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Himalayan Linguistics is a free peer-reviewed web journal and archive devoted to the study of the languages of the Himalayas. It includes the series Languages and Peoples of the Eastern Himalayan Region, which incorporates the North East Indian Linguistics (NEIL) volumes.

Himalayan Linguistics: Verb Agreement in Languages of the Eastern Himalayan Region

Issue cover


Introduction to ‘Verb agreement in languages of the Eastern Himalayan region'

The papers in this issue document argument indexation or verb agreement systems in a set of relatively unknown Tibeto-Burman languages spoken in the hills along the eastern border of India. This introduction lays out the goals and scope of the contributions. In addition, an overview of a few topics of particular interest is given: the types of person marker sets found in these languages; number marking; clusivity; transitive and ditransitive indexation patterns; innovative speech-act participant object marking and portmanteau forms for particular person scenarios; inverse marking; and variation in indexation forms.

Lamkang verb conjugation


We lay out the conjugation patterns for declarative affirmatives and negatives in Lamkang [lmk], a language of the South Central subgroup of the Tibeto-Burman (a.k.a.Trans-Himalayan) family. As for many languages of this family, conjugation patterns differ according to tense. This includes different patterning with respect to participant prefixes and agreement suffixes as well as stem shape. Lamkang also employs a person hierarchy; with 2nd>1st, 3rd>1st, and 3rd>2nd, a hierarchical index marker t- is used if the verb is in the nonfuture affirmative.  The verb template includes tense, negative, and copular auxiliaries which are inflected for agent except when agent is otherwise indicated, e.g., with an inclusive prefix in negative conjugations, the expected Patient-Stem Auxiliary-Agent pattern for the paradigm flips to Agent-Stem Auxiliary-Patient.  Within the clusive forms, a great deal of variation for which prefixes are used for inclusive/exclusive exists.  We also see variation in which plural markers occur. All this hints at a highly complex system in a state of flux.

Person indexation in Anal

The paper describes the person-indexing morphology in Anal with an emphasis on the different forms in the verbal systems of the language. As in many other related languages, the indexation in Anal verbs is performed by two sets of morphemes: suffixes and prefixes. The suffixes are the archaic morphemes reconstructed to the proto-language. The prefix paradigm is typical for the branch, but exhibits peculiar person shifts. Most of the paradigms employ explicit suffixes for A/S-marking and prefixes for P-marking of SAP forms. 3rd person is not marked explicitly. Nominal forms that use Stem-2 have two different indexation patterns: 3:P scenarios mark the A-referent by possessive prefixes, while SAP:P scenarios mark the P-referent by a prefix and the A-argument by a suffix. P-prefixes are derived from possessive prefixes by vowel-lengthening. There are a few additional person-indexing forms in less frequent paradigms, and peculiar paradigm-specific changes such as 1st person-marking by tone and length in one of the tenses. The overall system shows historical evidence for multiple cycles of periphrastic constructions with the copula as the conjugated form.

Person indexation in Monsang from a diachronic perspective

Person indexation in Monsang (Northwestern South-Central or “Kuki-Chin”) consists of a set of prefixes as well as a basic set of postverbal person markers with three variants. Based on which of these sets are used, this study finds four types of intransitive and four types of transitive paradigms of verbal person indexation. As for the three variants of postverbal person markers, a diachronic order is proposed: one set is clearly conservative; one set is clearly innovative and represents a fusion with a reconstructed palatal copula; and a third hybrid set appears to represent analogical change in the first person plural inclusive form. Finally, out of the four intransitive and four transitive types of person indexation, three of each closely match. In the case of the divergent intransitive type and transitive type, it is argued that the transitive type represents an innovative nominalization construction while the intransitive type did not undergo the same type of nominalization.

Agreement system in Chiru

Chiru is a Northwestern Kuki-Chin language spoken in twelve villages in Manipur and one village in Assam, Northeast India. The language displays verb stem alternation. Person marking occurs either with prefixes or suffixes. For prefixes, there are two sets with a very slight difference: Either the first person prefixes include a vowel that copies the vowel of the following root or they include the vowel /a/. Otherwise, both sets have a second person prefix that always remains /a/, and a third person prefix that always has the copy vowel. This difference in person markers surfaces in the distinction between intransitive S marking vs. transitive A marking. The object is marked by a single prefix nV- that indexes any speech act participant.

Agreement in Thadou

This paper has discussed the agreement system of Thadou in intransitive, transitive and ditransitive clauses. The 1st person agreement clitic ng (ŋ) occurs post-verbally in intransitives clauses. A transitive verb in Thadou has the same agreement system in affirmative and negative paradigms and may agree with both its A and P or only its A for person and may agree with its A and its P for number. Ditransitive verbs in Thadou occur with both hi and declarative clause ending in e. The difference between a ditransitive verb in hi clause and e clause is that in the case of hi clause the verb occurs in stem 2 form, while the in case of the e clause, the verb occurs in stem 1 form.  The hi constructions in Thadou are bi-clausal in structure. That is, they are composed of a subordinate clause followed by the main clause. A ditransitive verb in Thadou agrees with its A for person in the embedded clause and with its T in the main clause and may agree with either the A or T for number.



Tedim verb person marking

Subject indexation in Tedim can occur via preverbal person markers or postverbal person markers or can be left out entirely. The preverbal marking corresponds to the “narrative” style that generally represents a more formal register and is used in writing and oratory speech. The postverbal marking corresponds to the “colloquial” style that generally represents an informal register that is used in everyday speech. Speech act participant objects are indicated with preverbal .

The Tangsa-Nocte languages: An introduction

This chapter briefly introduces the languages of the Tangsa-Nocte ‘group’ within the Northern Naga languages. This group is the subject of detailed studies of Hakhun (Boro 2019), Muklom (Mulder 2019), and Phong (Dutta 2019), as well as an overview of agreement in the Pangwa group (Morey 2019).

Pangwa Tangsa agreement markers and verbal operators

This chapter will survey agreement marking in the Pangwa group within Tangsa-Nocte (see Tangsa-Nocte Introduction). After briefly introducing the Pangwa group, I will suggest a sub-grouping within Pangwa, based on the verbal morphology in the form of examples of the markers in the ‘negative’, ‘past’ and ‘future’ for 17 Pangwa varieties and comparative information for 5 Non-Pangwa Tangsa varieties. This will be followed by an overview of the functions of the agreement markers. These markers, which can be termed agreement words (DeLancey 2015, this volume) consist of two parts, a verbal operator, generally an onset consonant that appears to be an eroded verbal auxiliary or copula, and the agreement marker. The forms and functions of the verbal operators are then treated in more detail as are the forms of the agreement markers. We conclude the chapter with some suggestions about the historical development of these agreement words within Pangwa Tangsa

Argument indexation in Hakhun Tangsa

This paper describes argument indexation in Hakhun Tangsa, a language variety spoken by one of the Tangsa subtribes called Hakhun across the Indo-Myanmar boarder on the Patkai mountain range. Most finite clauses in Hakhun carry an argument index on the verb complex, which code person and number of the argument they cross-index. There are two sets of argument indices in Hakhun Tangsa – one with a sonorous coda or no coda at all and the other with a stop coda. The choice between these two sets depends on the tense/aspect/modality marker in the verb complex. The typical argument indexation pattern in Hakhun Tangsa is hierarchical, i.e. the verb complex indexes the argument which is higher in person hierarchy irrespective of its grammatical relation. The verb complex also marks the argument configuration either as direct or inverse by choosing one set of tense/aspect/modality marker over another. Another indexation pattern found in this language is subject indexation, where the subject is indexed over the object. The choice between these two kinds of indexation patterns is conditioned by semantic/pragmatic factors, such as affectedness of the patient participant.

Verb agreement in Phong

This paper describes the verb agreement marking patterns in Phong, a language variety spoken by a community who are also called Phong. The Phong community is one of the more than thirty two sub-groups of the larger Tangsa community, who live on both sides of the Indo-Myanmar boarder. Phone belong to Bodo-Konyak-Jingpho sub-group of the Tibeto-Burman family. It is spoken by around 3000 people spread across six villages in the Changlang district of Arunachal Pradesh and in the Tinsukia district of Assam.

The verbs in Phong agree with one of the arguments of the clause for number and person. There are three person and three number distinctions. The agreement markers are independent words consisting of the tense marker and the agreement morpheme. These words generally follow the main verb. Phong has a hierarchical agreement pattern in which the verb agrees with the argument higher in ‘person hierarchy’. For instance, the verb agrees with a first person argument over a second or a third person argument whether the first person argument is a subject or an object of the sentence, as illustrated in (1-2).

1. an-e ŋa-me hen taʔ-h-aŋ

2SG-ERG 1SG-acc hit PST-INV-1SG

‘You hit me.’

2. ŋe i-me hen t-aŋ

1SG-ERG 3SG-acc hit PST-1SG

‘I hit him.’


Verb inflection in Muklom Tangsa

Muklom Tangsa is a Tibeto-Burman (TB) language variety with rich verbal inflection that exhibits hierarchical indexing and a non-canonical inverse system. Indexes will align with S, A, P, or R arguments, depending on the configuration, but not with the T argument. Inverse marking is triggered by high-ranked P arguments, i.e. the speech act participant (SAP) P, but also by SAP R and even SAP possessors. We can conclude that verb marking and NP marking are relatively disintegratedː the system of expressing semantic roles by case markers or postpositions does not nicely align with the system of indexing and inverse marking on the verb. This structure, commonly found among TB languages, is known as ‘associative agreement’, as opposed to ‘integrative agreement’, which nicely aligns NP and verb domains (see Bickel 2000). This chapter provides an overview of verb inflection in Muklom based on primary data.