Three rGyalrong varieties have documented personal agreement systems: Eastern rGyalrong (Lin 1993;9 cf. DeLancey 1981a), Tshobdun (Sun & Shi 2002; Sun 2003), Japhug (Jacques 2004, 2008).
In this section I attempt a detailed comparison between the systems of person agreement of the rGyalrong languages. The three non-Eastern languages being more similar, the difference between them as a group and Eastern rGyalrong would be discussed first, then followed by a discussion of the differences between the three non-Eastern languages. Notably, in subsection 4.2 I argue for a special status of the 1sg suffix across rGyalrong languages, since it is closer to the stem.
4.1. Intransitive paradigm
We start with intransitive forms as before, which are listed in Table 6. As is clear from the table, the systems are identical, except for Eastern rGyalrong, where the 2sg form shows the suffix -n. This suffix is semantically redundant and introduces an important asymmetry: the 2du/pl suffixes only mark number, while the 2sg -n indicates both number and person. It should be regarded as the earlier form, by the critical dictum to prefer the lectio difficilior: a simple proportional analogy (tə-Σ-ɲ:Σ-ɲ = tə-Σ:Σ) eliminating the -n, moreover motivated by this paradigmatic imbalance, would turn the situation in Eastern rGyalrong into that found in other rGyalrong languages.
Table 6. Intransitive paradigm across rGyalrong languages
|1|| sg || Σ -ŋ || Σ -ɑŋ || Σ -a || Σ -ɑŋ |
| || du || Σ -tʃʰ || Σ -tɕə || Σ -tɕi || Σ -tsə |
| || pl || Σ -j || Σ -jə || Σ -ji || Σ -jə |
|2|| sg || tə- Σ -n || tə- Σ || tɯ- Σ || tə- Σ |
| || du || tə- Σ -ntʃʰ || tə- Σ -ⁿdʑə || tɯ- Σ -ndʑi || tə- Σ -ⁿdzə |
| || pl || tə- Σ -ɲ || tə- Σ -ɲə || tɯ- Σ -nɯ || tə- Σ -nə |
|3|| sg || Σ || Σ || Σ || Σ |
| du || Σ -ntʃʰ || Σ -ⁿdʑə || Σ -ndʑi || Σ -ⁿdzə |
| pl || Σ -ɲ || Σ -ɲə || Σ -nɯ || Σ -nə |
Jacques (2008:206) observes that the person suffixes in rGyalrong languages do not correspond to each other regularly. No content word shows intra-rGyalrong correspondence between alveolars and palatals (transcribed with the /ʃ/ or /ɕ/ series), yet Zbu -ɲə corresponds to Japhug -nɯ, Japhug -tɕi to Tshobdun -tsə, and so on. Moreover, the palatal/alveolar status of the personal suffix coincides with that of the possessive prefix on nouns: compare Japhug nɯ-kɯr ‘their mouths’ / -nɯ ‘3pl’ with Zbu ɲə-kʰwɐ́nɑŋ ‘their family’ / -ɲə ‘3pl’. Jacques concludes that contemporarily to the sporadic changes that produced these irregular correspondences, ‘the pronouns, the possessive prefix and the personal suffix were one and the same morpheme, in the Sprachgefühl of rGyalrong speakers’ (Jacques 2008: 206, my translation)10.
In Tshobdun rGyalrong (Sun & Shi 2002: 82), as has been mentioned before for Zbu rGyalrong, intransitive clauses with dual or plural inanimate subjects obligatorily take null agreement. In Japhug (Jacques 2008: 214), however, such clauses show the corresponding number markers, as is the case for human subjects.
4.2. Internal structure of rGyalrong suffixes
In this subsection, an examination of Eastern rGyalrong morphophonology will bring to light the internal structure of the person suffixes. Most importantly, the 1sg suffix will be shown to have a particularly close relationship to the stem.
In Eastern rGyalrong, interaction with the coda of closed-syllable stems allows the suffixes to be grouped into three classes: concatenative (the plural markers -tʃʰ, -j, -ntʃʰ and -ɲ), fusional (1sg -ŋ) and disappearing (-n and -w, the latter of which appears only in transitive clauses and is discussed in subsection 4.3).11 For the root kʰɐs ‘to get angry’, for example, syllable-coda constraints of descending sonority should make /kʰɐs-ɲ/ ‘they get angry’, /kʰɐs-ŋ/ ‘I get angry’ and /tə-kʰɐs-n/ ‘yousg get angry' sound equally bad. In fact, we witness three different outcomes for the different suffixes: the markedness not being repaired for the ‘concatenative’ -ɲ giving [kʰɐsɲ]; nasal-sibilant metathesis for the ‘fusional’ -ŋ giving [kʰɐŋs]; deletion of the ‘disappearing’ -n giving [təkʰɐs]. Similarly, a stop-coda root like rjɐp ‘to stand up’ shows a trivial assimilation in nasality and voice for a concatenative suffix ([rjɐmɲ]), a feature fusion for the fusional -ŋ ([rjɐm]), and deletion of the disappearing -n ([tərjɐp]).
Now, what does this difference in markedness-reducing strategies (or lack thereof) tell us? On the one hand, the fusional and disappearing suffixes share the property of sensitiveness to phonological coda constraints, while the concatenative suffixes apparently disregard them. This observation can be connected to the choice that the authors of the descriptions of the other languages make to transcribe these suffixes as syllabic, giving the consonant the default epenthetic vowel in the respective languages (/ə/ for Tshobdun and Zbu, /ɯ∼i/ in Japhug). In Japhug, allophonically, the vowel can be very weak and devoiced, so a -ndʑi̥ can be acoustically not unlike Lin's [-ntʃʰ]. For the concatenative suffixes, hence, I propose that they are in fact syllabic, possibly with a consonantal, even voiceless nucleus, but still preserving its syllable boundary with the last syllable of the stem.
On the other hand, the disappearing suffixes share the property with the concatenative suffixes of not ‘meddling with the internal affairs’ of the stem, in other words, that the repair strategies respect the morpheme boundary between the stem and the suffix. The fusional /-ŋ/, however, defies underlying-surface linearity /sŋ/[ŋs] and merges two phonemes into one /pŋ/[m], both across the boundary. To explain this phenomenon, I propose that the fusional /-ŋ/ suffix in fact belongs to the stem side of the boundary, as a stem-level derivation of suffixal character.
I conclude that the three classes of suffix differ with respect to the degree of their remoteness from the stem, which I summarise in Figure 2: 1sg -ŋ is the nearest, within the morphological limit of the stem to make an enlarged stem. The disappearing -n and -w exist outside the stem, but belong to the last syllable of the stem. The other suffixes are the farthest away, belonging neither to the stem nor to its last syllable.
In the non-Eastern rGyalrong languages, the 1sg suffix is syllabic (-ɑŋ, -a) just like other suffixes, and the disappearing suffixes have disappeared for good. However, the reasoning on Eastern rGyalrong is still partially applicable for these languages.
First, as in Eastern rGyalrong, the 1sg suffix constitutes a different morphological slot from the rest of the suffixes. This can be proved with the phenomenon of double agreement (subsection 4.4), where both the 1sg suffix and the number suffix indicating another participant are overt on the verb. No pair from the other suffixes can sequentially coexist.
Second, there are evidences pointing to an even closer relationship between the stem and the 1sg suffix. The case is strongest for Zbu, where there are irregular 1sg forms for kɐ-xsô. So the 1sg forms in Zbu do have a certain sort of stem status, even if marginal, for any morphological theory that denies unpredictability outside the stem. Additionally, and for the other languages, the 1sg suffix entails modifications on the stem irreducible to mere boundary-local markedness reduction (like /pɲ/[mɲ]):
- In Japhug, the 1sg -a, if preceded by a stem with nucleus /ɤ/, lowers it to /a/ in a vowel harmony that is uniquely compulsory12 in the language;
- In Tshobdun and Zbu, the 1sg suffix -ɑŋ causes a stem-final /t/ to become /n/, a change which is synchronically opaque.
4.4. Double marking of number
Transitive verbs in all rGyalrong languages except Eastern rGyalrong exhibit double number marking when the verbal ending is 1sg -ɑŋ/-a. In Zbu for example, to say ‘youpl hit me’, a second -ɲə, standing for the plural agent, appears after the 1sg -ɑŋ: tə-tə-wə-xsɑ̂ŋ-ɲə.14
Two possible explanations exist for the origin of double marking. Sun & Shi (2002) and Jacques (2010) hold that it indicates a privileged treatment of the speaker compared with other SAPs (1du, 1pl and 2). As the hierarchy is correlated with slot accessibility, an additional slot created by the 1sgsuffix indicates that 1sgis higher on the Empathy Hierarchy than other SAPs.
This hypothesis is problematic in that a high-ranked element on the hierarchy is not expected to create new slots. The hierarchical alignment of the conjugation merely gives it a greater ability to occupy existing inflectional slots. In this paper, as is argued insub section 4.2, I propose that the 1sg suffix in fact belongs to another, inner morphological slot. That two suffixes belonging to different inflectional slots occur together should surprise nobody.
Why is there a difference between the 1sg agent and the 1sg patient contexts in Tshobdun and Zbu? It may have to do with analogy with the direct third-person patient forms. In the minds of the speakers, forms like tə-wə-Σ-ɑŋ-ɲə ‘2-inv-Σ-1sg-pl’ can be seen as parallel to the third-person patient tə-Σ-ɲə, albeit with Σ replaced by wə-Σ-ɑŋ. The 13 forms, like Σ-ɑŋ-ɲə ‘Σ-1sg-pl’, however, can only be compared with wə-Σ-ɲə. An additional wə- may fit in a ‘stem variable’ without intrinsic wə-, but the reverse would require a difficult deletion.