‘We can’t say it with one word’: multiverb constructions

Alexandra Y. Aikhenvald

in The Languages of the Amazon

Published in print May 2012 | ISBN: 9780199593569
Published online May 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191739385 | DOI:
‘We can’t say it with one word’: multiverb constructions

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  • Historical and Diachronic Linguistics


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In many languages of the world, several verbs combine to form a single predicate of one clause. These monoclausal sequences vary in their forms, and in their meanings. The verbs may appear in their root form, or be inflected. There may be a linker between them. They may be contiguous or non-contiguous. One of the verbs may be clearly marked as subordinate to the other. Over time, they may undergo grammaticalization or lexicalization. The major structural feature shared by all multiverb constructions is that each of them makes up a single predicate. And in each case, the monopredicative—and the monoclausal—character of each construction can be proven with syntactic and morphological tests. A ‘string’ of several verbs in a row does not have to be a sequence of several clauses. Amazonian languages have a variety of such multi-verb constructions. Serial verb constructions are found in a few languages north of the Amazon, and a handful to the south of the river. Tupí-Guaraní languages have an array of converbal construction, that is, multi-verb constructions with dependent verb forms. Tacana and Arawá languages have auxiliary constructions with auxiliaries agreeing in transitivity with the lexical verb. Multi-verb constructions provide a source for new morphological markers.

Keywords: serial verb construction; auxiliary; light verb; converb; grammaticalization; transitivity

Chapter.  7137 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Historical and Diachronic Linguistics

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