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The contact-fueled development of clause chaining in Chini (Papuan)

  • Joseph Brooks
Friday 4 March 2016
Friday Afternoon Lectures
P.N. van Eyckhof 2
2311 BV Leiden


As first raised by Haiman (1983) and further investigated by Ross (1987) and de Vries (1997; 2010), a little-understood topic in linguistic theory is how clause-chaining constructions like switch reference originate. This is particularly relevant for many New Guinea languages in which much of discourse is structured by the linking of dependent medial clauses in iconic order until the independent, final clause in the chain. Based on data I collected during seven months of fieldwork on Chini (Ramu, Papua New Guinea) and other linguists' analyses of nearby languages, I argue that the historical development of three chaining constructions in Chini was fueled along four stages by intensive contact with Rao (Ramu), Manat and Nend (Sogeram subgroup, Trans-New Guinea). This resulted in a chaining system containing both contact-induced and Chini-specific traits.

Clause chaining in Chini began with the use of borrowed morphology from Rao, a much larger and distantly-related language. Medial verbs in Rao are marked by the suffix -ndV, which is followed by tense suffixes, e.g. - 'far past' (Christensen 1978). Those two suffixes combined form -ndakɨ. In Chini, the isomorphic linker =ndakɨ (also: =ndaka) was almost certainly borrowed from Rao -ndakɨ as a chunk. The constructional use of medial clauses was calqued from Rao and presumably also with Sogeram influence.

The second stage was the introduction of a realis/irrealis distinction via the irrealis linker =ndatɨ (also: =ndata). This is likely due to grammatical calquing of constructions present in the nearby Sogeram languages. Unlike Rao, these languages (used to) distinguish realis and irrealis DS medial verbs (Daniels 2015). The in =ndatɨ is likely borrowed material from the irrealis suffix for DS verbs in Sogeram (Proto-Sogeram *-ɨt).

The third stage was grammaticalization of =ndakɨ and =ndatɨ based on SS constructions in Sogeram. This resulted the linkers = and = which distinguish realis and irrealis (in ways specific to Chini) and signal greater semantic cohesion and syntactic dependence across clause boundaries than their source constructions.

The fourth stage was grammatical calquing based on DS medial constructions in Sogeram. The Chini realis linker =va and its irrealis counterpart =mɨ represent inherited material, but the realis/irrealis distinction was again modeled on Sogeram constructions. The relative lack of semantic cohesion and syntactic independence signaled by =va and = replicate certain semantic and syntactic properties of DS medials in Sogeram. Whereas ndakɨ/ndatɨ and / express only temporal relations, =va and = have further grammaticalized in Chini to express relations of conditionality, causality, and manner.

This paper adds to the literature on the origins of clause chaining, and it provides a perspective from a previously unstudied contact area. The processes by which metatypy was brought about ­— borrowed and inherited morphology, grammatical calquing based on multiple model languages, and grammaticalization geared in Chini-specific directions with respect to interclausal realis/irrealis meaning and switch reference — involve a magnitude of complexity well-positioned to inform theories of language contact.


Christensen, Fay. 1978. Combinations of predications in Rao. Unpublished manuscript.

Daniels, Don. 2015. A reconstruction of Proto-Sogeram: Phonology, lexicon, and morphosyntax. PhD thesis. University of California, Santa Barbara.

Haiman, John. 1983. On some origins of switch reference marking. In: Haiman, John and           Pamela Munro, (eds.)  Switch Reference and Universal Grammar: Proceedings of            a Symposium on Switch Reference and Universal Grammar.       Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins. 49-69.

Ross, Malcolm. 1987. A contact-induced morphosyntactic change in the Bel languages of          Papua New Guinea. In: Laycock, Donald & Werner Winter (eds.) A world of    language: papers presented to Professor S. A. Wurm on his 65th birthday. Pacific       Linguistics C-100. 583-601.

Vries, Lourens de. 1997. The rise of switch-reference in the Awyu languages of Irian     Jaya. In: Gvozdanović, Jadranka (ed.) Language change and functional      explanations. Mouton de Gruyter. Berlin. 89-105.

Vries, Lourens de. 2010. From clause conjoining to clause chaining in Dumut languages             of New Guinea. Studies in Language 34(2). 327-349.


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