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Agreement verbs

Agreement verbs do not contain specifications of their beginning/end locations (Herrmann & Steinbach 2007: 156). Rather, their modulation in space is determined by grammatical and discourse criteria. Table 3.3 provides a sketch of the linguistic levels and grammatical processes involved in constructions with these verbs. Clearly, locus features, relevant at the phonological level, need to be distinguished from the information encoded or associated with particular loci picked out by agreement verbs at the syntactic and discourse levels. We will assume here that the specification of person and number features shared between the verb and its arguments is relevant at the level of syntax, referential identity being relevant at the level of discourse (cf. section Further, agreement verbs can be distinguished depending on the arguments they agree with as is illustrated in Table 3.4 (cf. Hanel 2005: 203).[1]

Table 3.3: Agreement verbs.

Linguistic level


Grammatical process


- beginning / end locations, sign orientation

- readjustment


- person and number features

- agreement


- referential identity

- coindexation

Table 3.4: Types of agreement verbs.

Type of agreement marking


DGS examples


- subject and direct object

- visit, ask

(transitive verbs)

(subject optional)


- subject and indirect object

- give

(ditransitive verbs)

(subject optional)


- object

- hate

Example (46) (from Happ & Vorkoper 2006: 43, our transl.) illustrates subject-object verb agreement in DGS (Happ & Vorkoper 2006: 141). Notice that the verb GiVE-AS-A-PRESENT establishes the loci for the subject and the indirect object. Object agreement verbs, however, do not establish loci for their subject. Hence, later reference to subjects introduced in such constructions requires the establishment of a locus through the use of a referential index (cf. example (47) from Happ & Vorkoper 2006: 142 our transl.).


‘The lecturer gives the participant an apple. He is a sweetie.’


‘After that he teaches sign language.’

  • [1] Research on sign languages has shown that subject agreement is more marked than objectagreement, that is, if verbs have only one slot for agreement this will be for object agreement,subject agreement being optional if there are two slots, while object agreement is not (becausethis observation holds of the sign languages studied, Rathmann and Mathur [2002: 372] claimthat this is a substantive universal of sign languages. See also Sandler and Lillo-Martin 2006: 46)
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