Obviation and Intransitives

Mi’gmaq is a language with obviation – that is, a way of telling animate third persons apart. The first third person (or the proximate third person) is not marked, while the other third persons (or obviative third person or fourth person) is marked with the suffix -l or -al, as in Mali nemiatl Piel-al, ‘Mary sees Peter’.  The verb also receives an ending indicating that a proximate person is acting on an obviative person: -atl. These endings can also vary for the number of people involved, like so:

  • -aji, as in nemiaji, ‘he or she sees them (obviative)’
  • -a’titl, as in nemia’titl, ‘they see him or her (obviative)’
  • -a’tiji, as in nemia’tiji, ‘they see them (obviative)’

This is really useful, since it helps us keep track of who is doing what and allows the word order in Mi’gmaq to vary. So, whether we say Mali nemiatl Pielal or Pielal nemiatl Mali or Nemiatl Mali Pielal, etc., we have a way of knowing who is seen and who is doing the seeing that is not based purely on word order, like in English.

But this isn’t the only way obviatives are used! If, say, we’ve already been talking about someone in the obviative person, we can continue referring to them in the obviative person with other verbs – even with intransitives. For example, if we’ve already said Mali gesalaji mui’naq, ‘Mary likes bears’, we could then say Wigulti’niji nipugtug, ‘they (the bears) live in the forest’, where the ending -ulti’nij means that it is them (obviative) that are living there, and not any other group.

Here are a few questions I have about this topic:

  • For Researchers: Has anyone else seen any 4th person marking on AI verbs? If so, would this information need to be included in AI verb paradigms on our wiki page?
  • For Speakers: Does the above example using wigulti’nij sound right to you? If so, how would you say “they (the two bears) live in the forest” or “it (the bear) lives in the forest” in a similar situation? Also, if you spot any errors, I will be happy to fix them!

2 thoughts on “Obviation and Intransitives

  1. Hi Erin! I have seen a 4th person in VAI, telta’sinitl ‘s/he (obv.) thinks so’, but I have not checked it with other speakers. I think that the 4th persons were left out of the verb paradigm tables temporarily until they had been encountered enough to be sure about the forms. But I think they are important for the tables and for the pedagogical materials!

  2. For fourth person singular intransitive verbs I am finding that -nitl is a consistent ending. Here are some verbs I am sure about:

    gaqaminitl (stand)
    alasinitl (go about, also works with other perverbs like pem- (across), enm (away from), el- (to a specified location), etc)

    Nemiatl ji’nm alasinitl nipugtug. He sees a man walking around in the woods.
    Negm asoqomalajig gisiguisgwaq muta getunatanguanniji. She takes the older women across because they want to go shopping.

    I find this really interesting and I think it would be good to include on the wiki!!! I can help with that!

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