Intro to Algonquianist terminology – Part 4 Medials and concrete finals

This is part four of a beginner’s guide to Algonquianist terminology with a focus on Mi’gmaq. Here’s parts one, two, and three. In this part I talk about other parts of an Algonquian verb, medials and concrete finals.

In the previous post I talked about the smallest number of parts that you can identify in a verb in Algonquian languages: an initial (such as tel- “thus, in such a way”) that indicates the general meaning, plus a final (such as -e’ VAI) that indicates its animacy and transitivity, plus person/number marking, to get for example tele’g “s/he is in such a way (used idiomatically to mean “is pregnant”). However, those aren’t the only parts found in verbs: other, more complicated verbs can also have a concrete final and/or a medial.

Here’s the table you saw in the last post, based on how Bloomfield splits up Algonquian words. This post will focus on medials and concrete finals:

Preverb(s)

Initial

Medial

Final

Person/number marking etc.

Concrete Finals

The previous type of final that I’d talked about only indicates the transitivity of the verb and the animacy of its arguments, and doesn’t add much to its actual meaning. There are sometimes general trends, but they tend to be highly abstract, hence the name abstract final for this group.  For example, the abstract intransitive final -e’ tends to go with verbs that indicate states, such as being good, being a colour (red/black/white/yellow), or other ideas that might be adjectives in other languages, whereas the abstract intransitive finals -i or -e tend to go with more “actiony” ideas, like working or cooking.

There’s another, larger, group of finals that have specific, concrete meanings associated with them: some examples are -i’si “speak, call, name”, -oq/-oqsi  “cook, bake”, -amug/-amugsi “have the appearance of, look like”, -toq/-toqsi “have the sound of, sound like”. They’re still considered “finals” because you can’t say them without an initial, but they have a more easily identifiable meaning than abstract finals — hence the name concrete finals.

For example, if we take the initial tel- “thus, in such a way” again, we can combine that with the concrete final -i’si “speak, call, name” (plus person/number marking, let’s say -t for animate singular) to get telui’sit “s/he is called this, s/he is named ___”. With an initial that’s the name of a language or people, -i’si gets translated as closer to “speak”, as in ‘nnui’sit (in non-Listuguj Mi’gmaq, ‘lnui’sit) “speaks a native language” or wenjui’sit “speaks French”. Or we can do the same initial tel- with the other concrete finals above: teloqs’g “s/he cooks/bakes it thus, in such a way” (na teloqs’g “that’s how s/he bakes”), telamu’g “it looks like that” (na telamu’g “that’s how it looks”), welamu’g “it looks good”, telta’q “it sounds like that” (na telta’q “that’s what it sounds like”).

Full word

Initial

Concrete final

Translation

teluisit

tel-

-isi

s/he is called thus, s/he is named __

‘nnui’sit

‘nnu-

-i’si

s/he speaks a native language

wenjui’sit

wenju-

-i’si

s/he speaks French

teloqs’g

tel-

-oqs

s/he cooks/bakes it thus

telamu’g

tel-

-amu’g

it looks like that

welamu’g

wel-

-amu’g

it looks good

telta’q

tel-

-ta’q

it sounds like that

etlatalg

etl-

-atal

s/he is eating

malatalg

mal-

-atal

s/he eats poorly

In some cases, there is both an initial and a concrete final that have basically the same meaning. For example, mij- (intransitive) and maqu- (transitive) are both initials meaning “eat”, as in mijit “s/he eats” and maqutm “I eat it”, while -atal is a concrete final meaning “eat”, as in etlatalg “s/he is eating”, malatalg “s/he eats poorly”.

The difference isn’t about meaning, it’s about how they fit with other parts of words. As a final, -atal must be preceded by an initial (such as etl- “in the process of” or mal- “poorly” or any other initial that would make sense in this context), whereas mij- and maqu- are initials themselves and are fine with just an abstract final. In fact, for initials and finals that come in pairs like this, the initial version such as mij-/maqu- is not allowed to have any initial/preverb [LINK] precede it: if you want to express eating in a particular manner that would require a preverb (aka extra initial), you need to use the -atal form, to which you can add as many preverbs/initials as makes sense. (Some Algonquianists say instead that concrete finals must be preceded by a preverb, but since preverbs and initials are basically the same thing, you end up with the same result. I prefer to use “initial” here because then every verb requires an initial and then “preverb” only refers to the optional portions.)

Prefinals

Some Algonquianists split up concrete finals into a meaning part (known as a prefinal) and an abstract final part (still known as an abstract final), because concrete finals do still contain information on animacy and transitivity like abstract finals do. This split is more intuitive for certain concrete finals than others. For example, it might make sense to split -i’si “speak, call, name (VAI/VII)” into -i’s “speak, call, name” and -i “VAI/VII”. Another fairly straightforward example is -oq/-oqsi: you could say that the prefinal is just -oq and that the -si/-s’ is an abstract final.  It’s a little bit harder to see how to split other concrete finals, like -amug “look, have the appearance of” since while the animate form is -amugsi, the inanimate form is just -amug, so I guess you’d say that sometimes there’s an abstract inanimate final that’s just not pronounced. Anyway, if you hear people talking about prefinals this is what they’re referring to.

Medials

In addition to the combination of initial+final, you can also have another type of morpheme in between them, known as a medial.

(Preverbs)

Initial

Medial

Final

Person/number marking etc

There are basically two or three types of medials. The first type is body parts, such as -ptn “hand” or -g/-gat “foot” found in maqiptnat “s/he has big hands” or amalgat “s/he dances (lit. fancy-foot-VAI-3). The second type is shape classifiers, such as -apsg “round” as in megwapsgeg “it is red and round”. From what I’ve read about other Algonquian medials, there might also be a third type which is based on words for people and especially family members, but I haven’t actually seen medials like this in Mi’gmaq, so I’m not sure.

Word

Initial

Medial

Final

Translation

maqiptnat

maqi-

-ptn

-a

s/he has big hands

tegiptnat

tegi-

-ptn

-a

s/he has cold hands

tegigata’t

tegi-

-gat

-a

s/he has cold feet

amalgat

amal-

-g

-a

s/he dances (fancy foot, walks awkwardly)

megwapsgeg

megw-

-apsg

-e

it is red and round

telapsgeg

tel-

-apsg

-e

it is big and round

temapsg’sg

tem-

-apsg

-’s

s/he cuts it into segments or chunks

While there’s a lot of overlap between initials that can occur in preverb position and also between initials that can become nouns by addition of a noun final, there is zero overlap between initials and medials. However, some longer medials, especially body-part ones, can also become nouns by the addition of a possessor (not a noun final): for example -ptn “hand” is a medial but nptn “my hand” is a freestanding noun. I’m not sure whether the same goes for shape classifiers or (if they exist) person/kinship medials.

Medials always occur between initials and finals, hence the name, although unlike the other two they’re not obligatory.

Coming up next…

All of these parts so far, preverb(s) + initial + medial + (concrete/abstract) final, can be considered part of what linguists call the STEM. This is what obviative, theme signs, and negation, person marking, and so on get added to. I will talk about these additional parts in the next post.

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