1 Introduction

This article examines an asymmetry in the behaviour of predicative adjectives in Tłı̨chǫ Yatıı̀ (also known as Dogrib), a Dene (Athapaskan) language of the Northwest Territories, Canada. Although, as in other Dene languages, the majority of property predicates are expressed with stative verbs, there is a small class of adjectives that have distinct properties. Only a subset of these adjectives can occur as predicates, and when they do they sometimes occur with a copula. Although the occurrence of copulas with predicative adjectives may appear to be optional, I argue that this is not the case. Copulas are obligatory with adjectives predicated of animate subjects and barred with those predicated of inanimate subjects:1

    1. (1)
    1. Copulas and adjectives
      1. a.
      1. Chekoa edı elı̨.
      1. chekoa
      2. child
      1. [edı
      2. warm/feverish
      1. Ø-lı̨]
      2. IPFV.3.SBJ-COP.IPFV
      1. ‘The child is feverish.’ (MLBW 2009)
    1. b.
    1. *Chekoa edı.
    1. chekoa
    2. child
    1. edı
    2. warm/feverish
    1. (Intended: ‘The child is feverish.’) (MLBW 2009)
    1. c.
    1. Įxę̀ę edı.
    1. ı̨xę̀ę
    2. yesterday
    1. edı
    2. warm/feverish
    1. ‘Yesterday was warm.’2 (MLBW 2009)
    1. d.
    1. *Įxę̀ę edı elı̨.
    1. ı̨xę̀ę
    2. yesterday
    1. [edı
    2. warm/feverish
    1. Ø-lı̨]
    2. IPFV.3.SBJ-COP.IPFV
    1. (Intended: ‘Yesterday was warm.’) (MLBW 2009)3

I argue that animate subjects bear a formal person feature that inanimates lack, and that the copula that appears with adjectival predicates realizes these features inflectionally, a requirement of the grammatical system that I formalize as a constraint. This realization is otherwise impossible to fulfill due to adjectives’ lack of inflection.4

1.1 Assumptions

The article’s arguments are couched in the framework of Minimalism (Chomsky, 1995; 1998), assuming that morphological agreement is an operation motivated by a requirement to check formal features: functional heads bear uninterpretable features that are checked against, and valued by, the interpretable features of their agreement targets.

I supplement this view of agreement with a constraint requiring all Φ-features, whether interpretable or uninterpretable, to be checked. That is, an unmatched feature, even if interpretable, will cause the derivation to crash.

2 Tłı̨chǫ Yatıì and its morphosyntax

Tłı̨chǫ Yatıì (formerly known as Dogrib) is a Dene language spoken in the communities of the Tłı̨chǫ Government and in nearby Yellowknife, Ndilǫ and T’èʔehdaà (Dettah), Northwest Territories.

In common with other Dene languages, Tłı̨chǫ Yatıì has SOV constituent order and a highly synthetic verbal morphology showing both subject and object agreement. The verb consists of a monosyllabic stem to which are prefixed numerous inflectional and derivational morphemes, in general also monosyllabic.5 The Dene verb is typologically unusual in a number of ways. First, the lexical material is discontinuous: the minimal verb, referred to in the literature as the theme, consists of the stem at the right edge, plus, in most cases, one or more lexical and derivational prefixes, referred to as thematic. Second, these thematic elements occur outside (leftward of) the inflectional prefixes for agreement and aspect, which immediately precede the stem. Thirdly, object agreement occurs outside of subject agreement.6

An example of a representative Tłı̨chǫ verb appears in (2).

    1. (2)
    1. Verb morphology in Tłı̨chǫ Yatıì
    1. Naxısınıyats’eehtı.
    1. naxı-
    2. 2PL.OBJ-
    1. sınì-
    2. THM-
    1. ya-
    2. THM-
    1. ts’e-
    2. 1PL.SBJ-
    1. e-
    2. CJ-
    1. Ø-
    2. IPFV-
    1. h-
    2. CLF-
    1. speak.IPFV
    1. ‘We judge you.’ (MLBW 2012)

This verb is inflected for subject and object agreement and aspect and has two lexical portions: the thematic prefixes sınì- and ya-, which together etymologically mean something like ‘prepared words’, and the stem (etymologically ‘speak’), which together with the classifier morpheme (h- in this case) comprise the verb theme sınìya-h-tı ‘judge’.7

As can be seen by comparing the morpheme-by-morpheme gloss with the word, Tłı̨chǫ verbal morphology is highly fusional.8 In particular, the conjugation marker, aspect/mode, subject agreement and classifier are typically pronounced as one syllable.9 Henceforth, therefore, I will gloss examples as in (3), abstracting away from the conjugation marker and classifier:

    1. (3)
    1. Simplified glossing for verbal morphology
    1. Naxısınìyats’eehtı.
    1. naxı-
    2. 2PL.OBJ-
    1. sınìya-
    2. THM-
    1. ts’eeh-
    2. IPFV1PL.SBJ-
    1. judge.IPFV
    1. ‘We are judging you.’ (MLBW 2012)

Rich systems of verbal agreement morphology are pervasive within the Dene language family. However, in contrast, there exists a class of predicates in Tłı̨chǫ Yatıì that is uninflecting, hosting no aspect or agreement morphology. The class of predicative adjectives in Tłı̨chǫ Yatıì reveals facts about agreement and predication that provide a window into the realization of Φ-features.

3 Adjectives in Tłı̨chǫ Yatıì

Adjectives in Tłı̨chǫ Yatıì are a small lexical class.10 They lack inflectional morphology, unlike nouns, which inflect for possession, or verbs, which inflect for aspect/mode and subject and object agreement.

3.1 Identifying adjectives

There are reliable diagnostics for distinguishing adjectives from stative verbs (which also denote properties) and from adverbs (which also are uninflected).

3.1.1 Adjectives versus stative verbs

Most concepts expressed in English by adjectives are expressed in Tłı̨chǫ Yatıì by stative verbs. Nevertheless, adjectives do exist as a class, and can act either as predicates or as modifiers of nouns. They can be distinguished readily from stative verbs by their lack of inflectional morphology.

In (4) we can see that the adjectives eya ‘sick/painful’ and edı ‘warm/feverish’ have no inflectional morphology: rather, this morphology occurs instead on the copula, marked for first-person subject agreement (4a) and perfective aspect (4b). Further, adjectives often occur as bare predicates, without even a copula, such as edza ‘cold’ and ehkw’ı̨ ‘correct’ (4c–d). By contrast, the stative verbs etedeht’ı̨ ‘be poor/pitiful’ and ełèak’ à ‘be wrinkled’ bear first-person subject agreement (4e) and perfective aspect (4f) on the verb word itself, and no copula appears:11

    1. (4)
    1. Adjectives contrasted with stative verbs12
      1. a.
      1. Eya ehłı̨ t’à, edı ehłı̨.
      1. [eya
      2. sick/painful
      3. [edı
      4. warm/feverish
      1. h-lı̨]
      2. IPFV.1SG.SBJ-COP.IPFV
      3. h-lı̨]
      4. IPFV.1SG.SBJ-COP.IPFV
      1. t’à,
      2. because
      1. ‘Because I’m sick, I’m feverish.’ (MLBW 2009)
    1. b.
    1. Įxę̀ę eya ı̨lè.
    1. ı̨xę̀ę
    2. yesterday
    1. [eya
    2. sick/painful
    1. ı̨-lè]
    2. PFV.3.SBJ-COP.PFV
    1. ‘Yesterday he was sick.’ (MLBW 2009)
    1. c.
    1. Edza dìì!
    1. edza
    2. cold
    1. dìì
    2. really
    1. ‘[The weather] is really cold!’ (MS 2007)
    1. d.
    1. Neyatıì ehkw’ı ha hǫt’e.
    1. ne-yatı-ì
    2. 2SG-word-PNS
    1. ehkw’ı
    2. correct
    1. ha
    2. FUT
    1. hǫt’e
    2. FOC
    1. ‘Your words must be correct.’ (MLBW 2012)13
    1. e.
    1. Etedeht’ı̨.
    1. etede-h-t’ı̨
    2. THM-IPFV.1SG.SBJ-be.poor/pitiful.IPFV
    1. ‘I am poor.’ (MLBW 2009)
    1. f.
    1. Tł’àɂeh ełèak’à.
    1. tł’àɂeh
    2. pants
    1. ełè-a-e-k’à
    2. RECP-THM-PFV-wrinkle.PFV
    1. ‘The pants are wrinkled.’ (TCSA 2007)

It is lack of inflection both for agreement and for aspect that sets adjectives apart from verbs.

3.2 Adjectives versus adverbs and nouns

Adjectives are distinguished from the class of adverbs by occurring as complements only of copulas and the psych verb nı̨wǫ ‘think/believe/consider’, or as modifiers, and by taking complements of their own; they are distinguished from attributive nouns by appearing after the nouns they modify rather than before.14 The adjective ahxe ‘rich’ appears with the copula elı̨ (5a), while in (5b), edza ‘cold’ is the complement of the psych verb ts’ı̨hwhǫ ‘we think’. Adjectives are barred as complements of wegaat’ı̨ ‘s/he appears, is seen as’ in (5c), which takes clausal complements (5d). In (5e) we see the adjective ezhı̨ ‘crazy’ appearing with the copula, and in (5f), ezhı̨ taking computer ghǫ ‘about computers’ as a complement. In (5g, h) the adjectives deèdlı̨ı̨ ‘original/authentic’ and edza ‘cold’ appear attributively, following the nouns they modify, in contrast to the noun nı̨htł’e ‘paper/book’ (5i), which (in compound nouns) precedes the noun it modifies.

    1. (5)
    1. Properties of adjectives
      1. a.
      1. Eyı ts’èko sìı ahxe elı̨.
      1. eyı
      2. DEM
      1. ts’èko
      2. woman
      1. sìı
      2. FOC
      1. ahxe
      2. rich
      1. Ø-lı̨
      2. IPFV.3.SBJ-COP.IPFV
      1. ‘That woman is rich.’ (MLBW 2009)
    1. b.
    1. Edza ts’ı̨hwhǫ.
    1. edza
    2. cold
    1. ts’ı̨ı̨h-wǫ
    2. IPFV.1PL.SBJ-think.IPFV
    1. ‘We think it’s cold.’ (MLBW 2009)
    1. c.
    1. *Į̀ı̨̨̀zhaı wegaat’ı̨.
    1. Į̀ı̨̨̀zha
    2. shy
    1. we-gaa-Ø-t’ı̨
    2. 3.OBJ-THM-IPFV.3.SBJ-see.IPFV
    1. (Įntended: ‘She looks shy.’) (MLBW 2009)
    1. d.
    1. Gıgha hoı̨zı̨ laànì gıgaat’ı̨.
    1. gı-gha
    2. 3PL-for
    1. ho-ı̨-zı̨
    2. THM-IPFV.3.SBJ-be.good.IPFV
    1. laànì
    2. like
    1. gı-gaa-Ø-t’ı̨
    2. 3PL-THM-IPFV.3.SBJ-See.IPFV
    1. ‘They look like they enjoy it.’ (Tłı̨chǫ Community Services Agency 2007)
    1. e.
    1. Ezhı̨ ehlı̨.
    1. ezhı̨
    2. crazy
    1. h-lı̨
    2. IPFV.1SG.SBJ-COP.IPFV
    1. ‘I’m crazy.’ (MLBW 2009)
    1. f.
    1. Computerghǫezhı̨ laàht’e.
    1. computer
    2. computer
    1. ghǫ
    2. about
    1. ezhı̨
    2. crazy
    1. laà-h-t’e
    2. like-IPFV.1SG.SBJ-COP.IPFV
    1. ‘I’m crazy about computers.’ (MLBW 2009)
    1. g.
    1. Dıı sı̀ı godı deèdlı̨ı̨ hǫt’e.
    1. dıı
    2. DEM
    1. sìı
    2. FOC
    1. godı
    2. story
    1. deèdlı̨ı̨
    2. real/worthy
    1. hǫ-t’e
    2. IPFV.3.SBJ-IPFV-COP.IPFV
    1. ‘This is a real story.’ (MLBW 2009)
    1. h.
    1. Dzęedzaanìhòkw’ı ha.
    1. dzę
    2. day
    1. edza-μ
    2. cold-REL
    1. nì-hò-kw’ı
    2. THM-AR.IPFV-arrive.IPFV
    1. ha
    2. FUT
    1. ‘Cold days will come.’ (MLBW 2009)15
    1. i.
    1. Eyı nı̨htł’èkǫ̀ hǫt’e.
    1. eyı
    2. DEM
    1. nı̨htł’èkǫ̀
    2. school
    1. ha-ı̨-t’e
    2. THM-IPFV-COP.IPFV
    1. ‘That is the school.’ (MLBW 2009)

The morphological and selectional criteria outlined above allow us to identify the following (almost certainly not exhaustive) list of adjectives.

Note that morphosyntactic criteria alone can identify these adjectives. Semantic relatedness is not characteristic of them as a class: they do not correspond to any of the semantic classes that have often been considered canonical, and “typically associated with both large and small adjective classes”: DIMENSION, AGE, VALUE, COLOUR (Baker, 2003; Dixon, 2004). In addition, many of the adjectives in Table 1 have semantic relatives (such as antonyms) that are stative verbs. In (6) we can see that ahxe ‘rich/capable’ and ı̨̨̀ı̨̨̀zha ‘shy/ashamed’ are adjectives (a, b), but etedeht’ı̨ ‘I am poor/pitiful’ and xàhohdı̨ ‘I am proud’ are fully inflected verbs (c, d).

ahxe rich/capable ı̨kw’ǫą skinny and long
edı warm/feverish ı̨lıa tightly packed
edza cold (weather) mąą smelly
ehkw’ı correct nǫǫdea youngest
eładı̨ı̨ different/foreign nǫ̀ǫht’ò sharp/wedge-shaped
eya sick/painful sıdıì funny/strange
ezhı̨/ezhı̨ne crazy sòò cool/hip
ı̨ht’e raw sǫǫ̀łı̨ı̨ original/canonical
ı̨ht’edę naked deedlı̨ı̨ real/worthy
ı̨̀ı̨̀zha shy/ashamed weelı̨ı̨̀ fresh

Table 1

Adjectives in Tłı̨cho Yatıì.

    1. (6)
    1. Adjectives versus stative verbs
      1. a.
      1. Ahxe ehłı̨.
      1. ahxè
      2. rich
      1. h-lı̨
      2. IPFV.1SG.SBJ-COP.IPFV
      1. ‘I am rich.’ (MLBW 2009)
    1. b.
    1. Į̀ı̨̀zhaı ehłı̨.
    1. ı̨̀ı̨̨̀zha
    2. shy
    1. h-lı̨
    2. IPFV.1SG.SBJ-COP.IPFV
    1. ‘I am shy.’ (MLBW 2009)
    1. c.
    1. Etedeht’ı̨.
    1. etede-h-t’ı̨
    2. THM-IPFV.1SG.SBJ-be.poor/pitiful.IPFV
    1. ’I am poor.’ (MLBW 2009)
    1. d.
    1. Sezha gıghǫ xàhohdì.
    1. se-zha
    2. 1SG-child
    1. gı-ghǫ
    2. 3PL-about
    1. xàho-h-dıì
    2. THM-IPFV.1SG.SBJ-be.proud.IPFV
    1. ‘I’m proud of my children.’ (MLBW 2009)

3.3 Predicative adjectives

Only a subset of the adjectives in Table 1 can be used predicatively. Others, which include at least ı̨lıa ‘tightly packed’, mąą ‘smelly’, nǫǫdea ‘youngest’, nǫ̀ǫht’ò ‘sharp/wedge-shaped’ and sǫǫ̀łı̨ı̨ ‘original/canonical’ cannot be predicates.

    1. (7)
    1. Attributive-only adjectives16
      1. a.
      1. łèwò ı̨lıa
      1. [łè-wò
      2. flour-skin
      1. ı̨lıa]
      2. tightly.packed
      1. ‘a tightly packed flour sack’
      1. *‘The flour sack is tightly packed.’ (MS 2009)
    1. b.
    1. t’asìıts’ıì mąą
    1. [t’asìıts’ıì
    2. garbage
    1. mąą]
    2. smelly
    1. ‘smelly garbage’
    1. *‘(The) garbage is smelly.’ (MS 2009)
    1. c.
    1. tłı̨a nǫǫdea
    1. [tłı̨-a
    2. dog-DIM
    1. nǫǫdea]
    2. youngest
    1. ‘the youngest puppy’
    1. *‘The puppy is the youngest.’ (MLBW 2009)
    1. d.
    1. *Tłı̨a nǫǫdea elı̨.
    1. tłı̨-a
    2. dog-DIM
    1. [nǫǫdea
    2. youngest
    1. Ø-lı̨].
    2. IPFV.3.SBJ-COP.IPFV
    1. (Intended: ‘The puppy is the youngest.’) (MLBW 2009)
    1. e.
    1. datı nǫ̀ǫht’ò
    1. [datı
    2. needle
    1. nǫ̀ǫht’ò]
    2. sharp/wedge-shaped
    1. ‘a sharp-sided needle’ (e.g., a leather needle)
    1. *‘The needle is sharp-sided.’ (MS 2009)
    1. f.
    1. dıı bò sǫǫ̀łı̨ı̨
    1. [dıı
    2. DEM
    1. bǫ̀
    2. meat
    1. sǫǫ̀łı̨ı̨]
    2. authentic/original
    1. ‘this authentic meat’
    1. *‘This meat is authentic.’ (MS 2009)

The rest, to varying degrees, are acceptable as predicates; however, only the P(redicative)-adjectives in Table 2 commonly occur as predicates.

ahxe rich eya sick/painful
edı warm/feverish ezhı̨(ne) crazy
edza cold ı̨̨̀ı̨̨̀zha shy/ashamed
ehkw’ı correct

Table 2

Common P-adjectives.

In the next section, we will look at the occurrence of copulas with P-adjectives, demonstrating that a copula appears with such an adjective if and only if the subject is animate.

4 Asymmetries in copula behaviour

While adjectives are a small class, and P-adjectives smaller still, they are disproportionately illuminating for our picture of agreement and predication in Tłı̨chǫ Yatıì. There is an asymmetry in the behaviour of adjectival predicates; this asymmetry occurs when P-adjectives occur either as predicates or as modifiers, and gives us a window into the agreement mechanisms of the language, and subject-predicate relations in general.

4.1. Asymmetries in predicates

Recall from section 3 that while adjectives bear no inflectional morphology, such morphology does occur on copulas that appear with adjectival predicates:

    1. (8)
    1. Inflection on copulas with adjectival predicates
      1. a.
      1. Eya ehłı̨ t’à, edı ehłı̨.
      1. [eya
      2. sick/painful
      3. [edı
      4. warm/feverish
      1. h-lı̨]
      2. IPFV.1SG.SBJ-COP.IPFV
      3. h-lı̨]
      4. IPFV.1SG.SBJ-COP.IPFV
      1. t’à,
      2. because
      1. ‘Because I’m sick, I’m feverish.’ (repeated from (4a))
    1. b.
    1. Įxę̀ę eyaı̨lè.
    1. ı̨xę̀e
    2. yesterday
    1. [eya
    2. sick/painful
    1. ı̨-lè]
    2. PFV.3.SBJ-COP.PFV
    1. ‘Yesterday he was sick.’ (repeated from (4b))

A question that naturally arises is why the copula appears in some cases, such as those in (8a, b), but not in others (9a, b).

    1. (9)
    1. Bare adjectival predicates
      1. a.
      1. Selakw’ǫǫ̀hazǫǫ̀ eya (*elı̨/ *gı̨̨ı̨lı̨).
      1. [se-lakw’ǫǫ̀ hazǫǫ̀]
      2. 1SG-finger all
      1. eya
      2. sick/painful
      1. ‘My fingers are all sore.’ (MLBW 2009)
    1. b.
    1. Dıı dzęę̀ edza (*elı̨).
    1. [dıı
    2. DEM
    1. dzęę̀]
    2. day
    1. edza
    2. cold
    1. ‘Today is cold.’ (MLBW 2009)

The clauses in (9) clearly demonstrate that uninflected P-adjectives are capable of being predicates without the support of a copula. What forces the appearance of a copula in (9a, b)?

As mentioned at the beginning of this paper, copulas appear with P-adjectival predicates if and only if the subject of the clause is animate.17 We saw examples of this pattern in (1); in (10) we see a further example. Į̀į̀zha ‘shy/ashamed’ may be predicated of chekoa ‘children’ only if the predicate includes the copula elı̨ (a); without the copula (b), the sentence is ungrammatical. The same is true of eya ‘sick’ and its subject tłı̨ ‘(the) dog’ in (10c, d).

    1. (10)
    1. Copulas and animate subjects
      1. a.
      1. Chekoa į̀į̀zha gı̨ı̨lı̨ dìì.
      1. chekoa
      2. child
      1. [į̀į̀zha
      2. shy
      1. gı̨ı̨-lı̨]
      2. IPFV.3PL.SBJ-COP.IPFV
      1. dìì
      2. really
      1. ‘The children are really shy.’ (MS 2007)
    1. b.
    1. *Chekoa į̀į̀zha dìì.
    1. chekoa
    2. child
    1. [̨į̀ìzha]
    2. shy
    1. dìì
    2. really
    1. (Intended: ‘The children are really shy.’) (MS 2007)
    1. c.
    1. Tłı̨ eya elı̨.
    1. tłı̨
    2. dog
    1. [eya
    2. sick
    1. Ø-lı̨]
    2. IPFV.3.SBJ-COP.IPFV
    1. ‘The dog is sick.’ (MLBW 2009)
    1. d.
    1. *Tłı̨ eya.
    1. tłı̨
    2. dog
    1. eya
    2. sick
    1. (Intended: ‘The dog is sick.’) (MLBW 2009)

In (11) and (12) the presence or absence of the copula determines the interpretation. The inclusion of the copula forces an animate interpretation, as in (11a) and (12a), whereas the bare adjectives in (11b) and (12b) are interpreted as predicated of inanimate subjects (a body part or the weather, respectively).

    1. (11)
    1. Copulas and subject animacy
      1. a.
      1. Eyaelı̨.
      1. eya
      2. sick
      1. Ø-lı̨
      2. IPFV.3.SBJ-COP.IPFV
      1. ‘S/he is sick.’ (MLBW 2009)
    1. b.
    1. Sı̨là eya.
    1. se-là
    2. 1SG-hand
    1. eya
    2. sick/painful
    1. ‘My hand hurts.’ (MLBW 2009)
    1. (12)
    1. Copulas and subject animacy (continued)
      1. a.
      1. Edı elı̨.
      1. edı
      2. warm/feverish
      1. Ø-lı̨
      2. IPFV.3.SBJ-COP.IPFV
      1. ‘S/he has a fever.’ (MS 2007)
    1. b.
    1. Edı.
    1. edı
    2. warm/feverish
    1. ‘The weather is warm.’ (MS 2007)

Conversely, if the subject is inanimate, the inclusion of a copula is ungrammatical, as in (13). Bare adjectival predicates (a) are the only option when the subject is inanimate, and P-adjectival modifiers of inanimate nouns must likewise be bare (c). Adding a copula makes the sentence ungrammatical (b, d).

    1. (13)
    1. Adjectives and copula support
      1. a.
      1. Godı deèdlı̨.
      1. [godı
      2. story
      3. ‘a real story’
      1. deèdlı̨]
      2. real
      1. /
      1. [godı]
      2. story
      3. ‘The story is real.’
      1. [deèdlı̨]
      2. real
      3. (MLBW 2009)
    1. b.
    1. *Godı deèdlı̨ elı̨.
    1. godı
    2. story
    1. [deèdlı̨
    2. real
    1. Ø-lı̨]
    2. IPFV-COP.IPFV
    1. (Intended: ‘The story is real.’) (MLBW 2009)
    1. c.
    1. Dıı bò weelı̨.
    1. dıı
    2. DEM
    3. ‘this fresh meat’
    1. [bò
    2. [meat
    1. weelı̨]
    2. fresh/pure]
    1. /
    1. [dıı bò]
    2. [DEM meat]
    3. ‘This meat is fresh.’
    1. [weelı̨]
    2. [fresh/pure] (MLBW 2009)
    1. d.
    1. *Dıı bò weelı̨ elı̨.
    1. dıı
    2. DEM
    1. bò
    2. meat
    1. weelı̨
    2. fresh/pure
    1. Ø-lı̨
    2. IPFV-COP.IPFV
    1. (Įntended: ‘This meat is fresh.’) (MLBW 2009)

Copulas, then, are necessary for P-adjectival predication of animate subjects, and barred for inanimate subjects. The next section demonstrates that this fact is also true when P-adjectives are relativized and used to modify nouns.

4.2 Asymmetries in modifiers

All verbs and predicative adjectives in Northern Dene languages can be turned into modifiers by the addition of a derivational suffix, which in Tłı̨chǫ Yatıì takes the form of an extra mora on the final vowel:18

    1. (14)
    1. Modification derived from predication
      1. a.
      1. behchı̨ı̨̀ k’èdı̀ı dǫǫ̀
      1. ‘driver’ (Tłı̨chǫ Community Services Agency 2007)
    1. b.
    1. Dzę edzaa nı̀ı̨ɂǫ ha.
    1. dzę
    2. day
    1. edza-μ
    2. cold-REL
    1. nı̀ı̨-ǫ
    2. THM-arrive.IPFV
    1. ha
    2. FUT
    1. ‘Cold days will come.’ (MLBW 2009)

Just as in predication, a P-adjective modifying an animate noun requires the appearance of a copula, in which case the extra mora appears on the copula instead of on the adjective itself.

Thus (15a, c), where copulas appear with adjectives modifying the animate nouns chekoa ‘child’ and dǫ ‘person’, are grammatical, while (15b, d), which lack copulas, are not:19

    1. (15)
    1. Ungrammaticality of bare AP predicates of animate subjects
      1. a.
      1. Eyı chekoa ı̨̀ı̨̀zhaelı̨ı̨ gode ha nı̨wǫ-le.
      1. [eyı
      2. DEM
      3. ha
      4. FUT
      1. chekoa
      2. child
      3. ne-ne-wǫ-le
      4. THM-IPFV-speak.IPFV
      1. ı̨̀ı̨̀zha
      2. shy
      1. Ø-lı̨-μ]
      2. IPFV-COP.IPFV-REL
      1. go-Ø-de
      2. THM-IPFV-want.IPFV-NEG
      1. ‘That shy child doesn’t want to speak.’ (MLBW 2009)
    1. b.
    1. *Eyı chekoa ı̨̀ı̨̀zhaa gode ha nı̨wǫ-le.
    1. [eyı
    2. DEM
    3. ha
    4. FUT
    1. chekoa
    2. child
    3. ne-ne-wǫ-le
    4. THM-IPFV-want.IPFV-NEG
    1. ı̨̀ı̨̀zha-μ]
    2. shy-REL
    1. go-Ø-de
    2. THM-IPFV-speak.IPFV
    1. (Intended: ‘That shy child doesn’t want to speak.’) (MLBW 2009)
    1. c.
    1. Dǫ ezhı̨ elı̨ı̨ eyı kǫ̀ nàdè.
    1. [dǫ
    2. person
    1. ezhı̨
    2. crazy
    1. Ø-lı̨-μ]
    2. IPFV.3.SBJ-COP.IPFV-REL
    1. eyı
    2. DEM
    1. kǫ̀
    2. house
    1. nà-Ø-de
    2. THM-IPFV-live.IPFV
    1. ‘The crazy person lives in that house.’ (MLBW 2009)
    1. d.
    1. *Dǫ ezhı̨ı̨ eyı kǫ̀ nàdè.
    1. [dǫ
    2. person
    1. ezhı̨-μ]
    2. crazy-REL
    1. eyı
    2. DEM
    1. kǫ̀
    2. house
    1. nà-Ø-dè
    2. THM-IPFV-live.IPFV
    1. (Intended: ‘The crazy person lives in that house.’) (MLBW 2009)

In (16), we see that the converse is also true: copulas are ungrammatical with P-adjectives modifying the inanimate nouns ‘meat’ and dzęę̀ ‘day(s)’. The clauses in (16b, d), which are versions of (16a, c) with an added copula, are ungrammatical.

    1. (16)
    1. Ungrammaticality of copulas with AP predicates of inanimate subjects
      1. a.
      1. Bò ı̨ht’ee ladà ka wheɂǫ.
      1. [bò
      2. meat
      1. ı̨ht’e-μ]
      2. raw-REL
      1. ladà ka
      2. table on
      1. whe-ɂǫ
      2. PFV-be.located.(chunky object).PFV
      1. ‘The raw meat is lying on the table.’ (MLBW 2009)
    1. b.
    1. *Bò ı̨ht’e elı̨ı̨ ladà ka wheɂǫ.
    1. [bò
    2. meat
    1. ı̨ht’e
    2. raw
    1. Ø-lı̨-μ]
    2. IPFV-COP.IPFV-REL
    1. ladà
    2. table
    1. ka
    2. on
    1. whe-ɂǫ
    2. PFV-be.located.(chunky object).PFV
    1. (Intended: ‘The raw meat is lying on the table.’) (MLBW 2009)
    1. c.
    1. Dzęę̀ edzaa nìhòkw’ı ha.
    1. [dzęę̀
    2. day
    1. edza-μ]
    2. cold-REL
    1. nìhò-Ø-kw’ı
    2. THM-IPFV-come
    1. ha
    2. FUT
    1. ‘Cold days will come.’ (MLBW 2009)
    1. d.
    1. *Dzęę̀ edza elı̨ı̨ nìhòkw’ı ha.
    1. [dzęę̀
    2. day
    1. edza
    2. cold
    1. Ø-lı̨-μ]
    2. IPFV-COP.IPFV-REL
    1. nìhò-Ø-kw’ı
    2. THM-IPFV-come
    1. ha
    2. FUT
    1. (Intended: ‘Cold days will come.’) (MLBW 2009)

Since modification by P-adjectives or relative clauses is derived from predication, it is unsurprising that the asymmetry in modificational P-adjectives should parallel that in predicational ones.

The role of the copula with P-adjectives is the same whether the adjective is used as a predicate or a modifier: the copula rescues the clause from ungrammaticality by providing inflectional realization of features for an uninflecting adjective. The next section proposes that this asymmetry has its origin in two conditions of the language: a requirement to realize the Person features of subjects in agreement morphology, and the presence of such features only on animate nouns.

5 Animacy and agreement

The rich morphological system of verbs in Tłı̨chǫ Yatıì, like those of other Dene languages, marks agreement with the person and number of subjects and objects. I propose, however, that agreement is not manifested with inanimate nouns, and that this fact is explained by a lack of Person on such nouns.

5.1 Verbal subject agreement

Agreement with a verb’s subject is marked in the affixal region immediately to the left of the verb stem, as in (17). However, as mentioned in section 3.1.1, this marker is a zero morpheme for third-person singular subjects, as in (17b).

    1. (17)
    1. Verbal subject agreement
      1. a.
      1. Bògǫǫ̀ ghǫ shèhtı̨.
      1. bò-gǫǫ̀
      2. meat-dry
      1. ghǫ
      2. of
      1. shè-h-tı̨
      2. THM-IPFV.1SG.SBJ-eat.IPFV
      1. ‘I’m eating drymeat.’ (MS 2009)
    1. b.
    1. Sechı bògǫǫ̀ ghǫ shètı̨.
    1. se-chı
    2. 1SG-younger.brother
    1. bò-gǫǫ̀
    2. meat-dry
    1. ghǫ
    2. of
    1. shè-Ø-tı̨
    2. THM-IPFV-eat.IPFV
    1. ‘My younger brother is eating drymeat.’ (MS 2009)

Zero-marking of third person singular subjects occurs whether the subject is animate, as in (18a), or inanimate, as in (18b).

    1. (18)
    1. Third-person animate and inanimate subjects
      1. a.
      1. Nıgolà tedaàwò.
      1. nıgolà
      2. Nicholas
      1. te-da-è-wò
      2. water-up-PFV.3.SBJ-fall.PFV
      1. ‘Nicholas fell into the water.’ (ANON 2013)
    1. b.
    1. Kwe tedaàwò.
    1. kwe
    2. rock
    1. te-da-è-wò
    2. water-up-PFV-fall.PFV
    1. ‘The rock fell into the water.’ (ANON 2013)

The immediate impression that one receives from this is that agreement with all third- person subjects is null, regardless of animacy. This is incorrect, however: there are discernable differences between the facts of agreement with inanimates and with animates. Third-person animate plural subjects trigger overt agreement (19a, c), while inanimates do not (19b, d):

    1. (19)
    1. Agreement with plural subjects
      1. a.
      1. Eyı dǫ sı̨làı tegeètł’ı.
      1. [eyı
      2. DEM
      1. dǫ
      2. person
      1. sı̨làı]
      2. five
      1. te-geè-tł’ı
      2. water-PFV.3PL.SBJ-fall.plural.PFV
      1. ‘Those five men fell into the water.’ (ANON 2013)
    1. b.
    1. Eyı kwe sı̨làı teètł’ı.
    1. [eyı
    2. DEM
    1. kwe
    2. rock
    1. sı̨làı]
    2. five
    1. te-è-tł’ı
    2. water-PFV-fall.plural.PFV
    1. ‘Those five rocks fell into the water.’ (ANON 2013)
    1. d.
    1. Eyı tsı sı̨làı edzǫhǫt’e.
    1. [eyı
    2. DEM
    1. tsı
    2. tree
    1. sı̨làı]
    2. five
    1. edzǫ
    2. black.spruce
    1. ha-ı̨-t’e
    2. THM-IPFV-COP.IPFV
    1. ‘Those five trees are black spruces.’ (ANON 2013)

This fact continues to hold, as we would expect, when verbal predicates are relativized to serve as modifiers. In (20) we see that relativized verbs have plural subject agreement when modifying an animate noun (20a), but not when modifying an inanimate noun (20b).

    1. (20)
    1. Plural agreement in relativized verbal predicates
      1. a.
      1. dǫ nàke dèè k’e eghàlageedaa sìı
      1. [dǫ
      2. person
      1. nàke]
      2. two
      1. dèè
      2. land
      1. k’e
      2. LOC
      1. eghàla-gee-da-μ
      2. THM-IPFV.3PL.SBJ-work.IPFV-REL
      1. sìı
      2. FOC
      1. ‘two men working in the field’ (Dogrib Translation Committee 2003: Matthew 24:40)
    1. b.
    1. Dechı̨ gedı̨ı̨ sekǫ̀ ga nàèyaa sìı
    1. [dechı̨
    2. tree
    1. k’edıı̨]
    2. eight
    1. se-kǫ̀
    2. 1SG-house
    1. ga
    2. beside
    1. nà-è-ya-μ
    2. THM-PFV-stand.PFV
    1. sìı
    2. FOC
    1. ‘eight trees that stood next to my house’ (AW 2012)

It appears then that plural agreement can only be realized inflectionally with the animate subject of a verb, whether that verb is used predicationally or modificationally.

This is also true of the subjects of adjectival predicates, save that the obligatory plural agreement appears on an inserted copula rather than on the adjective:

    1. (21)
    1. Adjectival predicates and plural agreement
      1. a.
      1. Selakw’ǫǫ̀hazǫǫ̀ eya (*elı̨/ *gı̨̨ı̨lı̨).
      1. [se-lakw’ǫǫ̀hazǫǫ̀]
      2. 1SG-finger all
      1. eya
      2. sick/painful
      1. Ø-lı̨
      2. IPFV.3.SBJ-COP.IPFV
      1. gı̨̨ı̨lı̨
      2. IPFV.3PL.SBJ-COP.IPFV
      1. ‘My fingers are all sore.’ (MLBW 2009)
    1. b.
    1. Chekoa hazǫǫ̀ eya (*elı̨) gı̨ı̨lı̨.
    1. [chekoa
    2. child
    1. hazǫǫ̀]
    2. all
    1. eya
    2. sick/painful
    1. Ø-lı̨
    2. IPFV.3.SBJ-COP.IPFV
    1. gı̨̨ı̨lı̨
    2. IPFV.3PL.SBJ-COP.IPFV
    1. ‘The children are all sick.’ (MLBW 2009)

We have a further parallel, then, between verbal and adjectival modification, just as between verbal and adjectival predication, the distribution of the copula mirroring the distribution of plural number agreement, as shown in Table 3.

Predicate type
VP AP

Subject animacy Animate plural agreement-V A + plural agreement-copula
Inanimate V A
Modifier type
Relativized clause Adjective

Subject animacy Animate plural agreement-V A + plural agreement-copula-μ
Inanimate V A-μ

Table 3

Verbal and adjectival predication and modification.

5.1.1 Person agreement and apostrophizing inanimates

We have seen that inanimates do not trigger plural subject agreement. In fact, it is arguable that the majority of inanimates cannot trigger person agreement at all. It goes without saying that in ordinary discourse, inanimate nouns cannot be first or second person. However, when an artificial context is created in which inanimate nouns are apostrophized as the personifications of natural forces, treating them as animate and agentive entities, second-person agreement may become acceptable, but with only a small subset of inanimates.20 The sentences in (22) were judged acceptable “in the context of a kids’ book, or maybe a legend” (MLBW 2012):21

    1. (22)
    1. Apostrophizing inanimates: verbal subject agreement
      1. a.
      1. Sade, dıı dzęę̀ k’e nàı̨tso!
      1. sade
      2. sun
      1. dıı
      2. DEM
      1. dzeę
      2. day
      1. k’e
      2. LOC
      1. nà-ı̨-tso
      2. THM-IPFV.2SG.SBJ-be.strong.IPFV
      1. ‘Sun, you are bright (lit. ‘strong’) today!’ (MLBW 2012)
    1. b.
    1. Whǫ, danıghǫ nàahtso?
    1. whǫ
    2. star
    1. danıghǫ
    2. why
    1. nà-ah-tso
    2. THM-IPFV.2PL.SBJ-be.strong.IPFV
    1. ‘Stars, why are you bright (lit. ‘strong’)?’ (MLBW 2012)

In the same artificially coerced context, copulas, marked for second-person subject agreement, appear with adjectival predicates:

    1. (23)
    1. Apostrophizing inanimates: adjectival predicates and copulas
      1. a.
      1. Dzę eyıts’ǫ tòò, danıghǫ eładı̨ı̨ aaht’e?
      1. dze
      2. day
      1. eyıts’ǫ
      2. and
      1. tòò,
      2. night
      1. danıghǫ
      2. why
      1. eładı̨ı̨
      2. different
      1. aah-t’e
      2. IPFV.2PL.SBJ-COP.IPFV
      1. ‘Day and night, why are you different?’ (MLBW 2012)
    1. b.
    1. Xok’è, dàanìghǫ edza nelı̨?
    1. xok’è
    2. winter
    1. dàanìghǫ
    2. why
    1. edza
    2. cold
    1. ne-lı̨
    2. IPFV.2SG.SBJ-COP.IPFV
    1. ‘Winter, why are you so cold?’ (MLBW 2012)
    1. c.
    1. Zah, dàanǫ edza nelı̨?
    1. zah
    2. snow
    1. dàanǫ
    2. why
    1. edza
    2. cold
    1. ne-lı̨
    2. IPFV.2SG.SBJ-COP.IPFV
    1. ‘Snow, how come you’re cold?’ (AW 2012)

It is apparently the case that inanimate nouns never trigger subject agreement in normal contexts; even in artificially coerced contexts where second person is assigned to an inanimate subject, only a subset of inanimates trigger verbal subject agreement. Inanimates appear to differ qualitatively from animates with respect to subject agreement. Similar facts obtain for object agreement, as we will see in the next section.

5.2 Verbal object agreement

The marking of agreement with direct objects shows similar patterns to those of subject agreement, with animacy playing a crucial role.

Direct object agreement occurs leftward of aspect marking and subject agreement, as in (24).

    1. (24)
    1. Direct object agreement
      1. a.
      1. Tsà ehɂı̨ nı̨dè, wehk’è-a.
      1. tsà
      2. beaver
      1. h-ɂı̨
      2. IPFV.1SG.SBJ-shoot.IPFV
      1. nı̨dè
      2. if
      1. we-h-k’è
      2. 3.OBJ-IPFV.1SG.SBJ-shoot.IPFV
      1. ha
      2. FUT
      1. ‘If I see a beaver, I will shoot it.’ (AW 2012)

There are several markers of third-person direct object agreement. We- marks third-person singular pronominal objects when the subject is non-third-person (25a), provided that the object is animate.22 Inanimate direct objects do not trigger we- (25b, c).

    1. (25)
    1. Object marking by we-
      1. a.
      1. Tsà wehɂı̨ nè, wehk’è-a.
      1. tsà
      2. beaver
      1. weh-ɂı̨
      2. OPT.1SG.SBJ-see.OPT
      1. if
      1. we-h-k’è-ha
      2. 3.OBJ-IPFV.1SG.SBJ-shoot.IPFV-FUT
      1. ‘If I see a beaver, I will shoot it.’
    1. b.
    1. Jıèk’o naèdì, ıhɂà.
    1. jıèk’o
    2. orange
    1. na-èh-dì
    2. THM-PFV.1SG.SBJ-buy.PFV
    1. ıh-ɂà
    2. PFV.1SG.SBJ-eat.PFV
    1. ‘I bought an orange and ate it.’ (AW 2012)
    1. c.
    1. *Jıèk’o naèdì, wıhɂà.
    1. jıèk’o
    2. orange
    1. na-èh-dì
    2. THM-PFV.1SG.SBJ-buy.PFV
    1. we-ıh-ɂà
    2. 3.OBJ-PFV.1SG.SBJ-eat.PFV
    1. (Intended: ‘I bought an orange and ate it.’)23 (AW 2012)

Third-person plural animate objects are marked by gi-, which is also ungrammatical with inanimate objects:

    1. (26)
    1. Object marking by -
      1. a.
      1. Gısınìyaahtì nı̨dè, ededı sìı naxesınìyagetı ha.
      2. -sınìya-ah-tı
      3. 3PL.OBJ-THM-IPFV.2PL.SBJ-judge.IPFV
      1. nı̨dè
      2. if
      1. ededı
      2. 3
      1. sìı
      2. FOC
      1. naxe-sı̨nìya-ge-tı̨
      2. 2PL.OBJ-THM-IPFV.3PL.SBJ-judge.IPFV
      1. ha
      2. FUT
      1. ‘If you judge them, they will judge you.’ (MLBW 2011)
    1. b.
    1. Segha ełexèyıhtà ha.
    1. se-gha
    2. 1SG-for
    1. ełe-xè-ye-eh-tà
    2. RECP-with-4.OBJ-IPFV.3.SBJ-add.IPFV
    1. ha
    2. FUT
    1. ‘She is going to add them together for me.’ (Tłı̨chǫ Community Services Agency 2007)
    1. c.
    1. *Segha ełexègıhtà ha.
    1. se-gha
    2. 1SG-for
    1. ełe-xè--eh-tà
    2. RECP-with-3PL.OBJ-IPFV.3.SBJ-add.IPFV
    1. ha
    2. FUT
    1. ‘She is going to add them together for me.’ (MLBW 2011)

The only direct object agreement markers that may refer to inanimate objects are the class of anaphors, of which there are several in Tłı̨chǫ Yatıì: the reflexive, reciprocal, and disjoint. The first needs no explanation here. The second indicates a plural object coindexed with a plural subject where the verb has an interpretation of mutuality (27). The third indicates an object that is not coindexed with the subject (28).24 None of the anaphors is specified for number, except that semantically, of course, the reciprocal is only compatible with subjects referring to two or more entities.

    1. (27)
    1. Anaphoric object marking: reciprocal
      1. a.
      1. Dałets’eeke.
      1. da-ełe-ts’ee-ke
      2. THM-RECIP-PFV.1PL.SBJ-ask.PFV
      1. ‘We asked each other.’ (Tłı̨chǫ Community Services Agency 2007)
    1. b.
    1. Behchı̨ı̨̀ ełenìdǫǫ̀łeetła.
    1. behchı̨ı̨̀
    2. vehicle
    1. ełe-nìdǫǫ̀
    2. RECP-facing
    1. łe-e-tła
    2. RECP-PFV-meet.PFV
    1. ‘The vehicles met each other head-on.’ (Tłı̨chǫ Community Services Agency 2007)
    1. (28)
    1. Anaphoric object marking: disjoint
      1. a.
      1. Wek’èèt’ı̨ı̨ ełàyıhwhı sǫ̀ǫ̀!
      1. wek’èèt’ı̨ı̨
      2. laziness
      1. ełà-ye-ıh-whı
      2. THM-4.OBJ-OPT.3.SBJ-kill.OPT
      1. sǫ̀ǫ̀
      2. PROH
      1. ‘May she/he not be lazy!’ (Lit., laziness had better not kill him/her!) (Rice & Saxon 2005:738, citing P. Rabesca, pc, 2001)
    1. b.
    1. Madlę̀ gozì nıìchì, Mıshè ts’ǫ̀ yeèk’a.
    1. Madlę̀
    2. Madeleine
    1. gozì
    2. ball
    1. nı-ì-chì
    2. THM-PFV.3.SBJ-take.chunky.object.PFV
    1. Mıshè
    2. Michel
    1. ts’ǫ̀
    2. to
    1. ye-è-k’a
    2. 4.OBJ-PFV.3.SBJ-throw.chunky.object.PFV
    1. ‘Madeleine took the ball and threw it to Michel.’ (AW 2012)
    1. c.
    1. Madlę̀ gozì nàkenıìle, Mıshè ts’ǫ̀ yeèdè.
    1. Madlę̀
    2. Madeleine
    1. gozì
    2. ball
    1. nàke
    2. two
    1. nı̨-ì-le
    2. THM-PFV.3.SBJ-take.plural.objects.PFV
    1. Mıshè
    2. Michel
    1. ts’ǫ̀
    2. to
    1. ye-è-dè
    2. 4.OBJ-PFV.3.SBJ-throw.plural.objects.PFV
    1. ‘Madeleine took two balls and threw them to Michel.’ (AW 2012)

Notice that the anaphors in these examples are compatible with both animate (27a, 28a) and inanimate (27b, 28b, c) objects. Therefore we can say that whereas the other object agreement markers impose an animacy restriction on the objects to which they refer, the only restrictions affecting anaphors are those of coindexing. The properties of the object agreement markers are summarized in Table 4.

Object marker Restrictions

we- 3rd person; non-3rd person subject animate object
gl- 3rd person; non-3rd person subject animate object plural
ede- coindexed with subject
ełe- coindexed with subject mutuality
ye- 3rd person; 3rd person subject not coindexed with subject

Table 4

Restrictions on object markers.

Inanimate nouns may not be referred to with the direct object markers we- or gı- and may not be specified for plural.25 When the subject of a transitive verb is non-third-person, an animate object may be referred to with we-, or gı- if it is plural; however, an inanimate object may only be marked by by zero, or by the disjoint anaphor if the verb’s subject is third person. In other words, inanimate nouns occupy the least privileged spot with respect to direct object marking.

5.3 Postpositional agreement

In Tłı̨chǫ Yatıì, as in other Dene languages, postpositions may show inflection for the person and number of their arguments. This fact is demonstrated in (29), where a first- person singular pronominal argument of gha ‘for’ (a) contrasts with a third-person plural argument (b).

    1. (29)
    1. Postpositional object marking
      1. a.
      1. Dıı kw’à segha daı̨ka.
      1. dıı
      2. DEM
      1. kw’à
      2. plate
      1. se-gha
      2. 1SG-for
      1. da-ı̨-ka
      2. up-IPFV.2SG.SBJ-hold.IPFV
      1. ‘Hold us this plate for me.’ (Tłı̨chǫ Community Services Agency 2007)
    1. b.
    1. Gıgha gokwı̨ nanek’à.
    1. gı-gha
    2. 3PL-for
    1. gokwı̨
    2. axe
    1. na-ne-k’à
    2. THM-IPFV.2SG.SBJ-file.IPFV
    1. ‘File the axe for them.’ (Tłı̨chǫ Community Services Agency 2007)

The arguments of the postpositions in (29) are animate. Inanimates do not trigger the number marking that we see in (29b), and in fact third-person plural marking is ungrammatical when referring to inanimate arguments:

    1. (30)
    1. Ungrammaticality of plural PP object agreement with inanimates
      1. a.
      1. Naxı̨ tsekoa gıgà naahza nì dè, tsekoa gıɂį̨̀ı̨ naahza nì dè?
      1. naxı̨
      2. 2PL
      1. [tsekoa
      2. child
      1. gı-gà]
      2. 3PL-beside
      1. na-aah-za
      2. THM-IPFV.2PL.SBJ-stand.IPFV
      1. QN
      1. or
      1. [tsekoa
      2. child
      1. gıɂį̀ı̨̨]
      2. 3PL-behind
      1. na-aah-za
      2. THM-IPFV.2PL.SBJ-stand.IPFV
      1. QN
      1. or
      1. ‘Are you all beside the children or behind them?’ (AW 2012)
    1. b.
    1. Naxı̨ dechı̨ wegà naahza nì dè, dechı̨ gıɂį̨̀ı̨ naahza nì dè?
    1. naxı̨
    2. 2PL
    1. [dechı̨
    2. tree
    1. we-gà]
    2. 3-beside
    1. na-aah-za
    2. THM-IPFV.2PL.SBJ-stand.IPFV
    1. QN
    1. or
    1. dechı̨
    2. [tree
    1. gıɂį̀ı̨̨
    2. 3PL-behind]
    1. na-aah-za
    2. THM-IPFV.2PL.SBJ-stand.IPFV
    1. QN
    1. or
    1. ‘Are you all beside the trees or behind them?’ (AW 2012)
    1. c.
    1. *Naxı̨ dechı̨ gıgà naahza nì dè, dechı̨ gıɂį̨̀ı̨ naahza nì dè?
    1. naxı̨
    2. 2PL
    1. [dechı̨
    2. tree
    1. gı-gà]
    2. 3PL-beside
    1. na-aah-za
    2. THM-IPFV.2PL.SBJ-stand.IPFV
    1. QN
    1. or
    1. [dechı̨
    2. tree
    1. gıɂį̀ı̨̨]
    2. 3PL-behind
    1. na-aah-za
    2. THM-IPFV.2PL.SBJ-stand.IPFV
    1. QN
    1. or
    1. (Intended: ‘Are you all beside the trees or behind them?’) (AW 2012)

We see, therefore, that not only are inanimate nouns uniquely underprivileged in the subject and object agreement systems, but as objects of postpositions as well.

6 Analysis

The data in the previous section have shown that inanimate nouns pattern in a way radically different from animates. Animates, but not inanimates, may trigger plural agreement for subject and object on the verb and for objects of postpositions. A small subclass of inanimates referring to natural forces may trigger second person agreement on verbs when apostrophized in artificially coerced contexts, but the great majority of inanimates do not.

6.1 Personless inanimates

Since Benveniste (1974), it has been recognized that nouns may behave as though they lack Person. In his original formulation, nouns in general had this characteristic: in other words, third person was in fact the manifestation of Personlessness. This analysis is appealing because it allows us to reduce the complexity of person inflection: Anderson (1992: 92), for example, treats it as the interaction of features [me] and [you], where third person is {[-me], [-you]}.26

In recent years it has been recognized that this picture requires finer-grained distinctions. Béjar (2003), in analyzing the agreement systems of Georgian and Nishnaabemwin, finds a necessity to distinguish between different kinds of third person. I suggest that the agreement system of Tłı̨chǫ Yatıì displays such a distinction as well, and that it is animacy that distinguishes the two kinds, inanimate nouns being truly personless while animates bear a [PERSON] feature but no further specification.

Animate nouns can be speakers, listeners or referents, while inanimates are ordinarily restricted to being referents. This fact hints at a basic semantic difference between the two. In Tłı̨chǫ Yatıì, this semantic difference is reflected in morphological and syntactic structure: animates can trigger various morphological inflections for person and number that inanimates cannot.

I posit the system in Figure 1, where [PERSON] primarily distinguishes animates from inanimates: those nouns that trigger inflectional agreement from those that do not. Nouns that bear [PERSON] are licensed to bear [PARTICIPANT], which separates discourse participants from all other referents; [SPEAKER] then separates first from second person.

Figure 1 

Feature geometry.

This geometry expands upon that of Harley & Ritter (2002: 486), on which it is partly based, by adding the feature [PERSON] to separate animates from inanimates.

The facts presented in this paper might lead one to suppose that inanimate nouns also lack Number. While this is a tempting analysis, I believe that it is incorrect. The Dene system of classificatory verbs, by which sets of contrasting suppletive verb roots are distinguished according to the properties of their subjects or objects, is sensitive to the number of subjects and objects, even when these are inanimate nouns. I therefore conclude that the absence of inflectional Number realization with inanimate subjects is a consequence of their lack of Person, since Number and Person inflection are fused in this language.

6.2 Effects in the morphosyntax

The system in Figure 1 plays out in the morphosyntax of Tłı̨chǫ Yatıì in the following manner.

Inflectional number marking is directly dependent upon the [PERSON] feature. Without [PERSON], inflectional number is unlicensed, resulting in the observed fact that inanimate nouns fail to trigger number agreement in three different domains: verbal subject agreement, object agreement and postpositional agreement.27 Without [PERSON], person inflection is impossible on verbs with subects drawn from the majority of inanimate nouns (roughly, those to which agency cannot be attributed). Finally, it is the need to agree with a [PERSON] feature that leads to the insertion of copulas with adjectival predicates of animate subjects.28

6.3 Copula insertion

The presence of copulas in adjectival predicates of animate subjects and their absence from such predicates of inanimate subjects can be explained by a lack of Person features on inanimates, as discussed in the previous section. The current section explores the reasons for the insertion of copulas (rather than another verb) and the probable locus of insertion.

The Personlessness of inanimate nouns would have no consequences for predicates unless there were a requirement for Person, if present, to be realized in agreement. I formulate this requirement as in (31):

    1. (31)
    1. Morphological Realization:
      1. Φ-features must be realized in agreement morphology at spellout.

If (31) is a correct description of the principles at work, we expect that the semantic contribution of any element inserted to satisfy Morphological Realization must be minimal or zero; otherwise, the compositional semantics of predicates of animate and inanimate subjects would differ, which does not appear to be the case. That being so, the semantically minimal element that is capable of hosting Φ-agreement must be a copula, as any other verb has more complex semantics.

A question that arises is where in the clause structure this insertion occurs. Word-order data can resolve this question. It is clear that the copula, when it is present, is inserted inside TP, because it occurs before future and modal marking in linear order:29

    1. (32)
    1. Copula insertion inside TP
      1. a.
      1. Chekoa į̀į̀zhaelı̨ ha.
      1. chekoa
      2. child
      1. į̀į̀zha
      2. shy/ashamed
      1. Ø-lı̨
      2. IPFV.3.SBJ-COP.IPFV
      1. ha
      2. FUT
      1. ‘The child will be shy/ashamed.’ (MLBW 2009)
    1. b.
    1. Eyaelı̨ welè!
    1. eya
    2. sick/painful
    1. Ø-lı̨
    2. IPFV.3.SBJ-COP.IPFV
    1. welè
    2. JUSS
    1. ‘Let him be sick!’ (AW 2012)

The next question is whether the copula is merged with the adjective at A (amounting to incorporation), or in some intervening projection. The first cannot be correct. Copulas in this language are fully verbal, with inflection for aspect and Φ-agreement. This suggests a merger at v or higher, if v is a category-forming head that forms verbs (Halle & Marantz 1993). Furthermore, adjectives’ very lack of inflection would seem to preclude an inflected item of category A, which is what would result from the copula merging into A.

On the other hand, merging them at v or Asp yields the result that their aspect and agreement inflection occurs outside of A, in accordance with the facts.

The locus of morphological agreement seems to be Asp rather than T in this language. As we have remarked already (sections 2 and 6.1), aspectual marking is typically fused with subject agreement marking; tense marking is not. Since copulas with AP predicates realize agreement morphology, and since word-order evidence points to their insertion inside TP and outside AP, I conclude that they are merged in Asp, as in Figure 2.

Figure 2 

Locus of copula insertion.

7 Conclusion

Adjectives pose a unique problem to the computational system of Tłı̨chǫ Yatıì in being unable to agree with the Person feature that is proper to animate subjects. Copulas are therefore inserted at Asp in order to realize agreement morphologically. The failure of inanimate subjects to trigger inflectional person and number agreement on verbal predicates is paralleled by their failure to trigger the insertion of a copula (which, like other verbs, is marked for person and number agreement) with adjectival predicates.

Much recent work has assumed without comment that inanimacy is realized syntactically by a lack of formal Person (e.g., Adger & Harbour 2007; Alexiadou & Anagnostopoulou 2006; Bartošová & Kučerová 2015; Demonte, Fernández-Alcalde, & Pérez-Jiménez 2011; Ghomeshi & Massam 2015; Piriyawiboon 2007; Piriyawiboon 2013; Richards 2008; Rooryck 2000). The patterns of adjectival and verbal agreement in Tłı̨chǫ Yatıı̀ are evidence that these assumptions are in fact correct for some languages. The Tłı̨chǫ data are part of a broader pattern of instantiation in the Dene language family as a whole (Lochbihler, Oxford & Welch 2015), so personlessness as the syntactic realization of inanimacy may well be a family-wide phenomenon.

8 Abbreviations

The following abbreviations appear in the glosses: AR = areal; CJ = conjugation marker; CLF = classifier; COP = copula; DEM = demonstrative; FOC = focus; FUT = future; IPFV = imperfective; JUSS = jussive; OBJ = object; OPT = optative; PFV = perfective; PL = plural; POSS = possibility; PROH = prohibitive; RECP = reciprocal; REL = relativizer; SBJ = subject; THM = thematic prefix

Competing Interests

The author declares that he has no competing interests.