Natural Language & Linguistic Theory

, Volume 36, Issue 1, pp 149–173 | Cite as

Adverbs and variability in Kaqchikel Agent Focus

A reply to Erlewine (2016)
  • Robert HendersonEmail author
  • Jessica Coon


In many languages with ergative morphology, transitive subjects (i.e. ergatives) are unable to undergo A’-extraction. This extraction asymmetry is a common hallmark of “syntactic ergativity,” and is found in a range of typologically diverse languages (see e.g. Deal 2016; Polinsky 2017, and works cited there). In Kaqchikel, the A’-extraction of transitive subjects requires a special verb form, known in Mayanist literature as Agent Focus (AF). In a recent paper, Erlewine (2016) argues that the restriction on A’-extracting transitive subjects in Kaqchikel is the result of an Anti-Locality effect: transitive subjects are not permitted to extract because they are too close to C0. This analysis relies crucially on Erlewine’s proposal that transitive subjects undergo movement to Spec,IP while intransitive subjects remain low. For Erlewine, this derives the fact that transitive (ergative) subjects, but not intransitive (absolutive) subjects are subject to extraction restrictions. Furthermore, it makes the strong prediction that phrasal material intervening between IP and CP should obviate the need for AF in clauses with subject extraction. In this paper, we argue against the Anti-Locality analysis of ergative A’-extraction restrictions along two lines. First, we raise concerns with the proposal that transitive, but not intransitive subjects, move to Spec,IP. Our second, and main goal, is to show that there is variation in whether AF is observed in configurations with intervening phrasal material, with a primary focus on intervening adverbs. We propose an alternative account for the variation in whether AF is observed in the presence of adverbs and discuss consequences for accounts of ergative extraction asymmetries more generally.


Agent Focus A’-extraction Ergativity Anti-Locality Agreement Kaqchikel Adverbs 



We would like to thank Juan Ajsivinac, Gonzalo Ticun, Kanb’alam Batz, Ryan Bennett, Colin Brown, Lauren Clemens, Meaghan Fowlie, Henrison Hsieh, Hadas Kotek, Mitcho Erlewine, Justin Royer, Carlos Humberto Sactic, Byron Socorec, Lisa Travis, and Omer Preminger for helpful comments and discussion, as well as to audiences at NELS 46 and McGill for feedback. Special thanks to three anonymous reviewers and to Julie Anne Legate for detailed feedback at various stages of this work. Any errors are of course our own.


  1. Abels, Klaus. 2003. Successive cyclicity, anti-locality, and adposition stranding. PhD diss., University of Connecticut. Google Scholar
  2. Aissen, Judith. 1992. Topic and focus in Mayan. Language 68 (1): 43–80. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Aissen, Judith. 2011. On the syntax of agent focus in K’ichee’. In Formal Approaches to Mayan Linguistics (FAMLi), eds. Kirill Shklovsky, Pedro Mateo Pedro, and Jessica Coon. Cambridge: MIT Working Papers in Linguistics. Google Scholar
  4. Aissen, Judith. 2017. Correlates of ergativity in Mayan. In Oxford handbook of ergativity, eds. Jessica Coon, Diane Massam, and Lisa Travis. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Google Scholar
  5. Aldridge, Edith. 2004. Ergativity and word order in Austronesian languages. PhD diss., Cornell University. Google Scholar
  6. AnderBois, Scott, and Grant Armstrong. 2014. On a transitivity-based split in Yucatec Maya control complements. Paper presented at Workshop on Structure and Constituency in Languages of the Americas (WSCLA) 19, Memorial University, St. John’s. Google Scholar
  7. Armstrong, Grant. 2009. Copular sentences in Yucatec Maya. In The Conference on Indigenous Languages of Latin America (CILLA) 4. Austin: University of Texas. Google Scholar
  8. Assmann, Anke, Doreen Georgi, Fabian Heck, Gereon Müller, and Philipp Weisser. 2015. Ergatives move too early: On an instance of opacity in syntax. Syntax 18 (4): 343–387. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Baier, Nico. 2017. Antilocality and antiagreement. Linguistic Inquiry 48 (2). Google Scholar
  10. Bittner, Maria, and Kenneth Hale. 1996. Ergativity: Toward a theory of a heterogeneous class. Linguistic Inquiry 27 (4): 531–604. Google Scholar
  11. Bobaljik, Jonathan David. 1993. Nominally absolutive is not absolutely nominative. In West Coast Conference on Formal Linguistics (WCCFL) 11. Stanford: CSLI Publications. Google Scholar
  12. Bok-Bennema, Reineke. 1991. Case and agreement in Inuit. Dordrecht: Foris. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Bošković, Željko. 1997. The syntax of nonfinite complementation: An economy approach. Cambridge: MIT Press. Google Scholar
  14. Bošković, Željko. 2016. On the timing of labeling: Deducing comp-trace effects, the subject condition, the adjunct condition and tucking in from labeling. The Linguistic Review 33 (1): 17–66. Google Scholar
  15. Brillman, Ruth J., and Aron Hirsch. To appear. An anti-locality account of English subject/non-subject asymmetries. In Chicago Linguistic Society (CLS) 50. Chicago Linguistic Society. Google Scholar
  16. Campana, Mark. 1992. A movement theory of ergativity. PhD diss., McGill University. Google Scholar
  17. Clemens, Lauren Eby, and Jessica Coon. To appear. Deriving verb initial order in Mayan. Language Google Scholar
  18. Coon, Jessica. 2010a. Rethinking split ergativity in Chol. International Journal of American Linguistics 76 (2): 207–253. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Coon, Jessica. 2010b. VOS as predicate fronting in Chol. Lingua 120 (2): 354–378. doi: 10.1016/j.lingua.2008.07.006. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Coon, Jessica. 2013. Aspects of split ergativity. Cambridge: Oxford University Press. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Coon, Jessica. 2016. Mayan morphosyntax. Language and Linguistics Compass 10 (10): 515–550. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Coon, Jessica. 2017. Little-v agreement and templatic morphology in Chol. Syntax 20 (2): 101–137. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Coon, Jessica, and Elizabeth Carolan. 2017. Nominalization and the structure of progressives in Chuj Mayan. Glossa 2 (1): 22. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Coon, Jessica, and Robert Henderson. 2011. Two binding puzzles in Mayan. In Representing language: Essays in honor of Judith Aissen, eds. Rodrigo Gutiérrez Bravo, Line Mikkelsen, and Eric Potsdam, 51–67. University of California, Santa Cruz: Linguistic Research Center. Google Scholar
  25. Coon, Jessica, Pedro Mateo Pedro, and Omer Preminger. 2014. The role of case in A-bar extraction asymmetries: Evidence from Mayan. Linguistic Variation 14 (2): 179–242. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Deal, Amy Rose. 2016. Syntactic ergativity: Analysis and identification. Annual Review of Linguistics 2: 165–185. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. England, Nora. 1991. Changes in basic word order in Mayan languages. International Journal of American Linguistics 57: 446–486. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. England, Nora C. 2013. Cláusulas con flexión reducida en mam. In Estudios sintácticos en lenguas de Mesoamérica, eds. Enrique L. Palancar and Roberto Zavala, 277–303. Mexico City: CIESAS. Google Scholar
  29. Erlewine, Michael Yoshitaka. 2016. Anti-locality and optimality in Kaqchikel Agent Focus. Natural Language and Linguistic Theory 34 (2): 429–479. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. García Matzar, Pedro Oscar, and José Obispo Rodríguez Guaján. 1997. Rukemik ri kaqchikel chi’, gramática kaqchikel. Guatemala City: Cholsamaj. Google Scholar
  31. Heaton, Raina. 2015. The status of syntactic ergativity in Kaqchikel. In The Society for the Study of the Indigenous Languages of the Americas (SSILA), 1–8. Google Scholar
  32. Henderson, Robert, Jessica Coon, and Lisa Travis. 2013. Micro- and macro-parameters in Mayan syntactic ergativity. Paper presented at Towards a Theory of Syntactic Variation, Bilbao. Google Scholar
  33. Hou, Liwen. 2013. Agent Focus in Chuj reflexive constructions. BA Thesis, McGill University. Google Scholar
  34. Imanishi, Yusuke. 2014. Default ergative. PhD diss., Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Google Scholar
  35. Johns, Alana. 1992. Deriving ergativity. Linguistic Inquiry 23 (1): 57–88. Google Scholar
  36. Legate, Julie Anne. 2008. Morphological and Abstract Case. Linguistic Inquiry 39 (1): 55–101. doi: 10.1162/ling.2008.39.1.55. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Legate, Julie Anne. 2017. The locus of ergative case. In The Oxford handbook of ergativity, eds. Jessica Coon, Diane Massam, and Lisa Travis. New York: Oxford University Press. Google Scholar
  38. Mondloch, James. 1981. Voice in Quiche-Maya. PhD diss., SUNY Albany. Google Scholar
  39. Murasugi, Keiko, and Mamoru Saito. 1995. Adjunction and cyclicity. In West Coast Conference on Formal Linguistics (WCCFL) 13, 302–317. Google Scholar
  40. Ordóñez, Francisco. 1995. The antipassive in Jacaltec: A last resort strategy. Catalan Working Papers in Linguistics (CatWPL) 4 (2): 329–343. Google Scholar
  41. Ouhalla, Jamal. 1993. Subject-extraction, negation, and the anti-agreement effect. Natural Language and Linguistic Theory 11: 477–518. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Pesetsky, David, and Esther Torrego. 2001. T-to-C movement: Causes and consequences. In Ken Hale: A life in language, ed. Michael Kenstowicz, 355–426. Cambridge: MIT Press. Google Scholar
  43. Pixabaj, Can, and Nora England. 2011. Nominal topic and focus in K’ichee’. In Representing language: Essays in honor of Judith Aissen, eds. Rodrigo Guitérrez-Bravo, Line Mikkelsen, and Eric Potsdam, 15–30. Google Scholar
  44. Polinsky, Maria. 2016. Deconstructing ergativity: Two types of ergative languages and their features. Oxford: Oxford University Press. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Polinsky, Maria. 2017. Syntactic ergativity, 2nd edn. In Blackwell companion to syntax, eds. Martin Everaert and Henk van Riemsdijk. Hoboken: Blackwell. Google Scholar
  46. Preminger, Omer. 2014. Agreement and its failures. Cambridge: MIT Press. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Richards, Norvin. 1998. The Principle of Minimal Compliance. Linguistic Inquiry 29 (4): 599–629. doi: 10.1162/002438998553897. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Saito, Mamoru, and Keiko Murasugi. 1998. Subject predication within IP and DP. In Beyond principles and parameters: Essays in memory of Osvaldo Jaeggli, eds. Kyle Johnson and Ian Roberts, 159–182. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic. Google Scholar
  49. Stiebels, Barbara. 2006. Agent focus in Mayan languages. Natural Language and Linguistic Theory 24 (2): 501–570. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Tada, Hiroaki. 1993. A/A-bar partition in derivation. PhD diss., Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Google Scholar
  51. Vázquez Álvarez, Juan J. 2013. Dos tipos de cláusulas no finitas en chol. In Estudios sintácticos en lenguas de Mesoamérica, eds. Enrique L. Palancar and Roberto Zavala. Mexico City: CIESAS. Google Scholar
  52. Woolford, Ellen. 1997. Four-way case systems: Ergative, nominative, objective and accusative. Natural Language and Linguistic Theory 15 (1): 181–227. doi: 10.1023/A:1005796113097. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Woolford, Ellen. 2003. Clitics and agreement in competition: Ergative cross-referencing patterns. In Papers in Optimality Theory II, 421–449. Amherst: GLSA. Google Scholar
  54. Wycliffe Bible Translators, Inc. 2012. El nuevo testamento en Cakchiquel Oriental. Orlando: Wycliffe Bible Translators, Inc. Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of ArizonaTusconUSA
  2. 2.McGill UniversityMontrealCanada

Personalised recommendations