The Papuan language Mian allows us to refine the typology of nominal classification. Mian has two candidate classification systems, differing completely in their formal realization but overlapping considerably in their semantics. To determine whether to analyse Mian as a single system or concurrent systems we adopt a canonical approach. Our criteria – orthogonality of the systems (we give a precise measure), semantic compositionality, morphosyntactic alignment, distribution across parts of speech, exponence, and interaction with other features – point mainly to an analysis as concurrent systems. We thus improve our analysis of Mian and make progress with the typology of nominal classification.
adnominal element obligatory with the distal demonstrative in adnominal use
This research was funded by the AHRC (UK) under grants AH/K003194/1 “Combining Gender and Classifiers in Natural Language” and AH/N006887/1 “Lexical Splits: A Novel Perspective on the Structure of Words”. This support is gratefully acknowledged. For helpful discussion leading up to the article we thank Erich Round, Tom Güldemann, and Tim Feist. We are grateful to Matthew Baerman, Francesca Di Garbo, Tim Feist, Tom Güldemann, Tania Paciaroni, Matthias Passer, Maïa Ponsonnet, Erich Round, Hedvig Skirgård, and Anna Thornton for reading and commenting on an earlier version of this article; and to Penny Everson and Lisa Mack for their help in preparing the manuscript. We thank our Mian consultants, Kasening Milimap, Liden Milimap, and Asuneng Amit. All examples are elicited, except where the textual source is given in square brackets after the example. Corbett and Fedden are joint authors of most of this article (the order of names is not significant); Raphael Finkel has had a major input, primarily in Section 6, where the question of orthogonality is explored in depth.
A Verbs that require a classifier
The verbs that require a classifier – with a few exceptions – refer to various forms of entity handling or movement, for example ‘give’, ‘take’, ‘put’, ‘lift’, ‘turn’ ‘throw’, ‘bury’, and ‘fall’. The list here is exhaustive.
- -Ø ̂ /—
‘take s.o./s.th.’ (This verb is segmentally zero, yet all word forms based on this root have a LHL tonal melody. This is the reason for putting the diacritic ( ̂) into the representation of this verb. It seems that there used to be a non-zero verb root ‘take’, which was elided while the tone associated with it remained.)
‘leave s.th., lose s.th.’
‘throw s.th. into the fire’
‘put s.th. into the fire’
‘put s.o./s.th. into a bag, cover’
‘push s.o./s.th., throw s.o./s.th.’
‘push s.o. out of the way’
‘bury s.o., plant s.th.’
‘take s.o./s.th. (in order to carry)’
‘put s.o./s.th., care for s.o.’
‘feel sorry for s.o./s.th., be concerned about s.o./s.th.’
‘put s.th. into the fire’
‘put s.o. on back (piggy-back style)’
‘fall (i.e., s.o./s.th. falls)’
‘hang s.th. up’
‘take (child) into arms to lull to sleep’
‘put (pig or child) on shoulder’
‘pen in, imprison s.o.’
‘step on s.o./s.th.’
‘light s.th., set s.th. on fire’
‘hang up (item of clothing) to dry’
‘put s.th. above fireplace’
‘take s.o./s.th. into arms’
‘give s.o./s.th. to s.o.’
‘put on (item of clothing)’
In two cases, the classifier is frozen in the singular form of the residue-classifierob-, namely as ob-tanà [fire 3sg.resd.obj-light] ‘light, set on fire’ and aai ob-dî [water 3sg.resd.obj-fetch] ‘fetch water’.
Some of the verbs that take classifiers are subject to animacy restrictions, e.g., -êb/— ‘take s.o./s.th. (in order to carry)’ and -halila/-halin ‘be concerned about s.o./s.th.’, where the referent can be animate, and —/-hâa’ ‘chase s.o.’ or -suana/-suan ‘hate s.o.’, where the referent has to be animate. For some verbs the referent has to be inanimate, e.g., -ma/-san ‘plant’, -meki/— ‘hang up’, and -tangâa’ ‘hang up item of clothing to dry’.
B Comparison with Burmeso
Burmeso is a language spoken in the Mamberamo River area of Western New Guinea, as described by Donohue (2001). Burmeso has arguably two different gender systems, one marked by agreement on the verb (on an absolutive basis) and another (with some different distinctions) marked on adjectives. The details can be found in Donohue (2001), where there is also a representative word list, from which Corbett (2012: 176–180) extracted the system matrix given in Table B-1. In this table, genders I to VI are marked on the verb, and those labelled m, f, and so on are marked on the adjective. We stress, again, though that the semantics of the systems are partially distinct.
Table B-1: Gender systems in Burmeso.
|m||f||n||m inan||f inan||n anim|
|I||44 plus all male kin terms||5 (4 birds)||1 (‘neck’)||2 (‘sea’, ‘wound’)|
|II||7 plus all female kin terms||4||1 (‘small goanna’)||2 (‘sago rinser (lower)’, ‘string.shapes’)|
|III||3||28, mainly inanimate||10, inanimate||1 (‘goanna’)|
|V||2 (‘banana’, ‘sago tree’)|
|VI||1 (‘arrow’)||1 (‘coconut’)|
For our simple measure of orthogonality of the two candidate systems, we calculate as follows:
This score is higher than that for Mian. To apply normalized total discrepancy we include just the counts of actual nouns (121 in all), and leave out additional indicators for which we have no numbers (e.g., ‘all female kin terms’). Then the normalized discrepancy is .58, again closer to the canonical standard for concurrent systems than is Mian (score .76). Recall that on this measure lower scores indicate closeness to concurrent systems. Both the orthogonality measure and the normalized total discrepancy measure agree that Burmeso displays a greater proximity to a canonical concurrent-system arrangement than Mian.
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Description is guided by theory and theory feeds on description: it’s a virtuous rather than vicious circle, and little authenticity is to be expected on either side without concurrence of descriptive and explanatory efforts. It’s obvious, but bears constant underlining. This is why the Georg von der Gabelentz Award of the Association for Linguistic Typology was established, honouring expert grammar-writing, enhanced through being au courant with current typology and apt to enrich the theorising about diversity and unity, thus following in the footsteps of the prize’s eponym. Factually-grounded theoretically-minded typology is of course LT’s bread and butter, but we welcome special opportunities to present research derivative of ALT-award work in our pages.
We confidently assert that Mian would not have come to star in debates about inflectional morphology without being ushered onto the scene by Sebastian Fedden’s A grammar of Mian (Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton, 2011). This grammar was the winner of ALT’s Georg von der Gabelentz Award for 2013, and the jury’s citation explains their selection:
Sebastian Fedden’s A grammar of Mian (Trans New Guinea) is a truly excellent grammar that goes beyond a synchronic description. Based on eleven months of fieldwork, it covers the full range of descriptive topics and contains a large number of illustrative examples. The motivations underlying the author’s analyses are usually presented in a clear and thorough manner, and the discussion is always typologically informed. The author has come up with excellent and original solutions in the difficult area of how to analyze the complex tonal system. This grammar furthermore has a highly useful and substantial index and table of contents, a high level of clarity of prose, explanation and organization, a high quality and richness of texts and vocabulary. Finally, engaging in areal, genealogical and typological discussions, it goes beyond the standard expectations of reference grammars in general. We should count ourselves lucky for having such a grammar.
Inspired by Fedden’s grammar, already aware of the analytic intricacies of what was being described under the headings of genders and noun classes, the preceding article, with Fedden as one of the authors, adds theoretical depth to the analysis.
LT joins in congratulating the prize winner.
FP, July 2017
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