Cutting and breaking in Äiwoo: Event integration and the complexity of lexical expressions

Åshild Næss,


This paper examines the lexical encoding of events of “cutting and breaking” in the Oceanic language Äiwoo. It shows that this language differs from previously described languages in this domain in several ways: in having complex “cut and break” forms consisting of two bound elements referring to distinct aspects of the cut and break event; in integrating these forms into a cline of lexicalisation vs. serialisation, arguably reflecting a conceptual-semantic continuum of event integration; and in violating previously suggested generalisations concerning the behaviour of verbs of cutting and breaking in inchoative alternations. It shows that lexicalisation may clearly be a matter of degree, and that the degree to which an event is construed as being constituted by independent subevents vs. subevents which cannot occur independently may be directly reflected in the type of formal expression a language provides to describe it. Furthermore, it suggests that the distinction between “cut” and “break” expressions, assumed in some of the literature to be a fairly straightforward bipartition, may in fact be more of a cline. The paper thus demonstrates the complexity of the cognitive domain of cutting and breaking events and the range of strategies that may be employed by a language in describing them.

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