A workshop on multi-verb constructions: a view from the Americas

Alexandra Aikhenvald A.Aikhenvald at LATROBE.EDU.AU
Mon Jun 30 07:51:18 UTC 2008

Call for papers


Multi-verb constructions: a view from the Americas



Alexandra Y. Aikhenvald, La Trobe University, Australia

Pieter Muysken, Radboud University, Nijmegen


Date:          20 October 2008

Venue:        Radboud University; MPI Nijmegen


This one-day workshop focuses on multi-verb constructions in languages of the Americas. Our primary interest involves monoclausal multi-verb constructions such as:

* Serial verb constructions understood a sequence of verbs which act together as a single predicate, without any overt marker of coordination, subordination or syntactic dependency of any other sort. Serial verb constructions are monoclausal; their intonational properties are the same as those of a monoverbal clause, and they have one tense, aspect and polarity value. Serial verb constructions forming one phonological and one grammatical word are often called verb compounding (see Aikhenvald 2006; Martins 2004; de Reuse 2006; Senft, in press; Zavala 2000);

* Auxiliary verb constructions consisting of a combination of an auxiliary, defined as a closed subclass of verbs which (a) form part of one complex predicate in combination with verb from a large open class; (b) take the person, number, gender, aspect, tense, mood and modality specifications; and (c) impart a modal or an aspectual meaning to the whole construction (see Payne and Payne 1990: 413-16; Adelaar and Muysken 2004). In other languages (e.g. Arawá: Dixon 2004), auxiliaries bear inflectional markers for verbs which cannot take inflection directly.

* Light verb or support verb constructions, consisting of a non-verbal element (including ideophones and onomatopoeia) which combines with the verb for it to be able to act as a predicate (as in Cavineña: Guillaume 2004). 

* Converb constructions consisting of a dependent verb form and an inflected verb and acting as a single predicate (as in Ometo and Wolaitta, both Afroasiatic: Amha and Dimmendaal 2006)

* Bipartite stems consisting of two morphemes, at least one of which marks manner, means or location/direction, and cannot occur on its own, having grammaticalized from a verbal root (see Jacobsen 1980; DeLancey 1999).


Parameters of variation include: (i) semantic and morphosyntactic classes of verbs involved in the formation of a multi-verb structure; (ii) argument structure of components and of the whole multi-verb construction (this is particularly relevant for serial verbs); (iii) reinterpretation and potential lexicalization; (iv) functions and meanings; and (v) polyfunctionality (the same verb occurring as an auxiliary and as a support verb).

            Multiclausal structures - such as subordinate clauses and clause chains - may develop into monoclausal multi-verb constructions (see Davies 1998, on the formation of Chocktaw progressive). Components of monoclausal multi-verb structures may develop into affixal markers of aspect, valency changing, associated motion, and more.

            It has been noted that serial verb constructions show semantic and functional similarities with other multi-verb constructions, both monoclausal and biclausal. These similarities justify considering each multi-verb construction as part of a multidimensional continuum. Diachronically speaking, links can be established connecting focal points on this continuum (so, for instance, the existence of special marker of serial verb constructions in Urarina (Olawsky 2006: 629-50) indicates that they may have come from multi-verb structures of a different, non-serial, kind). 

            Last but not least: we endeavour to address the issue of diffusability of multi-verb constructions, and their correlations with other areal features which can be established within the Americas.


Selected references

Adelaar, Willem F. H. with Pieter C. Muysken. 2004. The languages of the Andes. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Aikhenvald, Alexandra Y. 2006. 'Serial verb constructions in typological perspective', pp. 1-68 of Serial verb constructions: a cross-linguistic typology, edited by Alexandra Y. Aikhenvald and R. M. W. Dixon. Oxford: Oxford UP.

Amha, Azeb and Gerrit J. Dimmendaal. 2006. 'Verbal compounding in Wolaitta', pp. 319-37 of Serial verb constructions: a cross-linguistic typology, edited by Alexandra Y. Aikhenvald and R. M. W. Dixon. Oxford: Oxford UP.

Davies, William D. 1998. 'Time. switch-reference, and the Choctaw progressive', pp. 173-9 of Studies in American Indian Languages. Description and Theory, edited by Leanne Hinton and Pamela Munro. Berkeley: University of California Press. 

DeLancey, Scott. 1999. 'Lexical prefixs and the bipartite stem construction in Klamath'. International Journal of American Linguistics 65: 55-83. 

Dixon, R. M. W. 2004. The Jarawara language of Southern Amazonia. Oxford: Oxford UP.

Guillaume, Antoine. 2004. A grammar of Cavineña, an Amazonian language of Northern Bolivia. PhD thesis, La Trobe University. 

Jacobsen, William H. Jr. 1980. 'Washo bipartite verb stems', pp. 85-99 of American Indian and Indoeuropean studies. Papers in Honor of Madison S. Beeler, edited by Kathryn Klar, Margaret Langdon and Shirley Silver. The Hague: Mouton Publishers.

Martins, Silvana A. 2004. Fonologia e Gramática Dâw. Amsterdam: LOT.

Olawsky, Knut. 2006. A grammar of Urarina. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter. 

Payne, Doris L. and Thomas E. Payne. 1990. 'Yagua', pp. 249-474 of Handbook of Amazonian languages, volume 2, edited by Desmond C. Derbyshire and Geoffrey K. Pullum. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

de Reuse, Willem J. 2006. 'Serial verbs in Lakota (Siouan)', pp. 301-18 of Serial verb constructions: a cross-linguistic typology, edited by Alexandra Y. Aikhenvald and R. M. W. Dixon. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Senft, Gunter (in press) Serial Verb Constructions in Austronesian and Papuan Languages. Canberra: Pacific Linguistics.

Zavala, Roberto. 2000. 'Inversion and other topics in the grammar of Olutec (Mixean)'. PhD Dissertation, University of Oregon (Eugene).


Abstracts (no longer than a page) are invited, for 30 minutes talks (20 minutes presentations and 10 minutes discussion). We welcome papers on any languages from the Americas. Abstracts can be sent electronically to a.y.aikhenvald at live.com <mailto:a.y.aikhenvald at live.com> , p.muysken at let.ru.nl and gunter.senft at mpi.nl before 10 September 2008, mentioning "Abstract Multi-Verb" in the Subject slot.

Alexandra Y. Aikhenvald, PhD, DLitt, FAHA
Professor and Academic Co-ordinator 
La Trobe University, Bundoora, Vic, 3086
phone 61-(0)3-94796402 - office
home 61-(0)394550020
0400 305315 - mobile/cell phone

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