Documentation, analysis, and writing of TAM markers in Vera'a

Schnell, Stefan
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Vera'a, an Oceanic language spoken by approx. 300 people in Northern Vanuatu, has two TAM markers that consist of just one consonant (k and m). Both pose problems in terms of formal analysis and in terms of practical orthography. The language has SVO word order, and the markers concerned are the first element of the verbal predicate. However, they form a phonological unit with the preceding element, i.e. the last constituent of the subject NP in most cases. Francois (2007) classifies them as prefixes of the verb on morpho-syntactic grounds, claiming that no material can intervene between TAM marker and following verb. However, an enclitic analysis seems possible as well, and is supported by the fact that speakers frequently pause after the TAM marker. This is also the cut-off point if a clause is interrupted and restarted, and the TAM marker is repeated then together with the preceding word. Lastly, my data do show cases where other morphs intervene between TAM marker and verb. An additional source of evidence are native speakers’ metalinguistic intuitions: they write the TAM markers in a unit with what precedes them. Though this kind of evidence should not be given highest priority in deciding on the correct analysis (Himmelmann 2006), it nevertheless reflects metalinguistic knowledge and should be documented alongside with the facts. In principle, both the prefix and the clitic analysis seem to have advantages. Instead of imposing one of them on all products involved in a comprehensive documentation of the language (annotations, sketch grammar, edited texts for story books, etc.), both should be equally accommodated. Different pieces of evidence that back one of the two analysis should be extensively commented on, e.g. in a separate commentary tier in ELAN that links the annotations with the relevant data to the descriptive (sketch) grammar and addresses the analytical problems (Schultze-Berndt 2006). Thus, the different levels of linguistic annotations, linguistic analysis and practical orthography should be kept separate and interlinked at the same time. Finally, an orthography of the language does not necessarily have to reflect linguistic analysis, but should be acceptable and of practical value for the speech community. Therefore, speakers’ decision should be followed here.
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