Subordination and Mood in Western Abenaki
UMass(Amherst) / SOAS
SSILA Summer 2011
Alternative title: Some more other verb forms in Western Abenaki
[cf. online below]
In this presentation we will look at Joseph Laurent's picture of the verbal
system of Western Abenaki against a backdrop of the contemporary picture (Bloomfield, Goddard,
Many (all?) languages regiment differences between main and subordinate clauses and
between straightforward assertions and other kinds of expressions. There are
two main ways of expressing grammatical differences in natural languages:
structural and inflectional. Other resources: lexical, intonational, etc.
- Structural Categories:
For example: S, S̅, X, XP,...
- Inflectional Categories:
For example: indicative, subjunctive, interrogative, conjunct,
subordinative,..., ergative, absolutive etc.
- Subordinator + inflection
- Let me remind him, lest he forget.
- "lest its drift be lost on us"
- "lest its drift is lost on us" -- Roger Owen , Times Literary
14 May 1982 cited online in Merriam-WEbster's dictionary of
- Let me remind him, lest he forgets.
- Western Abenaki
- Western Abenaki (Eastern Algonquian)
Location: formerly in
(present day) New England (Vermont, New Hampshire), presently in
Québec (Odanak) with scattered individuals in New England (Vermont,
New York, New Hampshire). Algonquian one of the larger language families in
North America, both in geographical spread and number of languages.
Distantly related to two California language: hence, Algic.
General structural characteristics: rich inflectional and derivational
morphology. Syntax: free word order. Except: Wackernagel (2nd) position
phenomena (see below). Typical (relatively simple) phonology, but vd vs vl
consonants, unusual in Algonquian. Relatively long history of linguistic
analysis (starting with French missionaries, contrast with English). Written
records go back several centuries. Cf. References Online
About Joseph Laurent (Sozap Lolô) Western Abenaki linguist and educator:
1884 New familiar Abenakis and English dialogues. (JL84) Laurent's
analysis of his language reflected in paradigms and labels (see below).
Algonquian: Verbal Categories (modern analyses, Bloomfield and others)
Orders: Independent, Conjunct, Imperative, (sometimes a fourth order for
Jussive etc), within Independent and Conjunct further Modes: Indicative and
(further distinctions: tense / affirmative / negative, definite / indefinite object
(transitives) (Eastern Alg)
Crosscutting pattern of inflections determined by membership of arguments to
the big gender classes: Animate, Inanimate, yielding four basic types:
- K'wajônôbena waligijik asesak?
`Have we some good horses?' JL84: 70
K'- wajônô - bena wali -gijik ases - ak
we(incl) - have - (we incl) good(changed conjunct) - part - horse - pl
The personal inflections differ as between Independent and Conjunct Orders:
In Independent they register as prefixes and suffixes, in Conjunct only as
suffixes. Many special details.
- AI: Animate Intransitive (subject)
- II: Inanimate Intransitive (subject)
- TA: Transitive Animate (object)
- TI: Transitive Inanimate (object)
And many more.
Laurent's analysis of his language: verbal paradigms
Laurent's own organization of some verbal categories is markedly different
from that of the traditional modern Algonquianist schemes, just outlined .
Here are some of Laurent's adjectival and verbal categories, with examples
first from the paradigms and explicitly labeled examples:
Two clitics: -ji Future and -ba Conditional
Formally, these two items stand outside the inflectional system. They are
cliticized onto the first word of a sentence. In one section of the book,
Laurent shows that he is perfectly aware of their status by exhibiting (in a
manner reminiscent of Ken Hale's writings on Warlbiri) examples of
"transposition of the affixes "ji" and "ba." (Cf. LeSourd Ms.)
Transposition of the affixes "ji" and "ba" (JL84: 119):
- kdaloka `thou workest' k(d)- aloka Independent Indicative Present
- kdalokabena `we (incl) work' k(d)- aloka -bena Independent
- alokaan `thou workest' aloka -an Conjunct Indicative Present
- alokaagw `we (incl) work' aloka -agw Conjunct Indicative
- kdalokab `thou workedst' k(d)- aloka -b(en) Independent Indicative
`I would go to New-York if I had money,'
These examples are not a complete "scramble" of the words, but respect the
clausal organization. For example, there is no example like (13) (which I
think it is fair to star).
Nevertheless, Laurent incorporates these clitics regularly into his
paradigmatic lists. The same goes for the preverb or auxiliary item
kizi `already' or `perfect' or `past' (see examples below, and
discussion in the final part of this presentation). What this shows (I
believe) is that Laurent's implicit organization of paradigms is notional
(semantic) or functional rather than formal.
In the following, I give Laurent's designations in italics. (Warning!
these examples are AI "possessive" verbs meaning `to have a cow', there is no
separate syntactic constituent for `cow.' Side note: notice that the word for
cow, like many words from the agricultural domain are based on the plural form
of the English source, cows.)
- N'-d-elosaba New-York wajônemôshôna môni, or:
- New-Yorkba n'-d-elosa wajônemôshôna môni,
- Môniba wajônemôshôna n'-d-elosa New-York,
- N'-d-elosaba New-York môni wajônemôshôna,
- Môniba wajônemôshôna New-York n'-d-elosa,
- Wajônemôshônaba môni n'-d-elosa New-York,
- W'ajônemôshônaba môni New-York n'-d-elosa .
- *Wajônemôshônaba n'-d-elosa môni New-York,
As just noted, Laurent's designation "Subjunctive" is invoked for the
Independent and Conjunct Non-Indicative forms in paradigms. What these
categories have in common is the use of -za/-ssa/-shan forms for the
second Tense forms labeled ( Imperfect). In the Independent Indicative examples
the Imperfect is always marked with -b(an). In our other two sources,
we do not find such a neat distribution.
- INDICATIVE MOOD
- N'okaozemi. `I have a cow.'
- 'Okaozemob. `He had a cow.'
- N'okaozemibenaji. `We shall have a cow.'
- Second Future
- N'okaozemiji kizi, or, Kiziji n'okaozemi. `I shall have had
[There are few examples of the second ordering.]
- CONDITIONAL MOOD
Laurent's "conditional" designates all forms with the aforementioned clitic
- N'okaozemiba. `I should have a cow.'
- 'Okaozemoakba. `They would have a cow.'
- N'okaozemibenobba . `We should have had a cow.' JL84:129
- IMPERATIVE MOOD
Here Laurent includes 1st and 3rd person injunctives. No special comment to
be made here. But I can't refrain from giving the delightful imperative:
`Have a cow!'
AI Imperative 2
[EB my exclamation marks!]
- SUBJUNCTIVE MOOD
This designation is used for Independent and Dubitative (Conjunct)
`That I may have a cow.'
AI IndSub 1 Present
n- [w- [kaoz-em]]+i/e -n(a)
`That I might have had a cow.'
AI IndSub 1 Past
&c., after the above tense, commencing by kizi.
AI IndSub Preterite 1 Imperfect
`That I might h. a cow.'
n- [w- [kaoz-em]]+i/e -n(a) -za
- DUBITATIVE CONJUGATION
Laurent's designation is used for conjunct forms:
Wskebi wajônok telaps. *
`Perhaps I have a trap.'
TA ConjIndc (Indefinite) Present1-3
wajôn- (-ô) -og
Wskebi wajônokza tôbi.
`Perhaps I had a bow.'
TA ConjIndc (Indefinite) Preterite 1-3 Imperfect
wajôn- (-ô) -og -za
- Adjective / Verbs
Conjunct forms used attributively (participial forms) are treated separately
- Waligijik ases(ak) . `Fine horses .' AI ch conj part 3p JL84:69
- Waligek wigw“m . `A fine house .' II ch conj part O JL84:69
- Final Thoughts
Is there a structural basis for the choice of Order? This position has been
advocated by Richards for Wampanoag (2004) and Brittain (2001) for some other
Algonquian languages. The idea that crucial syntactic distinctions are
governed by or correlated with structural differences has been a dominant idea
since Emonds' work in the seventies, distinguishing "root" and "non-root"
(structure-preserving) transformations (1976). Something like this idea is
probably the source for the terminology Independent vs Conjunct (Phil LeSourd,
p.c.) but establishing this definitely requires philological work that I have
not done. Structural differences of this sort undoubtedly underlie the use of
"Subordinative" for the second category within each of the two major Orders.
Mood, Mode, Modality, Force
Not incompatible with the previous position, is the idea that the contrasts of
the four types we are concerned with here are based on semantic distinctions,
of the sort suggested by the words at the head of this section.
- Features vs Structures
In any event, it seems to me that the encoding of the complex and crosscutting
morphological architecture of the Algonquian Verbal system will not be neatly
captured by any single hierarchical scheme. I think it is worth considering
Chomsky's strictures in Aspects against trying to model inflectional
properties of words as linear sequences of separate "pieces" and arguing that
features are a better mechanism, as they do not lead to arbitrary decisions
about the order of elements.
- A different model: Word and Paradigm
The Word and Paradigm model pursued by Peter Matthews and more recently by
Jim Blevins and others offers a different way of looking at
linguistic structure. I suggest that Laurent's own description of his
language might fit better into this kind of model. But doing a serious job of
pursuing this line would takes us well beyond the limits of the current
- Both: Categories and Features
Instead of (e.g.)
[Sub: Neg] etc.
Common to LFG, CPSG, HPSG, (Combinatory) Categorial Grammar, etc., etc.
Instead of (e.g.)
move α (or whatever)
feature percolation principles (government, agreement) etc.
Cf. e.g. Bach 1983 (and numerous alternatives)
Some Other verbforms in Western Abenaki:
Paper given at SSILA summer meeting, Santa Barbara, 2000.
On the relationship between word-grammar and phrase-grammar.
Natural Language and Linguistic Theory.
The Morphology of Modern Western Abenaki.
Dartmouth College Honors Thesis:
Program of Linguistics & Cognitive Science.
In Franz Boas, ed.,
Handbook of American Indian Languages
(Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution, Bureau of American Ethnology,
Bulletin 40), vol. 1: 283-422 (Reprinted 1969: Humanities
Press/Anthropological Publications, Oosterhout, NB.) TSIMSH
The Morphosyntax of the Algonquian Conjunct Verb: A Minimalist Approach.
York: Garland (Routledge).
Adverbs and Functional Heads: A Cross-Linguistic Perspective.
New York /
Oxford University Press.
Syntactic structure and phonological phrasing in English, Ph.D dissertation,
University of Texas at Austin.
A transformational approach to English syntax: Root, Structure Preserving,
and Local Transformations.
New York: Academic Press.
Kayne, Richard S.
Some notes on comparative syntax, with special reference to English and
French. In Guglielmo Cinque, and Richard S. Kayne, eds, The Oxford Handbook
of Comparative Syntax (Oxford: Oxford University Press), pp. 3-69.
Laurent, Joseph. 1884. New familar Abenakis and English dialogues.
Quebec: Leger Brousseau. (JL84)
Verb movement, universal grammar and the structure of IP.
Lesourd, Philip S.
The Syntax of Second Position in Western Abenaki
[Earlier version presented at WSCLA16 (UMass (Amherst)]
Richards, Norvin W. 2004.
The syntax of the conjunct and independent orders in Wampanoag. IJAL
70, no. 4: pp. 327-68.