Transitivity in Arapaho: A construction grammar approach

Hartwell S. Francis
Dept. of Linguistics, University of Colorado at Boulder
July, 2006


In this dissertation, I examine the transitive constructions of the Arapaho language, a Plains Algonquian language spoken by the Northern Arapaho of central Wyoming. Because Arapaho exploits intransitively inflected verbs for semantically transitive situations, the language presents a unique perspective on transitivity as a linguistic notion. I define transitivity as a conceptual space which includes all relationships between two or more entities. The infinitely varied relationships between entities are expressed in languages through means of a handful of morphosyntactic constructions that define areas of the transitive conceptual space. I assume that basic constructions are used to express humanly relevant scenes or conceptual archetypes and that the meaning of these basic constructions is extended in motivated ways to cover all relationships between two or more entities. Constructions encode differences in verbal Aktionsart, in semantic role configurations, in argument information status, and in modality. Because the extension of the meaning of a construction is motivated, but not predictable, the range of function of transitive constructions across languages will always differ. While the unit of analysis within and across languages is the construction, constructions are language-dependent. Cross-linguistic comparison is comparison of construction functions and depends on knowing the functional range of language-dependent constructions. I show that transitive constructions in Arapaho encode differences in verbal Aktionsart, in argument information status, in argument semantics, and in modality. Transitive constructions in Arapaho have semantic and pragmatic functions beyond encoding semantic role configurations (e.g., agent-patient), and an understanding of these functions is a necessary prerequisite to comparing Arapaho transitive constructions to transitive constructions in other languages.