Monthly Archives: March 2009

Wordcatcher Tales: Dappokusha/Talbukja

How widespread is the economic downturn across the globe? Well, it’s now affecting many North Koreans, because funds from South Korea that might help them escape their workers’ paradise are not as plentiful as they once were, according to an article in Japan’s Mainichi Shimbun. I’ll quote just the first paragraph from White Peril‘s translation.

The number of dappokusha fleeing from North Korea … has decreased substantially [to] Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture, Jilin Province, China, which abuts the PRC-DPRK border. It’s the biggest stronghold of the refugee business, but the activities of the brokers who maneuver behind the scenes guiding refugees through are at a standstill. This year is the sixtieth anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries, and in addition to a heightened level of alert at the border, the effects of the financial crisis have stopped the money that gets to them from South Korea. However, the defections supported by the brokers are a “necessary evil.” Beyond the border, there’s a backlog of desperate people.

The term dappokusha 脫北者 (lit. ‘escape North person’) caught my attention. The same compound is read 탈북자 in Korean (talbukja in the official SK romanization), but its usage in SK is now discouraged in favor of the euphemistic 새터민 saeteomin, which I’ll translate here as ‘new localites’.

The agentive sense of 脱 datsu ‘escape, desert, quit’ also shows up in the following compounds.
脱船 dassen (‘quit ship’) ‘jump/desert ship’
脱線 dassen (‘quit line’) ‘jump the (train)track’
脱サラ dassara (‘quit salary’) ‘quit one’s job as a salaryman’

But a similar 脱 datsu, in the agentive or instrumental sense of ‘remove’, occurs in some more common words.
脱水機 dassuiki (‘remove water machine’ =) ‘dryer, dehydrator’
脱脂乳 dasshinyuu (‘remove fat milk’ =) ‘skim milk’
靴脱ぎ kutsunugi (‘shoe removal’ =) ‘place to remove shoes’

Without an agent or instrument, the same kanji translates as ‘missing’.
脱文 datsubun ‘missing passage (of text)’
脱字 datsuji ‘missing word/character (in text)’

HISTORICAL/COMPARATIVE NOTE: One of the more remarkable regular sound correspondences between Sino-Korean and Sino-Japanese is SK *-l and SJ *-t (the latter often -tsu in final position, or assimilated to the following voiceless consonant), as in 出発 : 출발 chulbal : しゅっぱつ shuppatsu (< shutu + hatu) ‘departure’. This sound correspondence is part of what gives Korean its characteristic abundance of rolling liquid sounds and Japanese its characteristic abundance of staccato geminate obstruents amid otherwise open syllables (like Italian).


Filed under China, economics, Japan, Korea, language, migration

Causative Makeovers in New Guinea Oceanic Languages, 3

In contrast to Austronesian languages almost everywhere else, the Oceanic languages on the north coast of the Papua New Guinea mainland show an unusual disinclination to make use of the morphological causative inherited from Proto-Oceanic and Proto-Austronesian. Innovative causatives derived from causative serial constructions appear to have supplanted to varying degrees the inherited prefix *pa(ka)-. Part 1 summarizes the dethroning of the inherited prefix. Part 2 outlines the replacement pattern of serial causatives. Part 3 (here) suggests reasons for preferring the serial causatives.

Ambiguous syntax preferred

What accounts for the decline of the inherited morphological causative and the rise of the serial causatives in the Oceanic languages along the north coast New Guinea? From a strictly structural point of view, the path of causative serialization seems an unnecessarily complicated way to move from SVO to SOV. The most grammatically economical way would be to add one rule inverting every VO to OV. But what is grammatically economical in this case seems sociolinguistically implausible.

I assume that speakers of neighboring Austronesian and Papuan (non-Austronesian) languages were often familiar with each other’s languages, at least to the extent that each could understand when spoken to in the other language(s) and could be assured of being understood when using their own language. Even when fluent in the other language(s), speakers may have wished to speak their own language for emblematic reasons, to signal their identity as members of a particular linguistic group. Or they may have had to speak to monolinguals some of the time. In such circumstances, speakers may have tended to mitigate the differences between the various languages they used. They may increasingly have favored structures that were originally highly marked or syntactically ambiguous in their own language(s) precisely because such structures resembled the patterns of their interlocutors’ language(s). Some of these structures could have been analyzed according to the patterns of either language type.

Causative serial constructions permit just this sort of multiple analysis. They contain no clause boundary markers and thus permit speakers and hearers to parse the constructions to suit their own preconceptions about clause structure and word order. At the same time, serial causatives run little risk of being misunderstood. They describe cause-and-result events in an order matching the unfolding of those events in the real world. The first verb denotes the manner in which the Agent behaved; the second describes the effect of that behavior on the Patient.

(NOTE: Slobin [1982] presents evidence that children have a harder time learning periphrastic causatives than they do learning morphological causatives. I claim only that serial causatives, not periphrastic causatives, are semantically transparent. The periphrastic causative verb [‘do’, ‘make’, ‘cause’, etc.] carries more grammatical information than it does information about the extralinguistic world. The serial causative verb [‘chop’, ‘hit’, ‘grab’, ‘twist’, etc.], on the other hand, carries more real-world than grammatical information. The periphrastic causative indicates a causative relationship between one event or entity and another event. The entity responsible for the causing event may be described but the specific nature of the causing event must be inferred from context. The serial causative describes both causing event and resulting event. It leaves the causative relationship to be inferred from the construction—from the order in which the two events are described and from the semantic and grammatical bonds between the two descriptions. The periphrastic causative involves embedding. The result verb is grammatically subordinate to the causative verb. The serial causative involves no embedding. The cause and result verbs share one or more arguments but neither is subordinate to the other.)

Serial causatives can be parsed in various ways depending upon where the parser decides to insert a clause boundary and whether the construction involves a same subject or switch subject relationship between the verbs. A further option is not to insist on parsing the structure into two separate clauses.

If one decides the construction contains two clauses, one can insist on perceiving a clause boundary in either of two likely locations: either before or after the Patient NP. A clause boundary after the Patient NP will produce an initial SVO clause and thus make the structure compatible with SVO word order. In the switch-subject type, the second clause will be intransitive, with no overt subject NP; while in the same-subject type, the second clause will be transitive but contain neither a subject nor an object NP. As an illustration, take the serial construction, ‘I chopped the tree toppled’. If one inserts a clause boundary between ‘the tree’ and ‘toppled’, then one has an SVO clause ‘I chopped the tree’, and a second clause with just the verb ‘toppled’. A switch-subject reading would produce ‘I chopped the tree and it toppled’ while a same-subject reading would yield ‘I chopped the tree and toppled it’.

But suppose one felt that a clause boundary before the Patient was more in line with one’s preconceptions. In this case, the first clause would consist of a subject and a verb with no object NP, while the second clause would contain either a Patient NP acting as subject of an intransitive verb, or a Patient NP acting as object of a transitive verb. Again take the example ‘I chopped the tree toppled’. A switch subject version could be parsed into ‘I chopped and the tree toppled’, while a same subject version could be parsed to read ‘I chopped and toppled the tree’. Both versions with the clause boundary before the Patient are thus compatible with SOV word order. The switch subject version contains no overt object NP and the same subject version contains an object NP in front of the final verb.

If one exercises the option of not inserting any clause boundary in a serial causative, then one has a clause that is both verb-medial and verb-final. An interpretation under which the manner verb is the main verb will be compatible with SVO prejudices, while one in which the result verb is the main verb will conform to SOV prejudices. Semantics will not easily decide. There seems no more reason to suppose that the manner-of-action is ancillary to the result-of-action than there is to presume that the result is subordinate to the manner. The manner verb describes the role of the Agent while the result verb describes the effect on the Patient. Neither the Agent nor Patient is a dispensable member of the Agent-Patient transitive clause. These parsing options are summarized in Table 1.

Table 1: Parsing Options for SVOV Serial Causatives

One clause
Parsed as SVO: S Vmain O Vsub
Parsed as SOV: S Vsub O Vmain
Two clauses
with switched subject
Parsed as SVO: S V O ## Vi
Parsed as SV: S V ## S Vi
with same subject
Parsed as SVO: S V O ## Vt
Parsed as SOV: S V ## O Vt

Reflexes of both switch-subject and same-subject serial causatives are found throughout NGO languages. Very often, reflexes of both types are found in the same languages, as in Manam. However, it appears that same-subject serial causatives are more common. In Manam, for instance, the only intransitive result verb that appears in homologs (inherited similarities) of the serial causative is -mate ‘to die, be dead’ (Lichtenberk 1983).

Table 2: Reflexes of Two Types of Serial Causatives in Manam

Switch subject: *S s-V-o O=S s-V ==> S O s-V-V-o
boro i-mate ‘the pig died/is dead’ (Vi)
pig 3s-die
(di) boro di-rau-mate-i ‘they killed the pig’ (Vt + Vi)
(3p) pig 3p-hit-die-3s
Same subject: *S s-V-o O s-V-o ==> S O s-V-V-o
(ngai) ‘ai i-sere‘-i ‘he split the wood’ (Vt)
(3s) wood 3s-split-3s
(ngai) ‘ai i-zan-sere‘-i ‘he split the stick lengthwise’ (Vt + Vt)
(3s) wood 3s-punch-split-3s

There is also evidence that speakers of Oceanic languages in New Guinea adopted the one-clause analysis of causative serial constructions. In almost every language, either the manner or the result verb has lost its verbal status. Prevailing word-order patterns seem to have been the sole determinant of which of the two verbs became grammaticalized (reduced to a smaller, more restricted grammatical class). Many of the languages that have not made the full shift to SOV (those in Morobe Province) have grammaticalized the clause-final result verbs. The reflexes of those verbs now form a class of resultative particles. In contrast, the nonfinal manner verbs have grammaticalized in the fully SOV languages. They have yielded a set of prefixes classifying the manner of action by which various results are achieved. Some of these prefixes have degenerated to the point where their meanings are indeterminable on solely language-internal evidence. These contrasting patterns of grammaticalization are summarized in Table 3.

Table 3: Different Resolutions for Two Verbs in One Clause

The VO Solution, adopted by Numbami and other VO languages:
S Vmanner O Vresult ==> S Vmain O Result
The OV Solution, adopted by Manam and other OV languages:
S Vmanner O Vresult ==> S O Manner-Vmain

One way to get the verb from one position to another within a clause, then, is to render the information of that clause in such a way that verbs fall in both positions in a construction that contains no boundary markers and thus permits multiple analyses. The evidence suggests that Oceanic languages on the north coast of New Guinea adopted this strategy in changing from SVO to SOV. The availability of this strategy suggests that serialization need not arise from either coordinate or subordinate relationships between two separate clauses. In fact, there is no evidence that I am aware of—at least in the Oceanic languages on the New Guinea mainland—that causative serial constructions were ever two fully separate clauses. The languages are adequately supplied with conjunctions, conjunctions that are often ubiquitous in other constructions. But no conjunctions show up between the constituents of serial causatives, not even as morphological remnants. Serial causatives in these languages were apparently from their very inception structures containing one clause worth of event-construction semantics and two or more clauses worth of verbs, without any intonational or morphological indication of a clause boundary.


Lichtenberk, Frantisek. 1983. A grammar of Manam. Oceanic Linguistics Special Publication No. 18. Honolulu, University of Hawaii Press.
Slobin, Dan I. 1982. Universal and particular in the acquisition of language. In: Eric Wanner and Lila R. Gleitman, eds., Language acquisition: The state of the art. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.


Filed under language, Papua New Guinea

Wordcatcher Tales: Kara-e/Kōmō-e Mekiki

I came across a few interesting terms, two of them new to me, while browsing through a beautiful and fascinating book: Japan Envisions the West: 16th–19th Century Japanese Art from Kobe City Museum edited by Yukiko Shirahara (Seattle Art Museum, 2007).

唐絵目利き kara-e mekiki ‘Chinese art inspectors’ – When Japan was keeping the outside world at arm’s length during the Tokugawa era, the Shogun employed inspectors to appraise, catalog, and often copy samples of all goods coming from China and the West, perhaps as much to make sure the Shogun got the best goods as to keep harmful influences out. The characters that make up mekiki are 目 me ‘eye’ and 利 ki(ki) ‘efficacy, expertise’. But the latter also occurs in other contexts: ri ‘advantage, profit’; ki(ku) ‘to take effect, operate’; ki(kasu) ‘to use (one’s head), exert (influence)’; ki(keru) ‘be influential’; and ki(kaseru) ‘to season’.

唐絵 kara-e ‘Chinese painting’ – Kara is written with the character for the Tang dynasty, otherwise read (< Tang), as in 唐画 tōga ‘Chinese painting’, a synonym of kara-e. However, 唐 means not just ‘Tang’ or even ‘Chinese’, but ‘foreign’, especially when pronounced kara- in native Japanese compounds, as in 唐行き karayuki ‘going abroad’ (lit. ‘Tang-going’), 唐草 karakusa ‘arabesque’ (lit. ‘Tang grass=flowing style’), and 唐黍 karakibi/tōmorokoshi ‘maize, Indian corn’ (lit. ‘Tang millet/sorghum’).

Compare the wal- (cognate with Welsh) on English walnut (once ‘foreign nut’); or the 胡 hu (once ‘barbarian’) on Chinese 胡桃 hutao ‘walnut’ (‘foreign peach’) or 胡椒 hujiao ‘black pepper’ (‘foreign pepper’ vs. 辣椒 lajiao ‘hot pepper’), or 胡麻 huma ‘sesame’ (‘foreign hemp’).

紅毛絵 kōmō-e ‘Dutch painting’ – By Tokugawa times, the Japanese had to deal with a new kind of foreigner very different from the Asians lumped together as kara. The character abbreviation for the Dutch is 蘭 ran (lit. ‘orchid’), short for Oranda ‘Holland’, as in 蘭学 Rangaku, ‘Dutch learning’, but by extension ‘Western learning’ more generally. So Western-style paintings can be called 蘭画 ranga, just as Chinese-style paintings can be called 唐画 tōga. But this book refers to the more specifically Dutch-style paintings from Nagasaki as 紅毛絵 kōmō-eRed Hair painting’—a term I found especially engaging, as a former redhead myself (now mostly white), married to another former redhead (now more brunette with strands of gray), and the parent of a red-haired daughter.

By the way, Katsumori Noriko, whose chapter on “The Influence of Ransho [‘Western books’] on Western-style Painting” compares Japanese paintings copied from originals in European books imported through Nagasaki, starts by correcting the conventional history that Dutch-language books were banned between 1630 (the beginning of sakoku) and 1720 (during the reign of Yoshimune). She says (p. 99):

In fact, these policies applied only to Chinese translations of Western books. Books in Dutch, presented as gifts from foreign visitors, had been preserved over the decades in the shogunal library but were largely disregarded. When the bibliophile shogun Yoshimune opened his library in 1720, Japanese scholars had the opportunity to reencounter and study ransho firsthand.


Filed under art, China, Japan, language, Netherlands, publishing

Kakania or Russia as “Versuchsstation des Weltuntergangs”

From The War of the World: Twentieth-Century Conflict and the Descent of the West, by Niall Ferguson (Penguin Press, 2006), pp. 13-15:

Czechs in particular chafed at their second-class status in Bohemia, and were able to give more forthright political expression to their grievances after the introduction of universal male suffrage in 1907. But schemes for some kind of Habsburg federalism never got off the ground. The alternative of Germanization was not an option for the fragile linguistic patchwork that was Austria; the most that could be achieved was to maintain German as the language of command for the army, though with results lampooned hilariously by the Czech writer Jaroslav Hašek in The Good Soldier Švejk. By contrast, the sustained Hungarian campaign to ‘Magyarize’ their kingdom’s non-Hungarians, who accounted for nearly half the population, merely inflamed nationalist sentiment. If the trend of the age had been towards multi-culturalism, then Vienna would have been the envy of the world; from psychoanalysis to the Secession, its cultural scene at the turn of the century was a wonderful advertisement for the benefits of ethnic cross-fertilization. But if the trend of the age was towards the homogeneous nation state, the future prospects of the Dual Monarchy were bleak indeed. When the satirist Karl Kraus called Austria-Hungary a ‘laboratory of world destruction’ (Versuchsstation des Weltuntergangs), he had in mind precisely the mounting tension between a multi-tiered polity – summed up by Kraus as an ‘aristodemoplutobarokratischen Mischmasch’ – and a multi-ethnic society. This I was what Musil was getting at when he described Austria-Hungary as ‘nothing but a particularly clear-cut case of the modern world’: for ‘in that country … every human being’s dislike of every other human being’s attempts to get on … [had] crystallized earlier’. Reverence for the aged Emperor Francis Joseph was not enough to hold this delicate edifice together. It might even end up blowing it apart.

If Austria-Hungary was stable but weak, Russia was strong but unstable. ‘There’s an invisible thread, like a spider’s web, and it comes right out of his Imperial Majesty Alexander the Third’s heart. And there’s another which goes through all the ministers, through His Exellency the Governor and down through the ranks until it reaches me and even the lowest soldier,’ the policeman Nikiforych explained to the young Maxim Gorky. ‘Everything is linked and bound together by this thread … with its invisible power.’ As centralized as Austria-Hungary was decentralized, Russia seemed equal to the task of maintaining military parity with the West European powers. Moreover, Russia exercised the option of ‘Russification’, aggressively imposing the Russian language on the other ethnic minorities in its vast imperium. This was an ambitious strategy given the numerical predominance of non-Russians, who accounted for around 56 per cent of the total population of the empire. It was Russia’s economy that nevertheless seemed to pose the biggest challenge to the Tsar and his ministers. Despite the abolition of serfdom in the 1860s, the country’s agricultural system remained communal in its organization – closer, it might be said, to India than to Prussia. But the bid to build up a new class of thrifty peasant proprietors – sometimes known as kulaks, after their supposedly tight fists – achieved only limited success. From a narrowly economic perspective, the strategy of financing industrialization by boosting agricultural production and exports was a success. Between 1870 and 1913 the Russian economy grew at an average annual rate of around 2.4 per cent, faster than the British, French and Italian and only a little behind the German (2.8 per cent). Between 1898 and 1913, pig iron production more than doubled, raw cotton consumption rose by 80 per cent and the railway network grew by more than 50 per cent. Militarily, too, state-led industrialization seemed to be working; Russia was more than matching the expenditures of the other European empires on their armies and navies. Small wonder the German Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg worried that ‘Russia’s growing claims and enormous power to advance in a few years, will simply be impossible to fend off’. Nevertheless, the prioritization of grain exports (to service Russia’s rapidly growing external debt) and rapid population growth limited the material benefits felt by ordinary Russians, four-fifths of whom lived in the countryside. The hope that they would gain land as well as freedom aroused among peasants by the abolition of serfdom had been disappointed. Though living standards were almost certainly rising (if the revenues from excise duties are any guide), this was no cure for a pervasive sense of grievance, as any student of the French ancien regime could have explained. A disgruntled peasantry, a sclerotic aristocracy, a radicalized but impotent intelligentsia and a capital city with a large and volatile populace: these were precisely the combustible ingredients the historian Alexis de Tocqueville had identified in 1780s France. A Russian revolution of rising expectations was in the making – a revolution Nikiforych vainly warned Gorky to keep out of.

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Filed under Austria, Bohemia, Hungary, nationalism, Russia, war

Wordcatcher Tales: Hamachi vs. Buri, Pāpio vs. Ulua

A delicious plate of hamachi kama (‘yellowtail collar’ [or ‘sickle’]), pictured below, serendipitously led me to discover that hamachi (魬) and buri (鰤) are merely different sizes of the same fish, the Japanese amberjack (Seriola quinqueradiata). Yellowtail is the usual translation in Japanese restaurants, but that name can also apply to a whole lot of other fishes (as well as other animals). You can tell you’re dealing with a highly commercialized and regulated industry when the difference between the smaller and larger fish is defined so precisely: hamachi weigh less than 5 kg, buri weigh 5 kg or more. The fry are called by yet another name, mojako.

According to Japanese Wikipedia, buri has a plethora of synonyms that vary by size and region. The term hamachi seems to come from Kansai; its match in Kanto seems to be inada. The names used on Japan Sea side are even more varied. (See here for a romanized glossary of Japanese fish names.)

Hamachi kama (yellowtail collar), Hanamaru Restaurant

This put me in mind of other types of jackfish (Jp. 鯵科 ajika, Carangidae) that have different names at different sizes in Hawaiian. Ulua refers to several types of large jackfish weighing 10 lbs or more, including the white ulua, or giant trevally (Caranx ignobilis); the omilu, or bluefin trevally (Caranx melampygus); and the kagami [< Jp. ‘mirror’] ulua or African pompano (Alectis ciliaris). At smaller sizes, the same fish are called papio. (Papio papio is also the genus and species name of the Guinea baboon.) In older Hawaiian usage, the smallest ones were called pāpio(pio); the somewhat larger ones, pā‘ū‘ū; and the largest ones, ulua.


Filed under food, Hawai'i, Japan, language

Causative Makeovers in New Guinea Oceanic Languages, 2

In contrast to Austronesian languages almost everywhere else, the Oceanic languages on the north coast of the Papua New Guinea mainland show an unusual disinclination to make use of the morphological causative inherited from Proto-Oceanic and Proto-Austronesian. Innovative causatives derived from causative serial constructions appear to have supplanted to varying degrees the inherited prefix *pa(ka)-. Part 1 summarizes the dethroning of the inherited prefix. Part 2 (here) outlines the replacement pattern of serial causatives. Part 3 suggests reasons for preferring the serial causatives.

Serial causative reflexes in New Guinea

Over 40 years ago, Milke (1965:346–347) pointed out correspondences between certain classificatory prefixes in Gedaged and certain ones in Papuan Tip languages. Such prefixes broadly classify the manner in which a result is achieved: by beating, by grabbing, by kicking, by piercing, and so forth. He proposed that the classificatory prefixes were a morphological innovation providing evidence for a New Guinea Oceanic subgroup. He was apparently unaware of the presence of identical constructions in Manam. However, Milke was hard put to find classificatory prefixes in Huon Gulf languages. If he had been looking for main verbs rather than prefixes, he would have had better luck.

There are no classificatory prefixes in Huon Gulf languages, but there are main verbs that play roles similar to those of the prefixes. And there are result verbs or resultative particles in Huon Gulf languages whose semantics resemble those of the verbs occurring with classificatory prefixes in the verb-final languages elsewhere on the northeast coast of New Guinea. Some of the morphemes involved are cognate as well.

Proto-Oceanic (POC) *taRaq ‘to hew, chop, cut into’ is virtually ubiquitous as an initial verb in serial and compound causative constructions.

Reflexes of POC *punu ‘to strike, kill, extinguish’ are universal as resultatives in the Huon Gulf languages. However, in Kairiru the reflex of *punu appears as a manner transitive. In Gedaged, it appears as either a manner or a result verb. Reflexes of *punu turn up in result position in causative compounds in Papuan Tip languages.

Capell (1943:177) reconstructs a form *tomu ‘to cut or break off’ widely reflected in Papuan Tip languages. Its reflexes appear in result position in Misima (= Panayati), Nimowa, and Sudest; and in classificatory prefix position in Suau and Iduna. In Numbami, a Huon Gulf language, tomu is a resultative meaning ‘broken off’.

POC *kabit (PAN *kampit) ‘to hold, take, snatch, carry, gather’ is widely reflected in initial position in phrasal causative and incorporated object constructions in Huon Gulf languages. Its reflexes occur in the same position in compound causative, classificatory prefix, and incorporated-object constructions in Gedaged, in Madang Province, and in Papuan Tip languages.

Reflexes of POC *mate ‘to die’ show up in Kairiru, Manam, Gedaged, and Gitua as result verbs.

Perhaps one of the most productive manner-transitive verbs is reconstructible as *rapu meaning ‘to strike, hit, beat’. It shows up as a transitive verb in Huon Gulf serial causatives and incorporated-object constructions; as the only classificatory prefix without an independent verb counterpart in Manam; and as an almost meaningless, general causative prefix in almost every Papuan Tip language. Many of the Papuan Tip languages also show a less phonologically reduced, independent verb of a similar shape with the meaning ‘to hit’.

The innovative causative constructions—no matter whether the object noun occurs before or after the verb—thus resemble each other in the semantics of the components involved, in the order in which verbal and incorporated-object components occur (VO), and, in many cases, in the shapes of the individual morphemes as well. Moreover, the two groups of innovative causatives are in complementary distribution in Papua New Guinea and both differ from the causative pattern commonly found in Oceanic languages elsewhere. These circumstances seem to invite the reconstruction of a single ancestral pattern that will account for both the VO (verb before object) and OV (object before verb) constructions.

Distributional evidence within the Austronesian language family suggests that the VO, serializing languages around the Huon Gulf are more conservative of ancestral word order than the OV languages elsewhere around the New Guinea mainland. The syntactic pattern ancestral to both the serial and compound causative constructions should thus be compatible with VO basic word order. The Huon Gulf languages already provide evidence for an SVOV pattern in which the first verb indicates a causing action and the second a result. SVOV syntax is compatible with VO basic word order and such a reconstruction will also account for the compounding pattern if we assume that the compounding languages shifted their basic word order from VO to OV after serial causative constructions were well established. (Perhaps Central Papuan languages like Motu have no classificatory prefixes because they shifted before the serial causative was well established.)

Two major changes are thus sufficient to account for the causative compounds in OV languages along the north coast of the Papua New Guinea mainland. First, SVOV serial causative constructions developed. This stage is attested in the VO languages around the Huon Gulf. The languages to the northwest and southeast then underwent a further change: they shifted from VO to OV basic word order. The SVOV causative thus became an SOVV causative. In some of the Morobe languages, which apparently never made the full shift to OV basic word order, the SVOV serial causative produced an SVOR phrasal causative when the final verbs in the construction lost their verbal status and became resultative particles. In most of the OV languages, the SOVV serial causative produced SOVV compound causative and classificatory prefix constructions. The OV languages show progressive deverbalization of the nonfinal verb in the construction. These developments are outlined below.

Reflexes of serial causatives in New Guinea Oceanic languages

* S Vt O Vi (Switch Subject) ‘they hit pig die’
* S Vt O Vt (Same Subject) ‘they hit pig kill/cause-die’

The VO languages

S V O V (Switch Subject) GITUA
ti-rap nggaya mate
3P-hit pig 3S-die

S V O Result (< Same Subject) NUMBAMI
ti-lapa bola uni
3P-hit pig dead (< ‘killed’)

The OV languages

S O V V (Switch Subject) KAIRIRU
bur rro-un-i a-myat
pig 3P-hit-3S 3S-die

S O V-V (< Same Subject) GEDAGED
boz du-punu-fun-i
pig 3P-shoot-kill-3S

S O classifier-V (< Switch Subject) MANAM
boro di-rau-mate-i
pig 3P-hit-die-3S

S O classifier-V (< Same Subject) IDUNA
bawe hi-lu-ve-‘alika-na
pig 3P-*hit-cause-die-3S


Capell, Arthur. 1943. The linguistic position of South-Eastern Papua. Sydney, Australasian Medical Publishing.

Milke, Wilhelm. 1965. Comparative notes on the Austronesian languages of New Guinea. Lingua 14:330–348.


Filed under Fiji, language, Pacific, Papua New Guinea, Polynesia

Causative Makeovers in New Guinea Oceanic Languages, 1

In contrast to Austronesian languages almost everywhere else, the Oceanic languages on the north coast of the Papua New Guinea mainland show an unusual disinclination to make use of the morphological causative inherited from Proto-Oceanic and Proto-Austronesian. Innovative causatives derived from causative serial constructions appear to have supplanted to varying degrees the inherited prefix *pa(ka)-. Part 1 (here) summarizes the dethroning of the inherited prefix. Part 2 outlines the replacement pattern of serial causatives. Part 3 suggests reasons for preferring the serial causatives.

The morphological causative supplanted

Both in Oceanic languages and in Austronesian languages more generally, the causative prefix is ubiquitous. In virtually any grammatical description of a Philippine language one can find mention of a pa- causative affix. Pa- causatives also occur in all the aboriginal (Austronesian) languages of Formosa, and even in distant Malagasy. The causative prefix is also well attested in Oceanic languages. In fact, it is one of the prefixes most characteristic of Oceanic languages. In Pawley’s (1972) grammatical comparison of Eastern Oceanic languages, it is the first verbal prefix listed and also the best attested—all but one of the 31 languages compared show an appropriate reflex. The same is true of Codrington’s (1885:183–184) table of verbal prefixes in 32 Melanesian languages. (The two lists overlap by about 50 percent. Only Ambrym lacks the prefix in Codrington’s list; only Tasiko lacks it in Pawley’s.) A sample of Austronesian causative constructions follows.


RUKAI, Formosa
‘a-‘acay kuani taraalu‘ sa babuy
cause-die that hunter ART boar
‘that hunter killed a boar’

ILOKANO, the Philippines
im-pa-kan na diay baboy
GOAL-cause-eat 3S that pig
‘he fed the pig’

MALAGASY, Madagascar
n-amp-anasa ny lamba aho
PAST-cause-wash the clothes 1S
‘I had the clothes washed’

ROVIANA, the Solomon Islands
va-mate-a sa si keke boko pa inevana
cause-die-3S 3S PRT a pig for feast
‘he killed a pig for the feast’

eratou vaka-mate-a na vuaka
3P cause-die-3S ART pig
‘they killed the pig’

HAWAIIAN, the Hawaiian Islands
ho‘o-make lākou i ka pua‘a
cause-die 3P OBJ the pig
‘they killed the pig’

The widespread occurrence of the prefix in most Eastern Oceanic languages is matched by a widespread multiplicity of function. Pawley (1972:45) notes three common functions of the prefix in the languages supporting his reconstruction of *paka- for Eastern Oceanic: causative (‘causing/allowing …’); multiplicative (‘repeatedly/extensively …’); and similative (‘resembling/characteristic of …’; as in Fa‘asamoa). The prefix is so productive in Polynesian and Fijian languages that Churchward’s (1959) Tongan dictionary, for instance, has 112 pages of words beginning with faka-, the Tongan form of the prefix.

In the Papua New Guinea languages with reflexes of the serial causative, on the other hand, the prefix has markedly diminished in function and in some cases disappeared altogether.

The Manam reflex of *paka- is aka-/a‘a-. It only serves to derive transitives from a limited number of statives and psychological verbs (Lichtenberk 1983:217).

The reflex of the morphological causative in Gedaged and its congeners is variously pa-, pe-, pi-, or pu-. Mager (1952:233) defines it as “a petrified prefix” and says:

It is not always clear when this prefix (and its variants) is a prefix and when it is a reduplication or a part of the root. Some times we can discern that it is a causative prefix, at times it expresses intensification, or it gives the word an opposite meaning.

In Gitua, the reflexes of causative *pa(ka)- and reciprocal *paRi have fallen together as pa-. (Lincoln 1977:24). Pa- can indicate reciprocal or multiple action, but its causative function has been almost entirely displaced by serial causative constructions. Thus, pa-mate (lit. ‘to cause to die’) only means ‘to extinguish (fire)’. The serial causative is required to render the literal sense of ‘to kill’.

The causative prefix appears completely lost elsewhere in Morobe Province. I have been able to find no evidence of it in the Huon Gulf languages.

The Papuan Tip languages show a proliferation of causative prefixes. Reflexes of causative *pa(ka)- are well attested but are not always easy to tell—either semantically or phonologically—from the reflexes of reciprocal *paRi- (Capell 1943:113, 237–242). Other causative prefixes have arisen due to the near-total semantic bleaching of some of the classificatory prefixes (see the compilation in Ezard 1992:238-248). The prefixes, which—as transitive action verbs—used to describe the manner in which the result was achieved, now indicate little more than that the result was achieved. Capell used the vague gloss ‘assumption of state’ for such prefixes. The new causative prefixes now perform functions often identical to the functions of the inherited causative prefix. The same is true of many manner-transitive verbs in the languages that retain Verb-Object word order. A comparison of some morphologically causative verbs in Hawaiian (Pukui and Elbert 1986) with analogous new causative constructions in Papua New Guinea Oceanic languages will illustrate the way in which transitive action verbs have taken on the functions of the morphological causative inherited from Proto-Oceanic. The usual Hawaiian reflex of *paka is ho‘o-.

HAWAIIAN ho‘o-hana (‘make-work’) ‘to employ, cause to work’
WEDAU rau-karäi (*‘hit-work’) ‘to set (s.o.) to work’

HAWAIIAN ho‘o-helele‘i (‘make-falling’) ‘to scatter, sow’
WEDAU ravi-awawari (‘*hit-falling’) ‘to sow broadcast’

HAWAIIAN ho‘o-hua (‘make-fruit’) ‘to bear fruit’
NUMBAMI -ambi ano (‘hold-fruit’) ‘to bear fruit’

HAWAIIAN ho‘o-huli (‘make-turn over’) ‘to turn, change, convert’
IWAL -amb nalili (‘hold-turned around’) ‘to turn (s.t.) around’

HAWAIIAN ho‘o-loli (‘make-turn/change’) ‘to change, amend’
NUMBAMI -ambi lele (‘hold-turned’) ‘to translate’

HAWAIIAN ho‘o-luli (‘make-shake’) ‘to rock (so); to sway’
WEDAU ravi-dagudagu (‘*hit-restless’) ‘to shake, disturb’

HAWAIIAN ho‘o-make (‘make-die’) ‘to kill, let die’
MANAM rau-mate (‘hit-die’) ‘to kill’

HAWAIIAN ho‘o-piha (‘make-full’) ‘to fill’
TUBETUBE ro-karapowani (‘*hit-full’) ‘to fill’

HAWAIIAN ho‘o-pi‘i (‘make-ascend’) ‘to cause to rise’
GEDAGED bi-sa (‘hold-ascend’) ‘to lift up, raise’

HAWAIIAN ho‘o-puka (‘make-perforation’) ‘to make a hole or opening’
NUMBAMI -so bozoka (‘stab-pierced through’) ‘to make a hole or opening’


Capell, Arthur. 1943. The linguistic position of South-Eastern Papua. Sydney, Australasian Medical Publishing.

Churchward, C. Maxwell. 1959. Tongan dictionary. London, Oxford University Press.

Codrington, Robert. 1885/1974. The Melanesian languages. Oxford, Clarendon Press. Reprint. Amsterdam, Philo Press.

Ezard, Bryan. 1992. Tawala derivational prefixes: A semantic perspective. In: M. D. Ross, ed., Papers in Austronesian linguistics no. 2. Canberra, Pacific Linguistics.

Lichtenberk, Frantisek. 1983. A grammar of Manam. Oceanic Linguistics Special Publication No. 18. Honolulu, University of Hawaii Press.

Lincoln, Peter C. 1977. Gitua–English vocabulary. Photocopy.

Mager, John F. 1952. Gedaged–English dictionary. Columbus, Ohio, The American Lutheran Church Board of Foreign Missions.

Pawley, Andrew K. 1972. On the internal relationships of Eastern Oceanic languages. In: R. C. Green and M. Kelly, eds., Studies in Oceanic culture history, vol. 3, pp. 1–142. Honolulu, Department of Anthropology, Bernice P. Bishop Museum.

Pukui, Mary Kawena, and Samuel H. Elbert. 1986. Hawaiian dictionary: Hawaiian–English, English–Hawaiian, rev. and enl. ed. Honolulu, University of Hawaii Press.


Filed under Fiji, language, Pacific, Papua New Guinea, Polynesia