Semantic comparison of Bunuba and Bardi verbal classifiers: elements for a
common semantic verbal classification

Edith Nicolas
UFR de Linguistique, Universite Paris 7

Bunuba and Bardi are both prefixing languages of the Kimberley (W.A.)
region, but they each belong to a different family within this global
classification (respectively, Bunuban and NyulNyulan).  Prefixing languages
can have two types of verbal structures, simple or compound. Simple verbs
are made of a semantic root and prefixes/suffixes for tense, aspect, mood,
pronoun cross-referencing subject and object/beneficiary, etc.  Compound
verbs are made by prefixing a lexical component to a simple verb (which has
the structure previously described). This "preverb" usually carries most of
the semantic load of the verb and the central semantic root of the simple
verb becomes a verbal classifier that gives information on how the action
is performed.

Bunuba has only compound verbs whereas Bardi shows both simple and compound
constructions.  Comparing the set of compound verbs in each language, some
formal similarities appear. For instance, Bunuba has 6 classifiers, and in
Bardi, although any simple verb root seems to be able to take a "preverb"
and form a complex verb, the number of simple verb roots that are the most
commonly used to create compound constructions also adds up to 6.  Except
for one of the Bunuba classifiers, these forms are monomorphemic in both
languages. Furthermore two of them are morphologically identical, MA and NI.

Beyond the morphological and numeric correspondence, a semantic similarity
shows for 5 out of the 6 classifiers.  It seems they share semantic
properties; that is they distinguish the same action (or process) types. I
show how the preverb-classifier semantic combination works in those two
languages. I give a definition of the classifiers that is deduced from an
analysis of the set of preverbs used with each of them.

I will provide evidence that shows a strong similarity in the syntactic and
semantic value of the Bunuba and Bardi sets of classifiers.  Because those
two languages do not belong to the same language family, I think their
comparison provides an interesting starting point for drawing semantic
comparisons that might prove relevant for other Non-Pama-Nyungan languages
of the area.

Date created: 30 March 1998
Last modified: 30 March 1998
 1998 Edith Nicolas
Maintained by: David Nash

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