Morpho-syntactic complexity in O’dam

With a database of 27 hours of recording materials in SET, the findings are numerous and varied. In morphology, there are significant results that involve the identification of different affixes and particles that were not documented or properly analyzed before.


SET shows an evidential system based on six markers instead of four markers. I have detected two more particles that behave as evidentials: p+x ‘mirative’ and pui’ ‘non visual evidence’. In addition, the reportative particle sap is not used for source of information, as was reported by previous researchers, but rather as a marker to express the validation of the information. Apparently, the evidential system in this language also plays an important role in defining the clausal boundaries and functions in part to distinguish focus from topic in discourse.

Clause Union

SET uses the same formal marker na to encode different subordinated relationships, and in discourse there are instances in which it becomes increasingly difficult to distinguish what type of embedded clause is being taken by the matrix verb (e.g., embedding can occur via complementation or via an adverbial or relative clause). A challenge to understanding the subordinate behavior of the particle na lies in the fact that SET does not clearly delineate different types of subordinate clauses; rather subordination is drawn on a continuum. Evidence for this claim is based on the fact that when speakers are asked to distinguish between an adverbial and a complement clause taken from discourse, they immediately provide the complete form to mark adverbials (i.e., na pai’dhuk ‘when,’ na pai‘ ‘where,’ and na jax ‘how’), instead of the simple na. The reduction of the standard form to na is attributed to the fact that speakers do not need to be clear on whether they are expressing an adverbial modification or a complement relationship because both adverbial modification and complement relationships entail a proposition about the dependent clause. These patterns taken together suggest that when speakers introduce an embedded clause, they intuitively use the same form na as if there were no different types. However, all embedded clauses can be distinguished by means of second position clitics (SPCs) and by the morphology attached to the embedded predicate. More specifically, complement clauses require SPCs, but adverbials only use them if they are marking switch-reference. As for the morphology encoded in a complement clause, SET distinguishes among finite, less finite or non-finite embedded clauses. Temporal adverbials, however, require morphology on the dependent clause expressing a more ongoing event. As a result, it is not the form, but the morphosyntax information, that helps us identify the type of clause we are facing.


SET supports the causative correlation (Shibatani 2002), which indicates that the closer the shape, the more lexically integrated, as opposed to the synthetic form, which has a lower degree of event integration. Additionally, this work has shown that SET exhibits two causative morphemes: the causative -tu, and the inchoative -lhi. The inchoative is attached to adjectives and intransitive inactive bases, while the suffix -tu is used to causativize both nominals and verbs. Within verbal bases, it is important to note that when -tu occurs with transitive verbs it expresses indirect causation, but when attached to active and inactive intransitive bases it expresses a direct cause. SET allows the causation of both active and inactive verbs, as well as the stative class, making the language’s behavior closer to other languages of the family such as Pima, Yaqui and Warihio than to Cora, since Cora only allows the causitivization of the intransitive active class. Yet another difference between SET and Cora is that SET verbs of ingestion are not part of the morphological causative continuum; rather, these verbs can only be allowed to express causation through the analytic strategy. For more details see Garcia (2012).

Motion Verbs

As for motion verbs, SET exhibits an S-language type in simple clauses and tends to show features of equipollent languages (Talmy 2001) in serial verbs. SET cannot be classified as a single type with respect to verbs of motion. First, SET aligns with the behavior of S-type, where the verb encodes movement, whereas satellite elements indicate the trajectory of that event. The satellite elements exhibit very elaborate descriptions at the discourse level, which is another feature for S-languages. Moreover, in serial constructions, I have observed different degrees of semantic integration that may be categorized on a continuum of grammaticalization where SET data suggests that the kind of serials that are composed of two verbs of motion are more integrated into the language compared to other verb combinations (Garcia 2008, in press). This allows the observation of certain traits at a very early stage and there is not a homogeneous situation with respect to the path of grammaticalization of motion verbs in this language.

Interrogative sentences

SET exhibits four different strategies for encoding polar questions: an interrogative enclitic, intonation, a rhetorical particle, and the conditional. I have reported that SET’s question marking is consistent with the univeral correlation between word- or phrase-final formal question marking and postpositions. Furthermore, in discourse different forms have a very precise use. That is, while there are many ways to express a polar question in SET those strategies are not used interchangeably. SET content questions show a very intriguing behavior with regards to second-position clitics and pied piping (wh-movement with inversion). Second-position clitics are a resource that can be attached to question words, showing a hierarchy scale between clitics, possession particles and postpositions (e.g. pied piping strategy). Statistically, the most productive structure for questions in SET is the ‘content’ type, which shows differentiation compared to other languages in the world that show a polar strategy as the most common type.


277 comments on “Morpho-syntactic complexity in O’dam

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