Forceful Contact in a Result Prominent Language

Ronald P Schaefer


Levin and Rappaport Hovav (1995) remind us that manner and result verbs often exhibit complementary distribution within a given language. They also note that when a main verb lexically specifies manner or result, the complementary component can be expressed outside the verb, in a satellite constituent of some sort. In Rappaport Hovav and Levin (2010), manner/result complementarity constrains verb root lexicalization. Building on this, Erteschik-Shir and Rapoport (2010) examine English verbs of contact, e.g. smear, splash, whose complements specify a result relation between moveable object and stationary locatum. Classically, these verbs show a locative alternation with holistic ~ partitive interpretations (Levin 1993).

For this paper I examine forceful contact expressions in Emai (West Benue Congo, Edoid in Williamson and Blench 2000). Relatively strict SVO, Emai manifests little inflectional morphology and few prepositions. Its motion predications express manner and result as one verb in series with another (la ‘run’ and shan ‘move through’ for ‘run through’) or as verb plus postverbal particle (sion ‘thread’ and o ‘onto’ for ‘thread onto’).

Lacking verbs in series or postverbal particles, forceful contact in Emai reflects simple and complex predications. Predicates like transitive hian ‘strike’ or so ‘collide, bang into’ take a subject expressing moveable object and a direct object conveying locatum (òjè só ùdékèn [Oje collide wall] ‘Oje collided with / banged into the wall’).

Related complex predications explicitly code contact means. English near equivalents are ‘punch,’ ‘kick,’ ‘peck,’ ‘bite’ and ‘pinch.’ Corresponding Emai predications with hian or so require means of contact, expressed as a body-part noun (èkpà ‘fist,’ ízà ‘heel,’ úkpà ‘beak,’ àkòn ‘tooth,’ éhìén ‘fingernail’) covertly linked to a subject referent, followed by a preposition marked locatum. With a nonhuman locatum, body-part means (serving as moveable object) occurs in direct object position and a place noun locatum appears as preposition vbi object (òhí só ékpá vbì ìtébù [Ohi collide fist LOC table] ‘Ohi’s fist collided with the table/ Ohi’s fist banged on the table’). With a human locatum, the means body-part nominal is retained but a distinct body-part noun occurs as vbi object and its external possessor immediately follows the verb and precedes the moveable object (òhí só ójé ékpá vbì èò [Ohi collide Oje fist LOC face] ‘Ohi’s fist collided with Oje’s face / Ohi punched Oje in the face’).  Human locatum predications also show an alternation lacking the vbi phrase (òhí só ójé èkpà [Ohi collide Oje fist] ‘Ohi’s fist collided with Oje / Ohi punched Oje’). There is however no simple transitive predication that combines as core arguments possessors, with or without their body parts (*òhí só òjè ‘Ohi punched Oje’), or subject possessor and locatum (*òhí só ùdékèn ‘Ohi punched the door’). As a consequence, result is privileged in Emai expression of forceful contact, downgrading manner through use of nominal forms and their partitive relations. English, as manner prominent in this domain, reveals a contrary type, where manner is obligatorily verb expressed (punch) and result is optionally available via prepositional satellite (on). 

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