“Linking” morphology in Tupían, Cariban, and Macro-Jê languages

Matter, Florian; van Gijn, Rik (21 August 2019). “Linking” morphology in Tupían, Cariban, and Macro-Jê languages (Unpublished). In: 52nd Annual Meeting of the Societas Linguistica Europaea. Leipzig. 21.08.2019-24.08.2019.

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Tupían, Cariban, and Macro-Jê are three of South America’s larger language families. The former two are firmly established, but Macro-Jê with Jê proper as core has only gained traction more recently, with some of its suggested members still putative. Some languages of these families share an interesting morphosyntactic pattern: “linking” prefixes, which connect verbs, possessed nouns, and postpositions with immediately preceding arguments.

In Tapirapé (Tupían), third person possessors are expressed by t- on the possessum (1a), but when expressed by a preceding NP, with r- (1b). This is called the linker, connecting dependent and head. In Panare (Cariban), the same pattern can be found for P arguments of transitive verbs, with n- appearing with no overt NP (2a) and j- otherwise (2b). Similarly, Apinajé (Jê) shows alternation in transitive verbs between Ø and j- (3).

These patterns are at the core of the TuCaJê hypothesis, suggesting a distant relationship between the three families (Rodrigues 2000, 2009). Not much other evidence exists besides some purported lexical and person marking correspondences (Rodrigues 1985). What is more, while linking morphology is a stable feature of Tupí-Guaraní, it is attested in only a few Tupían languages outside the Tupí-Guaraní branch, and is less robustly present in Cariban and Jê proper (even less so in peripheral Macro-Jê languages). This raises the question whether the similarities between the linking systems in the three families are strong enough to warrant postulating a deep-time TuCaJê connection.

In order to answer this question, we tested a representative sample of languages from all three families for the presence, form, morphosyntactic distribution, and diachronic origin of such markers, as well as the languages’ geographic distribution. While function and distribution, and partly also form, are similar or identical across the three language families, the historical origins look rather different. Only few Cariban languages have linkers, but vowel alternations in extant languages allow reconstruction of a linker *j-, possibly stemming from an older third person marker (Meira, Gildea, et al. 2010). For Jê, the source of the alternation likely lies in root-initial consonant mutation(s), supporting Salanova (2009). Moreover, while some peripheral Macro-Jê languages with linkers show promising but sparse sound correspondence (Ribeiro 2012), others have functionally and formally different patterns (Ribeiro & Voort 2010). For Tupían, a case can be made for reconstructing relational marking to Proto-Tupí (Rodrigues & Cabral 2012), although this is contested (Meira & Drude 2013).

These diachronic scenarios speak against relational markers as an inherited feature and are therefore not indicative of a genealogical relationship. However, the similarities in function and distribution might be indicative of contact between speakers of proto-languages at an earlier stage, possibly accompanied by similar syntactic structure supporting the development of linking morphology.

Item Type:

Conference or Workshop Item (Speech)


06 Faculty of Humanities > Department of Linguistics and Literary Studies > Institute of Linguistics

UniBE Contributor:

Matter, Florian


400 Language > 410 Linguistics
400 Language > 490 Other languages




Florian Emmanuel Matter

Date Deposited:

28 Apr 2020 08:26

Last Modified:

03 Feb 2021 14:51





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