The Surrey Syncretisms Database

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Agreement is found in a high proportion of the world’s languages, and its prevalence tends to make us forget what a puzzling phenomenon it is. Basically, agreement is the expression of information in the ‘wrong place’. This can be seen even in English sentences as trivial as: the system works intermittently versus the systems work intermittently. Why would we signal the number of systems redundantly on the verb (works versus work) when this is quite clear from system/systems? The information is available in the ‘right place’ (on the noun system) and redundantly also in the ‘wrong place’ (on the verb works). However there are cases where it appears only in the wrong place, as in the sheep is grazing versus the sheep are grazing. Agreement in English is in some ways rather straightforward. In other languages the phenomenon is much more complex. The database encodes information on agreement in fifteen genetically diverse languages. For each language, we define its agreement in terms of controllers, targets, domains, categories and conditions. The database contains pointers to examples illustrating the instances of agreement. In addition, there are language reports describing the languages, giving sources and enabling the user to see how decisions were made. The database holds extensive data on a small sample of languages and is intended for typological investigation rather than primarily for statistical use.

The database was created for the project 'Agreement: an investigation into the distribution of information' , funded by the Economic and Social Research Council under grant number R000238228.  This support is gratefully acknowledged. We also thank the European Thematic Network 'Language Typology Resource Centre' and University of Surrey Research Committee for additional funds which have allowed for an enhanced web interface.

Database by Dunstan Brown, Greville Corbett, Carole Tiberius, Julia Barron, University of Surrey, Guildford, Surrey, United Kingdom.

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