Natural Language & Linguistic Theory

, Volume 24, Issue 2, pp 501–570 | Cite as

Agent Focus in Mayan Languages

  • Barbara Stiebels


A subset of the Mayan languages makes use of a specific verb form if the subject of a transitive verb is to be focused, questioned or relativized; this form, which renders the verb morphologically intransitive, though semantically transitive, is called ‘agent focus’ among Mayanists. The respective Mayan languages differ in the morphosyntactic implementation of agent focus, i.e. the agreement patterns, the marking of the internal argument and the contexts in which agent focus occurs. The goal of this paper is to provide a lexical approach that accounts for the cross-Mayan variation by means of a small set of faithfulness and markedness constraints. It is proposed that the agent focus marker emerged as a means of disambiguation (by Bidirectional Optimization) and was grammaticalized, thus extending it to contexts where it is not needed and is even counterproductive in terms of the visibility of the arguments’ φ-features (person and number).


Artificial Intelligence Internal Argument Markedness Constraint Agent Focus Agreement Pattern 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Springer 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Zentrum für Allgemeine SprachwissenschaftBerlinGermany

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