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Title: Gender and person agreement in Cicipu discourse
Authors: McGill, Stuart
Keywords: African Languages
Niger-Congo Languages
Benue-Congo Languages
Issue Date: 2009
Publisher: School of Oriental and African Studies, London
Abstract: The Cicipu language (Kainji, Benue-Congo) of northwest Nigeria has the kind of robust noun class system characteristic of Benue-Congo languages – GENDER agreement is found on a great many agreement targets inside and outside the noun phrase. For a number of these targets, gender agreement is in competition with a separate paradigm, that of PERSON agreement. The dissertation focuses on the distribution of this alternation with respect to subject prefixes, object enclitics, and pronouns, based on a corpus of 12,000 clauses of spoken language. The alternation proves to be complex to describe, involving a constellation of lexical, phonological, morphosyntactic, semantic and discourse-pragmatic factors. In particular, both animacy and topicality are CONDITIONS (Corbett 2006) on agreement. While inanimate or animal participants normally trigger gender agreement, if they are topics then they may trigger person agreement. Likewise while human nouns typically trigger person agreement, this is not always the case, and gender agreement is more likely if the referent is of incidental importance to the discourse. Furthermore it is argued that this alternation is sensitive to discourse topic (e.g. Dooley 2007) rather than sentence topic (e.g. Lambrecht 1994). Both gender and person subject prefixes are ambiguous agreement markers according to the typology of Bresnan and Mchombo (1987) and Siewierska (1999), since both can take part in grammatical or anaphoric agreement. Thus the Cicipu data supports Culy's (2000) contention that topicality is an independent dimension for the classification of agreement markers, rather than derivative of the grammatical vs. anaphoric agreement distinction, and leads us to re-evaluate the common assumption that dependent person markers (Siewierska 2004) cannot vary with respect to their discourse function. Since Cicipu is otherwise undescribed, a major part of the dissertation consists of a phonological and grammatical sketch.
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