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Building verbs in Chuj: Consequences for the nature of roots



This paper offers an in-depth look at roots and verb stem morphology in Chuj (Mayan) in order to address a larger question: when it comes to the formation of verb stems, what information is contributed by the root, and what is contributed by the functional heads? I show first that roots in Chuj are not acategorical in the strict sense (cf. Borer 2005), but must be grouped into classes based on their stem-forming possibilities. Root class does not map directly to surface lexical category, but does determine which functional heads (i.e. valence morphology) may merge with the root. Second, I show that while the introduction of the external argument, along with clausal licensing and agreement generally, are all governed by higher functional heads, the presence or absence of an internal argument is dictated by the root. Specifically, I show that transitive roots in Chuj always combine with an internal argument, whether it be (i) a full DP, (ii) a bare pseudo-incorporated NP, or (iii) an implicit object in an antipassive. In the spirit of work such as Levinson (2007, 2014), I connect this to the semantic type of the root; root class reflects semantic type, and semantic type affects the root’s combinatorial properties. This work also contributes to the discussion of how valence morphology operates. In line with works such as Alexiadou, Anagnostopoulou & Schäfer (2006), I argue that valence morphology applies directly to roots, rather than to some ‘inherent valence’ of a verb.


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Author’s address: McGill University, 1085 Ave. Dr. Penfield, Montreal, QC H3A 1A7,


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I am extremely grateful to Magdalena Torres for her patience and generosity in sharing her language; without her this work would have been impossible. Yuj wal dyos! Special thanks to Robert Henderson, Alan Bale, Itamar Kastner, David Basilico, and three anonymous reviewers for extended discussion and valuable feedback on this paper. Thanks also to Lizzie Carolan, Lauren Clemens, Henry Davis, Paulina Elias, Claire Halpert, Heidi Harley, Nick Hopkins, Pedro Mateo Pedro, Omer Preminger, Justin Royer, and to audiences at McGill, Minnesota, and CILLA VII. This work was supported in part by an SSHRC Connection Grant (Co-PI Pedro Mateo Pedro). Errors in data or interpretation are of course my own.



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Building verbs in Chuj: Consequences for the nature of roots



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