Are lexical categories universal? The view from Chamorro

Sandra Chung, 1
  • 1 University of California


Many years of linguistic research have led to no consensus on the issue of whether every language has nouns, verbs, and adjectives. This article investigates the issue from the perspective of Chamorro, an Austronesian language of the Mariana Islands. Chamorro has been claimed to have an unusual lexical category system consisting of just two language-particular categories. Evidence is presented here that (i) the language does in fact have nouns, verbs, and adjectives, and (ii) the apparent use of content words in multiple syntactic functions results from productive processes of denominal verb formation and denominal adjective formation that are not signaled by overt morphology. The lexical semantics and pragmatics of these processes are shown to be broadly parallel to denominal verb formation in English. Overall, the evidence supports the claim that lexical categories are universal, and suggests that the broad routes by which semantic and phonological material can be packaged into lexical categories may be universal as well.

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