More syntactic mysteries

Another excellently puzzling syntactic day today.

I’d been having trouble eliciting examples of gerunds with ‘source’ case marking. They are mentioned in Nekes and Wurms’ Nyulnyul materials but I didn’t have any examples, and the examples I tried didn’t work. Somehow I got the idea that these forms might be resultative (I’m not sure if this is in the original Nyulnyul materials, or if this was a guess on the basis of what –joon does to nouns). The opportunity to test it came up today while talking about locative descriptions. More on the locative another day, since that was pretty interesting too. Anyway, I ended up with some nice examples, including moogoolinjoon ‘broken’ and monyjinjoon ‘speared’. Trying to do this with complex predicates wasn’t conclusive, although gadim manyanjoon ‘cut’ seemed ok.

Things really got interesting when I tried to add arguments back in, and to further inflect the gerund. In such times, one turns naturally to death and crocodiles for unambiguous agents and transitivity. The conversation went something like this.

CB: Say someone’s speared a crocodile, can you call it a monyjinjoon linygoorr?

BE: Yes.

CB: That’s really cool! How about if it didn’t die, and it came up to the person and ate im?

BE: <Example that included two finite clauses.> That’s the easy way.

CB: How about the hard way? I know about the easy way.

BE: Monyjinjoon linygoorrnim inarligal aamba. [speared crocodile-ERG ate man]

Now, this is not exactly what I’d expected, since if monyjinjoon and linygoorr form a constituent, the ergative should be on monyjinjoon, and in fact if my memory is right, BE did say linygoorrnim monyjinjoon inarligal at one point, with ergative in the expected place. But that doesn’t prove that [linygoorrnim monyjinjoon] is a constituent, since there’s constituent interleaving in Bardi. More questioning did lead to BE accepting monyjinjoonnim linygoorr, but not happily.

CB: How about if I want to talk about how the croc was speared. Can I say something like irrolong monyjinjoon linygoorr? [spear-INST speared croc]

BE: Not like that. You’d have to say linygoorr monyjinjoon irrolnyarr [croc speared spear-COMIT] because it’s got the spear with him.

So, a few mysteries here. One is the ergative placement. It implies that the gerund isn’t modifying the noun directly. That is, it isn’t part of a Noun Phrase and instead the gerund would be appositive (literally, something like ‘speared, the crocodile ate…’ There are ways to test this. The comitative rather than the instrumental on ‘spear’ also strongly implies that the gerund isn’t taking arguments. Another obvious line of questioning involves whether there are any ditransitives (e.g. if you can say something like mayilnganjoon jawal ‘a story that’s been told’, or whether it’s mayilnganjoon baawa ‘the kid that was told the story’, or if it’s both). However, gerunds can (sort of) take arguments in certain circumstances. Another mystery is how resultative the verb has to be, whether it’s only speared crocodiles and ripped paper that can appear with this construction, or if, now that it’s clear what sort of construction I’m asking about, whether other verbs will work too.

One response to “More syntactic mysteries

  1. David Marjanović

    In such times, one turns naturally to death and crocodiles for unambiguous agents and transitivity.

    LOL! Into my quote folder it goes.

    Field linguists must be great people to talk to! :-)

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