Combining Manner and Path in One Clause

Speakers of most languages have the means to describe a motion event in such a way as to indicate both the Manner of motion and Path of motion in a single clause. Some of the most interesting work along these lines has been done by Leonard Talmy, who compared semantic structures in two utterly different languages, English and Atsugewi, for his doctoral dissertation at the University of California at Berkeley in 1972. I first heard a bit about his work in a course on lexical semantics taught by Charles Fillmore at the 1977 LSA Summer Institute in Honolulu, when I was a grad student just back from fieldwork in Papua New Guinea.

In subsequent work, Talmy (1985) proposed an interesting typology of motion events based on the encoding of Manner and Path. The seminal insight can be summarized thus: Languages like Spanish and Japanese tend to encode Path in the main verb when describing motion events, while relegating Manner to a satellite role, expressed, for example, by gerundive constructions. An English analog would be ‘They entered the house running’. In contrast, languages like German or Finnish tend to encode Manner in the main verb, while relegating Path to a satellite role, expressed, for instance, by adpositional (prepositional or postpositional) phrases. An English analog would be ‘They ran into the house’.

The language on which I did fieldwork, Numbami, renders motion events by means of verb serialization, encoding both Manner and Path in fully inflected verbs, which perform many of the functions of adpositions or adverbs in other languages. However, it resembles Japanese in requiring a Path verb when describing motion events (see Shibatani 2003). The Manner verb sounds strange conveying motion without the support of a Path verb. Numbami is Austronesian, and Talmy (2000) notes that Polynesian languages (and possibly other Austronesian languages) resemble Japanese in requiring a Path main verb when describing motion events.


*Kodomo-wa gakkoo-ni arui-ta.
 child-TOP school-to walk-PAST
‘The child(ren) walked to school.’

Kodomo-wa gakkoo-ni arui-te it-ta.
child-TOP school-to walk-ing go-PAST
‘The child(ren) went to school walking.’


*Ekapa-kolapa ti-dodomu su lumana.
 girls-boys   3P-run    to school
‘The children ran to school.’

Ekapa-kolapa ti-dodomu ti-wesa su lumana.
girls-boys   3P-run    3P-go to school
‘The children ran off to school.’

MOVE verbs

Numbami verbs describing Manner of motion include -dodomu ‘run’, -kota ‘swim, wade’, -lapa goleme ‘row’ (lit. ‘beat oar’), -lapa woya ‘dance’ (lit. ‘beat dance’), -lowa ‘fly’, -nggewe ‘chase, hunt’, -ngguni ‘punt, pole’, -nzolo ‘scatter, scram’, -paandalowa ‘walk’ (< -pai ‘do, make’ + andalowa ‘path, road’, akin to Indonesian jalan), -so golonga ‘dive’ (lit. ‘stab deepwater’), -tatala ‘sink’, -usi ‘tread, step’, -wose ‘paddle’ (akin to Hawaiian hoe), and -yele ‘steer, sail’. We can classify all these verbs as examples of a prototype verb we can label MOVE.

But Path itself is a complex notion that involves at least three components: starting point, trajectory, and destination. Three classes of verbal prototypes that often co-occur in Numbami renditions of motion events are: GO, AIM, and REACH.

GO verbs: Deictic directionals

Numbami deictic verbs distinguish three directions: -ma ‘come toward speaker’, -uwa ‘go toward addressee’ (glossed here ‘’), and -wasa ‘go away from either speaker or addressee’. They are ubiquitous in Numbami discourse—although -uwa ‘go toward addressee’ is by far the rarest of the lot. Not only do these verbs cover the functional range of ‘come’ and ‘go’ in most other languages; they also add directionality to manner-of-motion (MOVE) verbs, and deictic directionality to other directional (AIM) verbs. Finally, they also perform functions similar to directional adverbs such as here and there in English (or hither, thither, hence, thence, and yonder in more archaic English).

Inami bingsu   Lene   i-woti i-ma.
Our missionary Lehner 3S-descend 3S-come
‘Our (excl.) missionary Lehner came down toward us.’

Mana-paandalowa bouna    mana-uwa.
1XP.FUT-walk    overland
‘We’ll (excl.) walk overland in your direction.’

Although deictic directional verbs in many languages are intransitive, Numbami GO verbs can take overt direct objects, so long as (a) those objects indicate target locations, and (b) those target locations are compatible with the deictic target direction of each verb: toward speaker, toward addressee, or away from either. Unlike most Austronesian languages, Numbami makes no morphological distinction between transitive and intransitive verbs.

Another important point to note about GO verbs in Numbami is that they denote movement toward a target location, but make no claim about arrival at that target. Thus, ti-wesa Lae (lit. ‘they went Lae’) is more precisely translated ‘they left for Lae’ or ‘they went Lae-ward’ instead of ‘They went to Lae’. The presence of a REACH verb or preposition is required to specify arrival at the endpoint of a path.

AIM verbs: Other directionals

The other directional verbs resemble the deictic directionals but lack any correlation with first, second, or third person. They include -kawewe ‘steer, turn toward’, -kole ‘turn around’, -leleu ‘return’, -pi ‘ascend, climb up’, -woti ‘descend, climb down’, -sakiya ‘embark, climb up onto’, -kosa ‘disembark, climb down from’, -sake ‘ascend into’, -supula ‘round (a point)’, -weke ‘leave, abandon’, -yowa ‘move aside’.

Balus    i-lowa i-leleu   i-ma.
airplane 3S-fly 3S-return 3S-come
‘The airplane flew back here.’

Ma-kota  tina  ma-sakiya teulu.
1XP-wade river 1XP-embark side
‘We went through the river and up the other side.’

REACH verbs/prepositions

The roots of two specialized REACH verbs in Numbami also serve as prepositions when they lack subject prefixes: -su(wa) ‘reach; arrive at, onto, into (a place)’ is matched by the more general locative/goal preposition su(wa) ‘at, onto, (up)on, to’; and the fairly rare verb -ndenga ‘reach; arrive at (a person)’ is matched by the far more common generalized dative preposition de(nga) ‘to, at’. The same root -ndenga appears in the multifunctional verb –ndengama ‘reach, match, suffice; be possible’, often intertranslatable with Tok Pisin inap (< Eng. enough).

Other verbs of motion can serve as REACH verbs when they occur at the ends of path constructions, as in the examples below. When the REACH component of a motion event is represented by a preposition rather than its corresponding verb, the resulting construction may still be considered a Path construction, even though it may not be considered an serial verb construction unless it also contains at least two inflected verbs.

Wangga i-supula bubusu i-solonga molou.
canoe  3S-round point  3S-enter cove
‘The canoe rounded the point into the cove.’

Wa-dodomu wa-mi   wa-su    nanggi kapala.
1S-run    1S-stay 1S-reach my house
‘I kept running on down to my house.’

Numbami, like many other New Guinea-area languages, thus relies heavily on verb serialization to render complex events by means of a sequence of simplex verbs. In the terminology of Talmy (2000), verbs in languages like Numbami can be said to exhibit low conflation—in other words, minimal incorporation or lexicalization of multifaceted verbal events into individual verbs. For instance, Numbami has no equivalent of the English verb fetch, which conflates three aspects of a motion event—going, getting, and returning—into a single verb. In Numbami, you must use three verbs to render the same event.


Shibatani, M., 2003, Directional verbs in Japanese. In E. Shay and U. Seibert, eds, Motion, direction and location in languages: In honor of Zygmunt Frajzyngier, 287–297. Typological Studies in Language, vol. 56. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

Talmy, L., 1985. Lexicalization patterns: Semantic structure in lexical forms. In T. Shopen, ed., Language typology and syntactic description, vol. 3, Grammatical categories and the lexicon, 57–149. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Talmy, L., 2000, Toward a cognitive semantics, vol. 2, Typology and process in concept structuring. Cambridge, Mass.: The MIT Press.


1 Comment

Filed under language, Pacific, U.S.

One response to “Combining Manner and Path in One Clause

  1. Minjeong Son

    I find this post very interesting as I am investigating directed motion expressions in Indonesian/Malay.
    I am wondering if you have a paper version of this?
    I would like to use the examples in Numbami, so having a published/unpublished paper in hand would be nice for citation.
    Thanks very much!

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