This paper examines the potential for a principled constraint on verb argument alternation. Utilizing the results of dictionary fieldwork on Nigeria's Benue-Congo language Emai, it explores restrictions on the linear order of argument types. For a moved object relative to goal, Emai favors basic precedence (moved object - goal) and disallows reversed precedence (goal - moved object). It shows no argument alternating 'load' verbs and only 'pour,' not 'fill' verbs. Basic precedence also constrains stative locatives, where the located entity must precede location. No alternations with 'be' occur, and there is neither a spatial 'have' nor 'support' verb. And strict precedence governs causation. Contrasting verb pairs (kill and die) and object-oblique ('use'/'with') alternations, where affected causee might precede or follow causing condition, are restricted: causing condition must precede causee. After considering grammatical weight, thematic hierarchies, and causal order hypotheses as potential accounts, Emai's strict arrangement of arguments is interpreted as a lexically driven phenomenon articulated with the constructs Figure and Ground.
Selected Proceedings of the 39th Annual Conference on African Linguistics: Linguistic Research and Languages in Africa
edited by Akinloye Ojo and Lioba Moshi
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