LINGUIST List 6.235

Fri 17 Feb 1995

Sum: Object affixes

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  1. Simon Corston, Sum: Object affixes

Message 1: Sum: Object affixes

Date: Thu, 16 Feb 1995 12:21:57 Sum: Object affixes
From: Simon Corston <>
Subject: Sum: Object affixes

Dear Linguists

The time has come for me to post a summary based on replies to a query I
posted a few weeks ago.

This summary is rather long, and has the following structure:

1) The original query
2) Acknowledgement of respondents
3) Discussion of a few languages
4) General discussion
5) Refs
6) Outline of relevant details of Roviana
7) Summary

1) The query

) I am studying Roviana, a Western Oceanic lg. There are pronominal object
) suffixes which occur on the verb indexing person, number etc. However,
) there are no affixes on the verb which would correspond to 'subject'
) (however we might construe the concept). Dixon (1994) claims that there
) are no lgs with object affixes but which lack subject affixes. Does
) anybody else know of any other counter-examples?

2) Acknowledgements.

My thanks to the following people (listed in no particular order) for
their responses (and my apologies if I have left anyone out):

Matthew Dryer, Karen Wallace, Mark Campana, Eloise Jelinek, Leo Connolly,
Geoffrey Nathan, Johannes Heinecke, Malcolm Ross, Mark Mandel, Jaejung

First, a point of clarification. By Western Oceanic I mean a branch of
Eastern Austronesian. Some of the replies seemed to indicate that people
interpreted it to mean Western Austronesian. (Not that it is really

Some people replied with examples of languages with object affixes,
whether or not the languages in question also had affixes indicating other
grammatical relations.

Matthew Dryer replied with the following list of languages which have
object affixes but no subject affixes (taken from an a database mentioned
by him in Language 1992):

Africa: CENTRAL KHOISAN (Nama), IJOID (Kolokuma Ijo), GUR (Bimoba),EAST
CHADIC (Kera), BIU-MANDARA (Margi, Mbara), WEST CHADIC (Ngizim).

Eurasia: NAX (Ingush), AVARO-ANDI-DIDO (Avar), LEZGIC (Archi),

SE Asia Oceania: NICOBARESE (Car Nicobarese),CENTRAL-EASTERN
MALAYO-POLYNESIAN (Kiribatese, Ponapean, Woleaian).

North America: PIMIC (Papago).

South America: WARAO, MAIPUREAN (Palikur).

I have not been able to follow up on all of these refs. I have however,
looked at the Micronesian languages.

3) Discussion of a few languages

Sohn (1975) re Woleaian: object suffixes, but no affixes corresponding to
any other grammatical relation. 3SG has three forms: zero and -y/-w. It
seems that verbs fall in to two classes, with zero being added to verbs in
one class (many of whose members appear to have a tr suffix) and -y/-w to
members of the other class (the choice in forms being phonologically
conditioned). Interestingly, 3PL distinguishes animate vs inanimate,
whereas all other persons and numbers do not. These affixes can occur
with or without an overt independent object NP. These affixes occur on
certain post-verbal advbs, suggesting that they might in fact be clitics.

Zewen (1977) re Marshallese. Pronominal objects immediately follow the
verb. 3SG and 3PL are enclitics and undergo vowel harmony. These
enclitics can co-occur with lexical NP object. 'Subject' prons are all

Groves, Groves and Jacobs (1985) re Kiribatese. It seems from their
description that the language has object suffixes but no other affixes
indicating grammatical relations. However, there are things which could
perhaps be analyzed as subject prefixes (p1 08). Exactly which object
suffixes get attached (out of 11 classes) seems to be lexically

4) General discussion

It would appear that there are no cross-linguistic studies of object
affixes per se.

Some respondents questioned whether the object suffixes in Roviana are
really suffixes and not just clitics. They are suffixes, but even if they
weren't the focus of my interest would be the same. I am focussing on two
facts about Roviana:

(a) The case marking on NP's is on an ergative-absolutive basis, but the
only grammatical relation indicated by verbal affixes is object.

(b) Of the object affixes, only 3PL has zero form.

Being functionally inclined, I am interested in finding a motivation for
(b). It is not simply a case of referentiality (see the brief sketch

5) Refs (with diacritics mangled by the Internet)

Corston, Simon H. 1993. Ergativity in Roviana. MA Thesis: Auckland
University, New Zealand. (To appear in the Pacific Linguistics Series).

Groves, Terab'ata R, Groves, Gordon W. and Jacobs, Roderick. 1985.
Kiribatese: An outline description. Pacific Linguistics, Series D, No.
64. ANU Printing Service: ANU.

Sohn, Ho-Min with the assistance of Tawerilmang, Anthony F. 1975.
Woleian Reference Grammar. Pacific and Asian Languages Institute:
Micronesia. Honoloulu: University Press of Hawaii.

Zewen, Francois-Xavier N. 1977. The Marshallese language: a study of its
phonology, morphology and syntax. Veroffentlichungen des Seminars fur
Indonesische und Sudseesprachen der Universitat Hamburg, Band 10. Berlin:

6) Outline of relevant details of Roviana

The following is a brief description of Roviana based on my own field work
(Corston 1993).

Case marking on NP's is split ergative, in a typologically unusual way:
absolutive is marked (si / se), ergative is unmarked. Pronouns, Proper
NP's and enumerated NP's in main clauses distinguish erg vs abs by means
of special particles. All other NP's are neutral (ie do not formally
distinguish A/S/O). As well as using special particles, prons distinguish
erg vs abs in the form of the pron.

A, S and O are always specific.

Person Object Suffix
1SG -u, -au
2SG -xo
3SG -a
1PL.INCL -xita
1PL.EXCL -xami
2PL -xamu
3PL -0 (zero)

These affixes are similar to or the same as various indep
pronouns, e.g. compare

rau 1SG
xoi 2SG
xita 1PL.INCL
xami 1PL.EXCL
xamu 2PL


asa 3SG ABS or sa 3SG ERG sarini 3PL ABS or ri 3PL ERG (there is quite a
story to sarini historically, see the MA)

If there is a DO NP, you get the affixes e.g.

meke doxor-i-a ri si keke ixana
and see-TR-3SG.DO they ABS one fish
'and they saw a fish.' (Animals, 034)

(The paper I am writing now clarifies why I only put ERG in parentheses -
it is really unmarked, and you have to infer in this context that the pron
= erg because there is no particle)

kote arina tie mae magu-i-0 sarini
FUT PL man come carve-TR-3PL.DO 3PL.ABS
'The men will come and carve them up.' (Feast, 016)
(them = pigs in a feast)

NB, here the DO is the pron sarini.

However, you can get the affixes even if there is no overt DO NP,
suggesting that they have independent reference, e.g.

ai lul-i-u mo
INTJ follow-TR-1SG.DO DT
'Hey! Follow me.' (Animals, 011)

And the following longer example.

e saimone sa tie he-hegere hoirana.
PERS Simon DEF man DUP-laugh there
'That's Simon, the man who's laughing over there.'

avos-i-a xoi?
hear-TR-3SG.DO you
'Do you hear him?' (Day, 029-030)

Note that the suffixes do not 'index' absolutive etc, only O. (See MA)

Roviana has case marked and quantified NP's. Case (erg, abs, obl, etc) is
indicated by articles before the NP. Quantifiers (numbers, 'some', 'all'
etc) precede the head N.

Non-specific undergoers obligatorily occur in a backgrounded object
construction. Compare the following two examples.

raro talo si gami
cook taro ABS 1PL.EXCL
'We cooked taro' / 'we did some taro cooking'

It is difficult to say if 'talo' is 'incorporated' since there are no
other indep elements assoc with the verb which ever come after. Note that
the backgrounded constr is intr, with no transitive marking, and with the
actor as S.

Compare to the 'usual' order VAO

raro-a gami sa talo
cook-3SG.DO 1PL.EXCL DEF taro
'We cooked the taro.'

Undergoers which are pragmatically backgrounded can also occur in the
backgrounded object construction, irrespective of whether they are
referential or not.

7) Summary

* Languages with object affixes but which lack affixes indicating other
grammatical relations do occur, but would appear to be uncommon.

* I feel that having 3PL as the only zero form is unusual, but am unable
to find a cross-linguistic study to bear this out. Even so, the zero form
requires a functional explanation (cf Du Bois, John W. 1987 'Absolutive
zero: paradigm adaptivity in Sacapultec Maya', Lingua 71:203-222).

Again, my thanks to those who replied.

PS I should have a draft of my paper 'Featuredness and core arguments in
Roviana' available shortly.

Simon Corston
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