Direct-inverse language

Direct-inverse language

A direct-inverse language is a language where clauses with transitive verbs can be expressed either using a direct or an inverse construction. The direct construction is used when the subject of the transitive clause outranks the object in saliency or animacy but the inverse is used when the "notional object" outranks the "notional subject".

This means that in an inverse language morphosyntactic markers vary according to compliance or non-compliance with normal rules governing the neutral order of verb arguments with respect to the position of each on a hierarchy. For this reason direct-inverse languages are sometimes said to have hierarchical alignment.

The direct form is used when the subject has higher obviation status (i.e. topicality) or animacy, including person hierarchy, e.g. 1st > 2nd > 3rd, than the object, while the inverse form is used when the reverse is true. A more 'unusual' semantic occurrence not matching the expected syntactic role of the arguments as given by their rank on the hierarchy is marked on the verb, giving flexibility to what can act as an agent on a higher ranking patient.

Klaiman (1989, 1992, 1993) has suggested four common properties of inverse languages:
#Core participants of transitive predicates are ranked on a hierarchy of Salience, Topicality or Animacy.
#Only transitive predicates can participate in the direct/inverse alternation.
#A morphosyntactic device should be used to signal whether the most salient participant is notional subject or notional object.
#Direct/inverse alternation does not entail detransitivization.

Some languages complying with Klaiman's definition of an inverse language are : Maasai, Carib, Wastek, the Algonquian languages and some Athapaskan languages like Koyukon and Navajo, Mapudungun, and Mixe-Zoquean languages. Roberto Zavala describes an inverse system in the Mixe-Zoquean language Oluta Popoluca which doesn't conform to these rules, because also certain intransitive verbs and passives of bitransitives can take inverse morphology.

Inverse Morphology in Ojibwe

For example, in Ojibwe, an Algonquian language of North America, the person hierarchy is second person > first person > proximate (the third person considered more important or basic in a discussion) > obviative (the third person considered less important or basic in a discussion). Ojibwe has no case distinctions, so in a transitive verb with two participants, the only way to distinguish subject from object is through direct/inverse suffixes. A direct suffix indicates that the action is performed by someone higher on the person hierarchy on someone lower on the person hierarchy (e.g., by the addressee on the speaker, or by a proximate third person on an obviative):

Direct-inverse systems on verbs coexist with the various morphosyntactic alignments in nouns.


*Gildea, Spike (1994) Semantic and pragmatic inverse - "inverse alignment" and "inverse voice" - in Carib of Surinam. In "Voice and Inversion", ed. by T. Givón, 187-230. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins. ISBN 9781556194207
*Klaiman, M.H. (1989) Inverse voice and head-marking in Tanoan languages. "Chicago Linguistics Society". 25:258-71
*Klaiman, M.H. (1992) Inverse Languages, "Lingua" 88:227-61
*Klaiman, M.H. (1993) The relationship of inverse voice and head-marking in Arizona Tewa and other Tanoan languages. "Studies in Language". 17:343-70
*Mithun, Marianne (1999) "The Languages of Native North America". Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0521232287
*Valentine, J. Randolph (2001) "Nishnaabemwin Reference Grammar". Toronto: University of Toronto Press. ISBN 9780802083890
*Zavala, Roberto (2002) Verb classes, semantic roles and inverse in Olutec. In "Del Cora al Maya Yucateco", ed. by Paulette Levy. UNAM, Mexico.
*Zúñiga, Fernando (2006) "Deixis and Alignment. Inverse systems in indigenous languages of the Americas." Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins. ISBN 9789027229823

External links

* [ Yi and Bi: Proximate and Obviative in Navajo]
* [ TYPOLOGY 5, Argument Structure and its Morphosyntactic Representation: Nominative/Accusative, Ergative/Absolutive, Active/Inactive, Direct/Inverse]
* [ Lecture 8: Split Ergative and Inverse Systems]
* [ Topic, Focus and Point of View in Blackfoot]
* [ Inversion and Obviation in Mesoamerica]
* [ Ojibwe Verb Paradigms]
* [ WALS] Alignment of Verbal Person Marking (see Hierarchical alignment)

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