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Re: THEORY: Verbs go irregular before our very eyes!

From:Roger Mills <romilly@...>
Date:Tuesday, October 30, 2001, 5:14
John Cowan wrote:

>Apparently Maori has quite recently undergone a transition that has made >almost all its verbs technically irregular. Consider these data sets: > >Set I: > >Active verb Passive verb Gloss >awhi awhitia 'embrace' >hopu hopukia 'catch' >aru arumia 'follow' >tohu tohungia 'point out' >mau mauria 'carry' >wero werohia 'stab' > >There is a old (pre-Polynesian) and strong constraint that all Maori >syllables are (C)V, which disallows final consonants. ("wh" and "ng" are >digraphs, not clusters.) The neatest explanation of Set I, though, is that >the underlying forms are AWHIT, HOPUK, ARUM, TOHUNG, MAUR, WEROH, and then >the rules applied are: > >1) To make the passive voice, apply the suffix "-ia". >2) Remove any final consonant.
That's correct from the historical point of view (whether native speakers would agree is another matter-- "you just have to LEARN which verb takes which suffix" just as we learn sing-sang-sung, bring-brought etc.). Proto Oceanic, the grand-daddy of all Polynesian and Melanesian languages, is reconstructed with final consonants, though some are in doubt, due to a lot of analogical re-shuffling in individual langs.-- e.g. the putative cognate of "awhit" in Tongan, or Fijian, will not necessarily form its passive with -t-. But by and large, these consonants in Oceanic languages correspond with each other, if not always to the Proto Austronesian original. I think the _ia_ part is a Polynesian innovation; it doesn't correspond to anything much in Fijian or elsewhere (IIRC). (snips)
>But Set III is the kicker: > >"Rootless" verbs (those newly invented, or created from nouns, or >borrowed from other languages) are made passive with the suffix >"-tia". > >Now these verbs cannot all have underlying forms in -T. Certainly >not the borrowings, where there was no /t/ in the source language! >But if the underlying form ends in a vowel, why is not the suffix >"-a" applied? > >The final explanation, I think, is that the rule-based mechanism >no longer works in present-day Maori. Instead, there are now separate
>suffixes "-tia", "-kia", "-ngia", "-hia", etc., of which "-tia" is the
>ending, and the others are lexically specific, just like English strong
>Of course, only a few verbs, the new ones, have become regularized as >yet. We can probably expect Maori, if it survives, to have some of the >rarer verbs losing their irregular inflections in favor of -tia.
Yes, quite likely. Similar things are happening in those Indonesian languages that have lost or severely neutralized final C contrasts. Buginese /-?/ > -k-, -s-, or -r- before certain verbal suffixes. (It's immediate parent had at least final */t k s r l/). Matthes' 1850s Dictionary gives e.g. /nipi?/ 'thin', /nipisi/ 'make thin' and most of my 40year+ informants agreed. (It's etymologically correct, Malay tipis/nipis.) One young guy in his 20s insisted it was /nipiri/. (And some verbs even have a -r- and/or a -k- or -s- form, with slightly different meanings. Analogy at work.)