Time: Friday, May 27th 2016, 13:00-16:00
Place: Hörsal 7 (D7) Södra huset, Frescati

Desalegn Hagos Asfawwesen wss the first PhD Student to defend his thesis within the Special Doctoral Programme in Language and Linguistics.


This thesis investigates the syntactic features, functions, and diachrony of a complex predicate called ‘the inceptive construction’ which is based on a grammaticalised use of the converbs ‘get up’, ‘pick up’, ‘grasp’, and ‘take’. The languages under investigation are Amharic, Argobba, Harari, Zay, and Selt’i. The data collection that was analyzed consists of elicitations, audio recordings, and written texts. The analysis shows that the converbs identify the initial phase of the event encoded by a following verb. The converbs are further associated with nuances like volition, surprise, and emphasis. The rise of such interpretations as surprise and emphasis appears to depend mainly on context, while volition is inherent to the construction. The languages generally do not show much variation. However, there is a notable difference in some co-occurrence restrictions. Moreover, there is a difference in the presence/absence of certain converbs mainly in Harari and Zay, which is clearly a matter of preference between individual consultants. Regarding the origin of the inceptive construction, collocation, frequency, and speakers’ conception of the action of the converbs are possible factors that lead the verbs to grammaticalize into markers of the inception phase. Only some traces of the construction are found in an old Amharic text from the 15th century.

The converb is the main verb form used in the inceptive construction, although other verb forms are allowed which may take a coordinating conjunction (in the cases of Amharic and Argobba) and an iterative/simultaneity marker (‘while’). The Amharic conjunction =nna ‘and’ links the light verb with the reference verb in the inceptive construction, but is also used in causal(purposive) and conditional coordination. The criteria of tense iconicity and variable positions indicate that =nna is a coordinating conjunction in the former, but a subordinator in the latter. Lastly, the converb in Amharic is shown to become insubordinated, i.e. the main verb or auxiliary it depends on gets ellipsed over time and it comes to function as a main verb. An insubordinated converb is used in the expression of surprise/exclamation, interrogation, rhetorical questioning, wishing, and the resultative/perfective. The point is it is still possible to use the notion of ‘converb’ in the inceptive construction as this is a separate historical process.

Opponent: Ronny Meyer, Associate professor, Addis Abeba University
Supervisors: Henrik Liljegren and Östen Dahl, Department of Linguistics

Link to DiVA