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Are Verbs Always What They Seem To Be?

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image of Iran and the Caucasus

The North West Caucasian language-family is noted (notorious) for the polysynthetic nature of its verbs. If one couples this with fact (a) that morphemes typically take the shape C(V) and fact (b) that the language has a minimum of 58 consonantal phonemes (sc. in its literary dialect) and that homonymy is widespread, one might expect that, for ease of encoding/decoding, verb-forms would shew great regularity and structural transparency. On the whole, this is indeed the case. However, there are instances where analysis presents some problems.

In Abkhaz the causative marker is 'r' prefixed to the verbal root (sometimes to the preverb). Since the procedure for causative formation is clearly of the synthetic type, one would expect that all verbs containing this marker would have to be transitive, and yet the verb /s-'p∫w-r-t∫t∫a-wa-jt'/ 'I smile' has only the one argument, represented by the initial fricative for the 1st person singular, and is intransitive. The verb /j-'s-kw-na-psa-jt'/ 'I came out in a rash' looks to be monovalent and yet has three arguments and is ditransitive, just like its counterpart in the unrelated but neighbouring language Georgian /(muts'uk'-εb-i) ga-m-m-(a-)q'ar-a/ 'I came out in a rash (of spots)'. From its form the Mingrelian verb /-rt-u-k/ looks to be an intransitive form (by virtue of ending in /-u-k/), and yet, if we place the verb in a sentence /si mu-s -rt-u-k/ 'What are you doing?', one might be excused for taking it to be a proto-typical transitive (cp. the exact equivalent in the sister-language Georgian /∫en ra-s∫vr-εb-i/). The paper examines a range of such apparent inconsistencies and some consequential misanalyses.

Affiliations: 1: School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London


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