Doubled clitics are pronouns

Amharic objects (and beyond)


Controversy and uncertainty have plagued the question of whether “object markers” (OMs) are object pronouns cliticized to the verb or realizations of object agreement. Using data from Amharic, we address this question from a new perspective. Specifically, we claim that Amharic OMs should be analyzed as clitics because they are unable to double nominals that are quantified, anaphoric, or contain a variable bound by a quantifier. These restrictions can be derived from familiar principles of grammar—the Weak Crossover condition and the Binding theory—if and only if the OM is taken to be a pronoun (D) adjoined to v at LF. We then explain in terms of syntactic structure why these OMs can double even nonreferential DPs in experiencer subject constructions, whereas they cannot double theme arguments in unaccusatives or passives. Finally, we consider whether our analysis provides a diagnostic that distinguishes pronominal clitics from agreement morphemes across languages. OMs in Greek, Bulgarian, and Spanish seem to work broadly like Amharic, confirming that they are pronominal clitics. In contrast, OMs in Burushaski and Sambaa behave like agreement, even though certain other putative diagnostics suggest they might be clitics. We thus confirm that both object clitics and object agreement exist.


Amharic Clitic doubling Object agreement Weak crossover Clitics Pronouns 



First and foremost, endless thanks to the many consultants who made this work possible, especially our Amharic consultants (Meriem Tikue, Mengistu Amberber, Girma Demeke, Mehret Tadesse, Mahi Megra, and Yetnayet Lemma) but also those who helped us with other languages: Elena Anagnostopoulou, Hans Broekhuis, José Camacho, Liliana Sanchez, Todor Koev, and Gisli Harðarson. Many thanks also to generous colleagues who we discussed this work with, including, but not limited to, Ken Safir, Simon Charlow, Elena Anagnostopoulou, Jenneke van der Wal, and Michael Diercks. Thanks also to Lydia Felice for assistance in the final preparation of the manuscript. Portions of this work were presented at a colloquium talk at McGill University, and we thank the audience there for helpful feedback. Finally, many thanks to three anonymous reviewers and the editor for deeply engaging with this work and making it better.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Rutgers UniversityNew BrunswickUSA
  2. 2.Georgetown UniversityWashingtonUSA

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