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THEORY: Verbs go irregular before our very eyes!

From:John Cowan <cowan@...>
Date:Tuesday, October 30, 2001, 4:03
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.

Set II:

Active verb     Passive verb    Gloss
patu            patua           'strike, kill'
kite            kitea           'see, find'

Sets I and II can be neatly added by postulating underlying
forms PATU, KITE, and adding this rule:

3)      To make the passive voice of a verb ending in a vowel,
        apply the suffix "-a".

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

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 passive
suffixes "-tia", "-kia", "-ngia", "-hia", etc., of which "-tia" is the regular
ending, and the others are lexically specific, just like English strong verbs.
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.

John Cowan     
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   at the front desk.           |          check your assumptions at the door.
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Dirk Elzinga <dirk_elzinga@...>
And Rosta <a.rosta@...>