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Contextual discrimination

Elements that serve principally to discriminate larger forms need not have a single function or meaning in all of the contexts in which they occur, but may perform different discriminative functions in different contexts. The basic distinction between a discriminative and associative interpretation of form variants can be illustrated with reference to the Georgian agreement markers in Table 8.2, repeated from Table 6.5. This paradigm consists of fully discriminated sets of forms with ip and 3p objects, and a set of partially ambiguous forms with 2p objects. Let us consider each set in turn.

In forms with ip objects, the contrast between the prefixes m- and gv- consistently distinguishes singular from plural objects, freeing suffixal variation to mark person and number properties of subjects. The suffix -t unambiguously marks the plurality of 2p subjects in the contrasts damxatav^damxat’avt and dagvxat’av^dagvxat’avt. The contrast between -s and -en likewise distinguishes 3sg from 3pl subjects in the pairs damxat’avs^damxat’aven and dagvxat’avs~dagvxataven. In forms with 3p objects, the lack of any formal marking of these objects leaves both agreement positions available, in principle, to mark subject properties. Thus -t unambiguously marks the plurality of a 1p subject in the contrast davxat’av~davxatavt and the plurality of a 2p subject in the contrast daxat’av^daxat’avt. The alternation between -s and -en again distinguishes 3sg from 3pl subjects in the pair daxat’avs^daxat’aven.

Forms with 2p objects are less well discriminated, due to the fact that they all reserve the prefixal agreement position for the number-neutral object marker g-. This leaves only the suffixal position to mark the person features of subjects and the

Table 8.2 Future indicative paradigm of xat’va ‘paint’ (Tschenkeli 1958: §31)

Subj

lsg

lpl

Obj

2sg

2pl

3

lsg

dagxat’av

dagxat’avt

davxat’av

lpl

dagxat’avt

dagxat’avt

davxat’avt

2sg

damxat’av

dagvxat’av

daxat’av

2pl

damxat’avt

dagvxat’avt

daxat’avt

3sg

damxat’avs

dagvxat’avs

dagxat’avs

dagxat’avt

daxat’avs

3pl

damxat’aven

dagvxat’aven

dagxat’aven

dagxat’aven

daxat’aven

number features of both subjects and objects. With respect to person, it follows that only subject features that are associated with suffixal markers can be expressed and, hence, that the ip subject marker -v cannot occur in forms with 2p objects. In the domain of number, the result is widespread syncretism. In some cases, the number of subjects is unmarked, in others, the number of objects is unmarked, and in yet others subject and object number is marked ambiguously. Thus in dagxatav the lack of plural marking unambiguously identifies 2sg object and lsg subject features. As in forms with ip and 3p objects, the contrast between -s and -en in the pair dagxatavs^ dagxat aven marks an opposition between 3sg and 3pl subjects.

Since all of the remaining forms with 2p objects contain at least one plural argument, the result is widespread ambiguity. The fact that-en marks all forms with 3pl subjects leaves no means of marking the contrast between 2sg and 2pl objects, so that both are associated with the form dagxataven. A parallel conflict is resolved in favour of the marking of object plurality in forms with 3sg subjects. Although both dagxatavs and dagxatavt are associated with 3sg subjects, the use of-t to mark the plurality of the 2p object in dagxat avt entails that 3sg subject features remain unmarked in this form. As noted above, the marking of 2p objects by g- prevents the use of the prefixal position to mark ip subject features by v-. Hence, in addition to expressing 3sg subject features, the form dagxatavt can be associated with lpl subject, a 2pl object or both.

In sum, Georgian verbs mark the person and number features of two verbal dependents by means of a pair of agreement slots and sets of four prefixal and three suffixal markers. The fact that both slots may contain either subject or object markers and that some of these markers neutralize number or person features gives rise to two ambiguous forms, dagxatavt and dagxataven. Variation in agreement markers suffices to distinguish the remaining (nonreflexive) forms of a transitive verb. The relations between agreement features and markers are summarized in Table 8.3. Associations that characterize a majority of cells within a column (with common object features) or a row (with shared subject features) are set in italics. Exceptionless patterns are set in bold.

 
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