Western Austronesian applicative constructions: Function and typological approaches

Christina L. Truong

Ph.D. Dissertation

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This dissertation investigates applicatives in the western Austronesian languages of Indonesia,
Malaysia, Brunei, and Singapore—that is, West Nusantara—and adjacent areas of the Philippines
and mainland Southeast Asia. As used in this study, an applicative construction (AC) is a kind of
clausal construction in which overt morphology on the verbal complex coincides with the selection of a peripheral semantic role (e.g. beneficiary, goal, instrument) as a core clausal argument.
In many of these languages, applicative alternations signaled by such verbal morphology—as
well as causative, aspectual, and semantic alternations signaled by the same morphemes—shape
and color the use of verbal predicates throughout the entire language.

A primary goal of the study is to understand the applicative systems of West Nusantara in
typological context, but also on their own terms, in the context of the diachronic and synchronic
systems in which they developed and are used. Special attention is also given to broadening the
description and cross-linguistic comparison of West Nusantara ACs and their functions, properties, and usage.

Neglected functions of western Indonesian applicative morphology

Christina L. Truong & Bradley McDonnell (2022)

In Sara Pacchiarotti and Fernando Zuñiga (eds.), Applicative morphology: Neglected syntactic and non-syntactic functions (Trends in Linguistics 373), 405-436. Berlin; Boston: De Gruyter Mouton. https://doi.org/10.1515/9783110777949.

Many of the Austronesian languages of western Indonesia make use of applicative morphology that licenses a core argument with a peripheral semantic role, such as a location, beneficiary, goal, or instrument. However, the same morphology that forms these prototypical applicative constructions is consistently polyfunctional across the languages of western Indonesia. A number of these functions fall outside of what is often considered prototypical of applicatives, resulting in a diversity of syntactic, semantic, and even pragmatic effects. In this chapter, we describe the diversity of functions of applicative suffixes in nine western Indonesian languages that are geographically dispersed across the region and represent different subgroups, highlighting “neglected” functions that are often not discussed in the literature on applicatives. In doing so, we show that there is considerable overlap between forms, functions, and morphosyntactic properties across these languages, but despite these similarities, variation among and within applicative constructions in these languages presents a complex synchronic and diachronic picture.

Lexical semantics and the constructional meaning of Western Indonesian applicatives

Christina L. Truong & Bradley McDonnell
Presentation at APLL 14, 9–11 June, 2022

In this presentation, we compare the different functions of applicative morphemes (AMs) across the lexicons of a sample of four western Indonesian languages in order to understand the influence of lexical semantics on their distribution. To show how semantic and syntactic effects of AMs pattern, we adopt the treatment of AM-marked clausal constructions as pairings of form (morphological content and syntactic
structure) and meaning (semantic content and structure) (see Goldberg 1995).

We address the following research questions: Do AM-marked constructions have an identifiable set of core meanings? How are these meanings distributed across languages of western Indonesia and their
lexicons? Using data from original fieldwork, published descriptions, corpora and lexical
resources, we compare unmarked and AM-marked constructions across a common set of

roots based on the 80 lexical meanings on the Leipzig Valency Classes Project Questionnaire
(Malchukov & Comrie 2015).

On the basis of patterns identified, we propose an inventory of core constructional
meanings marked with AMs and show how languages of the sample differ with respect to this
inventory. For example, benefactive applicative constructions vary in productivity, with the
Sundanese benefactives being compatible with far more lexical bases than the
others. Across languages, the benefactive construction is most commonly centered around
lexemes that entail acquisition, production or processing of material objects. In languages
with more productive benefactive constructions, many additionally compatible verbs entail a
change of state.

Our results reinforce previous findings that syntactic categories, such as transitivity of the base or the unergative/unaccusative distinction, do not adequately explain the distribution of the functions of AMs across the lexicon (see Kroeger 2007). The study also systematically expands identification of types of semantic information that speakers are likely sensitive to in producing and interpreting verbal constructions formed with these affixes, suggesting pathways along which lexicalization of such constructions has occurred.

Slides available here.

The non-Malayic languages of Sumatra and the Barrier Islands

Bradley J. McDonnell & Christina L. Truong

To appear in Adelaar, Alexander and Antoinette Schapper (eds.), The Oxford Guide to the Malayo-Polynesian Languages of Southeast Asia (Oxford Guides to the World’s Languages). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Publisher link: Forthcoming, May 2023.

In this chapter, we present a typological overview of the non-Malayic Malayo-Polynesian languages of Sumatra and the Barrier Islands (NMLS). These languages are extremely diverse. They share few typological features other than those due to their shared Austronesian inheritance, their general geographic position, and the contact they have all had with Malayic languages. Section 1 describes the consonant and vowel inventories, stress, and phonological processes. Section 2 presents an overview of common affixes and morphological processes in the languages. Section 3 covers basic syntactic properties including grammatical relations, case, agreement, word order, and noun phrase structure. Section 4 describes some aspects of tense, aspect, modality, and mood in NMLS. Section 5 summarizes the chapter and describes directions for further research including the need for more documentation and description of NMLS. The principal languages we draw on for our typological generalizations and examples include: Acehnese, Gayo, Karo Batak, Toba Batak, Simeulue, Sikule, Nias, Mentawai, Enggano Rejang, Nasal, and Lampung.

On the rise of applicatives in West Nusantara

Christina L. Truong

Themed panel presentation at the 16th International Conference on Austronesian Linguistics

Slides here.

This study examines the distribution of applicative constructions in Malayo-Polynesian languages of West Nusantara, and the relationships between applicatives, geographic location, genetic affiliation, and other typological features of language. Eighty-five languages were sampled across genetic groupings indigenous to West Nusantara (Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei, and Indonesia west of Lombok) by geographic subregion. Using existing descriptive, lexical, and pedagogical resources, each language was evaluated for the presence of applicative constructions in which morphological marking on the predicate coincides with selection of a peripheral semantic role as a core argument (Peterson 2007). Data on structural properties, including word order, alignment, voice system, and case marking, and semantic and syntactic properties of the applicative constructions were also compiled. Analysis was conducted using geospatial mapping, and statistical tests for non-random association (Pearson’s exact tests) and evaluation of possible classification trees (Random Forest algorithm, see Breiman 2001).

The results indicate that applicative constructions distinct from major voice alternations are an areal feature of West Nusantara associated with the breakdown of Philippine-type voice. Furthermore, genetic affiliation and geographic subregion are strongly predictive of the presence or absence of applicatives, with contact-induced change being implicated for the lack of applicatives in most of Borneo and mainland Southeast Asia. The presence of applicatives otherwise cuts across types of voice system (e.g. symmetrical, asymmetrical), alignment (e.g. ergative, accusative, mixed), word order (e.g. verb-initial, verb-medial) and case marking (e.g. case marking particles, pronominal distinctions, no case marking). This cast doubts on the usefulness of a proposed Indonesian-type of western Austronesian languages associated with applicatives (see Himmelmann 2005). Some features of applicative constructions are quite stable, including the distribution of beneficiary/instrument/theme-selecting functions and locative/goal-selecting functions across separate morphemes. This distribution and other evidence from remnant constructions and historical comparative studies point to West Nusantara applicative constructions being developed from earlier LV and CV Philippine-type voice constructions.

Valency and argumenthood in Sundanese applicative constructions

Christina L. Truong 

Paper presented at the 9th International Symposium on Languages of Java, 20 May 2023

Slides available here

This paper concerns applicative constructions in Sundanese, the principal language spoken in West Java, Indonesia. Like many other western Indonesian languages, Sundanese makes use of applicative morphemes (AM) which affect the syntactic and semantic properties of the verbal clause when they are affixed to the verb stem. In linguistic typology, applicative constructions are widely understood to be marked by overt morphology, and to “allow the coding of a thematically peripheral argument or adjunct as a core argument” (Peterson 2007:1). In Sundanese, when the verbal stem bears apparent AM affixes, a thematically peripheral semantic role is selected to map to a clausal constituent, i.e., the applied phrase. However, syntactic coding of the applied phrase varies across and within AM-marked constructions. While it may show coding associated with core arguments, i.e., an unmarked NP, sometimes it takes the form of a PP instead. Given these facts, how should we understand the function of these affixes and the status of the applied phrase in Sundanese?

Using original primary data, published literature, and corpus resources, I examine three Sundanese constructions: the goal-selecting construction marked with -an, the theme-selecting construction marked with -keun, and the beneficiary-selecting construction marked with pang–keun. Clauses marked with these three AMs show different patterns of possible syntactic coding of the applied phrase and the companion phrase, i.e., the constituent that maps to the semantic role expressed as the P argument of the base verb. Even so, examination of the semantic and inferential properties of AM-marked clauses using tests from Riesberg (2014) demonstrates that these constructions have an identifiable and consistent semantic structure, and that the applied phrase shows properties of a clausal argument, rather than an adjunct, even when coded as a PP. This shows that certain syntactic properties of ACs (e.g., relative syntactic valency, syntactic coding of arguments) often do not correlate with their stable semantic properties. Thus, careful examination of semantic properties is key to developing an adequate typology of the AM-marked verbs in western Indonesian languages and the observed range of structures found with them in usage, especially those that differ from expected forms and accepted definitions for applicatives.

Semantic meaning and the representation of
Indonesian applicative constructions

Christina L. Truong
Presentation at SEALS 31, 18–20 May, 2022

In this paper, I show that the argument structure of base verbs and components of lexical meaning
together influence compatibility of bases with functions of applicative suffixes. For example, both
transitive verbs of caused motion that select a theme argument, e.g.
mengambil ‘take’, membawa ‘carry’,
and transitive verbs of creation that select a ‘product’ argument, e.g.
memasak ‘cook’, menjahit ‘sew,’ are
compatible with the benefactive applicative –
kan construction, as shown below. However there are some
semantic differences in resulting constructions.

Some other transitive verbs are entirely incompatible with benefactive kan, including verbs of
perception, e.g. there is no verb *
menontonkan meaning ‘to watch something for someone’. Accordingly,
I argue for the incorporation of lexical meaning into representations of applicative constructions, and
propose ways to do so, using corpus data representing one million Indonesian sentences and drawing on construction grammar and frame semantics (Goldberg 1995, Perek & Patten 2019, Goldhahn et al. 2012).

Slides available here.

Exploring western Indonesian applicative constructions through the lexicon

Christina L. Truong & Bradley J. McDonnell
Presentation at ICAL 15, 28 June – July 2, 2021

In this study, we investigate the extent to which components of lexical semantics consistently explain the distribution of functions of western Indonesian applicative morphemes (AM) in combination with roots. Using a sample of six western Indonesian languages (Besemah, Indonesian, Sasak, Javanese, Balantak, Sundanese) that contain at least one AM, we compare patterns in function of these across roots that express a set of common meanings. These meanings are selected to represent classes of words with shared semantic components including transfer of possession, e.g. ‘buy’, ‘sell’, application of force, e.g. ‘hit’, locomotion, e.g. ‘walk’, directed motion, e.g. ‘throw’, and sensory perception, e.g. ‘see’, ‘hear’, among others. The meanings of words formed by addition of all available AMs in each of the languages are coded for function and resultant patterns, both those common and variable across the sample are presented.
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Survey of Cia-Cia and closely related languages of southern Buton Island, Indonesia

David Mead & Christina L. Truong (2021)
Paper in Sulang Language Data and Working Papers: Survey Reports, Sulawesi Language Alliance.

This paper presents the results of a dialect survey of the Cia-Cia language of southern Buton Island in Southeast Sulawesi, Indonesia. This survey also encompassed the closely related Kumbewaha and Lasalimu languages, that is to say, all three languages belonging to the Butonic branch of the Muna-Buton group of languages. The principal results of this survey are as follows: (a) the Cia-Cia language comprises two primary dialect areas, a western dialect and a central-eastern dialect complex; (b) the small (and previously undocumented) Wasambua lect is recognized as a third, outlier dialect; (b) Kaisabu is elevated to the status of a separate language; (c) Kumbewaha is more dialectally complex than has hitherto been recognized; (d) the unity of the Butonic subgroup within Muna-Buton is confirmed.
Link to paper

Semantic and syntactic functions of western Indonesian applicative morphology

Christina L. Truong & Bradley J. McDonnell
Presentation at SLE 2020, 26 August – 1 September 2020

The verbal affixes which form applicative constructions in western Indonesian languages are extremely polyfunctional, but this fact is not widely discussed nor well-accounted for. In this paper, we survey the functions of applicative affixes in eight western Indonesian languages. We pay close attention to the varied syntactic properties and semantic nuances of apparent applicative constructions. We demonstrate that the non-prototypical functions are both prevalent in individual languages and broadly distributed across languages of the region.
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