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Bookmark and Share Paper 3131

Animacy Constraints on Prepositional Objects in Medumba, a Grassfields Language
Rachel Hawkes, Elodie Paquette, Nora Goldman, Ariane Ngabeu, and Catherine O'Connor
122-129 (complete paper or proceedings contents)


While numerous studies have reported patterns of differential object marking (Woolford 2001, Aissen 2003) across the world's languages, apparently no reports exist of differential marking associated with objects of spatial prepositions (e.g. "on the dog" vs. "on the table"). This study reports on a tonal phenomenon encountered in Medumba, a Grassfields Bantoid language of Cameroon, that appears to be linked to the animacy feature of the object nominal. Animate nominals as prepositional objects appear to trigger a contour (LH) tone on the preposition num, "on", while inanimate nominal objects are produced with a level L tone on num. Judgments from 17 native speakers of Medumba in Cameroon reveal a Guttman-scalable implicational hierarchy across the animacy spectrum, ranging from zero percent of speakers producing the contour tone for nominals like "table" and "tree", 40% for animal nouns, up to 80% producing the contour tone for human nominals, and 100% producing the contour for pronominal objects, which are shown to be animate in this language. Alternative hypotheses to explain the contour tone are considered, including nominal features such as noun class, floating tones, and lexical tone of nominals, but all fail to explain the phenomenon. A High tone agreement morpheme is proposed whose value is [+animate].

Published in

Selected Proceedings of the 44th Annual Conference on African Linguistics
edited by Ruth Kramer, Elizabeth C. Zsiga, and One Tlale Boyer
Table of contents
Printed edition: $320.00