Oceanic Linguistics, vol. 48, no. 1 (2009)


Information Structure in Abma

This paper examines the information structure of Abma, an Oceanic language of Pentecost Island, Vanuatu. Abma has four main syntactic strategies for manipulating the referential status of NPs while at the same time maintaining textual continuity: these are (1) constituent order, (2) syntactic-pragmatic marking, (3) phrasal movement, and (4) tail-head linkage. These approaches are examined individually, but also from the perspective of the larger, integrated system within which they operate. Constituent order is fairly rigid, but speakers are able to get around this constraint by taking advantage of special marking and sentence constructions that affect NP referentiality and information flow.

The Position of the Languages of Eastern Indonesia: A Reply to Donohue and Grimes

Donohue and Grimes (2008) question the validity of the claims (1) that most of the Austronesian languages of eastern Indonesia fall into a Central Malayo-Polynesian (CMP) subgroup that appears to continue a prehistoric dialect chain, and (2) that Central Malayo-Polynesian and Eastern Malayo-Polynesian form a larger Central-Eastern Malayo-Polynesian (CEMP) subgroup. Some of their objections are valid and welcome, but most of the counterarguments they present are based on an approach to the data that diverges sharply from the standard use of the Comparative Method of linguistics, and in certain crucial cases from generally accepted scientific method. A reexamination of individual comparisons shows that many of the exclusively shared innovations that they dismiss stand up to close scrutiny. This is particularly true of CEMP, and while it is not true of CMP, the evidence for geographically extensive diffusion among the CMP languages strongly suggests that all or most of them once formed a dialect chain.

A Study of Triple Verb Serialization in Four Formosan Languages

Most previous studies on serial verb constructions (SVC) in Austronesian languages have focused almost exclusively on two-verb constructions. In this study, we examine serial verb constructions involving three or more verbs in four Formosan languages—Kavalan, Saisiyat, Squliq Atayal, and Tsou—focusing our attention on the type of verb serialization that observes the same-subject condition. Action or motion verbs are found to be the only attested final verb in an SVC in these languages. General strategies for triple verb serialization result when any two types of the nonfinal verbs in a two-verb SVC—namely, modal, emotion, evaluative/manner, motion, or “adverbial” verbs—occur before the final action/motion constituent verb in some specific linear order, while Tsou and Kavalan recruit, in addition, one or two types of “sentential adverbial” verbs and degree or quantifier verbs in a language-specific triple verb serialization strategy. A consistent ordering pattern of the various types of verbs is found in all of the languages studied. Quadruple verb serialization, found only in Tsou and Kavalan, results when certain subtypes of “adverbial” verbs occur in combination with certain other subtypes. Our findings are also consonant with a central tenet in theories of construction grammar, that constructions in languages are not broad syntactic templates, but are typically lexically skewed schemas and formulas.

Morphological Conditions on Regular Sound Change? A Reanalysis of *l-loss in Paamese and Southeast Ambrym

Northern Paamese and Southeast Ambrym, two languages of Central Vanuatu, share a set of sound changes involving vocalization and loss of *l. One subpart of this sound change results in loss of *l word-initially before nonhigh vowels. An interesting aspect of this sound change is that it appears to apply in all word classes except verbs. Indeed, Crowley (1997) suggests that Northern Paamese *l-loss is a clear case of sound change with grammatical conditioning. In this paper we suggest that phonological and morphological aspects of verbal inflectional paradigms have given rise to the apparent exceptionality of *l-loss in these two languages. Phonological factors result in continuation of *l, while the structure of inflectional paradigms has given rise to analogical restoration of initial /l/ in all verbs where it is expected to be lost. Under this analysis, initial *l-loss can be seen to have applied without exception, and without grammatical conditioning.

Kavalan Reduplication

Kavalan is an endangered Formosan plains-tribe language still actively spoken in daily life by fewer than one hundred native speakers. This paper investigates reduplication in Kavalan in terms of pattern and meaning. Having reviewed the relevant literature (e.g., Li 1982, 1996; Lin 1996; Chang 2000; Li and Tsuchida 2006; Lee 2007), I propose that Kavalan reduplication can be generalized into the following patterns: (1) disyllabic reduplication; (2) monosyllabic reduplication; (3) Ca-reduplication; and (4) lexicalized reduplication. Realization of reduplicants in Kavalan is phonologically driven. A flowchart is used to indicate the process of reduplicant formation. The discussion on the meanings is based on a morphosemantic perspective (cf. Kiyomi 1993), dividing reduplication into verbal and nominal types. The former manifests the meanings of iteration, continuation, intensity, intensification (with sia- or saa-), attenuation, reciprocity (with sim-), and pretense (with sa-); the latter has meanings of plurality, distributiveness, indefiniteness, and smell (with su-). Ca-reduplication is used to indicate intensification (e.g., the increasing quality of color terms), and lexicalized reduplication is often found with onomatopoetic verbal roots and names of fauna, especially birds and insects, and flora.

Progressive Aspect, the Verbal Prefix meN-, and Stative Sentences in Malay

This paper offers a new perspective to the study of the verbal prefix meN- by investigating its aspectual properties. We claim that, like the progressive, the prefix meN- in Malay is incompatible with sentences that describe states. This result is compatible with an analysis of meN- as a progressive viewpoint aspectual marker, though it is also possible that meN- shares with the progressive a meaning component that makes them both incompatible with states. We show that the incompatibility of meN- with states is found in both intransitive and transitive sentences. On the basis of their shared restriction, we argue that meN- in intransitive and meN- in transitive sentences should not be treated as distinct morphemes, as some previous researchers either have assumed or must assume. The result thus adds a new data point for a better understanding of meN-, and enables us to narrow down the competing analyses of meN-.

The Syntax of Prefix Concord in Saaroa: Restructuring and Multiple Agreement

This paper investigates the syntax of prefix concord and offers a principled explanation of various syntactic restrictions on prefix concord constructions in Saaroa. First, I argue for a structural constraint on the prefix concord effect: this effect can only occur within the vP-level projection. Second, I show that prefix concord constructions display the core properties of restructuring constructions (e.g., long NP movement and clitic climbing), but I also argue against a serial verb construction analysis, in contrast to Tsuchida (2000) and Adelaar (2004). Third, I propose that the concord effect is a reflex of Multiple agreement (cf. Hiraiwa 2001, 2005; Chomsky 2004): under the Multiple Agree framework, I propose that the prefix concord effect is the morphological realization of multiple checking/valuation of a formal feature and that the intervening effect on prefix concord constructions results from the feature-spreading conflict. Finally, I argue that various restrictions on Saaroa prefix concord constructions are deducible from attested universal conditions, namely the phase impenetrability condition and the feature activity condition.

Clause Order and Information Structure in Cheke Holo

Cheke Holo (Northwest Solomonic, Solomon Islands) displays considerable clause order variation, with SVO, OVS, VSO, and VOS all attested. In addition, arguments are frequently not overtly expressed, while some arguments may be marked with the preposed particle si. This paper investigates these issues in terms of information structure by examining each in its discourse context. It concludes that the pragmatically neutral order in Cheke Holo is VSO; that a single preverbal topic position exists, accounting for SVO and OVS; and that focused arguments are located in clause-final position, accounting for VOS. It finds that continued topics are always expressed by topic-drop (that is, elision), and that preverbal position is reserved for contrastive topics and switch topics, although in certain specific contexts, switch topics may instead be dropped. The paper concludes that preposed si is confined to main clauses and is a focus marker for arguments and adjuncts in clause-final position, but that another particle si, with a variant sini, occurs following, not preceding, a sentence-initial focused constituent that can range in size from an argument to an entire clause. On the basis of the analysis presented, Cheke Holo demonstrates that focused arguments need not be new information, as often assumed, but merely need to be unpredictable in the discourse context, allowing for discourse-given or context-given arguments in contrastive focus.


The Use of Language Data in Comparative Research: A Note on Blust (2008) and Onvlee (1984)

This squib corrects and explain errors in the representation, interpretation, and analysis of Kambera data used in Blust (2008). By highlighting the problems with the Kambera data, some pitfalls in the comparativist’s task of using others’ descriptions of primary data are identified. The primary source of Blust’s Kambera lexical data is Onvlee (1984), a dictionary containing about 6,000 entries. Some background information about this source is given in order to evaluate its usefulness for comparative research. More generally, this squib stresses the crucial importance of including detailed metadata in synchronic linguistic descriptions of primary data, as well as in comparative studies.

Another Universal Bites the Dust: Northwest Mekeo Lacks Coronal Phonemes

On the basis of cross-linguistic comparison, many universals have been proposed concerning the structure of phonological inventories. One universal of this kind states that every phonological system has coronal phonemes. In this study, Northwest Mekeo, an Oceanic language of Papua New Guinea, is shown to be a counterexample. Northwest Mekeo lacks coronal phonemes, though surface coronals are found as predictable allophones of velar phonemes, and in some recent loans.


David Mead, ed. 2007. 10-ICAL historical-comparative papers.

Jeff Siegel, John Lynch, and Diana Eades, eds. 2007. Language description, history and development: Linguistic indulgence in memory of Terry Crowley.

Elizabeth Zeitoun, 2007. A grammar of Mantauran (Rukai).

René van den Berg and Peter Bachet. 2006. Vitu grammar sketch.