Plenary session: Greenberg Award

Tuesday 12 December

9.30am Greenberg Award Plenary

Title: Towards a typology of participles

Speaker: Ksenia Shagal, University of Helsinki


In my dissertation on the typology of participles (Shagal 2017), I aimed at filling the gap that has existed so far in the research on non-finite verb forms. Nominalizations and converbs were extensively discussed from a cross-linguistic perspective in Koptjevskaja-Tamm (1993) and Haspelmath (1995) respectively, while participles received less attention in typological literature, so a widescale study seemed called for. 

The study is based on the concept of participle specifically designed for cross-linguistic comparison. In short, participles are defined as non-finite verb forms that can be employed for adnominal modification, e.g. the form written in the book [written by my supervisor]. The analysis is based on the data from over 100 languages possessing the relevant forms (the other 260 languages included in the initial genealogically stratified sample were found to lack participles). The data for the research comes mainly from descriptive grammars, but first-hand materials from native speakers, including those collected in several field trips, are also of utmost importance. 

The main theoretical aim of the study is to describe the diversity of verb forms and clausal structures involved in participial relativization in the world’s languages, as well as to examine the paradigms formed by participles and the principles of their organization. When classifying individual forms, two major types of parameters are taken into account. First, participles can differ with respect to their orientation, i.e. the range of participants that can be relativized by a certain form (cf. Haspelmath 1994: 153). Second, there is a variety of ways in which participial relative clauses may manifest deranking, or deviation from independent sentences in a given language (cf. Stassen 1985: 7683). These include peculiarities in TAM marking and expression of negation, lack of verbal agreement and/or presence of nominal agreement, deviation in participant expression, and some others (for the discussion of parameters see Lehmann 1988, Cristofaro 2003, Malchukov 2004, and Nikolaeva 2013). Finally, it is shown that participial systems in the languages with more than one form can be based on orientation, TAM distinctions or, most commonly, on the intersection of the two. 

The findings reported in the dissertation are representative of a significant diversity in the morphology of participles, their syntactic behaviour and the oppositions they form in the system of the language. However, despite their versatility and multifunctionality, participles clearly exhibit enough idiosyncratic properties to be recognized as a cross-linguistically relevant category and studied in their own right. In addition, the study of participles as a distinct word class can contribute to a number of fairly general typological discussions, such as the special pragmatic status of S and P participants (cf. Fox 1987), or the interrelation between TAM and morphosyntactic alignment (cf. DeLancey 1981). 


Cristofaro, Sonia. 2003. Subordination. (Oxford Studies in Typology and Linguistic Theory.) Oxford: Oxford University Press. 

DeLancey, Scott. 1981. An interpretation of split ergativity and related patterns. Language 51, 626657. 

Fox, Barbara A. 1987. The noun phrase accessibility hierarchy reinterpreted: Subject primacy or the absolutive hypothesis? Language 63, 856–870. 

Haspelmath, Martin. 1994. Passive participles across languages. Fox, Barbara & Hopper, Paul J. (eds.), Voice: Form and Function. (Typological Studies in Language, 27.) Amsterdam: Benjamins, 151–177. 

Haspelmath, Martin. 1995. The converb as a cross-linguistically valid category. In: Haspelmath, Martin & König, Ekkehard (eds.). Converbs in cross-linguistic perspective, 155. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter. 

Koptjevskaja-Tamm, Maria. 1993. Nominalizations. London: Routledge. 

Lehmann, Christian. 1988. Towards a typology of clause linkage. In Haiman, John & Thompson, Sandra A. (eds.), Clause combining in grammar and discourse, 181–225. Amsterdam & Philadelphia: John Benjamins (Typological Studies in Language, 18). 

Malchukov, Andrej L. 2004. Nominalization/verbalization: Constraining a typology of transcategorial operations. (Lincom Studies in Language Typology 8.) München: Lincom Europa. 

Nikolaeva, Irina. 2013. Unpacking finiteness. Brown, D., Chumakina, M., Corbett, G.G. (eds.). Canonical morphology and syntax, 99–122. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 

Shagal, Ksenia. 2017. Towards a typology of participles. Helsinki: University of Helsinki. (Doctoral dissertation.) 

Stassen, Leon. 1985. Comparison and Universal Grammar. Oxford: Basil Blackwell. 

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