phi-features on the probe, and the probe assigns Case to the DP (nominative for T, accusative for v). The valued phi-features on the functional head are realized at PF as the agreement marker (cf. the proposals in Legate 2008).2

Theory of Clitic Doubling It is difficult to designate a currently conventional analysis of the phenomenon. o A few major lines of analysis: Sportiche 1996; Uriagereka 1995, Torrego 1988, Rezac 2008; Anagnostopoulou 1999, 2003, 2004; Bleam 1999 o The details of implementation vary (e.g., whether the clitic is moved or base-generated, whether the clitic heads its own projection) For present purposes, it is sufficient to define clitic doubling as the attachment of some kind of pronounlike head to the verbal complex whose features co-vary with those of a non-subject argument. Many analyses of clitic doubling capture the pronoun-like behavior of the clitic by saying the clitics are Determiners (D heads) that move to a position close to the verb. o Aka the big DP hypothesis (Torrego 1988, Uriagereka 1995; see also Anagnostopoulou 2004:Ch.4 for a variant) Fundamental differences from agreement o The clitic is a D, not a bundle of phi-features on a functional head o Clitic doubling does not involve the valuation of phi-features o Clitic doubling is not necessarily associated with Case assignment

These differences will suffice to distinguish clitic doubling from agreement in Amharic.

The agreement morpheme may be affixed or cliticized to its host. Note, then, that agreement morphemes may be clitics in the morphophonological sense, viz. dependent elements that seem less dependent than affixes but more dependent than words. However, agreement morphemes are distinct from doubled clitics which come about through a very different process.


Ruth Kramer


2.2 Previous Work on the Amharic Object Marker Most previous research has referred to the object marker as object agreement (see e.g., Amberber 1996, Amberber 2005, Engdashet 1998, Demeke 2003, Gasser 1983, Yabe 2007, Yimam 2004, 2006). o In most cases, though, the term agreement seems to be being used in its cover term sense and without any particular theoretical commitment. Mullen 1986 and Yabe 2001 both argue that the object markers are doubled clitics, but their arguments do not rely on the falsifiable predictions of a theory-based approach.3 o Today: I unpack and strengthen their arguments in addition to developing new reasons to treat the object markers as doubled clitics.

3 Evidence Preview: three different types of evidence that the object marker is not agreement: morphophonology interaction with Case distribution 3.1 Morphophonological Evidence Agreement morphemes are the realization of phi-features on functional heads. The realization of those phi-features may thus vary depending on other features that the functional head itself has e.g., a past tense feature on T. It is of course quite common for subject agreement morphemes to vary formally depending on tense crosslinguistically. o Even in a very impoverished agreement system like English, subject agreement is null in the past tense, but -s in the 3rd person singular present tense.4 In Amharic, subject agreement varies depending on aspect (perfect or imperfect), so it is plausible that Asp bears the phi-features involved in subject agreement. (4) Perfect a. sbbr-ku break.PF-1S b. sbbr-h break.PF-2MS c. sbbr- break.PF-3MS Imperfect -sbr 1S-break.IMPF t-sbr 2MS-break.IMPF y-sbr 3MS-break.IMPF

See also Halefom 1994 where the object markers are classified as clitics but there is no discussion of doubling per se. Technically, the T and the Agr morphemes have fused into a single node that is then realized as e.g., -s or depending on the tense feature. See Halle 1997.


Ruth Kramer


Object Markers: do Amharic object markers vary in this way? No! The form of the object marker is completely invariant (Mullen 1986) across all verb forms. o Even though the object marker is part of the same complex head as subject agreement (5) Almaz doro wt-u-n bll-att-w Almaz chicken stew-DEF-ACC eat.PF-3FS.S-3MS.O Almaz ate chicken stew. it does not vary based on aspect (or any other component of that complex head). The object marker varies in form only according to the phi-features of the argument with which it is associated. Table 1: Object Marker Paradigm Singular 1st Person - 2nd Person -h (masc.) | - (fem.) rd person 3 -w, -t after u or o (masc.) -at (fem.) 2nd person polite 3rd person polite -wo(t) -attw Plural -n -atthu -attw

Object Markers as Ds: the object marker thus seems more akin to pronominals (i.e., D heads; Postal 1969) than a bundle of phi features on a verbal functional head. Predicted by a clitic doubling analysis where the clitic is a D head Object markers are also like Ds in that they are formally similar to definite determiners. (6) -w 3rd masculine singular object marker -u/-w masculine singular definite determiner o See similar parallels in Uriagereka 1995 for Romance; Anagnostopoulou 2004:212 for Greek.

The object marker also shares parts of its paradigm with the paradigm for pronominal possessors (my, her, our, etc; Yabe 2001). (7) a. bet-e house-my my house b. bklo-h mule-your.M your mule c. tmari-yattn student-our our student Table 2: Pronominal Possessor Paradigm Singular 1st Person -e 2nd Person 3rd person 2nd person polite 3rd person polite -h (masc.) | - (fem.) -u (masc.) | -wa (fem.) -wo(t) -attw

(Leslau 1995:50ff.)

Plural -attn -atthu -attw


Ruth Kramer o o


The object marker and the pronominal possessor are formally identical for five out of eight slots of their respective paradigms (indicated by graying out). Moreover, the 3MS forms, while not identical, are strikingly similar.

If the pronominal possessors are analyzed as D heads (cf. Lyons 1986, Giorgi and Longobardi 1991), then the syncretism here is easily explained. Both pronominal possessors and object markers would be the realization of a D with phi-features.5 For the Sake of Completeness: the object markers do not formally resemble the subject agreement morphemes. For example, the object marker and the imperfect agreement morphemes are clearly distinct. Table 3: Object Marker vs. Imperfect Subject Agreement Singular Object Marker Singular Imperfect Subject Agreement 1st Person - nd Person 2 -h (masc.) | - (fem.) t- (masc.) ti (fem.) 3rd person -w, -t after u or o (masc.) -at (fem.) y- (masc.), t- (fem.)

Reinforces the idea that the object marker is more closely formally connected to pronouns and determiners than other agreement morphemes.

Conclusions: The morphophonological form of the object marker does not vary with anything at all except the phifeatures of the argument with which it is associated. = evidence that the object marker is not agreement The object marker is most similar in terms of morphophonology to determiners and pronominal possessors = evidence that object marker is a doubled clitic, esp. under the big DP hypothesis.

3.2 Case Agreement and Case in Minimalism: a tight relationship When v enters into an Agree relation with a DP, it necessarily values the Case feature on the DP as accusative. (8) vP 3 v [ _] VP V vP 3 v [val ] VP AGREE V

DP [val ] [ _ Case]

DP [val ] [ACC Case]

5 This idea can be straightforwardly fleshed out under the theory of Distributed Morphology (Halle and Marantz 1993; more specifically, Late Insertion and the Subset Principle). Roughly, there would be a single (underspecified) morphophonological realization of the feature bundle [D, phi-features] for all cells of the paradigm where the possessor and the object marker are identical. Feel free to ask about the details of this in the question period.


Ruth Kramer


This theory leads to three falsifiable predictions, all of which are not borne out in Amharic.

First Two Predictions: accusative case is required in order to participate in object agreement (9) Prediction 1: Every DP that participates in object agreement will receive accusative Case. Prediction 2: Any DP that does not receive accusative Case cannot participate in object agreement.

Both of the predictions are falsified by the fact that non-direct objects can be referenced by the object marker (cf. Demeke 2003: Ch.3). (10) Aster doro-wa-n l-Grma stt-tt-w Aster chicken-DEF.F-ACC to-Girma give.PF-3FS.S-3MS.O Aster gave the hen to Girma. (Yabe 2001:2) ne k-setyya-wa and mshaf gzza-hw-at I from-woman-DEF.F a book buy.PF-1S.S-3FS.O I bought a book from the woman. (Mullen 1986:260) o Indirect Object/Recipient



Similar examples can be constructed with the objects of the predicates wait for, accept from, conceal from, buy from, steal from, come out of, flow out of, and come to (Leslau 1995:416-417, Cohen 1970:145). 6

PPs which are internal arguments of the predicate can be referenced by the object marker, regardless of whether they receive accusative case = evidence that the object marker is not agreement (cf. Woolford 2003 on how PPs dont participate in agreement).7 Prediction 3: in order to be assigned accusative Case, a direct object must enter into an Agree relation with v and thus be referenced by an object marker. This prediction is falsified by three facts (contra Yabe 2007). Fact 1: object markers are largely optional. (12) Almaz bet-u-n ayy-tt Almaz house-DEF-ACC see.PF-3FS.S Almaz saw the house. Fact 2: an accusative case-marked direct object is grammatical even when the verb has an object marker for a different argument.

I am setting aside here the use of object markers after the preposition-like verbal markers -bb- and -ll- to represent malefactives and benefactives, respectively (among other types of arguments). See the thorough description in Leslau 1995:424ff and discussion in Yabe 2007. 7 In many analyses of Romance clitic doubling, doubled clitics for datives are treated differently than doubled clitics for direct objects (see e.g., Uriagereka 1995). This is supported by the fact that dative and direct object clitics are two formally distinct series in most Romance languages. However, there is no formal distinction in Amharic (there is just one object marker series), and some accounts of clitic doubling do conflate indirect object and direct object clitics (see e.g., Bleam 1999, Sportiche 1996). Even if the datives and other non-direct objects are discarded though, the agreement analysis still makes incorrect predictions.


Ruth Kramer Aster doro-wa-n l-Grma stt-tt-w Aster chicken-DEF.F-ACC to-Girma give.PF-3FS.S-3MS.O Aster gave the hen to Girma. (Yabe 2001:2)



Fact 3: in certain cases, it is ungrammatical to have an object marker reference an argument that has accusative case. Almaz ras-wa-n b-mstawt ayy-tt(*-at) see.PF-3FS(-*3FS.O) Almaz self-her-ACC in-mirror Almaz saw herself in the mirror.


Conclusion: accusative case is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for being referenced by an object marker. = evidence that the object marker is not agreement There is no such tight connection between doubled clitics and accusative Case/case in the account of clitic doubling sketched above, so there is no problem with these facts.

3.3 Distribution The distribution of the object marker in Amharic is very similar to the distribution of doubled clitics in other languages (Mullen 1986, Yabe 2001). The object marker is generally optional (see above) triggers an (as yet) poorly-understood semantic effect or some kind of emphasis on the argument which it references or some tighter connection between them (Haile 1970; see also Demeke 2003) licensed only for definite and/or specific arguments (Yabe 2001; Haile 1970) (15) Aster doro arrd-tt(*-at) Aster chicken butcher.PF-3FS.S(*-3FS.O) Aster butchered a chicken. (Yabe 2001:3) obligatory when the direct object has been pro dropped8 a. bll-att eat.PF-3FS.S She ate. / *She ate it. b. bll-att-w eat.PF-3FS.S-3MS.O She ate it.


This pattern of facts is very similar to one of the most well-known cases of clitic doubling: River Plate Spanish (see e.g., Jaeggli 1982), where clitic doubling is optional for full DP direct objects triggers a poorly-understood semantic effect of closeness between the verb and the object obligatory for dropped pronominal objects conditioned by the specificity of the object9
8 There are at least two other constructions in which object marking is obligatory in Amharic: possessive sentences (Almaz has-3FS.O a car) and experiencer predicates (Almaz is-tired.3FS.O). The possessive sentences are particularly interesting given the connections between possessive DPs and clitic doubled DPs (see fn. 4). See Yabe 2002ab and Ahland 2009 for discussion and description.


Ruth Kramer



River Plate Spanish a. (Lo) vimos a Guille (3MS) saw Guille We saw Guille. (Jaeggli 1982:14) b. *(Lo) vi 3MS saw I saw him. (Jaeggli 1982:14)

In the interest of analyzing empirically similar phenomena in a similar way, this is clearly evidence in favor of the object marker being a doubled clitic. It is clear from large-scale typological studies like Corbett (2006) that agreement as a phenomenon does not share this behavior. Agreement is not canonically optional (Corbett 2006:14-15) Agreement does not canonically have any semantic effects (Corbett 2006:26-27) Agreement is not canonically conditioned by any feature of the controller of the agreement (Corbett 2006:26) Nevertheless, there are exceptions to the canonical behavior noted in the Corbett, e.g. agreement can be conditioned by definiteness/specificity (Rural Palestinian Arabic: 200-201) agreement can be associated with information structure (Tsez:197-1999) agreement is optional (Ngangityemerri: 14-15)10 It is not impossible that Amharic object markers would be a typologically unusual sort of agreement, but the chance of all of these non-canonical properties occurring at once in the same language seems low. Gaining Precision: An even more precise argument can be made using part of the same set of facts by appealing to a diagnostic developed by Preminger (2009). (18) Premingers Diagnostic Given a scenario where the relation R between a morpheme M and the corresponding full noun phrase X is broken -- but the result is still a grammatical utterance -- the proposed diagnostic supplies a conclusion about R as follows: a. M shows up with default phi-features (rather than the features of X) R is Agree b. M disappears entirely R is clitic doubling

The diagnostic begins by setting up a scenario where the agreement or clitic doubling relation is broken. This occurs if the morpheme and its corresponding full noun are not in a local enough relationship (e.g., another DP intervenes between them; aka defective intervention: Chomsky 2000, 2001) In some languages, this causes the morpheme in question to surface in default form (Icelandic) = agreement. o The unvalued phi-features are given a default value since they cannot be valued through Agree.

It is also conditioned by animacy, which does not play a role in object marking for verbs that take a single direct object. However, ongoing research by the author has found that animacy is important in determining whether the object marker references the Theme or the Recipient in a ditransitive predicate. 10 Corbett 2006 includes clitic doubling in his survey, but notes carefully when he is using data that has been described as clitic doubling. None of the examples cited above were described as such and some clearly cannot be clitic doubling (e.g., the Ngangityemerri data is agreement between a noun and an adjective).


Ruth Kramer


In other languages, the morpheme in question simply does not appear in the structure (Basque)= clitic doubling. o Instead of there being phi-features left stranded, there is simply no generation of a clitic

Back to Amharic: It is difficult to import Premingers diagnostic wholesale into Amharic since the locality conditions on object markers are still under investigation. However, in Amharic, the relation between the object marker and the DP it refers to is only capable of being established if the DP is definite/specific. (19) *Almaz lam ayy-tt-(*at) Almaz cow see.PF-3FS.S(*-3FS.O) Almaz saw a cow.

The question now becomes: how can (19) be repaired? If a default object marker is grammatical, then object markers are object agreement. If the absence of an object marker is grammatical, then the object marker is clitic doubling. Results: a default object marker (third person masculine singular) is ungrammatical. (20) Almaz lam ayy-tt-(*w) Almaz cow see.PF-3FS.S.(*3MS.O) Almaz saw a cow.

Leaving out the object marker entirely, though, is perfectly grammatical. (21) Almaz lam ayy-tt Almaz cow see.PF-3FS.S Almaz saw a cow.

Thus, the object marker is a doubled clitic by Premingers diagnostic, and not the reflex of an Agree relation. An Important Detail: default agreement is not null in Amharic (otherwise we could not tell whether there was default agreement in (21)). Evidence from infinitival subjects: (22) wha m-kottb Almaz-n dss y-l-atall water INF-save Almaz-ACC happy 3MS.S-make-3FS.O AUX.3MS.S Saving water makes Almaz happy

Conclusions: The distribution of the object marker is very similar to the distribution of doubled clitics in River Plate Spanish. = evidence for object markers being doubled clitics This result can be strengthened using a diagnostic developed in Preminger 2009 and according to this diagnostic, Amharic object markers are in fact doubled clitics.


Ruth Kramer


4 Conclusion
I have argued that object markers in Amharic are doubled clitics. Used (mostly) arguments based on the different predictions of a theory of agreement and a theory of clitic doubling Considered evidence from o the morphophonological form of the object marker o the interaction (or rather, lack of interaction) of the object marker with Case o the distribution of the object marker Amharic as a test case for distinguishing agreement and clitic doubling Empirical Extensions: possessors and experiencer predicates (obligatory object markers) other Ethio-Semitic languages (Chaha: Banksira 2000) object markers in Bantu languages (see e.g., Riedel 2009) Theoretical Extensions: How exactly should clitic doubling in Amharic be analyzed? Can Amharic help resolve some of the debates in the field about clitic doubling?

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Ruth Kramer Department of Linguistics Georgetown University 37th and O St., NW Washington, DC 20057

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