Rawàng Ata (#14): Concrete and Fluid State

Rawàng Ata verbs display a vital distinction between two forms: the fluid state and the concrete state.

Morphologically, the concrete state is formed from the fluid by circumfixes. There are four concretising circumfixes: 0-an (C1), ka-an (C2), nu-an (C3) and 0-otu (C4). The differences between these circumfixes will be discussed later.

The primary functions of concretisation are syntactic. To begin with, a verb in the fluid state cannot be topicalised, while a verb in the concrete state may be. When the verb is to act as a topic, therefore, it is placed in the concrete state.

Eg.1       kùnyi     sandina                raòki
kùnyi     0-sandin-a           raò-ki
kùnyi     3H-pinch-DEI      tube_zither-PER
As for the kùnyi, she plays the raò

  Eg.2       rasandinan      raò         kùnyika
ra-0-sandin-an  raò         kùnyi-ya
3A-C1-pinch-C   raò         kùnyi-ERG
As for the playing of the raò, it was the kùnyi  doing it

The concrete state may also be employed as an ersatz passive voice for dynamic verbs when the speaker wishes to leave the agent unstated. In these cases, the concrete state often connotes a more natural event, a less agentive event, or an event in which the agent’s identity is less important, whereas the fluid passive places more emphasis on the (unknown or unstated) agent:

Eg.3       dal     kuna     bolayma
dal    ku-n-a    bolay-ma
child  3F-kill-DEI    turtle-ACC
The child killed the turtle

Eg.4       bolay    ranata
bolay     ra-n-at-a
turtle     3A-kill-PASS-DEI
The turtle was killed (by somebody!)

Eg.5       rakanan       bolay
ra-ka-n-an    bolay
3A-C2-kill-C  turtle
the turtle came to be killed

Alternatively, the pseudo-passive concrete can also be used to de-emphasise the exact relation between verb and noun                :

Eg.6       baryōng    rahòndata
baryōng   ra-hònd-at-a
mansion    3A-raze-PASS-DEI
the mansion was burnt down by somebody

Eg.7       rahòndan  baryōng
ra-0-hònd-an    baryōng
3A-C1-raze-C     mansion
there was a razing incident regarding the mansion
OR: the mansion came to burn down
OR: there came to be a razing incident regarding the mansion

In the same way that concrete verbs can be topicalised, they are also able to stand as arguments of verbs, or within prepositional phrases. However, they are unable to be placed into any case other than the direct. This means that they can stand as the subject of an active fluid dynamic verb (though due to animacy issues they are only able to do this in rare circumstances, where the object is also abstract), or as the object of an active fluid stative verb, or the subject of a passive fluid dynamic verb, or the subject of a fluid motive verb, or the subject of another verb also in the concrete state, or within a prepositional phrase. However, they cannot stand within an integral oblique prepositional phrase of a motive verb, as this would require them to be placed into a case; curiously, they are also unable to stand as the subjects of motive verbs in the passive-applicative. Whenever a verb in the concrete state is standing in the role of an argument, its subject may accompany it; otherwise, as always when a concrete verb’s subject is dropped, special agreement marking is required (unless the subject is a first- or second-person participant).

Eg.8       rahòndan baryōng  dattaya  famātata lù   ùa
ra-0-hònd-an baryōng  datta-ya  famāt-at-a   lù    ùa
3A-C1-raze-C   mansion sailor-ERG quench-PASS-DEI using water
the sailor put out the mansion-burning with water

       Eg.9       kùnyi     oàda     aban     lahòndan
kùnyi     oàd-a    aban     là-0-hòndan
kùnyi     sit-DEI   facing    MISS-C1-raze-C
the kùnyi sat down opposite the burning-down

                Eg.10     dalya    nobùa   làsantinan
the child watched the instrument-playing

However, the concrete state is not used solely for syntactic purposes. It also bears semantic connotations. Verbs in the concrete state must be refering to realis, non-future events: they are used only for events that have occurred, not for what might, should, will, or could happen. With dynamic and stative verbs, they almost always refer to perfective verbs. They are more likely to refer to definite events, to events that have happened in the past, and to events generally known about, not being reported for the first time, and not the subject of debate. Often, particularly when juxtaposed with verbs in the fluid state, they imply a perfect. If ever a verb in the concrete state has a first- or second-person participant, the verb must be past-tense, realis, perfective, and probably perfect. As Rawàng Ata lacks any explicit non-lexical expressions of tense, concrete state is often used to convey tense and aspect information.

Eg.11     dal wa bolayma
the child eats/ate/will eat/is eating/was eating turtle(s)

  Eg.12     rawān bolay dalya
the child ate turtle
[probably – although other/tense aspect readings are still grammatical]

          Eg.13     à dalya, oruwān bolay
the child ate turtle (Lit. “O child, you ate turtle”)
[non-past, irrealise and imperfective readings are impossible]

The concrete state may also be employed to indicate a more precise aspectual reading, as concretisation is aspect-sensitive. In dynamic verbs, the first concrete (‘C1’) can indicate a prolonged or iterated action (though it may be a single and brief action – the key is that being single and brief is not essential to it, and that it could be iterated or prolonged), the second concrete indicates a singular and punctual action, usually strongly implying a clear change of state of the object, and the fourth concrete indicates an action repeated on multiple occasions (possibly with more than one object):

Eg. 14    rarubanan bolay dalya
the child thumped the turtle (repeatedly)

   Eg. 15    rakarubanan bolay dalya
the child gave the turtle a thump (and cracked it?)

Eg. 16    rarubanotu bolay dalya
the child used to thump (the) turtle(s)

These aspectual distinctions, are not made in the fluid state, where the aspect is left to context, or to explicit non-morphological disambiguation strategies.

For stative verbs, the first concrete indicates a durative but temporary state, the third concrete indicates a permanent or habitual state, and the fourth concrete indicates either a fleeting state or a state repeated on several discrete occasions:

Eg. 17    ratawan kòma dalya
the child saw the girl

                Eg. 18    ranutawan kòma dalya
the child used to see the girl

                Eg. 19    ratawotu kòma dalya
the child caught a glimpse of the girl
OR: the child several times caught glimpses of the girl

Motive verbs, meanwhile, use the fourth concrete for single or repeated events, and the third concrete for habitual events:

Eg. 20    ralùota  datta wuru woyalakàon
the sailor swam across the wharf-laden river

Eg. 21    ranuluàn datta wuru woyalakàon
the sailor used to swim across the wharf-laden river

However, it must be noted that the choice of concretiser is not entirely free or predictable. While most verbs follow the above guidelines, some verbs use the ‘wrong’ concretiser or develop the ‘wrong’ aspect, while others cannot use some concretisers otherwise suitable for their verb type. It is also not uncommon for some verbs to take on more specific or idiomatic meanings with some concretisers.

As the converse to the above, fluid state verbs are more likely to be chosen when the events are in the present or in the recent past, when the events are indefinite, have no present relevance, are imperfective, are new information, and when their aspectual details are less important to convey. They are also used when (real or metaphorical) geographical information is more important to convey, as concrete verbs lack explicit locational inflection.

However, it is important to note that the choice between concrete and fluid is not an equally weighted one. In general, and barring those cases where concrete verbs are syntactically more elegant, speakers will mostly tend to default to using verbs in the fluid state, making the concrete state the more marked. However, some verbs are more likely to be placed in the concrete state than others – verbs typically associated with decisive changes of state, for instance, are more attracted to the concrete, while verbs of perception are much more attracted to the fluid.

Verbal Morphology
Verbal Alignment and Core Word Order
Coördination of Clauses
Tense, Mood and Aspect
Deverbal Arguments


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