A Typology of Reciprocal Markers: Analysis and Documentation
The purpose of the project is: to conduct a cross-linguistic survey of reciprocal constructions, and collect the results in a database; to carry out in-depth studies of reciprocity in particular languages, and cross-linguistically robust analyses of particular phenomena; and to develop an integrated typology of reciprocal constructions and symmetric predicates.
The project started in November, 2005, and has a projected duration of 72 months. The first phase of the project will last 36 months (three years).
The project is funded by the DFG-NWO bilateral cooperation programme.
Research group
At Utrecht institute of Linguistics, Utrecht University:
  1. Prof. dr. M.B.H. Everaert
  2. Dr. Alexis Dimitriadis
  3. Dr. Anca Sevcenco
At the Institut für Englische Philologie, Freie Unitersität Berlin:
  1. Prof. Dr. Ekkehard König
  2. Dr. Volker Gast
  3. Dr. Carola Emkow
  4. Thomas Hanke


Questions concerning the symmetry or asymmetry of relations or interactions as well as those concerning the linguistic means of describing them are not only of interest for linguistics, but also for many social sciences, for philosophy (ethics) and even evolutionary biology. Basic ethical principles can be expressed in terms of reciprocity and major aspects of social structure can be described in terms of solving problems of interaction in a symmetric or asymmetric fashion. Despite a large number of studies on reciprocity in individual languages there is so far, however, no integrated study on the patterns and limits of variation found across languages in this domain. This project, which is to be carried out jointly by two European centers (a) of linguistic typology (Berlin) and (b) for the study of pronouns and anaphora (Utrecht), will combine fine-grained analyses on individual languages with large-scale cross-linguistic surveys. It aims at formulating an integrating typology for reciprocal constructions, at developing a web-accessible database for the relevant domain and at deepening our understanding of reciprocity, of the predicates denoting symmetrical relations (reciprocity), of the locality restrictions on the interpretation of reciprocal arguments and of patterns of polysemy associated with reciprocal markers. As a result of this, a new basis for the description of individual languages and for the solution of theoretical issues will be created, which are unsolvable otherwise.

Goals and work schedule

Three major goals will be pursued by our project. Since the findings of one sub-project are of great potential relevance for the others we will work on all three parts simultaneously, rather than sequentially:

  1. The development of a typological database for symmetric predicates and reciprocal constructions on the basis of a genetically and areally balanced sample of 200 languages. This database will be structured by the parameters of a questionnaire developed by A. Dimitriadis (Utrecht) in cooperation with V. Gast (FU Berlin) and Daniel Hole (formerly FU Berlin, now LMU München), on the basis of several in-depth studies of reciprocity in a variety of languages. Since implicational connections and interactions between certain types of reciprocal constructions and other properties of languages are also of interest to us, this database will contain a variety of fine-grained information in the area of reciprocity as well as in neighbouring domains.
  2. We will continue our series of studies on reciprocity in individual languages. This work focuses on the form and meaning of reciprocal markers and the meaning and argument structure of symmetric predicates, and includes the historical development and the degree of grammaticalization exhibited by these markers. It will provide a constant impetus for refining the questionnaire as well as the typology.
  3. The development of an integrated typology of symmetric predicates and reciprocal constructions, specifying the major patterns of variation, implicational connections between variant properties as well as explanations for the patterns observed across languages is the most central objectives of our project.