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Head-marking and dependent-marking grammar

From: Language
Volume 62, Number 1, March 1986
pp. 56-119 | 10.1353/lan.1986.0014

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Head-marking and dependent-marking grammar

Morphological marking of grammatical relations may appear on either the head or the dependent member of the constituent (or on both, or on neither). Grammatical relations—and whole languages—may be classified according to their propensity for using one of these types of marking. Implicational relations among various marking patterns can be stated: languages display a tendency to use one type consistently throughout their grammar. The difference in patterns provides a typological metric and a functional explanation for certain word-order preferences. For historical linguistics, it provides a diagnostically conservative feature and a clue to genetic relatedness. Although the head-marked pattern is cross-linguistically favored, grammatical theory is strongly biased toward the dependent-marked patterns that happen to dominate in Indo-European.*

Johanna Nichols
University of California, Berkeley
[Received 24 August 1983;
revision received 26 January 1985;
accepted 6 June 1985.]


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