Sotho Deficient Verbs - Multi-verbal Syntax


Multi-verbal Syntax

Deficient verbs are used to alter the meaning of complementary normal verbs, which have to follow the deficient verb(s) in word order. The following diagram represents the general shape of a typical multi-verbal conjugation ("In vain I edit them all"):

multi-verbal phrase
verbal complex
│ ┌────────────┐ │
│ │ stem │ │
│ │ ┌──────┐ │
Ke•tswatswa ke•di•hlophisa tsohle
└──────┘ │ │ └───┘ │ └────┘
def. vb. │ │ rootobj.
│ └─────────┘ │
verb phrase

The full(er) picture

(The bullets • are used here to join the parts of single words which would have been written separately in the current disjunctive orthography)

Apart from the verbal complex, researchers of Bantu languages have noted that when the main verb is followed by its (first) direct object then this structure creates a "verb phrase" (or "prosodic phrase"), which may be treated as one phonological unit or domain by some grammatical processes. For example, many languages with unbounded tonal shift or spread laws (unlike Sesotho's bounded spread — see Sesotho tonology) may often shift or spread a high tone underlying in the verbal complex all the way to the final, penult, or antepenultimate syllable of the following word, but only if that word is the verb's object. One Sesotho tonal law that's mildly sensitive to the verb phrase is the finality restriction (FR), which is not applied if the verb is immediately followed by the object.

The structure created by deficient verbs followed by a normal verb is unique in a few ways:

  1. Deficient verbs must have a complementary (main) verb, and this main verb must follow the deficient verbs, with no intervening words and no variation in word order. This is one of the very few instances in the Sesotho language when word order is absolutely immutable. If one wishes to emphasise the main verb's object then it needs to be placed before the very first deficient verb in the sequence, not just before the main verb.
  2. There may be no pauses in speech between the deficient verbs and the main verb, contrary to how other words are treated. The entire sequence is pronounced as one whole unit, and may not be broken up.

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