Reefs–Santa Cruz as Oceanic: Evidence from the Verb Complex

Recent research has shown that the long-standing assumption that the Reefs– Santa Cruz languages have a non-Austronesian substrate is unlikely to be valid: the languages do show regular sound correspondences with Proto-Oceanic (Ross and Næss 2007), and the alleged noun classes cannot felicitously be analyzed as such (Næss 2006). This paper addresses the third argument given in previous work for a non-Austronesian substrate: the complex verb structures. Presenting data from both Natügu (Northern Santa Cruz) and Äiwoo (Reefs), we show that while some of the verb morphology has clear cognates in Proto-Oceanic, other parts can be understood as deriving from an earlier productive process of verb serialization followed by reduction of the forms found in such serialized constructions. Given that both verb serialization and grammaticalization of elements of serializing constructions are well known in Oceanic languages, this leaves no linguistic evidence for a non-Austronesian substrate in Reefs–Santa Cruz.