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Open Access Publications from the University of California


Himalayan Linguistics is a free peer-reviewed web journal and archive devoted to the study of the languages of the Himalayas. It includes the series Languages and Peoples of the Eastern Himalayan Region, which incorporates the North East Indian Linguistics (NEIL) volumes.

Himalayan Linguistics

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Towards a history of verb agreement in Tibeto-Burman

This article contributes to the case for reconstructing verb agreement for Proto-Tibeto-Burman. It shows first that, given the distribution of cognate agreement systems across the family, there is no alternative to reconstructing it for the proto-language. Secondly it describes the paths by which agreement has been lost in those languages where it is absent.

Evidence is presented to demonstrate the prevalence of evidence for the PTB paradigm in languages across the family. It is shown that, contrary to assertions which have been made in the literature, the agreement systems of Jinghpaw, Nocte, and Northern Chin are cognate to those of the socalled “Rung” branches (Kiranti, rGyalrongic-Qiangic, Nungish, and West Himalayan), and that even without, but especially with, this evidence the “Rung” hypothesis is inconsistent with other proposals for subgrouping Tibeto-Burman. Once the cognacy of the Jinghpaw and Nocte systems is recognized, there is no further reason to believe in a genetic “Rung” unit. Several case studies are presented which show that agreement systems can be quickly and easily lost in TB languages, as a result of intense language contact and/or through the replacement of older finite structures by innovative new constructions based on clausal nominalization.

A possible trace of verb agreement in Tibetan

In the Sino-Tibetan family, some languages have complex verbal agreement systems (Rgyalrong, Kiranti), while others (such as Chinese, Lolo-Burmese and Tibetan) seem to show no trace of any relational morphology on the verb. No consensus has yet emerged concerning the antiquity of agreement morphology in Sino-Tibetan: some scholars view it as retention, while others argue it to be the result of independent innovations.

In this article, we propose that the irregular verb za 'to eat' in Tibetan preserves an indirect trace of verbal agreement. The past tense of this verb, zos, presents an -a/-o alternation without equivalent elsewhere in the language, and a similar irregular alternation is found in the cognates of this verb in various Sino-Tibetan languages (including Kiranti and Qiangic). Evidence from Kiranti languages show that this vowel alternation originally reflects the fusion of the stem vowel with a third person patient past tense *-u suff ix. This suggests that Tibetan and other Bodish languages used to have a full-fledge agreement system which disappeared at an early stage, only leaving indirect traces.

Where have all the verbs gone? On verb stretching and semi-words in Indo-Aryan Palula

The prevalence of complex predicates consisting of a verb component (verbalizer) and a non-verb component (host) is well-known from descriptions of languages in large parts of West and South Asia. Looking particularly at data from the hitherto less-studied Indo-Aryan Palula (Chitral Valley, Pakistan), we will explore their position within the total verb lexicon. Instead of regarding the verbalizers and hosts as building blocks that due to their respective properties license particular argument structures, as has been done in some previous descriptions, I propose that it is the construction as a whole, and its semantics, that assigns case and selects arguments. Rather than seeing a strict dichotomy between verbalizers (also called “light verbs”) used in complex predicates and the corresponding simple verbs, a few highly generic verbs (BECOME, DO, GIVE) seem to be exposed to a high degree of “stretching”. As such they stand as syntactic models – basic argument templates (BAT) – when forming novel complexes, sometimes involving host elements that lack a lexical identity of their own (hence semi-words) in the language as of today.

Khumi elaborate expressions.

This paper investigates the phenomenon of elaborate expressions (EEs) as manifested in Bangladesh Khumi, a language belonging to the Kuki-Chin branch of Tibeto-Burman. In strictly formal terms, Khumi EEs are quasi-reduplicative, compound-like structures consisting of an element which imparts meaning to the whole expression, and a second element which ranges from reduplicative template (e.g., mi-maay, elab(oration)-fire ‘fire’) to formally constrained nonce elements (srúng-sraaw, elab-tobacco ‘tobacco’), to otherwise meaningful elements which bear some semantic resemblance to their paired element (uy-klaay, dog-monkey ‘dog’). Consideration of the use of EEs in a large naturalistic text corpus suggest that their occurrence in Khumi encodes relatively expectable meanings associated with reduplicative structures, rather than simply being used for stylistic or aesthetic effect. EEs often appear to be involved in marking the intensified or distributed nature of the event, hardly surprising given the tendency for reduplication to code such categories cross-linguistically. More noteworthy, however, is the incidence of EEs in contexts where they indicate a more abstract nuance, attributed to the emotional intensity of what a speaker or narrator is expressing. EE use in these contexts may nevertheless be accounted for under the general rubric of intensification.

Perfect constructions with existential verbs in nDrapa

This paper aims to provide a full analysis of perfect constructions with existential verbs in nDrapa. Semantically, such construction conveys either a resulting state or a persistent situation, in accordance with the aspectual type of the situation. Syntactically, the existential verb in the perfect construction is not thoroughly grammaticalized as an aspect marker, but retains some element of its core meaning such as denoting that an entity exists. Moreover, they show distinct features from the serial verb constructions in terms of the aff ixation. Regarding a possible historical origin of the perfect constructions with existential verbs, I conclude that it is the functional borrowing from the neighboring languages.