Bipartite stems

Bernhard Waelchli bernhard.waelchli at ISW.UNIBE.CH
Fri Oct 3 10:48:46 UTC 2003

Dear typologists,


I would like to ask you how you define bipartite stems. The term has been used originally for the description of verbs in some North American languages of the West coast such as Washo (Jacobsen 1980) and Klamath (DeLancey 1999 IJAL 65.1). An example from Klamath is 'itg- < 'i-odg 'act_upon_plural_objects-out_of_a_container > take plural objects out of a container' (DeLancey 1999: 61).


The phenomenon as such is undisputed. My question is about how it should be defined in a general manner to make it a cross-linguistically useable term so that we can decide for any language X whether it has bipartite stems or not (if this is possible at all).


I have some problems with the definition of bipartite stems consisting of "bound stem elements" (DeLancey 1999: 60). I wonder whether the notion of bound can be applied to stem elements, since it is usually associated with morphemes in general (including affixes). Thus, defining bipartite stems as consisting of at least two bound stem elements suggests that we already know beforehand what a stem element is. Couldn't there be a definition which doesn't contain "stem"? Moreover, I wonder whether bipartite stems is always about verbal stems (are there any bipartite noun stems?) and, if this is true, whether it would not be better to define them for instance as 


units consisting of at least two morphemes which together constitute the core of a verb neither of which morpheme can be identified unequivocally as a verbal core element by itself


However, this definition would include also cases where stems are occasionally lacking (or zero) as in the Russian verb _vy-nu-t'_ 'take out, perfective', where vy- 'out' obviously is a prefix and -nu (inchoative or semelfactive) a suffix.


A further question: In what functional domains do bipartite stems occur? Are (some) motion verbs always involved or are there languages with bipartite stems where no motion verbs contain bipartite stems?


Personally, I am particularly interested in whether motion verbs in Adyghe (NW-Caucasian) and Car-Nicobarese (Austroasiatic) qualify as bipartite stems or not.


Adyghe examples (I apologize for not being able to produce the diacritic signs correctly in an e-mail) are _de-C'E_ 'encircled-exit > exit from an encircled space (e.g. town, village, courtyard)' and _tye-Ha_ 'surface-enter > enter a surface (e.g. go out on a way)'. The two "stems" -C'E- and Ha- are also termed illative and elative verbs and require a "prefix" which indicates the kind of ground involved in motion. As soon as transitive verbs are involved, things become more complicated. To express 'put into' or 'take out of' we need three elements: GROUND-'put'-'enter', GROUND-'take'-'exit'. Traditional descriptions speak in these cases of incorporation of the transitive stem (which seems rather strange to me; more reasonable would be to speak of root serialization, if the illative and elative elements really are roots).

In Adyghe, the final position is more stem-like, the initial one more prefix-like. Nevertheless, some "stems" like the illative and elative verbs, require a prefix and are bound in this respect. Are these bipartite stems?


A Car-Nicobarese example is _meut-nyi_ 'hidden/cover-exit/out > exit from a covered space, such as e.g. from water or from inside a person'. The second element seems to be a directional suffix, but there are a number of first elements, such as _meut-_, which always require a directional element associated with them and which do not seem to have any verbal character by themselves. If one has to decide, the first element is more stem-like than the second, but the first element is clearly bound in many motion verbs. So does Car-Nicobarese have bipartite stems?


What Adyghe and Nicobarese share with Klamath is that one of the two morphemes encodes some information about the ground (the difference being that ground and direction is conflated in one position in Klamath in contrast to Adyghe and Car-Nicobarese and that figure is not encoded in Adyghe and Nicobarese). Therefore a further question: Do languages with bipartite stems necessarily encode information about the ground in verbs?

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