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Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter Mouton May 5, 2012

Toward a typology of verbal lexical systems: A case study in Northern Athabaskan

Andrej A. Kibrik,
From the journal Linguistics


Traditionally, lexical typology has mostly confined itself to local domains, such as color terms. In this paper I propose an integral typology of verbal lexical systems. As a first step, I compare the verbal lexicon of Northern Athabaskan languages (primarily Koyukon) with that of English, as well as Russian. The research question is how the construction of verbal lexical meaning operates in various languages. As an independent benchmark, I use a list of 122 verbs that were described as a child's earliest acquisitions in a developmental study by Michael Tomasello. Translational counterparts of English verbs have been identified for Koyukon. English and Koyukon basic verbs demonstrate very different degrees of morphological and conceptual complexity. Whereas English verbs have very few derivational morphemes, an average Koyukon verb has 1.5 derivational morphemes. Koyukon verb roots are significantly more abstract and a lot of derivational material is required to reach the level of semantic concreteness that is found in English verb roots. The measurement “index of verb complexity” is introduced that captures such differences between languages numerically. Various semantic classes of verbs display different degrees of complexity. In particular, Koyukon manipulation verbs are mostly derived, whereas motion verbs have a larger proportion of simple verbs. The derivational complexity of the Koyukon verbal lexicon may be related to the overall morphological complexity of the language.

Received: 2010-04-24
Revised: 2011-10-19
Published Online: 2012-05-05
Published in Print: 2012-05-18

©[2012] by Walter de Gruyter Berlin Boston

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