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mar. 02/03/2021 Atelier Typologie sémantique
en ligne
Conférence de :
  • Denis Bertet (DDL)

Séminaire de recherche DiLiS

Morphosyntax and semantics of the “spatial” derivational suffixes of the Tikuna verb root

Tikuna (isolate, western Amazonia) verb roots feature a single slot for derivational morphology. This slot may be optionally filled by one of 19 mutually exclusive suffixes. Of these 19 suffixes, 11 appear to form a system and express notions of spatial relations between entities. These 11 suffixes typically occur on verb roots referring to spontaneous or caused posture (e.g. chi̊ ‘to stand’, g̃à ‘to tie’) or manner of motion (ñā ‘to run (sg.)’, ‘to drag’). Their function, I argue, is precisely to specify the type of spatial relation that holds (or does not hold) between a figure (subject referent of an intransitive verb or object referent of a transitive verb) and a ground (optionally-expressed participant in a locative case) at the culminating phase (i.e., often, the end) of the process that the verb root refers to.

Thus the suffix -ku̽chí (sg.)/-ku̽ (pl.) ‘in’ (which, like two other suffixes in the system under discussion, agrees in number with the figure) specifies that the relation that holds between the figure and the ground at the culminating phase is one of “containment”. By contrast, the suffix -ʼV̽chí (sg.)/-ʼü̃̀ (pl.) ‘out’ specifies the figure-ground relation as one of “non-containment”. Likewise, -V̄chì ‘at’ vs -gàchì ‘away’ encode a figure-ground relation of “propinquity” vs “non-propinquity”, respectively. The suffixes -na̽gǘ ‘on’ and -ã́chí ‘upslope’ encode a relation of “support” (with the ground being a horizontal or a slanting surface, respectively), while (sg.)/-ʼü̃̀ (pl.) ‘off’ encodes a relation of “non-support” (irrespective of the configuration of the ground). I tentatively analyze the suffixes -yé ‘UNILOC’ vs -a̽ ‘PLLOC’ as encoding “unilocality” vs “plurilocality” (i.e. contiguity of the figure with a single spot vs several spots of the figure). The last two suffixes of the system are not organized in a pair: -pétǜ ‘across’ encodes “transversality” (whereby the figure gets to find itself at the opposite side of the ground) and -ègù ‘INV’ an inverted spatial relation (often implying that the figure gets back to its initial relation relative to the ground).

After describing the morphology of this system of suffixes and some of its syntactic properties, I will attempt to interpret it from a semantic perspective. Following Levinson & Wilkins’ (2006:3-4) terminology, I will determine, in particular, that these suffixes are not of an angular nature (they do not tell “in which direction from a ground we need to search to find the figure” in configurations where “figure and ground are separated in space”), but of a topological nature (telling in what subtype of contiguity relation the figure stands—or does not stand—relative to the ground in configurations where figure and ground are not separated in space).


Levinson, Stephen C. & David P. Wilkins. 2006. Patterns in the data: towards a semantic typology of spatial description. In Stephen C. Levinson & David P. Wilkins (eds.), Grammars of space. Explorations in Cognitive Diversity (Language, culture & cognition 6), chap. 14, 512–552. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Link to videoconference room: https://meet.jit.si/AtelierTypologieSemantique

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