5. Word order and sentential particles

This chapter deals principally with the order of constituents within the clause (noun phrases, adjuncts, etc.). Based on the example sentences given in previous chapters, it may seem as though constituent order in Tokana is completely free, in the sense that elements may be rearranged in any order without loss of grammaticality. While this impression is not entirely accurate (as we will see below), it is certainly true that word order is quite flexible when compared with languages like English. In main clauses containing a transitive verb, for example, just about every possible permutation of subject, object, and verb is attested (only Verb-Object-Subject is impossible). This is shown by the following examples:


Tsitspena        mikal te      kopo
boy   the:Abs pot
"The boy smashed the


Na      mikal limete
the:Erg boy   open-Pst-the:Pl:Abs door
"The boy opened


< PRE>Ne moiha kahtena mikal inlotka the:Abs girl hit-Cpl-the:NA boy yesterday "The boy hit the girl yesterday" or "The girl was hit by the boy yesterday"


Ami   ne      Elim ikuopone
I:Erg the:Abs Elim Foc-talk:with-Pst yesterday
talked to Elim


Te      katia lhon  na      miahtema
the:Abs house there the:Erg grandfather-my:NA
"My grandfather built that

In fact, though, word order in Tokana turns out to be highly structured: In typological terms, Tokana can be characterised as a discourse configurational language (like Hungarian or Modern Greek), which means that the order of elements in the sentence encodes discourse notions such as topic, focus, old and new information, etc., rather than grammatical relations such as subject and object.

In sections 5.1 and 5.2 I discuss the order of constituents in main clauses and embedded clauses, respectively. In 5.3, I discuss embedded ellipsis (i.e. the deletion of material in embedded clauses which refers back to the topic of the sentence). Then in 5.4, I present a number of examples of sentential particles - that is, words which occupy a fixed position in the sentence.

5.1. Word order in main clauses

It appears that the 'basic' (i.e. most pragmatically neutral) order in Tokana is Verb-Subject-Object. This order is used when the speaker is introducing a completely new event or situation into the discourse, whose participants have not been previously mentioned:

Temiohihena         napehma        te      satha
fix-Prog-Cpl-the:NA daughter-my:NA the:Abs roof
"My daughter was fixing the roof

Starting from this underlying order, various elements may be moved in front of the verb, creating a number of possible permutations. (In some cases everything moves, resulting in a verb-final order.) In main clauses, there are four preverbal positions - or 'slots' - which certain elements may occupy. For convenience, I will refer to them as the left-dislocation position, the topic field, the operator position, and the focus position. The relative order of these slots is given in the template below:

Left-Dislocation - Topic Field - Operator - Focus - Verb Phrase

Normally at most one or two of these slots will be filled in any given sentence, although it is perfectly possible to construct reasonable examples in which all four positions are filled, as shown below:

Han, te      sati miò'n  kamasa      ipusuke
the:Erg Han  the:Abs meal who-Qu for-them:NA Foc-make-Pst
"As for Han, who did (he) make the meal for

Here, na Han is sitting in the sentence-initial left-dislocation position, te sati is occupying the topic field, miò is in the operator position, and kamasa (where the clitic -sa "them" refers back to miò) is in the focus position. The verb phrase consists of the verb itself and all material following the verb - viz. ipusuke inlotka.

In this section I discuss each of the positions in the template above, starting with the verb phrase and working leftwards: 5.1.1 deals with the order of elements within the verb phrase, 5.1.2 discusses the focus position, 5.1.3 the operator position, 5.1.4 the topic field, and 5.1.5 the left-dislocation position.

5.1.1. Word order in the verb phrase

Here I use the term verb phrase to refer to the verb and any constituents in the clause which may happen to follow it (degree words, together with the negative particle tu, are also considered part of the verb phrase, even though they precede the verb). The order of these constituents is Verb-Subject-Object: The subject immediately follows the verb, and is in turn followed by the direct object, when both are postverbal. (Actually, the correct generalisation here is that ergative and instrumental case-marked subjects must precede absolutive case-marked objects, since dative subjects may optionally follow the direct object, at least for some speakers. In light of this fact, the term "subject" - which I use for convenience - should here be taken to exclude dative subjects.)

If the direct object is specific - that is, if it includes an overt determiner (section 2.1) - then other elements, such as adverbs and prepositional phrases, may either precede or follow the object. Thus, for example, both of the following sentences are grammatical, and mean the same thing.

Pusukena        amme
te      homa  kamasa        latie
make-Pst-the:NA mother the:Abs
bread for-the:Pl:NA children-Dat
"The mother made the bread for the

Pusukena        amme   kamasa
latie        te      homa
make-Pst-the:NA mother for-the:Pl:NA
children-Dat the:Abs bread
"The mother made the bread for the

Or consider the following variants, in which the subject is preverbal. Here again, the order of the object and the prepositional phrase is free. (In general, rearranging the order of postverbal elements does not change the meaning of the sentence. By contrast, the ordering of preverbal elements has definite effects on meaning, as we shall see below.)

Na      amme   pusukè           homa  kamasa
the:Erg mother make-Pst-the:Abs bread for-the:Pl:NA
"The mother made the bread for the children"

Na      amme   pusuke   kamasa        latie        te
the:Erg mother make-Pst for-the:Pl:NA children-Dat the:Abs
"The mother made the bread for the

When the direct object is non-specific (i.e. lacking a determiner), it must occur immediately after the subject. Or, if the subject is preverbal, it occurs immediately after the verb. Thus the non-specific direct object homa "bread" must precede the prepositional phrase kamasa latie "for the children":

amme   homa  kamasa        latie
make-Pst-the:NA mother bread
for-the:Pl:NA children-Dat
"The mother made bread for the

Na      amme   pusuke   homa  kamasa
the:Erg mother make-Pst bread for-the:Pl:NA
"The mother made bread for the

The same restrictions apply to unstressed pronominal determiners: Regardless of whether they take the form of independent determiners (e.g. te) or clitic determiners (e.g. -e), these elements always follow the subject and precede other postverbal elements, as shown below. (Placing te after kamasa latie would yield an ungrammatical sentence.)

amme   te     kamasa        latie
make-Pst-the:NA mother it:Abs
for-the:Pl:NA children-Dat
"The mother made it for the

Na      amme   pusukè
kamasa        latie
the:Erg mother make-Pst-it:Abs for-the:Pl:NA
"The mother made it for the

Compare also the following sentences, which show the order of objects in ditransitive verb phrases:

Na      Sakial
uthme    pami inai    moihai
the:Erg Sakial give-Cpl food the:Dat
"Sakial gave food to the girl"

Sakial uthme    moihai   te      pami
the:Erg Sakial give-Cpl
girl-Dat the:Abs food
"Sakial gave the food to some

In the first sentence, the direct object pami must precede the indirect object inai moihai, since the former is non-specific. In the second sentence, the order is reversed. When both the direct and the indirect object are specific, they may occur in either order:

Na      Sakial
uthmè            pami inai    moihai
the:Erg Sakial
give-Cpl-the:Abs food the:Dat girl-Dat
"Sakial gave the food to the

Na      Sakial uthmena         moihai
te      pami
the:Erg Sakial give-Cpl-the:NA girl-Dat the:Abs
"Sakial gave the girl the food"

Note that these ordering restrictions apply only to direct and indirect objects. Other non-specific noun phrases (such as instrumentals) need not be adjacent to the verb. Thus in the following example, the object te kaute "the cheese" and the instrumental kamalne "with a knife" can occur in either order:

Na      mikal litkè           kaute
the:Erg boy   cut-Pst-the:Abs cheese knife-Inst
boy cut the cheese with the knife"

mikal litke   kamalne    te      kaute
the:Erg boy   cut-Pst
knife-Inst the:Abs cheese
"The boy cut the cheese with the

5.1.2. The focus position

When a particular consituent - a noun phrase, prepositional phrase, adverbial, etc. - is being focused, it normally occurs in the focus position, immediately before the verb and after the topic (if any). The purpose of focus is to foreground a particular element, and mark it as new information (what the speaker is asserting), while indicating that the rest of the sentence is old (or background) information. For instance, consider the following exchange, where ne Sakial in the second sentence is in the focus position:

Speaker A:

Miò'n  ikuolena            mikal
who-Qu Foc-meet-Pst-the:NA boy   yesterday
"Who did
the boy meet yesterday?"

Speaker B:

Ne      Sakial
the:Abs Sakial Foc-meet-Pst-he:NA
"He met
or "It's Sakial that he

By asking "Who did the boy meet yesterday?", speaker A is setting up "The boy met X" as the background information for speaker B's answer. Speaker B then responds by providing the requested new information - that is, by identifying the individual who the boy met.

When a noun phrase argument moves to the focus position, the resulting sentence will usually be translated with emphatic stress on the focused element, or by means of a cleft construction (It is X that...). Compare these examples:

Na      mikal uthmè            halma inai
the:Erg boy   give-Pst-the:Abs book  the:Dat Han-Dat
boy gave the book to Han"  [no focus]

mikal inai    Hane    iuthmè               halma
the:Erg boy
the:Dat Han-Dat Foc-give-Pst-the:Abs book
"The boy gave the book to
or "It is Han who the boy gave the book

Na      mikal te      halma iuthmena
the:Erg boy   the:Abs book  Foc-give-Pst-the:NA
"The boy gave the book to Han"
or "It is the
book that the boy gave to Han"

Here, na mikal is occupying the topic position, which precedes the focused element (see 5.1.4 below). In the first example, the focus position is empty and the sentence has a neutral interpretation. In the second example, the indirect object inai Hane is sitting in the focus position, and the sentence receives an interpretation whereby Han is foregrounded as the recipient - and perhaps contrasted with other potential recipients ("It is Han, as opposed to someone else, who the boy gave the book to"). In the third example, the direct object te halma is in the focus position.

Notice that appearance of an element in the focus position triggers the insertion of the focus marker i-, which attaches onto the verb as a prefix. Whenever a constituent appears in the focus position (or the operator position, discussed below), the verb must be marked with i-. See section 3.6.4 for further discussion and examples.

Note that it is possible to focus not only noun phrases (as in the examples above), but also prepositional phrases, adverbials, etc.:

Kamasa     latie
ipusukena           amme   te      homa
for-the:NA children-Dat
Foc-make-Pst-the:NA mother the:Abs bread
"It's for the children
that the mother made the bread"

Na      Sakial
ie   klotat       eiase
the:Erg Sakial with be:quick-Dep
"Sakial ate quickly"
or "Sakial, it's
quickly that (he) ate"

Intunte itahotunkima
itai    Tenmothaie
never   Foc-visit-Neg-Cpl-we:NA the:Dat
"Never have we visited Tenmothai"
or "We have
never visited Tenmothai"

In the first sentence, kamasa latie "for the children" is being focused. In the second sentence, ie klotat "quickly, with quickness" is being focused. And in the third sentence, intunte "never" is being focused (notice that here the verb is marked with the negative suffix -ot(i), in 'agreement' with the negative adverbial intunte "never"; see section 3.1).

5.1.3. The operator position

In interrogative questions, such as What did the boy give to Han?, an operator (e.g. miò "who, someone", "what, something"; see section 2.5.1) moves to a preverbal position in between the focus position and the topic field. The operator is followed by the question particle ni, which intervenes between the operator position and the focus position, as discussed in 5.4.2. (Recall from 2.5.1 that ni contracts to 'n after an operator ending in a vowel):

Na      mikal
mà'n    iuthmena            Hane?
the:Erg boy   what-Qu
Foc-give-Pst-the:NA Han-Dat
"What did the boy give to Han?"
"The boy, what did (he) give to Han?"

mikal miò'n  iuthmè               halma?
the:Erg boy
who-Qu Foc-give-Pst-the:Abs book
"Who did the boy give the book
lit. "The boy, who did (he) give the book?"

Te      halma miò'n  iuthmena
the:Abs book  who-Qu Foc-give-Pst-the:NA Han-Dat
gave that book to Han?"
lit. "That book, who gave (it) to

(Note that in the first two examples above, na mikal "the boy" is in the topic position, while in the third sentence, te halma "that book" is in the topic position. Note also the presence of the focus marker i- on the verb, which is required in all focus constructions; see section 3.6.4.)

Only noun phrases may move to the operator position; adverbials and prepositional phrases may not. So suppose we wish to ask a question like "For which child did the mother make the bread?", where the interrogative element is inside a prepositional phrase ("for which child"). How are such questions formed in Tokana?

In questions of this type, the operator phrase ("which child") occupies the operator position, while the preposition ("for") occurs in the focus position to its left, and takes a resumptive determiner - that is, a determiner (either a full determiner or a clitic) which refers back to the entity indicated by the operator phrase. This construction is shown in the following example:

Na      amme
mà   pyi   ni kamana         ipusukè
the:Erg mother what child Qu for-him/her:NA
Foc-make-Pst-the:Abs bread
"For which child did the mother make the

Here the operator-headed phrase mà pyi "which child" occupies the operator position, followed by the question particle ni, while kamana "for him/her" is in the focus position, immediately before the verb. The clitic determiner -na on kama refers back to the operator phrase "which child". The entire sentence may be more literally translated as "Which child (is such that) it's for him/her that the mother made the bread?".

For further examples of this construction, compare the following pairs of sentences:

Na      Sakial
kas     sulhtai     Uilumai    kete ehtè      ume
Sakial already live-the:NA Uiluma-Dat for  three-Dat year
"Sakial has
been living in Uiluma for three years"

Sakial kas     immiante'n  ketè      isulhtai
the:Erg Sakial already how:long-Qu for-it:NA
Foc-live-the:NA Uiluma-Dat
"For how long has Sakial been living in

Ne      Mothe muelhoksa ohpitan
the:Abs Mothe tired     because:of-the:Inst
"Mothe is tired because of (his) illness"

Ne      Mothe mà'n    ohpitan
the:Abs Mothe what-Qu because:of-it:Inst
"What is Mothe tired because of?"
i.e. "Why is
Mothe tired?"

Note also the following example, where a possessor is being questioned using miò "who". In this example, ne suhpana "his brother" is in the focus position, and the possessive clitic -na refers back to the individual denoted by "who":

Miò'n  ne      suhpana
who-Qu the:Abs brother-his/her:NA
"Whose brother did you meet?"
or "Who is
such that you met his/her brother?"

Note that it is only when the focus position contains a resumptive determiner that both the operator position and the focus position may be occupied in the same sentence. Otherwise, if one is occupied, then the other must be empty.

5.1.4. The topic field

Elements in the topic field occur to the left of elements in the operator position, and follow any left-dislocated elements. In a typical Tokana sentence, the topic field is filled by one of the noun phrase arguments of the verb (subject, direct object, indirect object, etc.) - specifically, the noun phrase denoting that entity with which the sentence as a whole is concerned. In the following sentence, for instance, na mikal "the boy" is the topic:

Na      mikal
pauè             kopo
the:Erg boy   wash-Pst-the:Abs
"The boy washed the pot"
or "The boy, (he) washed the

The topic is, in loose terms, what the sentence is about. That is, the topic noun phrase (na mikal "the boy") identifies the individual about which the rest of the clause (pauè kopo "washed the pot") is predicated.

Note that the topic of a clause is different from the subject (where by subject I mean roughly the noun phrase bearing the most prominent semantic role in the clause). The topic is also different from the agent (that is, the individual who carries out the action denoted by the verb). Although there are many sentences in which a single noun phrase carries the roles of topic, subject, and agent simultaneously, these three notions are quite independent of each other. Compare the following sentences, which differ only with respect to which noun phrase is in topic position:

Na      miahtema
tiespune          katia lhon
the:Erg grandfather-my:NA
build-Cpl-the:Abs house there
"My grandfather built that house over

Te      katia lhon tiespunna
the:Abs house there build-Cpl-the:NA
"My grandfather built that house over there"
"That house over there was built by my

These two sentences have roughly the same propositional content - that is, they describe the same event, where "my grandfather" is the agent of the verb and "that house" is the patient. Furthermore, in both of these sentences, "my grandfather" is the grammatical subject, marked with ergative case, and "that house" is the grammatical object, marked with absolutive case.

However, there is a semantic difference between these sentences, having to do with how the event is presented - i.e. what is being asserted: Roughly speaking, the first sentence tells us something about the speaker's grandfather, while the second sentence tells us something about a particular house:


na miahtema...                tiespune
katia lhon
"my grandfather..."           "(he) built
that house over there"

te katia lhon...
tiespunna miahtema
"that house over there..."    "my
grandfather built (it)"

Essentially, the topic 'picks out' a presupposed entity, and the predicate - the part of the sentence following the topic - conveys information about that entity. In discourse-functional terms, the first sentence may be used in a context where the speaker's grandfather has already been introduced into the conversation and is now under discussion, as in the following dialogue:

Speaker A: "What did your grandfather do?"

Speaker B: "Well, my grandfather built that house over there."

The second sentence, on the other hand, requires a context where the house is under discussion, as in this situation:

Speaker A: "Tell me about that house over there."

Speaker B: "Well, my grandfather built that house."

Topics have the semantic property that they must be 'familiar' - they must refer back to participants which have already been introduced into the discourse. Given this, it follows that topics must always be specific noun phrases, headed by a determiner. Noun phrases which are not headed by a determiner may never occur in topic position.

In principle, any noun phrase in the sentence may be topicalised, regardless of its semantic role. Compare the following sentences:

Topic = Subject:

Na      mikal uthmè            halma inai
the:Erg boy   give-Pst-the:Abs book  the:Dat
"The boy gave the book to the girl"
or "The boy is
such that (he) gave the book to the

Topic = Direct object:

Te      halma
uthmena         mikal inai    moihai
the:Abs book  give-Pst-the:NA
boy   the:Dat girl-Dat
"The book was given to the girl by the
or "The book is such that the boy gave (it) to the

Topic = Indirect object:

Inai    moihai
uthmena         mikal te      halma
the:Dat girl-Dat give-Pst-the:NA
boy   the:Abs book
"The girl was given the book by the boy"
"The girl is such that the boy gave (her) the

Notice that in each case the topic corresponds to a gap inside the verb phrase. When a possessor or the object of a preposition is acting as the topic, the verb phrase-internal position which that topic corresponds to is generally filled by a determiner. For instance, consider the following examples, where the clitic -na 'refers back' to the dative-marked topic inai ihai "that woman" (these sentences are hard to translate idiomatically into English):

Inai    ihai      pusukekma       homa  meile
the:Dat woman-Dat make-Pst-we:Erg bread honey
"That woman is such that we made honeybread for
or "That woman had some honeybread made for her by

Inai    ihai      sasekma        ne
the:Dat woman-Dat meet-Pst-we:NA the:Abs
"That woman is such that we met her

Recall from section 2.4 that a determiner may be used in relative clauses as a sort of placeholder for the relativised noun, much like a variable in logic. The determiner plays this same role in topic-predicate structures, as suggested by the following paraphrases:


Inai ihai ...
pusukekma homa meile kamana
"That woman X...  (is such that)
we made honey bread for X"

Inai ihai ...
sasekma ne lihpana
"That woman X...  (is such that)   we met
X's sister"

Sentences which contain a topic serve to predicate a property of - or attribute an action to - an individual. When the topic field of a sentence is empty, that sentence will normally receive an existential interpretation - that is, it introduces an entire event or situation into the discourse, 'out of the blue'. This is illustrated by the sentences below, where the verb occurs clause-initially. (Notice the use of the existential there in the English translations of these sentences; there is no equivalent to there in Tokana.)

He halma itai
is book  the:Dat table-Dat
"There is a book on the

Itskane    koin
arrive-Pst person know-Neg-Dep-we:NA
"A person
arrived who we didn't know"
or "There arrived a person who we
didn't know"

Sthoke      ante katia itan
destroy-Pst many house the:Inst fire-Inst
houses were destroyed in the fire"
or "There were many houses
destroyed in the fire"

Generally speaking, topicalisation is an optional process. The following sentences, for example, are rough paraphrases of each other. They mean essentially the same thing, differing only in terms of their presuppositional and presentational content. The first sentence, which lacks a topic, picks out a new situation or event. The second sentence, where the subject has been topicalised, picks out a recognised individual and attributes an activity to that individual. (The first sentence might be used to answer the question "What happened?", while the second sentence might be used to answer the question "What did the cat do?")

miua ne      osek
catch-Pst-the:NA cat  the:Abs mouse
"The cat
caught the mouse"

Na      miua fiuaten
the:Erg cat  catch-Pst-the:Abs mouse
"The cat caught the

In certain cases, however, topicalisation is obligatory. For instance, if the predicate denotes a permanent or characteristic property of the subject, then the latter must occupy the topic field. This is shown in the following example:

miua poha
the:Abs cat  fat
"The cat is

Since being fat is a characteristic (rather than transitory) property of the cat, ne miua must be topicalised; leaving the subject inside the verb phrase (Pohan miua) would make the sentence ungrammatical.

Similarly, if the predicate denotes a generic orcharacteristic activity of the subject, then the subject must occupy the topic f ield. Compare the following examples:

Sa         neilema     iasa lhes
sheep-my:NA eat  grass
"My sheep eat grass (generally)"
"My sheep are eating grass (now)"
or "My sheep will eat

Iasasa        neilema
eat-the:Pl:NA sheep-my:NA grass
"My sheep are eating
or "My sheep will eat

In the first example, sa neilema is the topic of the sentence. This sentence may denote either an actual event taking place in the present or future ("My sheep are eating grass", "My sheep will eat grass"), or it can denote a characteristic property of the speaker's sheep - namely, that they eat grass (as opposed to something else). In the second example, sa neilema is within the verb phrase and the sentence has no topic. Here, the generic reading ("My sheep eat grass") is not possible. This sentence can only denote an actual event, a specific 'episode' of eating grass.

In addition to topic noun phrases, the topic field may also contain a sentential adverbial - typically a temporal adverbial such as iaslò "today", inlotka "yesterday", which denotes the time of the event:

itskane    koin   koipotiakma
yesterday arrive-Pst person
"Yesterday a man arrived who we didn't
or "Yesterday there arrived a man who we didn't

When a temporal adverbial and a topic noun phrase occur together in the topic field, the adverbial follows the noun phrase. This order is rigidly fixed:

Sa         kelis inlotka   suke     itene
the:Pl:Erg girl  yesterday work-Pst the:Pl:Dat
"The girls worked in the fields yesterday"
"Yesterday the girls worked in the

Note finally that whenever two noun phrases occur before the verb, it is always possible to tell which is the topic and which is the focused element by the order they occur in, given that topics always precede focused elements. Consider the following sentence, for example, where na mikal "the boy" is the topic, and te kopo "the pot" is being focused:

Na      mikal te      kopo ipaue
the:Erg boy
the:Abs pot  Foc-wash-Pst
"The boy washed the pot"
"The boy is such that it's the pot that he

When only one noun phrase precedes the verb, we must rely on the presence or absence of the focus marker i- on the verb (as well as on intonation) to determine whether that noun phrase is a topic or a focused element. Compare the following (where capitalisation indicates main stress in the sentence):

Na      mikal
pauè             KOPO
the:Erg boy   wash-Pst-the:Abs
"The boy washed the pot"

Na      MIKAL
ipauè                kopo
the:Erg boy   Foc-wash-Pst-the:Abs
"It's the boy who washed the pot"

In the first sentence, na mikal is in the topic field, and the predicate pauè kopo attracts sentential stress. In the second sentence, na mikal is in the focus position - as indicated by the prefix i- on the verb (section 3.6.4) - and thus attracts sentential stress.



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