Interrogative and Demonstrative Verbs in Wolaitta (Omotic)

Presentation by Dr Azeb Amha (Leiden University, the Netherlands). This open lecture is part of a lecture series organised by the Forum for Theoretical Linguistics.

Dr Azeb Amha (Photo:

Dr Azeb Amha (Photo:

Interrogative and Demonstrative Verbs in Wolaitta (Omotic): linking reference and indexing

I will discuss three interesting pairs of verbs in Wolaitta and elaborate their link to referential and indexical functions in grammar. The verbs in question are the following:

(1a)    Question verb:                          

             waán-  ‘Be what?’                                  

             waát-   ‘Do what?’                               

                    woíg-    ‘Say what?’          

(1b)    Demonstrative Verb:                

             yaág-       ‘Say thus'

             yaán-       ‘Be thus’

             yaát-        ‘Do thus’

The six verb roots inflect for tense-aspect, polarity and person-number categories just like any other lexical verb in the language; some can also undergo derivational processes and be (co)-subordinated. The first two verb roots in each set are distinct only in their volition: subject-oriented (intransitive-like) verbs waán- and yaán- contrasting with object-oriented ones: waát- and yaát-. A note-worthy paradigmatic difference between the two involves mood and modality: while the verbs in (1a) can only be used in questions, those in (1b) may be used in questions, statements or direct or indirect commands.

As the English translations indicate the six verbs appear to be hybrids of two syntactic categories: a verb and a question word in (1a), and a verb and a demonstrative in (1b). However, only some of the component parts can be readily distinguished as independent lexemes, so a compounding analysis is not directly apparent. Functionally, the two sets of verbs are different: those in (1a) question the very state of affairs denoted by the predicate itself, while those in (1b) are indexical, deictic expressions, involving gestural depictions of actions or pointing to parts of utterances in discourse.

Using data from spontaneous speech, the functions of these verbs will be discussed comparing them to regular interrogative verbs and demonstratives in Wolaitta. 

Published Sep. 10, 2014 10:09 AM - Last modified Oct. 24, 2014 11:24 AM