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Verb Serialization In Yahgan And Other Languages


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I've studied Yahgan, the southernmost native language in the world (from Tierra del Fuego), for more than 20 years. A large percentage of derived verbs are serialized, meaning that verb roots chain together, sharing the same arguments and tense. So for example I could say: hai ha-t-aku-:pung-ku:chi-de: skaia, where hai is 1st sg. emphatic subject pronoun, ha- is the 1st person coreference pronoun on the verb, -t- appears between ha- and verb or h- initial verbs as a linking element, aku:- means 'to strike' or 'by striking', pung- is from pvna (v schwa) which means 'to kill (sg.). The n becomes ng before velars, ku:chi means 'to travel by watercraft', -(u)de: is simple past tense, and skaia is 2nd person singular object pronoun. Together it all means 'I struck you dead while traveling on the water', as one might shoot someone, say, while on an ocean liner.


This kind of construction is actually quite common, but by no means universal, in the languages of the world. Mostly languages exhibiting productive verb serialization tend to be on the analytical or isolating end morphosyntactically. Yahgan is actually an exception in this regard.  In some languages some of the metaphors seen in interpreting the verb strings can be a bit alien to the average English speaker, for example the Yahgan word atama, meaning 'to eat' appears to be from ata 'to take' plus ama 'food, flesh (usually sea mammal flesh), so literally 'take food'.


Have any of you encountered productive verb serialization in the languages you've become familiar with? I'm not expecting too many responses here, as the Hypography list isn't exactly a linguistics haunt. Thanks.


Jess Tauber

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