pro-verbs cross-linguistically

David Gil gil at EVA.MPG.DE
Tue Apr 20 22:51:10 UTC 2004

In response to Nino's inquiry: colloquial varieties of Malay/Indonesian
have similar obliviative forms; however, since the noun/verb distinction
in these varieties is problematical or non-existent, they are,
unsurprisingly, underspecified with respect to the non/verb
distinction.  I shall use Riau Indonesian to illustrate.

First, Riau Indonesian has a dedicated obliviative form "anu", as in (1):

(1) Ali anu

This can have either of the following two interpretations (among others):

(1) (a) 'Ali is a thingamejig' (teacher? dancer? football player?)
    (b) 'Ali is thingamejigging' (teaching? dancing? playing football?)

Secondly, Riau Indonesian can use interrogative forms as obliviatives,
ewg. "apa" 'what', as in (2):

(2) Ali apa

To begin with, this can have question interpretations, such as

(2) (a) 'What is Ali?' (teacher? dancer? football player?)
    (b) 'Ali is whatting?' (teaching? dancing? playing football?)

But, in addition, (2) can also have the obliviative interpretations in (1).

So both "anu" and "apa" are indeterminate between "thing" and "activity"
obliviative interpretations, in (1a) and (1b) respectively.  However,
Riau Indonesian also has a way of (nearly) forcing the "activity"
obliviative interpretation in (1b), namely, by addition of the so-called
"applicative" enclitic "-kan", as in

(3) Ali anukan

(4) Ali apakan

Thus, (3) has the meaning given in (1b), while (4) has the meanings
given in (1b) and (2b).  Semantically, then, "anukan" and "apakan" have
the meanings associated with obliviative verbs; however, syntactically,
they have the same distributional privileges as almost other words in
the language, and hence should be characterized as members of what is
the only open word class in Riau Indonesian, namely S(entence).

David Gil

Department of Linguistics
Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology
Deutscher Platz 6, D-04103 Leipzig, Germany

Telephone: 49-341-3550321
Fax: 49-341-3550119
Email: gil at

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