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verbal classifiers

From:Matt Pearson <mpearson@...>
Date:Thursday, May 20, 1999, 18:33
Dredging up memories of my old Auari/Awemai project got me thinking about
another project I've been kicking around, which exploits what I think
may be a novel way for constructing verbs.

The idea is for a conlang (call it Awari - I like that name), in which
all verbs are formed from two parts, a PREVERB (or VERBAL CLASSIFIER)
and a ROOT.  The preverb gives information about the argument structure
and type of event the verb refers to, while the root provides the
semantic content.  I started playing around with this last night, and
here's what I came up with:

Verb roots may denote an object (e.g. "kamaat" = "a knife for cutting
meat"), a property (e.g. "likii" = "quick"), or an activity (e.g. "zana" =
"run, running").  To these roots, various preverbs may be prefixed which
specify whether the verb is transitive or intransitive, what kind of
event it denotes, etc..  There are several dozen preverbs, including the
following.  (Here X, Y, Z, and R are variables representing positions
in the argument of the verb where various things can be plugged in;
X stands for the subject, Y and Z for the objects, and R for the content
of the root):

        du-      "X holds/carries R", "X moves in an R manner"
        ha-      "X uses R", "X does R"
        ida-     "X goes to R", "X begins to R"
        ili(na)- "X uses/does R (to Y) repeatedly"
        ima-     "X transforms Y into an R", "X causes Y to become R"
        ka-      "X affects Y by means of R"
        ma-      "X is an R", "X is someone/thing that does/is R"
        maha-    "X makes an R"
        mba-     "X uses Y to transform Z in an R manner"
        mbadu-   "X go to Y in an R manner"
        mi-      "X is at R"
        na-      "X affects Y in an R manner", "X acts upon Y using R"
        ndi-     "X perceives Y by means of R"
        ndu-     "X puts Y on an R", "X causes Y to go to R"
        ngiha-   "X acts on Y in a forceful/decisive way using R"
        ni-      "X becomes an R"
        walu-    "X is busy using/doing R"

How exactly these preverbs are interpreted depends on the kind of root
they attach to.  Hopefully some examples will make the system clear:

        Roots:  hai       "inside, interior"
                kamaat    "a knife for cutting meat"
                lakii     "fast"
                mbaa      "seeing"
                mbaasat   "reading" (lit. "seeing-word")

        du-hai          "X goes through an interior space"
        du-kamaat       "X wields/carries a knife for cutting meat"
        du-lakii        "X goes quickly"
        du-mbaa         "X searches with his eyes, X looks all around"
        du-mbaasat      "X does research, X reads carefully"

        ha-kamaat       "X uses a knife for cutting meat"
        ha-mbaa         "X sees things"
        ha-mbaasat      "X is reading"

        ida-hai         "X goes inside, X enters"
        ida-lakii       "X speeds up, X becomes quick"
        ida-mbaa        "X begins to see, X gains the ability to see"
        ida-mbaasat     "X begins to read"

        ilina-kamaat    "X cuts Y (= meat) repeatedly with a knife"
        ili-mbaa        "X looks at Y repeatedly"
        ili-mbaasat     "X reads repeatedly"

        ima-kamaat      "X makes Y into a knife for cutting meat"

        ka-mbaa         "X discovers Y (e.g. a lost object) by spotting it"

        ma-hai          "X is the interior (of something)"
        ma-kamaat       "X is a knife for cutting meat"
        ma-lakii        "X is a fast one, X is fast"
        ma-mbaa         "X sees, X is sighted"
        ma-mbaasat      "X is a reader, X is literate"

        maha-kamaat     "X makes a knife for cutting meat"
        maha-lakii      "X makes things fast, X causes things to go fast"
        maha-mbaa       "X looks at Y"
        maha-mbaasat    "X reads"

        mba-kamaat      "X uses Y to make Z into a knife for cutting meat"

        mbadu-lakii     "X goes quickly to Y"

        mi-hai          "X is inside"

        na-kamaat       "X cuts Y (= meat) with a knife"

        ndi-kamaat      "X reveals Y (e.g. bones, worms) by cutting meat"
        ndi-lakii       "X quickly perceives/realises Y"
        ndi-mbaa        "X sees Y"
        ndi-mbaasat     "X reads Y (= words), X understands Y by reading it"

        ndu-kamaat      "X puts Y (e.g. an inscription) on a knife..."
        ndu-lakii       "X causes Y to become quick, X speeds up Y"

        ngiha-kamaat    "X butchers Y (= meat) violently with a knife"
        ngiha-mbaa      "X stares at Y, making Y uncomfortable"

        ni-kamaat       "X becomes a knife for cutting meat"
        ni-lakii        "X becomes a fast one"

        walu-kamaat     "X is busy cutting up meat with a knife"
        walu-mbaa       "X is busy looking around, X is busy searching"
        walu-mbaasat    "X is busy reading"

As I see it, the possibilities are endless.  With a collection of, say,
three dozen preverbs, you could produce an extremely large number of verbs
using just a few roots.

What do people think?


Matt Pearson
UCLA Linguistics Department
405 Hilgard Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90095-1543