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Jalon Begay, Navajo Language Program & Department of Linguistics, University of New Mexico

Wednesday, April 5, 2017
9:00 a.m.–10:30 a.m.
Lattimore 513

The grammaticalization of the iterative marker -ná- in Navajo

Jalon Begay
Navajo Language Program & Department of Linguistics University of New Mexico

The complex and puzzling nature of the Athabaskan verb has challenged and fascinated scholars for more than a century. The verbal morphology has been described as having unpredictable inflectional and derivational prefixes that are motivated by ‘nonlocalized’ dependencies within a larger templatic composition (Rice 2000: 1, 9). When observed synchronically, the unpredictability and irregularity cannot be described as a linear concatenation of affixes to a verb stem (root + aspectual suffixes). What we find are a wide and varied range of fixed, discontinuous sets of prefixal strings that combine with optional prefixes, which seem to be inserted as required. From a synchronic perspective, the elements basically undermine any fruitful analyses that stipulate syntactic derivation and grammatical or semantic scope (cf. Mithun 2000: 236). This paper attempts to reconcile the synchronic facts of the templatic morphology with language change processes that are well known in grammaticalization theory (see, e.g. Hopper & Traugott 2003[1993]; Lehmann 2015). In particular, the analysis focuses on the Navajo iterative marker -ná-. Navajo is known for complex allomorphy and homophony found among inflectional and derivational prefixes. It is often assumed and noted that such morphology are unrelated, coincidences arrived at via phonological processes (Kari 1989). However, with a closer inspection, one will find many examples of semantic extension and radially structured categories (e.g. Lakoff 1987; Panther and Thornburg 2001).

Since the iterative marker ostensibly overlaps with other aspectual categories and lexical classes, I argue that -ná- is exemplary of grammaticalization pathways (cf. Heine et al. 1991) and what has been termed ‘synchronic’ grammaticalization (Robert 2004; cf. Craig 1991, for polygrammaticalization). Namely, I show the postpositional sources for the the aspectual phenomena in (1), e.g. -naa (~ naa- ~ na- ~ ne- ~ ni- ~ n-) ‘around, in the surrounding’ and/or -ná (~ ná- ~ né- ~ ní- ~ ń-) ‘around encircling’.

This study also proposes that much of the polysemous and homophonous forms of the Navajo verb complex can be accounted for by seeking out all probable sources and divergences (cf. Gaeta 2010). Usually, most apparent homophonous morphemes can be sourced back to monosyllabic nouns, verbal stems, or ‘preverbal elements.’ Lastly, the pathways can extend over several layers of grammaticalization processes. Therefore, commonly a lexical source and its perceptible derivatives (can) co-habitat within a single linguistic period.

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