3 - Polypersonal Agreement
"Polypersonal agreement" means that a verb marks multiple core arguments. To oversimplify for a moment, this basically means that both the subject and object of a clause are marked on the verb. Different languages will distinguish different characteristics that are marked--person, number, gender, and so on--but usually the 'case' (or the grammatical role) of each participant is made clear in some way, via verbal prefixes and/or suffixes.
Everyone here will already be familiar with a language that mark verbs for at least one core participant: even English does so marginally (e.g., the suffix -s in drink-s marks that the subject of the verb is third person singular). Romance languages, which will be familiar to most people here, provides a somewhat better example, with verbs marking the person and number of their subject by means of suffixes (which also mark tense, aspect, and mood (TAM)), as in Spanish habl-o, habl-as, habl-a, habl-amos, habl-ais, habl-an ("speak" with the present indicative suffixes marking the subject as, respectively, 1sg, 2sg, 3sg, 1pl, 2pl, 3pl).
Polysynthetic languages, then, simply extend this type of marking further, and verbs mark both the subject and object (again, this is oversimplifying, we'll get to complications later). For example, take the verb rikapani "he sees him/it". This breaks down as ri-kapa-ni, "he(subj)-see-him(obj)" (or, more accurately: 3sg.NONFEM.SUBJ-see-3sg.NONFEM.OBJ). As you can see, the verb marks the gender (non-feminine), number (singular), person (third), and grammatical role (subject or object) of each argument of the verb.
Not all polysynthetic languages have separate affixes for subjects and objects, however. In many cases the morphemes are partly or entirely fused together, such that a single affix marks the person, number, etc. of both subject and object. A good example is the Iroquoian languages. For instance, the verbal prefix she- marks both that the subject is second person and that the object is plural, as in ëshéo:wi’ (FUT-2SUBJ/pl.OBJ-tell-PUNCTUAL), "you will tell them." For another example, consider the Cariban language , where w- indicates a first person subject and third person object, while y- indicates a third person subject and first person object. Thus, contrast wedanta, "I meet him/her", with yedanta, "s/he meets me."
Finally, note that in many cases polysynthetic languages can mark more than just two participants on the verb. Some other roles that can be indicated include benefactives, indirect objects, and so on. Take, for example, : dbə̀ltart˚’ (d-bə̀-l-ta-rt˚’ = 3sg.MASC.OBJ-2sg.INDIRECT.OBJ-3sg.FEM.SUBJ-give-PURP), "she gives him to you."
A Big Caveat
As I've emphasized a few times, this is a very simplistic overview, and the description above glosses over some important stuff. Here's the main qualification: I've been talking about "subjects" and "objects," but not all languages divide up verb arguments that way. Very basically, languages like English treat the subject of intransitive sentences the same as the subject of transitive sentences, and different from the object of transitive sentences. Languages like English are called "accusative." But many languages treat the subject of intransitive sentences the same as the object of transitive sentences, and differently from the subject of transitive sentences; languages of this type are called "ergative." Some languages are ergative in some places (say, only with third person arguments, or only the perfective aspect) and accusative in others (this is called "split ergativity"). Some languages mark the subject of an intransitive sentence differently depending on whether it is viewed as controlling or instigating the action (in verbs like "jump") or not (in verbs like "sneeze" or "fall down" or "be tall"); languages of this type are called "active", among other names. And so on and so on. So although I've only mentioned "subjects" and "objects" in the above discussion, treating all the languages mentioned as though they were accusative like English, the truth is far more complicated, and you'll need to think about what alignment system you want your conlang to have (there's a quick overview of all this in the , though unfortunately Sander's diagrams seem to have disappeared with the passing of years...).
Last edited by Whimemsz on Tue Aug 28, 2012 10:49 am, edited 1 time in total.