Results of animacy and accessibility in Yucatec

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Good news! We’ve analyzed the previously mentioned experiment on animacy and word order in Yucatec. We coded animacy of the Agent and Patient referents (human, animal, inanimate), transitivity (transitive, intransitive) and voice (active, passive, other) of the verb. We also coded the definiteness of the Agent and Patient referents (definite, indefinite).

Overall, Agent-Verb-Patient word order was strongly preferred (see Table 1). Moreover, human subjects were more likely to appear earlier in the sentence (ps<0.0001, interaction n.s., N=597), which is predicted by direct accessibility accounts. Human agents and patients were were more likely to be described as definite (ps<0.0002), and definite NPs showed a tendency to be mentioned earlier (agent: p<0.0001; patient: n.s., interaction p<0.0001). Still, the effect of animacy held independently (ps<0.002; interaction n.s.). The agent animacy effect was somewhat mediated by an effect on transitivity (whether participants described an event as e.g. an apple hitting a man or an apple falling on a man in that inanimate agents were less often described transitively (p<0.0001; no patient effects). The agent animacy effect remained significant even for transitive sentences (p<0.004; no interaction, N=502). In terms of the effects of voice, human agents correlated with the use of active voice (p<0.0001), and human patients correlated with the use of passive voice, though not at strongly (p<0.03, N=604).

Table: Word order and voice

Agent, Patient and Verb of 531 transitives (excluding 161 non-transitives)

Word order Total Active Passive Other
Agent-Verb-Patient 440 427 7 6
Patient-Verb-Agent 63 2 61 0
Other 28 20 7 1

What does this mean? Good news! Interesting results. In Yucatec, the passive voice is encoded by verbal morphology. Passive voice does not presuppose or preclude a word order change. When a patient was human, sentences were more likely to be in the passive voice. Moreover, human patients were more likely to be mentioned earlier. So, we’ve seen the use of passive voice morphology and earlier mention with human patients.

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12 thoughts on “Results of animacy and accessibility in Yucatec

    tiflo said:
    December 18, 2009 at 7:11 pm

    Hey Lindsay, thanks for posting this. Btw, you can upload a profile picture, if you want it to show on the right-side navigation bar.

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    lindsaykb responded:
    December 23, 2009 at 3:05 am

    Sure, also, is there a better way for me to put a table in the blog post?

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    tiflo said:
    December 23, 2009 at 3:44 am

    I think there are tools to put in tables, as part of the HTML formatting help.

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    tiflo said:
    December 29, 2009 at 6:36 pm

    Hey Lindsay,

    I just saw this announcement of a new digital library for language documentation (http://blog.cyberling.org/node/9). I think we should keep that in mind while we prepare the data. Once we’ve written up the first round, I would definitely like to share the data with a broader research community.

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      lindsaykb responded:
      January 24, 2010 at 8:54 pm

      Definitely! I’ll check it out.

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    Chris said:
    March 19, 2010 at 9:32 am

    Just saw that Google has added Maya and Nahuatl. Any thoughts on using this to augment your Yucatec work?

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      tiflo said:
      March 19, 2010 at 4:26 pm

      you’re kidding me, right? where’s the link (I am at a conference right now, but this would make my day ;).

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        Chris said:
        March 23, 2010 at 8:36 pm
          tiflo said:
          March 23, 2010 at 8:44 pm

          gracias =)

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          Chris said:
          March 23, 2010 at 9:57 pm

          de nada

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          lindsaykb responded:
          March 24, 2010 at 12:38 am

          Wow! Go Google! That would be great new for us and for speakers of Mayan languages. I wonder which Mayan language they are considering. There are about 70 different varieties that are not highly mutually intelligible and that have different orthographic conventions. I imagine Yukatek might be a good candidate for them because it has been pretty well-studied compared to other Mayan languages. Also, there has been a standardized orthography since 1984.

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    [...] By lindsaykb Leave a Comment Categories: presentations We presented the results of the animacy and accessibility study on Yucatec on March 18, 2010 at the CUNY Sentence Processing Conference in New York (see image below, or [...]

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