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Wambaya, an FWO natlang with SVCs

Posted: 27 Jul 2019 21:28
by eldin raigmore
Wambaya is a Free-Word-Order natural non-Pama-Nyungan language with Serial-Verb Constructions.
It is discussed in detail in Rachel Nordlinger’s doctoral work, which IMO has such intensive fieldwork it’s more like a Habilitationsschrift than like an ordinary dissertation, but whatever.
(Her paper can be read online as a PDF at ... sequence=2.)

According to Western Australia appears to be a “hotbed” of pragmatic (“free”) word-order languages.
Apparently, according to Nordlinger, it’s commonly thought that most Australian languages don’t have serial verb constructions; but many do.
Wambaya appears to be one of the few that has both.

In most SVCs in most languages that have them, the verbs have to occur in the “iconic” order. That is, if one verb in a series denotes an action or situation or event that causally or temporally precedes that denoted by another verb in the series, then the logically preceding verb must be mentioned first.
As far as I know, as far as Nordlinger knows, as far as anyone knows, Wambaya is unique among SVC languages in allowing speakers to say the verbs in pragmatic order, rather than requiring iconic order.

Nordlinger describes several types of SVCs in Wambaya, “typed” according to semantic purposes.
Most of them are “tight”; the verbs in the series have all the same participants, as well as the same TAM.
This means among other things, that if an ordinarily intransitive verb is used in a series with a transitive verb, it must be transitivized. That is, “transitivity harmony” is enforced among the verbs in a “tight” SVC.

It is these “tight” SVCs, in which all the verbs share their auxiliary and all their participants, in which the verbs may be ordered pragmatically instead of iconically.

Nordlinger recognizes another type of SVC in Wambaya she calls “loose”.
The verbs in a “loose” SVC all share their TAM and auxiliary and subject, but each may have its own object(s) (“non-subject participant(s)”).
In “loose” Wambaya SVCs, the verbs must come in iconic order.


I haven’t yet been able to tell how Wambaya indicates which objects go with which verbs in a loose SVC.
Wambaya allows discontinuous constituents.
If it allows them in loose SVCs, then it’s possible word-order is not the way to tell which verbs go with which objects.
But maybe discontinuous constituents are forbidden in loose SVCs in Wambaya?

I’ve seen no indication that Wambaya has concordial verb-classes. If it doesn’t, she probably didn’t think it necessary to explicitly say so, since they’re apparently pretty rare among natlangs. But if loose SVCs can have discontinuous constituents in Wambaya, then however speakers and addressees know which verbs go with which objects, will be interesting, whether it’s concordial verb-classes or something else.

It also appears that several of Wambaya’s relatives and/or neighbors may be interesting, from the points of view of free word-order, or of serial-verb constructions, or both. I haven’t been able to read much about them yet.


Edit: Only 61 native speakers left!

Re: Wambaya, an FWO natlang with SVCs

Posted: 26 Oct 2020 19:27
by eldin raigmore
I tried to e-mail Professor Nordlinger about this.
I don’t know if she’s still interested in something she wrote about 25 years ago. She may have chosen her dissertation topic based on what her advisor thought she’d likeliest and quickest earn a degree about, rather than what piqued her own curiosity.
But my experience with, for instance, Helen Charteris and Randy Valentine among others, is that professionals are likely to politely answer polite inquiries at least once.
To me it seems reasonable that if you have a second batch of questions they’d rather you sign up for their courses rather than submit questions in batches.
But if I can’t sign up for Canadian classes from Michigan, I’m pretty sure I can’t enroll in an Australian class from here! [:'(] [:(]

Re: Wambaya, an FWO natlang with SVCs

Posted: 14 Nov 2020 23:41
by eldin raigmore
A reply from Professor Rachel Nordlinger at the University of Melbourne in Victoria.

Dear Thomas,

Thank you for your email and for your positive comments about my work. I am glad that you have enjoyed reading it and found it useful for your interests. Your question about word order in loose SVCs is an excellent one and one that I didn't think to investigate in detail in my fieldwork unfortunately (and all of the fluent speakers of Wambaya passed away many years ago sadly so we will probably never know). However, my hunch is that verbs and objects can go in either order and that context would mostly help you work out which object goes with which verb. There is also a pause between the two serialised verbal complexes so that separation would also help to indicate when one verbal phrase ends and the next begins.

I'm not totally clear on what you mean by concordial verb classes, but I'm pretty sure Wambaya doesn't have them! __

I hope that helps to answer your question.

All the best,


Professor Rachel Nordlinger FAHA
Director, Research Unit for Indigenous Language
ARC Centre of Excellence for the Dynamics of Language
School of Languages and Linguistics
University of Melbourne
VIC 3010, Australia