Mayan animacy hierarchy effects and the dynamics of Agree

Justin Royer
University of California, Berkeley
Fri April 5th 2024, 1:30 - 2:50pm
Margaret Jacks Hall, Room 126 (Greenberg Room)

Speaker: Justin Royer (

Abstract: In many Mayan languages, combinations of subjects and objects are restricted by relative animacy hierarchy effects: objects must be at least as high as subjects in terms of animacy. Building empirically on a novel description of Chuj, as well as reported data for nine additional Mayan languages from across the family, we offer a new approach to these effects. Our analysis builds theoretically on recent work tracing person/animacy restrictions to the nature of featural representations and the operation Agree, bringing this literature together with current understandings of Mayan syntax and the high-/low-absolutive parameter. We argue that the cross-Mayan data—relative hierarchy effects holding in the same way across both high-absolutive and low-absolutive languages—are best handled by, and brings new support for, an interaction/satisfaction approach to Agree and hierarchy effects (Deal 2023). Our analysis also casts new light on key topics in Mayan syntax, including the proper analysis of ergativity and the nature of obviation effects (Aissen 1997).