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LINGUIST List 22.4571

Tue Nov 15 2011

Calls: Morphology, Syntax, Typology/Cameroon

Editor for this issue: Amy Brunett <brunettlinguistlist.org>

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        1.     Guillaume Segerer , Antipassives in African Languages

Message 1: Antipassives in African Languages
Date: 14-Nov-2011
From: Guillaume Segerer <segerervjf.cnrs.fr>
Subject: Antipassives in African Languages
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Full Title: Antipassives in African Languages

Date: 20-Aug-2012 - 24-Aug-2012
Location: Buea, South West Region, Cameroon
Contact Person: Guillaume Segerer
Meeting Email: < click here to access email >

Linguistic Field(s): Morphology; Syntax; Typology

Call Deadline: 15-Dec-2011

Meeting Description:

Antipassives in African languages

Workshop to be organized by Guillaume Segerer (LLACAN - CNRS) and Koen Bostoen (Ghent University, Royal Museum for Central Africa, Université libre de Bruxelles)

An antipassive construction is a derived detransitivized construction with a two-place predicate, related to a corresponding transitive construction whose predicate is the same lexical item (Polinsky 2008). Just like passives, antipassives thus involve a valence decrease. However, in contrast to the former, it is the patient-like NP that is suppressed or realized as a demoted argument, and not the agent-like NP (Creissels 2006; Keenan and Dryer 2007; Polinsky 2008). The examples in (1) and (2), both taken from Schröder (2006: 96), illustrate transitive/antipassive alternations, respectively in Shilluk, where the patient-like argument becomes an oblique, and in Burun, where it is deleted.

(1) a. Wüno a-'yer yi jal-ani (SHILLUK)
rope PST:E-twist:T ERG man-REF
'The man twisted the rope.'
b. Jal-ani a-'yët ki wüno
man-REF PST:E-twist:AP OBL rope
'The man twisted the rope.'
(2) a. Lälbäär yööl geel (BURUN)
giraffe 3SG: chase:PRO lion
'The lion is chasing the giraffe.'
b. Geel yüül-ir
lion 3SG: chase:PRO-AP
'The lion is chasing.'

Antipassives are typically found in ergative languages (Creissels 2006; Dixon 1994; Keenan and Dryer 2007; Polinsky 2008), where the basic 'absolutive' case encodes both the single argument of intransitive verbs and the patient-like argument of transitive verbs, as opposed to the agent-like argument of transitive verbs which is encoded by means of a marked 'ergative' case (cf. Dixon 1994: 9). This close association with ergativity could be a reason why antipassives are a relatively rare typological feature in Africa. According to the relevant WALS map, antipassive constructions occur only in 4 out of 32 surveyed African languages, three of them in north-eastern Africa (Krongo, Päri, Lango) and one in western Africa (Koyraboro Senni - Songhay), but all belonging to Nilo-Saharan (Polinsky 2008), just like the West-Nilotic and Surmic languages discussed by Schröder (2006). Following WALS, antipassives would be completely absent from Niger-Congo, Afro-Asiatic and Khoisan languages.

Nevertheless, both the link of antipassives with ergativity and their typological rarity in Africa need to be nuanced. Cases of antipassives are known from nominative-accusative oriented African languages, both in Nilo-Saharan where they occur in languages exhibiting ergative traces (Schröder 2006) and in other language families where ergativity is not a historical fact. Creissels (2006) reports morphological passive constructions in Soninke (Mande, Niger-Congo) and Wolof (Atlantic, Niger-Congo) (see also Voisin-Nouguier 2002). Given that the antipassive is a typological feature, whose study is relatively recent, it is to be expected that there are many more African languages where the construction has remained unnoticed or where it was described differently. Such is for instance the case in the Bantu language Songye, where Stappers (1964: 27) labelled the new function of the inherited Proto-Bantu associative suffix *-an- as 'alterative'. This de-transitivizing suffix indicating that the action is directed towards others which can no longer be mentioned as an object, e.g. kumona 'to see' > kumonána 'to see others', could easily be reanalyzed as an antipassive, even if the available description is strictly morphological.

Please see CfP below for references.

Call for Papers:

The proposed workshop aims at a better documentation, description and understanding of antipassive constructions in African languages, especially from language families where they are thought to be inexistent or extremely rare. We invite papers that take a closer look at antipassives in African and pay attention to following topics/questions:

1. Is the antipassive morphological or periphrastic?
2.Is the patient-like argument left implicit or expressed as an oblique argument?
3. Does the antipassive co-exist with the passive and can be analyzed as its mirror image?
4. Is antipassivation (historically) linked with ergativity or not?
5. Is the antipassive marker dedicated or does it exhibit synchronic polysemy?
6. What is the etymology of the antipassive marker? Is it a morpheme diachronically associated with other functions (e.g. reflexive, reciprocal, middle) which underwent semantic shift or did it directly grammaticalize from a distinct lexical source?
7 What are its semantic and discourse functions (e.g. affectedness, individuation, definiteness, etc.) as well as it structural functions (e.g. making the agent-like argument the syntactic pivot for grammatical processes)?


Creissels, Denis. 2006. Syntaxe générale, une introduction typologique. 2. La phrase. Paris: Lavoisier.
Dixon, Robert M. W. 1994. Ergativity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Keenan, Edward L. and Matthew S. Dryer. 2007. Passive in the World's Languages. In Timothy Shopen (ed.), Clause Structure, Language Typology and Syntactic
Description, Vol. 1: Clause Structure, 2nd edn, 325-361. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Polinsky, Maria. 2008. Antipassive constructions. In Martin Haspelmath, Matthew S. Dryer, David Gil & Bernard Comrie (eds.), The World Atlas of Language
Structures Online. Munich: Max Planck Digital Library, chapter 108. Available online at http://wals.info/feature/108.
Schröder, Helga. 2006. Antipassive and ergativity in Western Nilotic and Surmic. Annual Publication in African Linguistics 4, 91-108.
Stappers, Leo. 1964. Morfologie van het Songye (Annales. Série in-8 s. Sciences humaines, no 51). Tervuren: Musée Royal de l'Afrique Centrale.
Voisin-Nouguier, Sylvie. 2002. Relations entre fonctions sémantiques et fonctions syntaxiques en wolof. Lyon: Université Lumière Lyon2, thèse de doctorat.

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