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  • Abaza Applicatives
  • Brian O’herin

The applicative is a construction in which a verb bears a particular morpheme which licenses an oblique, or non-core, argument that would not otherwise be considered a part of the verb’s argument structure. Abaza, a Northwest Caucasian language, has an applicative construction which differs systematically from applicative constructions reported in many other languages. The properties of the Abaza applicative construction include the ability of both transitive and intransitive verbs to host applicative prefixes, the stability of the underlying argument structure despite the presence of applicatives (i.e. the underlying direct object is not demoted to an oblique argument), the ability of a single verb complex to host multiple applicatives, and the use of additional agreement morphology in the verbal complex corresponding to applied object(s), beyond the normal agreement requirements of the verb. This paper attempts to present a thorough description of the applicative construction in Abaza, as well as a brief analysis along the lines of Baker (1988).*

The applicative

In the applicative construction the verb bears a particular affix (the applicative morpheme), and this morphological marking licenses an oblique, or noncore, argument that would not otherwise be considered a part of the verb’s argument structure. Compare the simple Chichewa sentence in 1 with the applicative example in 2. Typically, the applicative construction involves arguments in such roles as instrumental, benefactive and adversative (or malefactive). Some languages also allow comitative and locative applicatives.1 The applicative construction contrasts with a construction in which oblique arguments are licensed by means of case and/or an adposition.



A wide variety of languages have been described as having constructions of this type, including several Bantu languages (Baker 1988), Mohawk (Iroquoian) (Baker 1996), Rama (Chibchan), Nadëb (Maku) and Winnebago (Siouan) (Craig and Hale 1988), Slave (Athapaskan) (Rice 1989), Bajau (Austronesian) (Donahue 1996), Bahasa Indonesia and Tagalog (Austronesian), and Mayan languages. All of these have the property that the addition of an applicative affix to the verb licenses particular oblique [End Page 477] arguments, without the use of an independent adposition or oblique case. A constellation of certain other properties frequently occurs with the applicative construction as well. Most notably, the applicative object tends to behave syntactically like a direct object, while the underlying direct object tends to lose the normal syntactic properties of a direct object.

Marantz (1984) analyzes applicatives as the merger of two independent morphemes (V and P), each of which bears its own argument structure. Feature percolation conventions laid out in his work and the assumption that verbs, simple or derived, may each assign only one semantic role combine to account for the observed properties. Baker (1988) argues that that applicative construction crosslinguistically can be analyzed as the incorporation into the verb phrase of the adposition which normally licenses the applicative object, and that the properties frequently associated with applicatives result from this type of head movement. Den Dikken (1995) gives an alternative analysis in which the applicative morpheme is an incorporated particle heading a small clause. All three of these analyses have in common that the applicative construction is one in which the oblique argument is external to the verb at some level, but becomes part of the verbal word at a different level. General principles interact to produce the properties commonly found with applicatives.

Abaza (Northwest Caucasian) also exhibits a construction in which a morphological mark on the verb licenses certain oblique arguments, including benefactive, adversative, instrumental, comitative, and locative. In this respect the Abaza construction looks much like the applicative construction documented for other languages. The Abaza applicative construction is unusual in that it does not exhibit the full range of properties usually associated with applicatives. This article is an attempt to document this construction in Abaza. Ultimately, I will argue that the Abaza construction is also an applicative construction of the same general type as the others, and that the different surface properties are the result of a single general difference in how arguments are licensed in Abaza.

1. Background

The Abaza verb complex necessarily indicates tense and mood, and optionally aspect, all as suffixes. The verb complex indicates polarity, and the negative...


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