Bidirectional Case-marking and Linear Adjacency

Original Paper


Bidirectional case markers in West African languages, including those of the Songhay family, are morphemes inserted between subject and object NPs that would otherwise be adjacent. They therefore specify both that the NP to the left is a subject, and that the NP to the right is an object, and they cannot be bracketed uniquely with either. This is shown by the fact that these morphemes are absent when either subject or object position is (structurally and phonologically) absent, for example due to extraction. This is the only morphological case-marking in the relevant languages. The operation inserting such morphemes must have reference to constituent structure (NP), abstract case (subject, object), and linear adjacency. These data increase the evidence that complex case-marking operations can apply in a centrally located morphology component that has simultaneous access to categorial and linear relations. The idea is questionable that such morphological operations take place at a syntax/PF interface, where syntactic categories are first aligned with prosodic phrases, since actual prosodic (e.g. accentual) bracketings do not always coincide with the bracketings relevant to case morphology. This point is made with data from Tamashek (Berber) nominal prefix alternations, preceding the main section on Songhay case marking.


Bidirectional Case-marking Songhay Tamashek 


  1. Ackema P., Ad Neeleman (2003). Context-sensitive spell-out. Natural Language and Linguistic Theory 21:681–735CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Anderson S. (1984). On Representations in Morphology: Case, agreement, and inversion in Georgian. Natural Language and Linguistic Theory 2:157–218CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bloomfield L. (1946). Algonquian. In: Hoijer H. (eds) Linguistic structures of native America, Viking Fund Publications in Anthropology 6. Viking, New York, pp. 85–129Google Scholar
  4. Comrie B. (1980). Inverse verb forms in Siberia: Evidence from Chukchee, Koryak, and Kamchadal. Folia Linguistica Historica 1:61–74CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Diagana Y. (1994). Éléments de Grammaire du Soninke, vol 1 (Documents de linguistique africaine). Association Linguistique Africaine, ParisGoogle Scholar
  6. Diagana O. (1995). La Langue Soninkée: Morphosyntaxe et Sens. l’Harmattan, ParisGoogle Scholar
  7. Embick D. (2003). Locality, listedness, and morphological identity. Studia Linguistica 57:143–169CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Heath J. (1978). Ngandi grammar, texts, and dictionary. Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies, CanberraGoogle Scholar
  9. Kastenholz R. (1989). Grundkurs Bambara (Manding) mit Texten. Köppe, CologneGoogle Scholar
  10. Nedjalkov V. (1979). Degrees of ergativity in Chukchee. In: Plank F. (eds) Ergativity: Towards a theory of grammatical relations. Academic Press, London, pp. 241–262Google Scholar
  11. Silverstein M. (1976). Hierarchy of features and ergativity. In: Dixon R.M.W. (eds) Grammatical categories in Australian languages. Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies, Canberra, pp. 112–171Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of LinguisticsUniversity of MichiganAnn ArborUSA

Personalised recommendations