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.