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.

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.

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.

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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