Academic journal article Studies in African Linguistics

Three-Place Predicates in West African Serializing Languages

Academic journal article Studies in African Linguistics

Three-Place Predicates in West African Serializing Languages

Article excerpt

The widespread assumption that serializing languages use serial verb constructions (SVCs) to code three-participant situations and therefore lack three-place predicates and three-place mono-verbal constructions is shown not to be valid for West African serializing languages. Using Ewe (Gbe), Likpe (na-Togo) and Akan (Tano) as exemplars, I demonstrate that these languages have trivalent predicates and various constructions in which a single verb hosts three arguments in a clause. The languages deploy three-place predicate, adpositional, SVC, and adnominal strategies to code three-participant situations. I argue that there are semantic differences between the various constructions. The hyper-transitivity of these languages might account for the presence of three-place predicate constructions.

1. Introduction1

A widespread assumption in the literature on serializing languages is the claim that such languages use serial verb constructions (SVC) to code three-participant situations. The corollary of this assumption is that such languages do not have structures in which a single verb hosts three overt surface arguments (see e.g. nylander 1997, and Delplanque 1998 for some other myths about verb serialisation). These assumptions may be valid for some serializing languages but do not apply across the board to all serializing languages. Even for those languages where it seems to hold, I would argue that other typological features of those languages contribute to the property rather than serialization as such.

With respect to West African languages, such a claim has been made by Dimmendaal (2001). He writes:

Cross-linguistically, there are different types of serial verb constructions ... Periphrastic causatives (make/give/let x do y), for example, are widespread crosslinguistically. The latter, however, are quite compatible with verbal valency-changing markers in a particular language, or with case marking strategies. In this sense they are not a predictor of a language type. A central feature of West African languages with serial verbs however is the lack of three-place predicates. Instead, a second verb (prepositional verb, coverb, verbid) is required to host a third argument (Dimmendaal 2001:384 emphasis added).

In the context of the distribution of serial verb constructions in West Africa, Dimmendaal argues that the languages that use them tend not to use verb derivational morphology for the coding of three-participant situations and suggests that serialization is the factor responsible for the paucity of three-place verbs, be they simple or derived. He notes:

Andy Pawley (p.c.) has suggested that the absence of three-place predicates in West African languages may be epiphenomenal. Whereas this observation no doubt is justified with respect to Papuan languages ... the situation in the case of the West African niger-Congo languages must be different. Outside this spread zone for serial verbs, there is a widespread tendency to use verb morphology (Dimmendaal 2001:384-385).

My aim in this paper is to demonstrate that the assumptions relating to ditransitive verbs, three-place verb constructions, and verb serialization do not hold for West African serializing languages. I will show that these languages do have three-argument verbs of different kinds. They also have three-place constructions where a verb hosts three surface arguments. Furthermore, I will show that some verbs are ambivalent and can participate in different argument structure constructions in which case the construction licenses some of the arguments.

My illustrations are taken from three languages. I describe in detail three-place verbs and constructions in Ewe (Gbe), usually cited as a representative of a Kwa-type serialising language (cf. George 1975[1981]). 2 I set out the types of predicates and constructions involving three-participant situations in the language. I complement it with a look at the same phenomena in two other languages Akan (Tano) and Likpe (Sεkpεlé), a na-Togo language. …

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