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  • From Verb to Coordinator in Tetun
  • Catharina van Klinken

The conservative Fehan dialect of Tetun, a Central Malayo-Polynesian language spoken on Timor, has two verbs that have developed into coordinators. As such, they have almost nonoverlapping spheres of operation, reflecting their very different grammaticalization paths. Among other things, hodi is a transitive verb meaning 'bring, use', a prepositional verb introducing instrument noun phrases, and a coordinator of clauses. It is postulated to have derived into a clausal coordinator via a purposive construction, in which the second clause presents the purpose for bringing an item mentioned in the first clause. The other verb, hoo, is a transitive verb meaning 'accompany, be with (person)' and a prepositional verb introducing coactors. The form no, which is argued to originate as a reduced third person singular form of hoo, is a coordinator that is primarily used for coordination of noun phrases. This function of noun-phrase coordinator is presumed to be an extension from its function of introducing coactors. A second set of related usages for hoo is as a transitive verb meaning 'have' and (in its third person singular form noo) as an existential verb.

1. Introduction.

The Fehan dialect of Tetun, a Central Malayo-Polynesian language spoken on Timor, has two verbs that have developed into both prepositional verbs and coordinators.1 These are hodi 'bring, take' and hoo 'accompany, be with (person)'.

In this paper, we look at the various uses of these two words and consider how their functions as prepositional verbs and as coordinators could have developed historically from their uses as verbs. We conclude that the path from verb to coordinator is very different in the two cases, and that the differential origins of the two coordinators correlates with the very different restrictions on their use. While the grammaticalization of hoo is consistent with patterns observed in other languages, the development of a verb meaning 'bring' from verb to clause coordinator is, as far as I am aware, not documented elsewhere. [End Page 350]

The two sets of uses are summarized in table 1. Note that noo (in the rightmost column) is the 3s inflection of hoo, with no being a phonologically reduced form of it. Justification for treating these as diachronic extensions of hoo is presented below.

The underlying assumption in this paper is that the range of meanings of each word has come about as a process of grammaticalization, the process whereby words that once had concrete meanings and belonged to open word classes (such as verbs) take on more generalized meanings and the grammatical characteristics of closed classes (such as prepositions or coordinators). During this process, older usages are often retained after newer ones are introduced, with the result that a single word can have a chain of related uses.

In this paper, we first present a brief orientation to Tetun clause-level grammar, then propose how hodi and hoo may have developed from verbs into prepositional verbs and coordinators. Other uses of these two words are also presented briefly for completeness.

2. Overview of Tetun Grammar.

Tetun transitive clauses have the default constituent order of subject-verb-object. Both subject and object are readily omitted if they can be interpreted from context; in texts the object is omitted in about 35 percent of cases. The object can alternatively be fronted as topic.

Verbs take subject-marking under certain conditions. In particular, verbs that in the citation form begin with h take a subject prefix that replaces this initial consonant. The subject markers are 1S k-, 2S m-, 3S n-, and 3P r- (or sometimes n- as per the neighboring dialect); there is no subject marking for 1P.EXCL, 1P.INCL, and 2P subjects.2 Verbs that begin with consonants other than h are inflected only for 1S subjects, by means of a prefix k- (e.g., ha'u k-mai '1S 1S-come' = 'I (am) coming').

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Table 1.

Uses of hodi and hoo

[End Page 351]

Vowel-initial verbs, of which there are in any case very few, do not take subject marking. In contrast to verbs, most prepositions do not take...