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Grammatical relations and lexical semantics in Kordofan Nubian

Bearbeitung: Dr. Angelika Jakobi

Although I have officially retired in 2016 I am still engaged in research. My focus is on “Grammatical relations and lexical semantics in Kordofan Nubian - A descriptive and historical-comparative investigation of verbal forms”. This is the topic of a research project which was funded by the DFG from 2014 to 2016. The main aim of the project is to investigate the interplay of grammatical relations, verb semantics, valency changing operations, case marking, and semantic roles of the arguments.

Grammatical relations are conceived of as the relations between a verb and its argument(s). In the Kordofan Nubian languages, grammatical relations are expressed by various grammatical devices. They comprise postpositional case marking on noun phrases, subject agreement marking by pronominal affixes on inflected verbs, constituent order, as well as valency changing operations which are carried out by valency increasing extensions such as the causative and the applicative, as well as valency decreasing extensions carried out by the inchoative and reciprocal extension.

The Kordofan Nubian languages do not employ dedicated passive or middle voice markers. Rather, they use plural verb stems to signal a low degree of transitivity. Plural stems of semantically causative verbs like ‘thatch’ and ‘spread’, inherently reciprocal verbs like ‘join’ and ‘connect’, body care verbs like ‘wash’ and ‘shave’, and motion verbs like ‘climb’ and ‘wade’ are also attested in transitivity alternations of labile verbs which may have a spontaneous, passive, facilitative, reflexive, or reciprocal event interpretation.

Verbal number, as expressed by singular and plural verb stems, has a morphosyntactically important function: the number of the intransitive subject and the number of the transitive object trigger the selection of a singular or plural verb stem. However, the number of the transitive subject does not interact with the selection of these stems. This patterning of the intransitive subject with the transitive object and the different behavior of the transitive subject reflects an ergative-like system of grammatical relations. In ditransitive clauses it is the number of direct object (rather than the indirect object) which selects singular or plural verb stem. Thus the direct object in ditransitive clauses behaves like the object in transitive clauses. The relation between these objects is known as indirect object construction.