Applicatives in Salish languages

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This thesis is a study of applicative constructions in Salish, a family of twenty-three languages spoken in British Columbia and the northwestern United States. In an applicative construction, an applicative morpheme is suffixed to the verb and the object bears a semantic role other than theme, such as dative, benefactive, locative, or stimulus. Each Salish language has from two to six different applicative suffixes. I constructed a database of examples gleaned from secondary sources, cataloguing them for their syntactic and semantic properties. I show that applicative suffixes, like many verbal suffixes, do not always have a one-to-one correspondence between form and function. An applicative suffix may exhibit more than one semantic function, and a semantic function may be displayed by more than one applicative suffix. My research leads to the claim that Salish applicatives are divided into two types. Relational applicatives are based on intransitive verbs and differ according to the semantics of the verb. Redirective applicatives are based on transitive verbs and differ according to the semantics of the direct object. Each Salish language has at least one applicative of each type. Two applicative suffixes can be reconstructed for Proto-Salish: one relational and one redirective. Other applicatives have been innovated in sub-branches or individual languages. For example, Central Salish languages have multiple relational applicatives and Southern Interior Salish languages have multiple redirective applicatives. Tsamosan languages have both multiple redirective applicatives and multiple relational applicatives. The innovated applicatives usurp or augment the functions of the two Proto-Salish applicatives, yielding a complex picture in the modern languages. Applicatives, especially relational applicatives, are rare in the world’s languages. For example, they are completely lacking in English and other Indo-European languages. A catalog of the Salish data contributes to the study of linguistic typology. The presence of several applicatives in each language not only allows for comparison of applicative and non-applicative constructions but also of different kinds of applicatives. The properties I use to classify Salish applicatives—transitivity, verb class, semantic role, and discourse prominence—may prove useful in classifying applicatives in other languages.

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Department of Linguistics - Simon Fraser University
Thesis type: 
Thesis (Ph.D.)