Animating the narrow syntax

Martina Wiltschko, Elizabeth Ritter

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


In this paper we demonstrate that there are two related, but distinct types of animacy in the Plains Algonquian language, Blackfoot-morphological animacy (m-animacy) and high animacy (H-animacy). We argue that the two types of animacy are constructed in different ways: M-animacy is a head feature that determines noun class and plays a role in syntactic agreement operations, whereas H-animacy is a selectable feature of arguments. The two kinds of animacy also have different distributions: Only languages that have animacy-based form classes have m-animate nominals, but H-animate nominals are universal because all languages have predicates that select for high animates. We discuss empirical differences between m-animate and H-animate nominals that are intended to serve as diagnostics for the exploration of animacy in other languages.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)869-908
Number of pages40
JournalLinguistic Review
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1 Dec 2015


  • Animacy
  • Blackfoot
  • humanness
  • noun classification
  • selection

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


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