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Activity and Agency in niKòmbá

From:David Stokes <dstokes@...>
Date:Thursday, February 22, 2001, 7:43
The recent discussion on active languages and related issues got me
musing about things in my language  I don't really care whether anyone
considers niKòmbá to be active, split-S, or any such thing. What I want
to know is does the system work? Does it make sense?


From what I can tell, in English whether a verb is active or stative is
property inherent in particular words; a verb is either active or
stative. But in niKòmbá stative is treated as an aspect, along with the
active aspects progressive, perfective, and inchoative. Theoretically,
all verbs can be active or stative, although in practice some may be
used more frequently one way or the other.

I can come up with examples of verbs used both in active and stative
where they might not be exactly grammatical in English, but they do
communicate a certain sense.

Examples of verbs typically stative in English:

I see(stative).         Óvò onùki.              I can see.
I see(stative) the dog. Óvò kyuzúdli onùki.     I the dog is in sight.
I see(pres, prog) the dog. Óvò kyuzúdli onùnzu. I am watching the dog.

I detest(stative) rutabaga.             A statement of fact.
I detest(pres, prog) rutabaga.          *I am detesting rutabaga.
                                        -I have a fork in my hand and
                                        my mother is making me eat.
(I don't think rutabaga grows where the koKòmbá live, but thats ok...)

I own(stative) a house.                 I own a house. - as in English.
I own(pres, prog) a house.              *I am owning a house. - I am
                                        doing the chores associated
                                        with house ownership.

Examples of verbs typically active in English:

I run(pres, prog) up the hill.          I am running up the hill.
lit. I run climb hill.   Ogyónzu odóbînzu dyatádlàglu.

I run(stative).         Ogyóki.         Answer to the question "What do
                                        you do for exercise?"

I hunt/farm/build(stative)              I am a hunter/farmer/builder.

So it seems to me that I can make sense of typically active verbs used
stativly or typically stative verbs used actively. The resulting
sentences might not be grammatical in English and would have to be
translated differently, but they are grammatical in niKòmbá.


Another issue is the marking of the subject based on agency. Nouns are
marked for role as agent(-wa), patient(-ti), goal or beneficiary(-vo)
or location (-ku). The case of the subject is partially determined by
the control the subject has over the verb.

For volitional or controlled actions the subject is in the agent (-wa)

For involuntary actions the subject is in the goal or beneficiary (-vo)

In voluntary verbs that take -vo subjects are mostly verbs typically
stative in English: feel, perceive, resemble...
But there are also some which are typically active in English: fall,
lose, die...

This property is inherent in the word. A particular verb can be either
voluntary or involuntary. Changing the case of the subject is not
normally productive, but can be used poetically sometimes for special

This property is not linked to active/stative in niKòmbá because all
verbs can be either active or stative.
Nor is this linked with transitive/intransitive verbs. Actually niKòmbá
pays little attention to transitivity, although its successor language,
neSija, might.

I'd appreciate your comments and advice.

David Stokes.