A grammatical description of Warao imperatives: Formal brevity and morphological complexity (Robertson & Rybka 2020)

Cadernos de Etnolingüística
volume 8, número 1, abril/2020, p. 65-94

A grammatical description of Warao imperatives: Formal brevity and morphological complexity

Allegra Robertson, Konrad Rybka

Warao is a morphologically complex language isolate, spoken in Guyana and Venezuela. This paper focuses on the critically endangered Guyanese dialect. First-hand data are used to provide a descriptive analysis of Warao imperative constructions, identify their grammatical features and illocutionary forces, and clarify relevant distinctions concerning telicity. The Warao imperative mood is composed of canonical (2nd singular and 2nd plural) and non-canonical (1st person and 3rd person) imperatives, which are expressed by a set of person-specific verbal suffixes. Both canonical and non-canonical imperatives are negated by the same standard negator. These imperatives commonly express instructions, requests, invitations, warnings, prohibitions, and optatives. As compared to verb forms in other moods, Warao imperatives are syntactically and formally simple; however, the imperative suffixes attach to the morphologically complex Warao verb, thus adding complexity to the compositional meaning of the imperative. In addition to bearing numerous other affixes, the Warao imperatives are often marked as telic. The common marking of telicity in the imperative has led to the reassessment of previous analyses by Osborn (1959) and Romero-Figueroa (2003). The ways in which Warao imperatives adhere to and differ from cross-linguistic trends are also explored. This paper draws on Speech Act Theory, as well as Dixon’s Basic Linguistic Theory more broadly.

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