The stem alternation in Rengmitca

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Sizang Chin (Northern Kuki-Chin, Tibeto-Burman) is spoken in Northern Chin State, Burma/Myanmar. It exhibits a form of ablaut commonly referred to as “verb stem alternation” within the Kuki-Chin literature. In verb stem alternation, one form of a verb (Stem I) occurs in certain environments and a secondary form (Stem II) occurs in other environments. Recently, this alternation has been classified as a correlation of agentivity, with Stem I denoting agentive voice and Stem II denoting nonagentive voice. However, the methodology used in that classification depended heavily upon elicited data and the categorization did not make a clear distinction between clausal-level phenomena and argument-level phenomena. In order to observe verb stem alternation in a more natural environment, this study examines the correlation of verb stem alternation with foreground and background information in Sizang third-person narrative discourse. Foreground information refers to the clauses within a narrative that contain main events which advance the timeline. Background information refers to clauses that are not mainline events, but nonetheless add supporting information to the mainline events. The hypothesis for this study was that foreground information clauses would correlate with Stem I and background information clauses would correlate with Stem II. However, contrary to the hypothesis, the results demonstrate that the majority of background information clauses contain a Stem I verb and foreground information clauses sometimes contain Stem II verbs. This is because Stem II in Sizang Chin to indicates nominalization. Therefore, in both foreground and background information, Stem II is present in nominalized clauses, including adverbial clauses, complement clauses and applicative constructions.
Matisoff (2003) reconstructs an “adjectival prefix” *gV-, based on work by Wolfenden (1929). As a result of surveying grammatical descriptions of more than 90 Tibeto-Burman languages, the present study provides evidence to reconstruct Matisoff’s adjectival prefix as a nominalizer whose functional range includes (but is not limited to) the adjectival marking. Evidence for the prefix is found in three major genetic subdivisions. Within Bradley’s (2002) Western branch, Baram (Newaric) has a particularly versatile nominalizer ki-~gi- , and Eastern Kiranti languages have *gV-…-pa nominalizing circumfixes. In Bradley’s Eastern branch, rGyalrongic languages have velar prefixes that function as the main nominalizers. Further, in DeLancey’s (2015) Central branch of Trans-Himalayan (Sino-Tibetan), we find reflexes of *gV- in many languages, most notably the versatile nominalizer kV- in Lamkang (Northwest Kuki-Chin). Other languages of the India-Myanmar border with unresolved phylogenetic status within Tibeto-Burman also have reflexes of *gV-, most prominently Karbi and Tangkhul (Konnerth 2012).
0 Abstract While the Kuki-Chin languages of India and Myanmar are primarily characterized by agglutinative morphology, their widespread use of verbal stem alternations provides an interesting counterexample. These alternations exist as verbal pairs which differ only by the addition or alteration of one phoneme (e.g., pe~pek). Since they were first noted, many attempts have been made to define how the stems are used. Historical evidence indicates that stem 2 developed from nominalizing and valence-increasing morphemes, functions which still exist today. However, some Kuki-Chin languages have (to use Cooreman's terminology (1994)) "co-opted" stem 2, adapting it for subject/object disambiguation in relative clauses and WH questions. Other languages have also developed a pragmatic function, using stem 2 in ergative independent clauses. This paper compares and contrasts the use of stem alternations in five Kuki-Chin languages: Lai, Mizo, Falam, Tiddim, and Sizang Chin. The results suggest four basic functions of stem alternations: 1) nominalization; 2) subordination; 3) disambiguation in relative clauses/WH questions; and 4) valence-changing. Furthermore, the uses divide naturally by agentive vs. nonagentive focus. It seems that verbal stem alternations are in fact the morphosyntactic manifestation of the agentive voice and its logical counterpart, the nonagentive voice. 1 Introduction The division of Tibeto-Burman known as Kuki-Chin 1 manifests a form of fusional morphology uncharacteristic of these typically agglutinative languages. Verbal stem alternations, as they are called, take shape as two distinct variations in the verb stem, formed by the addition or alternation of a single final morpheme. 2 These variations are known as stem 1 and stem 2.
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