Rawàng Ata Verbs and Verb Phrases

Not definitive, of course, but currently the direction in which I’m headed…


3.0 Contents of this Chapter

This chapter is about verbs and verb phrases. First we will deal with verbs; then, with other elements of the verb phrase.

Verbs occur in finite and nonfinite forms. We will look first at finite verbs, and then at nonfinite verbs.

Finite verbs have two distinct forms – liquid state and concrete state. First, we will deal with the liquid state. The syntactic and semantic principles underlying the choice of state will be dealt with elsewhere.

Verbs also have two distinct nonfinite forms. These are the simple infinitive and the abstract infinitive. These will be dealt with together and their differences explained. There are also nouns formed derivationally from verbs; these will not be dealt with here, except where they overlap with nonfinite verbs.

After addressing the verb itself, we will then discuss other elements: verbal articles, verbal-nominal particles, and adverbs.

Finally we will address serial verb constructions.

3.1 The Liquid Verb

Rawàng Ata verbs have two distinct forms – liquid state and concrete state. First, we will deal with the liquid state. The syntactic and semantic principles underlying the choice of state will be dealt with elsewhere.

Rawàng Ata verbs are cited in the form of a verb root; these roots cannot stand as words themselves, and often could not do so, as they violate the phonotactic constraints by frequently ending in consonants that cannot appear in final position.

Roots may be simple or complex. The great majority are simple, and have one indivisible body. Complex verbs have ‘initial’ and/or ‘terminal’ augments, between the body and which can be placed affixes. Examples of simple verbs include raw- (‘settle, agree, rest, fix’), dil- (‘see’), sakkung- (‘kick’), and lefi-, “touch heads with”; examples of complex verbs include s-dil- (‘notice’), mu-dil- (‘be highly noticeable’), dī-dil (‘perceive indescribably’), and sakkung-t- (‘set into motion by kicking’).

Verbs inflect by marking up to five categories: subject agreement, object agreement, location, voice, and ition.

Subject agreement is by means of prefixes. There are approximately twenty-six commonly-found prefixes, including the zero prefix. These can be divided into fourteen first-person prefixes (wa-, ba-, ka-, kāta-, īku-, iku-, in-, isi-, bana-, ō-, wana-, diyai-, ku-, làka-, bitti-), three second-person prefixes (tu-, ōtu-, angātu-), seven third-person prefixes (sa-, ra-, nà-, ku-, angāna-, i- and /),one ‘fourth-person’ prefix (lu-), one ‘fifth-person’ prefix (du-), and one ‘sixth-person’ prefix (yay-).

Among the first-person prefixes, ba- is used only by adult male singular speakers. It is used in most formal speech, but in casual speech it has connotations of stuffiness, grandiosity, chauvinism (when used when speaking to women) and arrogance, and is therefore mostly used in asserting or resisting authority and power. kāta- is the female equivalent in terms of grandiosity (and is only ever used when speaking to other women), but is not used in formal settings – instead, īku- is used; it is not seen as potentially offensive like ba- is, so its use is more frequent. iku- is a less formal version that retains the connotation of propriety and modesty, and is used by women when speaking to those who deserve respect but not honour (elders, husbands, etc). ka- is the usual neutral prefix for female speakers. in- is used when typically when speaking to women, and projects a dominant but non-authoritative, young adult male persona – although it is usually used by female speakers; when used by men, it is usually only to address lovers (of either gender), although the oyo gender use it extensively in non-romantic contexts. bana- is the voice of a male child, though it is rarely used by children in practice; it is mostly used by women wishing to stress their own childishness (to appear winsome, for instance, or to pre-empt and defuse accusations of foolishness) – men will only use it when confessing or committing the most foolish actions, and the female kunyi gender emphatically never use it. isi- is a very humble prefix usually used only by women, in cases of marked power imbalence; diyai- is even more humble, and is rarely used in the modern world except by the most penitant wrongdoers, and when addressing the most glorious of masters; isi- and diyai- may perhaps be translated by expressions like ‘I, your lowly servant’ and ‘I, your worthless and inadequate slave’; for men, however, isi- may be more demeaning than diyai-; on the other hand, isi- is more likely to be used playfully or in jest, which diyai– almost never is. wa-, meanwhile, is gender- and status-neutral; it is the default prefix for male speakers, and is used by women in situations that are formal or businesslike but that do not merit the superiority of kāta- or the formalism of īku-; however, some may take moral, sociological or grammatical offense at a woman using wa-, the exception being when a woman is speaking on behalf of others. wa- is often used as a neutral and inclusive exclusive plural, although any other prefix can also be used in this way (for instance, a female speaker using a female prefix with a plural meaning does not entail that she is speaking only on behalf of other women, though it may suggest so). wana- is the standard inclusive plural – that is, used where English would use ‘we’ to mean ‘you and I (and maybe others)’. ō- is a more formal, and more hostile, equivalent of wana-; it may also be used with no clear inclusive or plural meaning, to avoid responsibility, in a similar way to some usages of English ‘one’. làka- is a prefix taught to foreigners, previously only used by removers of human waste; bitti- was once used by those who scavenged discarded items for things that might be of use to others, but is now often used ironically by those who see themselves, or are portraying themselves, as sharp negotiators, or who are defending their decision to speak plainly or coarsely.

There are a great many other first-person prefixes, in theory. Many of these mark varying degrees of social status (of the speaker, of the addressee, and of any audience) and of kin connection – these prefixes are not generally used in modern speech, and are considered rude, obsolete, and inegalitarian, although they may be found in old documents or poems, or occasionally used in highly-literate jest (most speakers are unfamiliar with them). Others are exclusive plurals formed from the various singulars, generally by whole or partial reduplication, or by the affixes ō- or –tō or –tan or –an, or the infix -n-, but most of these are now obsolete. Theoretically, a woman might use the prefix òinkuìnkutan-, but such a form would never in practice be encountered outside comedy.

In general, there is a tendency to avoid any first-person prefix and to speak of oneself in the third person where possible.

Among the second-person prefixes, tu- is used as standard, ōtu- as a more respectful version, and angātu– as an honorific. As it is common to avoid using second-person prefixes except in cases of formality, tu- often has a derogatory connotation; however, this is not always present, when the choice to use a prefix has clearly been made for other reasons (for instance, among family there is less care taken to avoid directly addressing people, and hence there is less connotation attached to the theoretically ‘neutral’ choice of ‘tu’). ōtu- and, particularly, angātu- are also often used in derogatory contexts, particularly to insult foreigners, or others seen as not being fully proficient in the language – distinguishing insult from honour is generally only possible through analysis of the wider context (generally informal usage with highly formal prefixes is probably intended as a covert insult, or at least as a rough jest). As with first-person prefixes, there are a host of obsolete second-person honorific and derogatory prefixes no longer in general use.

Of the third-person prefixes, the zero prefix is used for transitive actions when the subject is a male human (or portrayed as equivalent to human in the case of some fables and children’s stories). In the case of other animates (gods, animals, tools, some natural phenomena), or in the case of human subjects with an intransitive action, or in cases where the human subject is accompanied by a counter (eg plurals), the prefix used is ra-; for inanimates, it is sa-. nà- is used with inanimate mass nouns, when no counter is present (when a counter is present, sa- is used). ku- is used with female human subjects with no counter; angāna- is an honorific. i- is used for subjects that are possessed by something else, unless they are inalienably possessed (in which case lu- is used).

lu- is the ‘fourth-person’ prefix – that is, it is used with the sense of ‘the owner of the thing we’re talking about’. du-, the ‘fifth person’, is used in the vague sense of ‘somebody’, but with the expectation that there is some specific person being talked about – it’s just that the speaker doesn’t know who it happens to be.  The ‘sixth person’, yay- is used in the sense of ‘the causer or controller’ – often someone who has not been explicitly referenced.

These subject prefixes are placed before the root (i.e. after any initial augment). When an initial augment is present, sandhi must be applied where appropriate. For instance, the root s-dil- becomes, with a third person subject, djil-, jadil-, djadil-, jnàdil-, hudil-, sangānadil- or sidil-; dī-dil- yields dīdil-, dijadil-, disadil-, dingàdil-, dīkudil-, dilangānadil- and dīdil-; mu-dil gives mudil-, mujdil-, mujdil-, mùntil-, mukudil-, mangānadil-, and muidil-. This complexity is ameliorated by the small number of complex roots in the language, and the even smaller number of initial augments utilised.

Voice is a ternary category, marked by a suffix. Active voice is unmarked; passive voice is marked by the suffix –ak; antipassive, by the suffix –ut. The use of these voices will be described elsewhere. The suffixes are added to the root directly.

Object agreement is rather more complicated. There are three first-person suffixes (-aw, -awan, -ō), two second-person suffixes (-ut, -angātu), four third-person suffixes (-ar, -as, -i and -/), and one fourth-person suffix (-ul). These are the same as, or transparantly derived from through metathesis, the equivalent subject prefixes. Worth noting is the fact that –ut is the object equivalent of both tu- and ōtu-, that –ō is a formal first-person suffix of either number (-aw being singular and plural exclusive, –awan being plural exclusive), and that zero-marking is used when the object is human and the action is intransitive, or when the subject is human and the action is intransitive.  Object agreement follows the root, or the voice suffix if present.

Version agreement is quaternary. The verb agrees with the version of the noun with which the verb as a whole agrees (object or subject), or, if it agrees with both object and subject, it agrees in version with the subject. First version agreement is unmarked; second version is marked by –a; third version is marked by –ang; fourth-version is marked by –i, but is unmarked if either the subject or the object is marked with –i.

Ition is a binary category: andative (motion away from the deictic locus) or venitive (motion toward the deictic locus). The deictic locus will be explained elsewhere. The andative is marked by a zero suffix, while the venitive is marked by the suffix –u, with the exception explained below. This follows the object suffix if present, otherwise the voice suffix if present, and otherwise the root. The moving thing is the argument which which the verb agrees, or the subject if it agrees with both arguments – although the motion may well be metaphorical.

Location is also a binary category: on land or at sea. This interacts with the ition suffix thusly: andative + maritime = -ni; venitive + maritime = –ai; venitive+terrestrial = –u. Otherwise, the terrestrial is marked by -a, and the maritime is marked with -i. It is important to note that location follows the terminal augment if there is one, and thus may be separated from the ition suffix – in this case, the equations mentioned do not apply. For example, sakkung-t with first-person object, active voice, gives, in the four ition/location combinations: sakkungota, sakkungoti, sakkungòuta, sakkungòuti; sakkung- in the same inflexions gives sakkungawa, sakkungi, sakkungu, sakkungai. In the passive with a third-person inanimate object, sakkung- yields sakkungakasa, sakkungakajni, sakkungakasu, sakkungakasai; in the same inflexions, sakkung-t- yields sakkungakatta, sakkungakatti, sakkungakasuta, sakkungakasuti. In the active, and with zero (or no) object suffix, lefi- yields lefia, lefini, lefiu, lefiai.

It is important to note that not all verbs are marked for both subject and object agreement. Indeed, only verbs in so-called ‘directive’ text do so – ‘directive’ text is any conversation in which the interlocutor is directly addressed, or in which the speaker uses the first-person. In general, directive text is avoided where possible, and is usually found only in relatively formal or intimate contexts – among those who are not family, and who are not talking to their direct superiors, the use of directive text will be perceived as hostile, and possible offensive. An analogue might be the decision to add ‘sir’ to the end of every English sentence when talking to a stranger (and outside a business situation).

In non-directive (‘discursive’) text, either the subject or object may be marked, but not both. This decision is largely lexical – some verbs (dynamic verbs) generally mark the subject and other verbs (stative verbs) generally mark the object. Some verbs can mark either – often with a change in meaning. For example, savota means “it strikes sth.”, while votasa means not “it is struck” but “it is broken by a blow”. Every dynamic verb can be transformed into a stative verb and vice-versa – but in practice, many verbs are only commonly used in one form or the other, or have one form take on a particularly restricted or metaphorical meaning. For example, rasakkunga means “they kick”, but sakkungara means “they feel attacked by new news and developments when they are already unhappy” and is a less common expression.

In addition to dynamic and stative verbs, a third species exists: motive verbs. These are intransitive by definition and only ever mark agreement with the subject – even in directive text. They generally deal with motion, as the name implies, but also include a small number of ‘procedural’, ‘performative’ and ‘textual’ verbs. Examples of these include bortat- (“prepare a meal”, procedural), kal- (“undress for bed”, procedural), iur- (“I resign”, performative), lai- (“I accept”, performative), i- (“I disown you”, performative), hut- (“go away!”, performative), nos- (“remember these words being said”, textual), and yùt- (“believe this statement”, textual). Of these, the performatives are of particular note, as they exist only with first-person agreement, and in a number of cases this is zero-marked. For example, ia is the andative terrestrial of of i-, and iura is the andative terrestrial of iur-; however, the andative terrestrial of lai- is walai, with overt person marking but no overt location marking (one of only a handful of irregular verbs in this regard).

The use of terrestrial and maritime location is also worth commenting on. Generally, these markers mean exactly that – they say whether the event occurred on land or at sea. However, there are cases when the maritime marker is used even when the event occurred on land. Typically, this indicates uncertainty, alienation from others, riskiness, lack of wisdom or moral uprightness, unclear aims or consequences, lack of knowledge by the speaker of the details of the action, and so forth – generally a sense of being ‘far away’ and ‘beyond/without help’. It is also often used for events on land that are not the home island itself – particularly if performed by people who are only ‘passing through’. The terrestrial marker can sometimes be used for actions at sea, but more narrowly – mostly, it is fair to say that an event is ‘on land’ if a person could still easily swim to solid land (which can include swimming down – events passing over reefs can often be ‘on land’).

3.2 The Concrete Verb

The concrete state of a verb can be formed from the liquid state through affixes. In the case of most dynamic and active verbs, this means adding the prefix a- and the suffic –an; in the case of motive verbs, it means adding the prefix to- and the suffix –an. There are also a small number of verbs in which it means adding the prefix kà- and the suffix –a, or the prefix a- and the suffix –ō, or a- and –ìan. Finally, there are some verbs which use the normal affixes in most cases, but replace the suffix –an with the suffix –oto if the object is of a certain type (specifically, where the object is a dual). These irregular verbs are a distinct minority. Verbs with final augments place the suffix after the augment and add an infix between root and augment (almost always –a-); verbs with initial augments place the prefix before the augment.

Concrete verbs inflect to agree with their objects. In the case of motive verbs, there is only one core argument, so this is the same as the ‘subject’ they agree with in liquid state. They agree by means of a prefix. These prefixes are the same as the subject prefixes for liquid state verbs, except that the only first-person prefixes are su- (singular or exclusive) and wa- (inclusive plural), and that with a female object, the same prefix is used as for a male (i.e. ra- or zero); it should be noted also that the rules for zero-marking match those for zero-marked objects in the liquid state. Furthermore, the fourth, fifth and sixth-person prefixes are not used. It is worth reiterating that although in the liquid state wa- indicates singular or exclusive, it indicates inclusive in the concrete state.

Concrete verbs also, in very limited way, inflect to agree with their subjects: this is only true to the extent that a verb that would be dynamic if it were in its liquid state that has a feminine subject will take ku- in place of the concrete prefix a-, and ko- in place of the concrete prefix to-.

Concrete state verbs do not take voice marking. Nor do they take ition marking. They do, however, inflect for location: terrestrial location is zero-marked, while maritime location is marked by –i. This suffix follows the concrete suffix.

For example, “it (inanimate) is kicked” is asasakkungan or asasakkungani. “She  touches heads with him” is kulefìan – the root-final –i takes an accent by analogy with –ìan concretes, and the human subject takes zero marking because the action is intransitive (the details of transitivity will be explained elsewhere).

3.3 Non-Finite Forms of the Verb

Rawàng Ata has not one but three types of infinitive. The simple infinitive is used to refer to an instance or example of the verb but without commenting on its subjects, objects, ition, or location; the abstract infinitive is used to refer to the general concept of the verb. The simple infinitive comes in liquid and concrete states. The difference between simple and abstract infinitive often corresponds to definite/indefinite and undetermined abstract nouns in English – so, for instance, rawàng, the simple infinitive, might be glossed as ‘the agreement’ or ‘an agreement’, and sakkungàng might be glossed as ‘the kick’ or ‘a kick’, while asàrawani might be glossed ‘agreement’, and asàsakkungani might be glossed ‘kicking’.

As can be seen from these examples, the simple infinitive adds the suffix –àng, while the abstract adds the prefix asà- and the suffix –ani. Concrete simples are simply formed from the concrete form of the verb. Verbs with final augments add the suffixes after the augment and an infix between root and augment unless in the concrete state already (-a- for simple infinitives, –asà- for abstracts, with this prefix becoming a- when these abstract infix is present), while verbs with initial augments add the prefix after the augment. Thus, sakkung-t- has the simple liquid infinitive sakkungatàng, the simple concrete infinitive asakkungatanàng, and the abstract infinitive asakkungasàtani; mu-dil has the three infinitives, mudilàng, kàmudilāng, and muasàdilani; lefi- gives lefiàng, alefiànang, and asàlefiani.

3.4 Verbal Accompaniments

Verb phrases in Rawàng Ata involve at least one verb, and can also involve varies small subsidiary words. These words are articles, verbal-nominal particles, adverbs, and motifs.

Articles are short, uninflectable words that precede the verb. They are a relatively small closed class, and they usually carry aspectual, modal, or definiteness information. The most important article is – the definite article. This indicates that the action being discussed is not a new action, but is the same action that has been mentioned earlier in the discourse. It contrasts with , the antidefinite, which indicates that the action is emphatically not the same as any action mentioned previously, no matter what the assumption, but is ‘a different instance of’ the action. Other example articles are: dai, the mirative, which indicates the surprise of the speaker, or their doubt of the event’s veracity, ū, which indicates that the event did not happen (and can have negative or irrealis implications) and no, the distributive, which indicates that for each appropriate object, the action is performed at least once (rather than to all the objects simultaneously).

Verbal-nominal particles are an even smaller closed class: there are only three of them, and can perhaps be considered a part of the verb itself, as they are entirely lexically determined. The three particles are uya, ika and ama – in general, ika is likely to be used with stative verbs, ama with dynamic verbs, and uya with motive verbs, but this is only a guideline. The particles have no real meaning in their own right, but serve syntactically as dummy nouns referring cataphorically to the associated verb, as verbs cannot directly take the place of nouns. The particle precedes the verb, and when appearing in the direct case (ie without suffix) and without any intervening element, it is pronounced as part of the verb itself. In these cases we will mark it with a hyphen. Any article will intervene between particle and verb.

Motifs are a larger class. They are uninflectable particles that follow the verb. They are mostly the same as the motifs that follow nouns. As with nouns, they often suggest  more abstract meanings, or specify paths and participants and perspectives. For example, raw-, “agree, settle, rest, fix, treat” becomes raw- ata, “come to concord together, speak one language with”; similarly, lefi-, “touch heads with” becomes lefi- ata, “have a romantic orgy with”. Birk- mean “scrape”; birk- tos means “skin from head to toe”; birkhen means “scrape down to the bone”. Similarly, luluaiu- means “lick a tasty liquid from the surface of”, and luluaiu- tos means “lick a tasty liquid from the surface of, from head to toe”; ràj- means “look at admiringly”, while ràj- hen means “inquire deeply into the underlying nature of something apparently admirable or attractive”.  Many motifs are simple prepositions, particularly when applied to motive verbs: dong- means “shuffle or slowly and bouncingly roll, or travel in a cart”, while dong- aban means “shuffle or slowly and bouncingly roll, or travel in a cart, across a street or over a river”.

Adverbs are also a large class, but not entirely open. Adverbs agree with the verb in location but in nothing else. They precede the verb, but follow any article.

3.5 Serial verbs

Serial verb constructions are very important in Rawàng Ata. A sequence of verbs can be placed together to convey simultaneous or in some way unitary action. These sequences are not strictly idiomatic, but nor are they entirely open – they are best learnt as units, although innovative sequences are also found. In a serial verb construction, the subject of each verb must be the same, and this may require the use of passive or antipassive voices. Each verb must agree in location, but will share no other affixes (other than concrete state marking if appropriate). Instead, prefixes are placed on the first verb, and suffixes are placed on the last. For example: the verbs ti- (“move to perform an action on a small-ish object”) and luìk- (“pick up and hold) together form the serial verb construction ratia luìku – “he/it comes here and picks up the…”

Any of the verbs in a serial verb construction may be modified by an article, article or motif, although in general there will be one ‘light’ (often motive) and one ‘heavy’ verb, with the heavy verb taking all modifiers.


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