On Nominalizing the Serial Verb in Mabia Languages

  • Adams Bodomo University of Vienna
  • Hasiyatu Abubakari University of Vienna
  • Dewei Che University of Vienna
Keywords: Syntax, lexical semantics, complex verbal constructions, nominalization, serial verb constructions, Dagaare, Kusaal, English


Verb serialization and nominalization are two prominent phenomena in descriptive and theoretical syntax. This paper raises a number of issues that result from the interaction between these two widely attested phenomena in the literature: nominalization (e.g. Chomsky 1970, Roeper 1993, Alexiadou 2011, Lieber 2016) and verb serialization (e.g. Foley and Olson 1985, Baker 1989, Bodomo 1993, Lord 1993, Collins 1997, Stewart 2001, Foley 2010, Haspelmath 2016). Based on data from Dagaare and Kusaal, two Mabia languages of West Africa, this paper analyses a serial verb construction which is a type of complex predicate construction in which all the verbs in a series are nominalized, with only one of the verbs carrying the nominalization affix (Bodomo and Oostendorp 1993, Bodomo 2004, Hiraiwa, Bodomo 2008, and Abubakari 2011). Such a rare complex predicate construction is then the basis for renewed questions about the nature of complex predicatehood, diathetic syntactic alternations, and lexical categorial differences involving nouns and verbs across languages. The paper proposes a syntactic representation of these nominalized serial verbal predicates in which the verbal predicates are basically interpreted as VPs headed by a nomP functional projection.  Semantically, we propose that nominalized serial verbs, like their purely verbal counterparts, express a complex event. It is thus concluded that while verbal and nominal predicates obtain from the same minimal constructs, the difference between pure serial verbs and nominalized serial verbs is due to the fact that a semantic feature, [+nom], parallel to the syntactic functional projection, nomP, imposes nominal features on the whole complex. This analysis is extended to complex verbal constructions in English.

Author Biographies

Adams Bodomo, University of Vienna

Adams Bodomo is a Professor of African Studies, holding the chair of African Languages and Literatures. He also serves as the Director of the Global African Diaspora Studies (GADS) Research Platform at the University of Vienna. He is an interdisciplinary researcher with interest in areas including Linguistics, Literature, and Diaspora Studies.

Hasiyatu Abubakari, University of Vienna

Hasiyatu Abubakari is a post-doctoral fellow in the African Studies Department of the University of Vienna. She is also a Lecturer at the University of Professional Studies, Accra, Ghana. Her research interests cover both descriptive and theoretical linguistics in areas including Syntax, Semantics, Pragmatics, and Information Structure. Her current research is on Kusaal and related Mabia languages.

Dewei Che, University of Vienna

Dewei Che is a post-doctoral researcher in the Department of African Studies, University of Vienna. Her research interests centre on comparative syntax in Sinitic, Germanic and Mabia languages.



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