Mandarin & Nootka (was: Re: Nouns, verbs, adjectives...)
|From:||JOEL MATTHEW PEARSON <mpearson@...>|
|Date:||Friday, December 11, 1998, 23:51|
On Fri, 11 Dec 1998, John Cowan wrote:
> Christophe Grandsire wrote:
> > Really? but is it a syntactic distinction or a semantic one?
> In Mandarin? There are clear syntactic limits: certain suffixes
> can only attach to verbs, others only to nouns. Indeed, there are
> morphological distinctions as well: words with the (now meaningless)
> suffixes "tou" and "zi" are always nouns.
Right. As far as I remember, aspectual suffixes such as "-zhe", "-le",
and "-guo" can only attach to verbs.
When people make claims that language X doesn't distinguish nouns from
verbs syntactically, the often overlook morphology. Speaking of which,
here's what Paul Schachter has to say on Nootka ("Language Typology and
Syntactic Description", vol. 1, pp. 11-12):
BEGINNING OF QUOTE:
To turn now to the question of the universality of the noun-verb
distinction, there are ... languages with regard to which the existence
of stuch a distinction has been denied. Probably the best-known case
is that of Nootka, which has often been cited in the linguistic
literature as lacking a noun-verb distinction, on the basis of the
analysis of Swadesh (1939). Recently, however, Jacobsen (1976) has
reexamined the Nootka data, and has shown that, while the distinction
between nouns and verbs is less obvious than it is in many other
languages, there is nontheless a reasonably clear distinction to be
The following are the kind of examples that have been cited in support
of the alleged lack of a noun-verb distinction in Nootka:
(1) Mamu:k-ma qu:'as-'i
"The man is working"
(2) Qu:'as-ma mamu:k-'i
"The working-one is a man"
As these examples indicate, the notionally noun-like root meaning
"man", QU:'AS, and the notionally verb-like root meaning "working",
MAMU:K, show, from the point of view of a language like English,
rather surprising similarities of function and categorizations. Thus
QU:'AS can function not only as an argument, as in (1), but also as
a predicate, as in (2), without any accompanying copula. And MAMU:K
can function not only as a predicate but also as an argument (as in
(1) and (2), respectively). Moreover, both the notionally noun-like
and the notionally verb-like roots may be marked either for the
typically nominal category definite (by the suffix -'I) or the
typically verbal category present (by the suffix -MA).
What Jacobsen points out, however, is that the functional and
categorizational ranges of roots like QU:'AS and roots like
MAMU:K, although similar, are not identical. For example, while
QU:'AS and other notionally noun-like roots may function as arguments
either with or without the suffix -'I, MAMU:K and other notionally
verb-like roots function as arguments only when suffixed. Compare
(3) and (4):
(3) Mamu:k-ma qu:'as
"A man is working"
(4) *Qu:'as-ma mamu:k
Moreover, some of the apparent similarities between nouns and verbs
in Nootka turn out, on careful examination, to be of rather questionable
significance. Thus there is evidence that Nootka tense morphemes, such
as -MA in (1) and (2), are best analyzed as clitics that attach to the
clause-initial word, *whatever* category this word belongs to....
END OF QUOTE.
So the moral of the story is that while nouns and verbs in Nootka
are *distributionally* similar, they are *morphosyntactically*
distinct in ways which allow us to distinguish two classes of words
on purely structural (non-semantic) grounds. Nootka may be unusually
generous in allowing nouns to behave as verbs and verbs to behave
as nouns, but there are still two separate classes.
Incidentally, pairs like (1) and (2) can also be found in Malagasy,
for which there is ample evidence for distinguishing nouns from verbs
(5) Miasa ny lehilahy
works the man
"The man works"
(6) Lehilahy ny miasa
man the works
"The one who works (is) a man"
No linguist would ever claim that there is no noun-verb distinction
in Malagasy. It is simply the case that you can convert any verb phrase
into a noun phrase by adding the determiner NY "the" (some people call
these 'headless relative clauses'):
mipetraka any amin'ny tanana
live there in-the city
"live in the city"
ny mipetraka any amin'ny tanana
the live there in-the city
"the one(s) who live in the city"
"those who live in the city"
cf.: ny olona mipetraka any amin'ny tanana
the people live there in-the city
"the people who live in the city"