Linguistics in Amsterdam 4-2 (september 2011)Magaly Grández Ávila: Language transparency in Functional Discourse Grammar: The case of Quechua1
3 Accounting for degrees of transparency between levels
3.2 At the Representational-Morphosyntactic levels

To refer to this article use this url:

3.2.1 No grammatical relations

Grammatical relations are formalized in FDG as syntactic functions that pertain to the Morphosyntactic Level. Syntactic functions are relevant in those cases in which the formal properties of linguistic units cannot be reduced to the pragmatic and semantic categories and functions underlying them. As one can see, this neutralization of semantic and pragmatic distinctions goes against a transparent one-to-one mapping between units at all levels, or at least between units from a higher level (either pragmatic or semantic) to units from the lower levels (mophosyntactic and phonological), which would be expected considering the hierarchical ordering followed in a functional grammar for the formulation and encoding of linguistic forms. Grammatical relations are then not expected in transparent languages, in other words, alignment, i.e. the way in which non-hierarchically related pragmatic and semantic units map onto morphosyntactic ones, is expected to be sensitive to either pragmatic or semantic aspects, but not morphosyntactic ones, in a transparent grammar.

As for morphosyntactic alignment, it is sensitive to the syntactic functions assigned to morphosyntactic constituents, which, depending on their neutralized behaviour, may be either Subject or Object, and/or to the complexity of such constituents.

Quechua does bear morphosyntactic alignment, in which case the grammatical function Subject is relevant to account for the neutralized behaviour of morphosyntactic constituents. As explained by Hengeveld and Mackenzie (2008:325), the syntactic function Subject is relevant when there is neutralization between the Actor/Undergoer argument of one-place predication frames and, as far as Nominative-Accusative languages concern, the Actor argument of two-place predication frames, as illustrated in the following examples (Weber, 1989:176):


The relevance of the grammatical relation Subject and its neutralizing behaviour gets manifested in Quechua by means of case marking on free noun phrases, which, as shown in the examples above, corresponds to a (zero) nominative case marker. Note, however, that another case marker, -ta, serves to mark the Undergoer argument in two-place predication frames such as (6), reflecting then a direct semantic opposition that pertains to the Representational Level. The neutralizing behaviour of the grammatical function of Subject gets also manifested in person marking on verbs, in which case the Actor and Undergoer arguments are cross-referenced on the verb by means of cross-referential markers. In one-place predication frames, the cross-referencing pronominal markers are not affected by the semantic function of the argument involved, as can be seen in (13) and (14) above, but, in two-place predication frames, there is a distinctive form to mark the Undergoer argument, as the examples below show (Weber 1989:176,180), which can be left out in cases where it is conveyed by lexical or pragmatic units, as in (15) above.


As pointed out by Hengeveld and Mackenzie (2008:325), the relevance of the syntactic function Subject does not only follow from its neutralizing behaviour, but it may also be manifested by special operations leading to differential assignment of the Subject function to arguments with different semantic functions, as is the case with passivization in Nominative-Accusative languages, in which the non-Actor argument of a transitive predicate is made into the Subject. According to Weber (1989), Quechua does bear passivization, in which case a non-Actor argument is given the syntactic function of Subject receiving properties relevant to this function, such as zero nominative case marker, and triggering further special operations on the verb, as illustrated in the next examples:


As shown in (20), the differential treatment that characterizes passive clauses in Quechua is accomplished either analytically, by the addition of a participle marker, -sha, on the main verb followed by the verbal copula ka- ‘be’, or morphologically, by means of a passive marker, -ka, or durative marker, -ra, on the verb, as shown below (Weber 1989:178) [4]:


A question that still remains to be answered is if the grammar of this language is sensitive too to the syntactic function Object, that is if it is necessary to postulate an Object function for Quechua. As explained by Hengeveld and Mackenzie (2008:326), the grammatical function of Object becomes relevant when the opposition between the Undergoer argument in a two-place predication and the Recipient argument in a two or three-place predication is neutralized, in which case they may receive the same case marker and/or trigger the same agreement patterns on the verb. On the basis of the following example (Weber 1989:180), there seems to be no need to account for an Object function in Quechua:


There is no neutralization involved in (25), that is the Undergoer, karta ‘letter’, and the Recipient, warmi ‘wife’, behave differently bearing each of them a distinctive case marker. However, it is possible to assign the Object function to the Recipient argument, with the result kown as ‘dative shift’[5] shown in (26):

(Weber, 1989: 11)

The neutralizing behaviour of the Object function manifests itself in the use of the same case marking for both the Undergoer and Recipient argument, but also by triggering the same person marking on verbs, as illustrated in the examples below (Weber 1989: 180):


As these examples show, the person marker ma is assigned the Object function, cross-referencing either with an Undergoer (27) or Recipient argument (28).

The phenomenon of ‘dative shift’ in Quechua justifies the relevance of the Object function in its grammar. In this sense, Quechua is comparable to English, which also allows for dative shift in three-place predication frames. In Quechua, however, the neutralizing behaviour of the Object function may also occur in two-place predication frames between the Undergoer argument and a Locative argument (understood in its broader sense).This neutralization gets also manifested by non-differential case marking, as in (30) and (32) below (Weber, 1989:182,197,190):


It is important to mention that the neutralizing behaviour of the Object function applies, according to Weber (1989), to the central varieties of Quechua, where the assignment of the syntactic function Object to Locative arguments, including further distinctions such as Recipient, spatial Goal and Benefactive, appears to be an outcome of grammaticalization that can be subjected to a scale, as the process has not (yet) led to a fully-neutralized state between Undergoer and Locative oppositions, which are still relevant and rich in the southern varieties of the Quechuan family.

On the basis of the previous explanation and examples, we can conclude that Quechua is a language in which the syntactic function Subject becomes relevant to describe the neutralized behaviour of morphosyntactic constituents that cannot be reduced to the pragmatic or semantic functions underlying them. Quechua does also bear a Directive-Indirective alignment (Hengeveld and Mackenzie, 2008:327), which means that Undergoers and Recipients behave distinctively, leading to the direct manifestation of semantic oppositions onto morphosyntactic ones. However, the grammar also allows for the assignment of Object function to Recipient arguments in certain contexts[6], which appear to be increasing, as far as the central varieties of Quechua concern, as a result of grammaticalization. The relevance of the grammatical relation Subject and, though to a lesser extent, Object in the grammar of this language accounts, as mentioned before, for its lack of transparency in this respect.