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The semantics of the syntactic position of adjectives in Truku Seediq

Abstract :

In studies on linguistic typology concerned with the relative order of nouns and adjectives (Greenberg 1963, Dixon 1977), it is usually considered that most languages have a dominant order. However, this does not prevent the relative position of nouns and adjectives from fluctuating, and in some languages, both N-Adj and Adj-N orders are attested for (some) adjectives. Truku Seediq, a Formosan Austronesian language spoken on the East Coast of Taiwan, exhibits such variation, as briefly mentioned in grammatical studies of the language. Tsukida (2005) describes this double possibility without associating it to any semantic or pragmatic difference, writing: « Verbs (and nouns, too) always appear after the head noun when in modifying function, but some adjectives can appear either before or after the modified noun » (2005: 296). Pecoraro (1979: 50-51) on the other hand considers this difference in syntactic position as semantically meaningful, translating Noun Phrases exhibiting the N-Adj order as definite, and NPs exhibiting the Adj-N order as indefinite.

  1. Parusapax   ka        sapax Diyan    [adapted from Pecoraro, ibid.]

            big       house  pred    house  Diyan

            Diyan’s house is a big house

  1. Sapaxparu     ka        sapax   Diyan  [adapted from Pecoraro, ibid.]

            house  big       pred    house  Diyan

Diyan’s house is the big house

            This paper aims to question the semantic value of the pre- and post-nominal position of the adjective in Truku Seediq, based on semi-spontaneous oral data. Collected in 2014 using a task design, our data set consist of 39 dyadic interactions for a total of 10,469 words, involving 24 bilingual speakers (Truku Seediq and Mandarin Chinese). Thoroughly transcribed and annotated, these data are fully searchable with digital tools.

            Based on careful examination of these data, we formulate two main claims. On the syntactic level, the post-nominal position of adjectives in Truku Seediq, similar to their position in closely related languages, is the unmarked one, while the pre-nominal position of adjectives is a marked innovation of Truku Seediq. Secondly, on the semantic and discourse level, we claim that (in-)definiteness of the Noun Phrase is not linked to the position of the adjective. Rather, while post-nominal adjectives have a descriptive − or non-restrictive modification − function, pre-nominal adjectives have a restrictive modification function (Martin 2014), as apparent from discourse stretches such as the following:

            (3)       Angal  ka        kingal  pratu

                       take     pred    one      bowl

                       pratu    ga

                       bowl    det

                       m-banah          pratu

                       af-red             bowl

            Take one bowl. That bowl. The red bowl.

This finding was made possible by the dialogic and naturalistic nature of our data set, and would have been obscured by more classical elicitation procedures.


Chang, Yung-li. 2000. A reference grammar of Seediq. Taipei: Yuanliu.

(1)As opposed to Tgdaya/Paran Seediq (Chang 2006: 66, Ochiai 2015), in which only the post-nominal position is available for modifying adjectives.

(2)This data set was constructed as part of the CLAPOTY Project (Agence Nationale pour la Recherche ANR-09-JCJC-0121-01) and fieldwork was co-funded by the LabEx Empirical Foundations of Linguistics.

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Submitted on : Friday, December 14, 2018 - 10:44:12 AM
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  • HAL Id : halshs-01955112, version 1


Claire Saillard. The semantics of the syntactic position of adjectives in Truku Seediq. 9th Conference on Austronesian and Papuan Language and Linguistics, Feb 2016, Paris, France. ⟨halshs-01955112⟩



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