ASPECTS OF THE GRAMMAR OF YAGUA: A TYPOLOGICAL PERSPECTIVE (PERU)
This study documents the major syntactic and morphological features of Yagua, a verb initial language. Yagua is the only extant Peba-Yaguan language, spoken in the Peruvian Amazon region. This study focuses primarily on features that are said to correlate with a consistent verb initial type. It contributes to our theoretical understanding of the allowable orders of meaningful elements, pragmatic factors motivating variation in order, the discourse/pragmatic basis for 'headship' in syntactic constructions, and aspects of morphological theory.
Yagua is verb initial, postpositional, the head noun precedes the descriptive modifier as the basic order, and the genitive noun precedes the possessed noun. This combination of basic orders has been ruled out by one proposed universal. Consequently, the relevant universal should be taken as statistical rather than as exceptionless. Syntactic factors govern the basic order of verb, subject, and object. But pragmatic factors govern the order of object phrases relative to one another (when more than one occurs in a clause), the order of object and postpositional phrases, and pre-verbal positioning of constituents. Identification of the relevant pragmatic conditions is based on natural narrative discourse. In part, quantitative methods are used to evaluate the discourse data.
Drawing on research in cognitive psychology and prototypical versus non-prototypical exemplification of categories, I argue that a distinction can be maintained between 'head' noun and 'modifying' noun in languages like Yagua, even though there are almost no 'adjectives'. The head noun can be manipulated as an entity in subsequent discourse, while the modifying noun cannot. A prototype framework also proves helpful in sorting out the difference between inflection and derivation. There are more than 40 classifier formatives in Yagua, each of which has classic derivational and inflectional functions. Since they are not exclusively identified with either inflectional or derivational functions, I conclude that the formatives themselves are neither prototypically inflectional nor prototypically derivational. However, a distinction between inflectional and derivational functions is still maintained. Much of the verbal morphology must be taken as derivational. However, some suffixes evidence variable ordering as would be more characteristic of syntactically distinct elements.