LINGUIST List 4.1092

Thu 23 Dec 1993

Sum: Algonquian Inverse

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Message 1: Sum: Algonquian inverse

Date: Thu, 23 Dec 1993 09:27:46 Sum: Algonquian inverse
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Subject: Sum: Algonquian inverse

I posted a query about Algonquian inverse some time ago. I was mainly
interested in the feature, which appeared to me unusual, that the person
hierarchy in Algonquian is 2>1>3 i.e. an inverse form is used when *first*
or third person acts on second. My interest mainly stemmed from the fact
that in Jarragan languages of the East Kimberley in Australia the verb
forms with second person objects show something like "inversion" - the
second person patients occupying what are normally subject slots in the
morphology, and in some cases at least, the agents occupying what are
normally indirect object enclitic slots.

The query was, I understand, picked up and circulated on the SSIILA network
as well as on LINGUIST. Respondents included: Andrew Barss, Jim Black, Amy
Dahlstrom, Timothy Dunnigan, Talmy Givon, Ives Goddard, John Hewson, Dave
Kathman, John Lawler, Wayne Leman, Alec Marantz, Rich Rhodes, Donna Starks
and Gabor Zolyomi.

People referred me to some classics like Hockett (1966); most seemed to
home in on three dissertations for sources of solid information on
particular languages, with some comparative treatment: Goddard (1969/1979);
Rhodes (1976); and Dahlstrom (1985/1991). Goddard and Dahstrom are
published and Rhodes may be available from University Microfilms; Rhodes
reports he is working on a book updating that work. Most respondents
thought there was no survey of variation of exactly the kind I was looking
for, although perhaps Rhodes (1987) is something approaching that. I have
not seen any of that material yet. A few also pointed me to Mimi Klaiman's
recent book (1991), which I do have, which has extensive discussion of
Algonquian and other American inverse systems.

One thing I wanted to know was about the variation between Algonquian
languages in the operation of the inverse, particularly variation in the
person hierarchy. I cited a paper by Bernard Comrie (1980) which explored
such variation in the inverse in some Siberian languages. It turns out that
there is not much variation at all in the person hierarchy in Algonquian
languages, certainly not in the 2>1>3 part; I get the impression there may
be some in the 3/3 combinations - the operation of obviation, but I have no
details. A couple of recent writers (Hewson 1991:864; Klaiman 1992:236)
refer to the fact that the Algonquian verbal system is "almost without
exception" governed by a 2>1>3 hierarchy; no information is given about the
apparently rare exceptions.

Inversion in Algonquian is quite stable and its specific forms are old: the
inverse suffix *ekw is reconstructable to proto-Algonquian, according to
Bloomfield (1946) and Goddard (e.g. 1975, 1979) has added considerably more
detail to the picture of earlier stages of Algonquian morphology. In the
few languages I have looked at, however, reflexes of this inverse marker
seem to appear only with third person subject forms; in "you and me" forms
(1 acting on 2) other markers appear (e.g. Cree -ti- ; Ojibwa, Potawotami -
Vn-) whose origins are obscure to me in my present state of knowledge.

I gather the 2>1>3 hierarchy may also be reconstructable to Proto-
Algonquian but again I don't have a specific reference on that. Goddard
points out that this person hierarchy only applies to one "order" of one
class of the verb - the independent order. In other parts of the paradigm
many things are very different - including the pronominal affixes
themselves and the type of person hierarchy involved. Dahlstrom also notes
that 2>1>3 really only applies to the prefixes and the suffixes follow a
1pl>2pl>singular hierarchy. The possibility of more than one person
hierarchy existing in a language, and even competing, is an important idea.

Thinking more variation and clues to historical sources of the hierarchy
and inversion might be found in genetically more distant languages, I
investigated Wiyot and Yurok of Macro-Algonquian (Algic, Algonquian-Ritwan;
Goddard 1975 and references therein). These languages clearly have a quite
parallel verbal system to Algonquian and cognate prefixes. Wiyot has a
2>1>3 hierarchy in the prefixes but an inverse marker is not mentioned by
Goddard, nor is a 2>1>3 hierarchy in Yurok - Goddard (1975) says that the
complicated pattern in Yurok "probably developed" from 2>1>3. Macauley
(1992:199) on the basis of Robins' work suggests Yurok has a 1>2>3
hierarchy with a "passive" - which may be an inverse - taking over when it
is violated.

Macauley's (1992) article on Karuk (a Hokan language of N.California) is
interesting in that it also shows a 2>1>3 hierarchy of inversion. Macauley
doesn't analyse it like that: she says there is a 2pl>1>2sg>3 hierarchy,
but the fact is that in most verb paradigms the hierarchy is 2>1>3 and it
is only in the negative that number complications arise: I would analyse
the situation as two interacting hierarchies. The expansion of inverse
forms in negative paradigms is I think known in Algonquian (ref?) and
parallels expansion of obligatory pronoun-hierarchy determined antipassive
in some Australian languages in negative/irrealis forms (McConvell 1976).
Even the inverse suffix form in Karuk -ap looks suspiciously as if it could
be related to Algonquian *ekw - early contact with Macro-Algonquian
languages seems likely.

The significance of this "deviation" from expected (?universal) 1>2>3 to
2>1>3 has been commented on by at least one writer - Hewson (1991:864) who
suggests it could be ascribed to a cultural feature of deference, with a
possible basis in spiritual ideas. I understand that Jeffrey Heath might
have talked about deference explanations for odd (possibly inverse)
realisations of pronoun combinations involving 2nd person in Australian
languages in a recent paper, but I have no details and for reasons of space
it is probably best not to get into Australian material here.

I also asked for suggestions about analyses of inverse constructions. This
turns out to be a fertile field, to which I cannot do justice in this
summary. Rhodes (1976) analyses the Ojibwa inverse as a passive; Dahlstrom
(1985) sees the similar Cree construction as a form of active; I have been
referred to a recent paper by Wolvengrey (1993) which says it is (somehow)

It seems (and this may be a gross over-generalisation) that those of more
functionalist persuasion (Klaiman 1991, 1992; Givon to appear) tend to
interpret inverse as a form of voice alternation, whereas more formalist
types see it as mainly a morphological phenomenon not necessarily
reflecting syntactic alternations. Within the "formalist" camp, though,
there are disputes: Anderson (1992) rejects a passive analysis of the
Potawotami inverse, whereas Halle and Marantz (1993, also referring to
Noyer 1992) while apparently taking a similar line on a voice-changing
analysis, in turn reject Anderson's "affix-free" approach to inversion in
favour of one which takes syntactic terminal nodes underlying morphological
elements as input to rules.

New examples of "inverse" constructions seem to be popping up all over the
place these days. This is partly (but not wholly) due to a widening
definition of "inverse". Klaiman concedes that some of the examples of
"inverse" in her book (1991) are controversial; but she does not go
anything like as far as Givon, who opts for a functional definition which
includes within "inverse" many constructions involving only word order
change, and even suggests the English passive may be an "inverse". Klaiman
sees "inverse languages" as a rather fuzzy category but draws the line to
exclude derived intransitives like passives from the "inverse" category
(1992:242). Givon focuses on "pragmatic inversion" - involving topic
prominence like the proximate/obviative distinction. Obligatory person
hierarchies like Algonquian 2>1>3 are termed "semantic inversion".
"Semantic inversion" is hypothesised to arise always from earlier
"pragmatic inversion" : in the light of the ancient character of the
Algonquian 2>1>3 hierarchy, it may be hard to muster evidence for or
against this hypothesis from this family.


Anderson, Stephen (1992) A-Morphous Morphology. Cambridge UP.
Bloomfield, Leonard (1946) Algonquian. In Linguistic Structures of Native
 America. Viking Fund Publications in Anthropology. 6: 85-129.
Comrie, Bernard (1980) Inverse verb forms in Siberia: Evidence from
 Chukchee, Koryak and Kamchadal. Folia Linguistica Historica. 1;61-74.
Dahlstrom, Amy (1985) Plains Cree Morphosyntax. Berkeley Ph.D. published
 1991 by Garland (?).
Givon, Talmy (to appear) The Functional Basis of Grammatical Typology; De-
 transitive Voice and Inversion. In Typological Studies in Language #28.
 Amsterdam: Benjamin.
Goddard, Ives (1969) Delaware Verbal Morphology. Harvard Ph.D. published
 1979 by Garland.
Goddard, Ives (1975) Algonquian, Wiyot and Yurok: Proving a distant genetic
 relationship. in M.D.Kinkade, K.Hale and O.Werner eds. Linguistics and
 Anthropology in Honor of C.F.Voegelin. Lisse: Peter de Ridder Press:249-
Goddard, Ives (1979) Comparative Algonquian. In The Languages of Native
Halle, Morris and Alec Marantz (1993) Distributed Morphology and the Pieces
 of Inflection. In: The View from Building 20: Linguistic Essays in Honor
 of Sylvain Bromberger. MIT Press.
Hewson, John (1991) Person hierarchies in Algonkian and Inuktitut.
 Linguistics 29: 861-875.
Hockett, Charles (1966) What Algonquian is really like. IJAL. 32:59-73.
Klaiman, Mimi. (1991) Grammatical Voice. Cambridge UP.
Klaiman, Mimi (1992) Inverse languages. Lingua 88: 227-261.
Macaulay, Monica (1992) Inverse marking in Karuk: the function of the
 suffix -ap. IJAL 58.2:182-201.
McConvell, Patrick (1976) Nominal Hierarchies in Yukulta. In R.M.W. Dixon
 ed. Grammatical Categories in Australian Languages. Canberra:AIAS: 191-
Noyer, Rolf (1992) Ph.D. Dissertation. MIT.
Rhodes, R. (1976) The morphosyntax of the Central Ojibwa Verb. U. Michigan
Rhodes, R. (1987) Inversive Person Marking. Paper presented at the
 Conference on Native American languages and Grammatical Typology, U.
Wolvengrey, Arok (1993) Why the Plains Cree Inverse Appears Both Active and
 Passive (and why it is). Paper to ?conference.
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