indefinite ordinals + indefinite verbs

David Gil gil at EVA.MPG.DE
Sun Mar 25 15:24:14 UTC 2001

In response to Claude Hag├Ęge's query:

>    And finally, a query: are there many languages having an indefinite
> verb? This would be, in metalinguistic English, to something, either
> intransitive, as in he somethinged (="was, did, etc. something)", or
> transitive, as in she somethinged (="did something to") him.

Riau (and other colloquial dialects of) Indonesian have a form "anu", as
in, eg.

(1) Dia anu
    3 INDEF
    (a) "He is a thingamejig"
    (b) "He is thingamejigging"

(2) Dia anukan saya
    "He thingamejigged me"

(3) Saya dianu
    "I was thingamejigged"

If you were so inclined as to posit a noun-verb distinction for Riau
Indonesian (which I'm not), then presumably you would want to say that
"anu" or its derivatives are a noun in (1) (under reading (a)), but a
verb in (1) (under reading (b)) and in (2) and (3).

Moreover, in each of the above examples,"anu" can be replaced with the
WH form "apa", whose basic meaning is "what": the resulting sentences
would then be ambiguous or vague between the expected interrogative
interpretations, and the same indefinite interpretations associated with
"anu" indicated above.

Thus, if you think Indonesian has verbs, then it would definitely have
indefinite verbs.



David Gil

Department of Linguistics
Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology
Inselstrasse 22, D-04103 Leipzig, Germany

Telephone: 49-341-9952321
Fax: 49-341-9952119
Email: gil at

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