Direkt zur Hauptnavigation springen Direkt zum Inhalt springen Jump to sub navigation

Project Members

  • Michael Cysouw
  • Corinna Handschuh
  • Jochen Trommer (Universität Leipzig) 
  • Doreen Gyorgi - doreengeorgi gmx.de (Universität Leipzig)
  • Juliane Böttger
  • Hanne Köhn

This project is a member of the DFG-funded Forschergruppe "Grammatik und Verarbeitung verbaler Argumente".

The internal structure of person portmanteaus

In this project we investigate the world-wide diversity and universal structure of person portmanteaus. Person portmanteaus are markers which bundle the expression of person for subject and object of a verbal predicate into a single morphological unit.

Although person portmanteaus implement a radically simple alternative to more familiar strategies of cross-referencing verbal arguments, they are cross-linguistically highly marked, and tend to be restricted to very specific combinations of subject and object. Person portmanteaus may therefore be regarded as a type of argument encoding sui generis as well as a litmus test for general properties of argument encoding in head-marking languages. 

An important though somewhat paradox property of person portmanteaus is that they are not necessarily unanalyzable. Many such markers can be understood synchronically and/or diachronically as non-portmanteaus, either because they are formed by concatenation from two different person formatives, or because they are identical in form to non-portmanteau person markers. 

Based on these observations, this project addresses the following closely related questions:

  1. Are there systematic restrictions on the location of portmanteaus in paradigms?
  2. To which extent are portmanteaus analyzable?
  3. What is the formal representation of portmanteaus?
  4. What is the extent and distribution of portmanteau microvariation within groups of closely related languages?
  5. How do portmanteaus develop historically (and how do they disappear)?

To answer these questions, we combine methods from typology, formal morphology, and historical reconstruction. Apart from constructing a cross-linguistic typological database for person portmanteaus to extract general properties, we focus on the behavior of portmanteaus in three small-scale language families (Nilotic, Iroquoian, and Uralic). For these languages we will provide in-depth formal analyses of the relevant person portmanteaus, investigate the range of microvariation in the families, and attempt to reconstruct the diachronic development of person portmanteaus on the background of the overall pronominal cross-referencing systems (based on the available descriptive literature). 


Cysouw, Michael. 1998. Pronoun descriptions: Nilotic. Manuscript.

Trommer, Jochen: Ø-Agreement in Turkana. In: Scales. Mark Richards & Andrej L. Malchukov (Eds.) Linguistische Arbeitsberichte 86.