Complex Verb Collocations in Ngan'gityemerri: A Non-Derivational Strategy for Encoding Valency Alternations

Reid 2000

Reid describes the verbal system of Nagn'gityemerri, a Northern Australian language. Most verbs are complex, composed of a "finite verb" and a "lexical coverb." The finite verb gives information about the general type of action, and is selected from a small fixed class (31 members). The coverb provides (most of) the core semantic meaning of the complex verb, and comes from a large open class. It is the finite verb that gets marked for tense, etc; the lexical coverb is not marked. Some typical examples of complex verbs are:

complex verb gloss
sit+smoke smoke (sitting)
hand+rustle rustle (with hands)
hand+plane(?) travel in a plane
sit+swim swim
bash+teeth have a toothache

Note that some complex verbs are more transparent than others.

In addition to tense marking, the finite verbs are marked with agreement features for the subject and object. Reid uses these agreement features to examine the transitivity of complex verbs, and their consituant pieces. Reid divides finite verbs into intransitives, transitives, and reflexive detransitives; and divides lexical coverbs into monovalent ("intransitive"), bivalent low-transitive, and bivalent high-transitive (low-transitive verbs do not change the object much, and emphasize the action; high-transitive verbs change the object, and emphasize the change). He uses those classificaitons to account for the transitivity of complex verbs:

combination result
finite verb + coverb = complex verb
intransitive + monovalent intransitive
intransitive + bivalent low trans (in)transitive with subject focus
intransitive + bivalent high trans intransitive anticausative (passive?)
transitive + monovalent transitive causitive
transitive + bivalent low trans low transitive with object focus
transitive + bivalen high trans high transitive
reflexive + monovalent intransitive, cuasitive/reflexive
reflexive + bivalent low trans (unattested)
reflexive + bivalen high trans intransitive, reflexive

In addition to these syntactic encodings for valanecy, Reid presents some arguments for a couple of derivational valency-changing operations, involving body-parts. But some of his arguments for them seem suspect to me.

Finally, Reid argues that the complex verb phenomena can't be accounted for by a derivational account, where one form is "basic" and one is "derived." Instead, the valency is produced in a basic compositional method from its component parts.


  author =       {Nicholas Reid},
  title =        {Complex Verb Collocations in Ngan'gityemerri:
                  A Non-Derivational Strategy for Encoding
                  Valency Alternations},
  booktitle =    {Changing Valency: Case Studies in Transitivity},
  publisher =    {Cambridge University Press},
  pages =        {333-359},
  year =         2000,
  editor =       {R. M. W. Dixon and Alexandra Y. Aikhenvald},
  chapter =      10