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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 made. 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 working-Pres.Indic man-Def "The man is working" (2) Qu:'as-ma mamu:k-'i man-Pres.Indic working-Def "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 working-Pres.Indic man "A man is working" (4) *Qu:'as-ma mamu:k man-Pres.Indic working 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 syntactically: (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" Matt.