THEORY: "Finite Verbs" vs "Non-Finite Verbs" in Languages with Poly-Personal Agreement
|From:||Eldin Raigmore <eldin_raigmore@...>|
|Date:||Saturday, July 15, 2006, 21:24|
(I _think_ this is a "THEORY:" post; maybe it's a "USAGE:" post.)
(Which tag belongs on questions about linguistic terminology?)
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In languages in which the verbs of main clauses usually agree with their
subject (for instance in person and/or number), a form of the verb which
does so agree is called "finite"; but a form which does not is called "non-
In general, if a verb agrees, in all the categories in which the language
ever requires such agreement, with all of the participants the language
ever requires a verb to agree with, that form of the verb is
called "finite". If a verb does not agree with anything in any way, that
form of the verb is called "non-finite".
Question 1: In languages in which no verb is ever required to agree with
anything, are _all_ the verbs "non-finite"? Or, in such languages, does
the "finite" vs "non-finite" distinction not exist?
Some languages have polypersonal agreement. In these languages, if a verb
requires two or more core participants, then, when such a verb is the
nucleus of a main clause, it is required to agree with more than one of
them. For instance, a monotransitive verb might have to agree in both
person and gender with both the "subject" and the "object"; a ditransitive
verb might have to agree with both the "subject" and the "indirect object".
Question 2: In a language in which most bivalent or higher-valency verbs
usually must agree with more than one participant (i.e. a language with
polypersonal agreement); if a form of such a verb occurs which agrees with
one participant only, is that a "finite" form of that verb, or a "non-
finite" form of the verb?
Question 2A: Maybe in such languages, for some verbs the question of
how "finite" or "non-finite" they are, is not a binary one. Maybe some
verbs are half-finite, or 1/3 - finite or 2/3 - finite.
So why the heck am I asking?
I am conning a clause-chaining lang.
Clause-chaining languages treat co-ordinately conjoined clauses different
from how we are used to treating them in English.
They have a "conjunctive mode", so-termed (by me) to parallel the
term "subjunctive mode" which is used for embedded dependent clauses (i.e.
BTW this is a "mode" in the sense of Bybee, that is, it indicates how the
speaker intends the clause to fit into the discourse.
It isn't a "mood"; that is, it doesn't indicate the speaker's attitude
towards the assertion made by the clause.
It also isn't a "modality"; that is, it doesn't indicate the illocutionary
force which the speaker intends his/her utterance to have.
In most VO clause-chaining languages, most clause chains will begin with
an "Initial Clause" with a finite verb in (for instance) an indicative
mode, followed by all the other clauses in the chain, which will
be "Consecutive Clauses" with _non_-finite verbs "in the (or a) conjunctive
In most OV clause-chaining languages, most clause chains will _end_ with
a "Final Clause" with a finite verb in (for instance) an indicative mode,
preceded by all the other clauses in the chain, which will have
been "Medial Clauses" with _non_-finite verbs "in the (or a) conjunctive
I want my lang to have a switch-reference system, too.
Switch-reference systems are not restricted to clause-chaining languages;
but they have an additional use in clause chains.
In a switch-reference system, some verbs are obligatorily marked to show
whether some referent is the same as, or different from, a similar referent
of a reference clause. (I apologize for any confusion which may result
from calling the clauses' participants "referents of the clause", while
also calling one of the clauses "the reference clause". I didn't make up
this terminology.) (More about the finite/nonfinite opposition as it
interacts with switch-reference, below.)
In non-clause-chaining languages, usually the marked clause is a
subordinate clause, and the reference clause is either its matrix -- the
clause immediately superordinate to it -- or the main clause. (If the
subordinate clause is not "deeply embedded", its matrix will _be_ the main
In clause-chaining languages, however, the marked clause and the reference
clause may be co-ordinate with each other. The marked clause may be
a "Consecutive Clause" and the reference clause may be either the
immediately preceding clause or the "Initial Clause". Or, the marked
clause may be a "Medial Clause" and the reference clause may be either the
immediately following clause or the "Final Clause".
[MORE ABOUT FINITE, NONFINITE, AND SWITCH-REFERENCE]
In order to be called "a switch-reference system", the switch-reference
marking must be _obligatory_; certain clauses _must_ be marked as same
referent or different referent, _even_ _if_ that question is obviously
answered by other markings.
For instance, if verbs have to agree in number with their subjects, and the
two verbs agree with different grammatical numbers, then obviously their
subjects are different; but in a switch-reference system, one of the verbs
would have to be marked "different subject" _anyway_. Also, if verbs have
to agree in person with their subjects, and two verbs are both first-person
or both second-person, then obviously their subjects are the same; but in a
switch-reference system, one of the verbs would have to be marked "same
But, in that case, when a verb is marked "same subject", why would the
language continue to require it to agree with its subject? Diachronically
that requirement is likely to die out; and that verb will no longer
In my lang I hope to use non-finite verbs for Consecutive Clauses when the
switch-reference system makes it clear what the referent is even if the
verb doesn't agree with the referent. Of course I'll do the same for
Subordinate Clauses, as well.
The way "Switch-Reference System" is technically defined, only two of the
markings linguists study along with "switch-reference marking" are actually
switch-reference marking. They are,
SameSubject vs DifferentSubject
SameObject vs DifferentObject.
Most switch-reference systems, however, either tell when the subject of the
marked clause is _any_ referent of the reference clause (and tell which
referent it is); or tell when the subject of the reference clause is _any_
referent of the marked clause (and tell which referent it is).
So a switch-refence system might have, say,
"ba-" as a prefix meaning "the subject of the marked clause was the subject
of the reference clause",
"ce-" as a prefix meaning "the subject of the marked clause was the direct
object of the reference clause",
"di-" as a prefix meaning "the subject of the marked clause was the
indirect object of the reference clause",
and "o-" as a prefix meaning "the subject of the marked clause was not a
core term of the reference clause".
Or, it might have, say,
"-uz" as a suffix meaning "the subject of the marked clause will be the
subject of the reference clause",
"-ox" as a suffix meaning "the direct object of the marked clause will be
the subject of the reference clause",
"-iv" as a suffix meaning "the indirect object of the marked clause will be
the subject of the reference clause",
and "-e" as a suffix meaning "no core term of the marked clause will be the
subject of the reference clause".
Phonological weight of switch-reference marks;
Usually the "different referent" marking is lighter -- contains less
phonological material -- than the "same referent" mark(s); but the "same
referent" marks are lighter -- contain less phonological material -- than
the agreement marks.
If the "different referent"-marked verbs are then going to have to agree
with the new referents, while the "same referent"-marked verbs don't,
the "DR" verbs will be longer -- contain more phonological material -- than
the corresponding "SR" verbs, even though the "Same Referent" marks are
longer than the "Different Refent" marks.