Tid: Onsdag 27 januari 2015, kl. 15:00-17:00
Plats: C307, Södra huset, Frescati

Skuggopponent är Ambjörn Sjörs, Institutionen för lingvistik och filologi vid Uppsala universitet.

The thesis investigates the syntactic features, functions, and historical development of the light verbs of ‘get up’, ‘pick up’, ‘grasp’, and ‘take’ as used in a rarely occurring complex predicate type called ‘the inceptive construction’. The languages under investigation are Transversal South Ethio-Semitic languages, namely Amharic, Argobba, Harari, Zay, Selt’i, and Wolane. The analysis shows that the verbs identify the initial/inceptive phase of the event encoded by the following verb. They are further associated with nuances like volition, surprise, and emphasis. The rise of such interpretations as surprise and emphasis appears to depend mainly on the context, while volition is inherent to the construction. The languages generally do not show much variation, except notable difference in some co-occurrence restrictions. For instance, while the light verb for ‘pick up’ can co-occur with a reference verb for ‘say’ in Amharic, it is not allowed in Harari. It is difficult to know the origin and development of the inceptive construction in these languages because of the lack of adequate historical data and partly because of the rarity of the construction. There are only some traces of the construction in Amharic in the 15th century. It is argued, however, that collocation, frequency, and speakers’ conception of the action of the verbs are possible factors that lead the verbs to grammaticalize into markers of the inception phase.

Other topics discussed in the thesis include the nature of the coordinating conjunction –nna ‘and’ and the main verb use of converbs in Amharic. The conjunction is used in the inceptive construction linking a light verb with a reference verb, but also in causal(purposive) and conditional coordination where the verbs have modifier-modified relationship. In the latter case, the conjunction –nna ‘and’ is best considered a subordinator as the conjuncts may lack tense iconicity and can take variable positions. That is, –nna ‘and’ is ‘polysemous’. On the other hand, the converb is the dominant verb form used in the inceptive construction. In other contexts, it is occasionally used as a main verb which makes it less converb-like. It is argues that this is because the main verb or auxiliary it depends on gets ellipsed over time, a phenomenon widely known as ‘insubordination’. An insubordinated converb comes to function as an expression of surprise/exclamation, interrogation, rhetorical question, and wish. The point is this is a separate historical process which cannot pose a problem in using the word ‘converb’ when used in the inceptive construction.


Henrik Liljegren, Östen Dahl och Desalegn Hagos Asfawwesen