Qári clausal syntax

An introduction to some aspects of Qári clausal syntax.

Constituent Order

The underlying consitutent order in clauses is VO(IO)S: that is verb, object, (indirect object), subject. However, in main clauses Qári has a weak V2 constraint which requires the finite verb to occur as the second argument of the clause. As a result, the surface instantiation of a main clause is typically SVO(IO):

At kitsán pálebuye at sagya fé payat.
def batchelor castrate-tel.an def boy inst knife
The batchelor castrated the boy with a knife.

Note, however, that adjuncts are disregarded in determining the verb’s position in the clause:

Pin, xe lagitxá, at dópala luqáyó óyatxe hijá.
yesterday, loc palace_complex, def eunuch exchange-tel.in cannabis per.1sg
Yesterday, near the palace complex, the eunuch sold me cannabis.

In subordinate clauses, however, the underlying word-order re-surfaces:

At siyága lusetiye é txeka at tuhitá le’t tleqir at kulir.
def judge order-tel.an rel give def field-pl def com=def widow def heir.
The judge ordered that the heir give the fields to the widow.

Multi-verb constructions

Serial verb constructions

A serial verb construction (SVC) is a monoclausal construction consisting of multiple independent verbs with no element linking them and with no predicate–argument relation between the verbs. (Haspelmath 2016)

In Qári, SVCs denote actions that are closely connected, and considered to be part of the same event. The actions may be concomitant, consecutive or consequential:

At sagya tyáqa netqiye.
def boy cry hide-tel.an
The boy cried and hid. (Or, “the boy hid himself crying”)

At kaqidi txera etxó pikipiki.
def wolf kill eat-tel.an gazelle
The wolf killed a gazelle and ate it.

At txumat óná txera at kaqidi.
def man shoot kill def wolf.
The man shot at the wolf to kill it.

Both verbs in a SVC have the same values for tense, mood and telicity. Mood and telicity are marked only on the second verb, while tense is marked by a particle preceding the first verb:

At loqát yé txera pátiksóye at qát.
def woman ant kill skin-tel.an def sheep.
The woman had killed and skinned the sheep (when we arrived)

As a result, any adverbial modifiers apply to the event as a whole – the verbs cannot have differing adverbial modifiers:

Já fála áhunó pin at saditse.
1sg make bake-tel.in yesterday def dough
I made the dough to bake it yesterday.

Where the SVC denotes a consecutive or consequential relationship between the two actions, the cause or the earlier action always occurs as the first verb:

Rá pátiksó etxó at kangqa.
2sg peel eat-tel.in def date.
You peeled and ate the date.

SVCs permit a maximum of one agent per construction. If the two verbs do not share the same agent, then the second verb must be intransitive, with the patient of the first verb being understood as the subject of the second:

At sagya óná tyamaye at ogit.
def boy shoot die-tel.an def bird.
The boy shot the bird dead.

Unergative intransitive verbs have agent-like subjects, and so the subject is read as the same as the transitive verb. Note the distinction in the following two examples:

At txumat sása rináye at sagya.
def man beat sleep-tel.an def boy
The man beat the boy unconscious. 

The verb riná ‘to sleep, to be unconscious’ is an unaccusative verb with a subject-like patient- it is the boy who is unconscious here, as he is also the patient of the verb sása ‘to beat’.

At txumat sása senditxe at sagya.
def man beat laugh-tel.an def boy
The man hit the boy while laughing.

The verb sendita ‘to laugh’ is unergative, with an agent-like subject, which is shared with the verb sása ‘to beat’. Thus the man is laughing, not the boy (for understandable reasons).

SVCs also only permit one object. Thus a construction like “the man sharpened the knife and cut the cheese” does not occur. 

SVCs are commonly seen with verbs of motion. Qári is neither a verb- nor satellite-framed language: rather it is best described as being equipollently-framed. Thus, both the path and the manner of motion are encoded by verbs. Verbs indicating path are typically transitive, with the goal or location encoded as the object, while verbs indicating manner are typically unergative intransitive verbs. Thus:

Só tatihá piknáyó at qár.
3sg leave run-tel.in def city
He ran out of the city. (lit. ”he ran and left the city”)

Compound verb constructions

Distinct from serial verb constructions in Qári are compound verb constructions (CVC). A compound verb construction consists of two verbs, a “vector” verb followed by the “pole” verb. Vector verbs have an independent existence as full lexical items (with the exception of tihá); but in a CVC their semantic content is bleached and the verb serves to contribute aspectual, modal, or attitudinal features to the semantically contentful pole verb.

Vector verbs are a small, closed class, comprising only the following ten verbs in Ilmáriye Qári:

VerbSimplex meaningVector meaning
txeka‘to give’benefactive, indicates that the action is performed for someone else’s benefit. The beneficiary may be marked with the preposition le.
tika‘to take’autobenefactive, indicates that the action is performed for the speaker’s benefit.
ipat’to throw’indicates that the action is performed carelessly or violently.
‘to set, to place’indicates that the action is performed assiduously or carefully.
tiháindicates that the action has recently been completed.
qayi‘to come’indicates that the action will be completed soon, frequently has future tense reference.
pinxá‘to know’abilitative, indicates that the agent is able to complete an action. Generally translates “to be able”.
sehu‘to want’volitional, indicates that the subject desires the action. Generally translates “to want”.
diyi‘to fall’indicates that the subject occurs abruptly, and was detrimental to the speaker or interlocutor.
páqeyi‘to rise’indicates that the action occurs abruptly, and is beneficial to the speaker or interlocutor.

CVCs are subject to many of the same constraints as SVCs, in that the two verbs encode a single event, permit a maximum of one agent, and are marked for telicity, mood etc. on only one element. Where they differ from SVCs however, is in the locus of this marking: in a CVC it is the vector verb which carries the marking, while the pole verb occurs in its “absolute” or citation form. Contrast:

Ahatsir txekayó áhu átitse le sakaru.
baker give-tel.in bake bread com priest-pl
A baker made bread for the priests. (CVC)

Ahatsir áhu txekayó átitse le sakaru.
baker bake give-tel.in bread com priest-pl
A baker made bread and gave it to the priests. (SVC)

Active, passive and applicative voice

The primary function of the three voices is to mark the underlying grammatical category of the subject (SUBJ) of the sentence. While voice alternation does have a role in the pragmatic marking of focus, contrast and topicalisation, this does not correspond to how languages like English can “foreground” an argument by promoting it to subject. 

The subject hierarchy

Qári is generally very strict about how it maps the semantic roles of a verb to grammatical categories. Consider the verb toyá ‘to break’, which requires an agent, a patient, and an instrument. In a normal active sentence, the agent is mapped to the subject, the patient to the object and the instrument to the indirect object (typically a prepositional phrase):

At yexi toyáyó at yetsit fé kuji.
def girl break-tel.an def jar inst rock
The girl broke the jar with a rock.

In the following table, a non-exhaustive list of semantic roles is given and its unmarked grammatical category in Qári:

Semantic RoleGrammatical Category

Note that only those semantic roles which can occur as core arguments of a verb are included in the table above. A clause may also include a constituent which fills one of the semantic roles above, but as an adjunct rather than an argument. For example, in (a) below, at idaya ‘the river’ is the location obligatorily selected as an argument of the verb hetihá ‘to cross’ (that is, the sentence would be ungrammatical without it); while in (b) ‘the river’ is a location, but it is an adjunct as the sentence would be grammatical were it to be omitted.

a) At sagyal hetiháye at idaya.
def child-pl cross-tel.an def river
The children crossed the river.

b) At sagyal tuná xe’t idaya.
def child-pl play loc=def river
The children were playing in the river.

In Qári, every clause must have a subject. Active verbs which select an agent naturally place this argument in the SUBJ category with no further difficulty. However, not every verb selects an agent. In such a situation, one of the other arguments of the verb must be “promoted” to the SUBJ category. The order in which arguments are promoted to SUBJ is subject to the following hierarchy; which, broadly speaking, follows a principle of decreasing animacy as one moves from left to right:

agent < experiencer < instrument < patient < theme < others

Active voice

In main clauses, the active voice does not have a discrete marker. Thus, the absence of a voice marker before the verb indicates that the argument in the subject position is an agent:

Akyó Ø óná at pikipiki.
Akyó act shoot def gazelle
Akyó shoots at the gazelle.

In relative clauses, the marker i is used to indicate that the head of the clause is also its subject:

Akyó Ø ónáye at pikipiki i etxó myabar.
Akyó act shoot-tel.an def gazelle rel.act eat-tel.in lettuce-pl
Akyó shot the gazelle who ate the lettuces.

It should be noted that in older forms of the language, i marked the active voice even in main clauses. This construction still obtains in several set phrases:

Ló i ut kiná átitse kaduti.
3.indef act neg return bread borrow-ptcp.pat
One does not return borrowed bread.

Passive voice

The passive voice marker indicates that the argument in subject position is stimulus, theme, patient or location. As such, it should be noted that unaccusative verbs are found in the passive voice:

Já hó rináye.
1sg pass sleep-tel.an
I fell asleep.

The passive voice is rare in main clauses with transitive verbs. Where English would cast a sentence in the passive voice to de-emphasise an agent and highlight the patient, Qári prefers to use the indefinite pronoun :

Ló Ø toyáyó at yetsit.
3.indef act break-tel.in def pot.
The pot was broken / Somebody broke the pot.

Contrast the following:

At yetsit hó toyáyó.
def pot pass break-tel.in

A direct English translation of this sentence using the passive voice ‘the pot was/got broken’ implies the existence of an agent, albeit unstated. The Qári sentence, however, has no such implication. More accurately, one would translate ‘the pot broke’.

Applicative voice

In main clauses, the applicative voice, marked with á, is particularly common with verbs of sensation or emotion. As noted in the table above, Qári encodes the semantic role of stimulus as an object, and the experiencer as an indirect object. This is most clear in subordinate clauses, where the experiencer is typically introduced with the preposition le

Só qitná é káha Telini l’Akyó.
3sg say rel love Telini com=Akyó.
He says that Akyó loves Telini.

In main clauses, as per the subject hierarchy above, the experiencer is preferentially promoted to the SUBJ position. Therefore the verb is placed in the applicative voice, to mark the “underlying” status of the experiencer as an indirect object:

Akyó á káha Telini.
Akyó appl love Telini
Akyó loves Telini.

Additionally, the applicative voice is used where the subject is an instrument (or indeed a natural cause):

At kuji á toyáyó at yetsit.
def stone appl break-tel.in def pot
The stone broke the pot.

At yaja á moknuye at txumat.
def rain appl soak-tel.an def man
The rain soaked the man.

Clause combinations

Complement clauses

Complement clauses in Qári are introduced with the complementiser é. The mood of the verb in the complement clause depends on the semantics of the matrix verb.

Verbs such as ‘to want’, ‘to believe’, ‘to think’, ‘to hope’, ‘to doubt’, etc; where the speaker is not necessarily confident that the preposition expressed by the complement clause come about, take a verb in the irrealis mood:

At engkat á sehu é qayu at pikipiki.
def scimitar_cat appl want rel come-irr def gazelle
The scimitar cat wants the gazelle to approach.

However, verbs such as ‘to know’, ’to cause’, ‘to compel’ etc; where the speaker is confident that the action of the complement clause happens, take a verb in the realis mood:

Já á pinxá é itláyó yejitxe at akyó.
1sg appl know rel drink-tel.in beer def monkey
I know the monkey drank the beer.

It should be noted that such verbs when negated necessarily trigger the irrealis mood:

Já á ut pinxá é txeruye malat Telini.
1sg appl neg know rel kill-irr-tel.an mammoth Telini
I don’t know if Telini killed the mammoth.

Qári only admits finite complement clauses. Where English would use a non-finite complement clause, such as “I want to go home”, Qári instead uses a compound verb construction, as described above.

Adverbial clauses

Adverbial clauses are typically introduced by a subordinating conjunction, such as ‘because’, ‘in order to’, ‘when’, ‘where’, etc. As any other subordinate clause, they demonstrate VOS word order:

At felar sokiksáye sagya heyá utxé letki balatxar du.
def scribe cane-tel.an boy because neg.ant learn glyph-pl 3sg.obv
The scribe caned the boy because he had not learnt the glyphs.

Where the subject of the adverbial clause and the main clause coincide, a non-finite clause introduced by a preposition may be preferred:

Só sása at yalutxe tle sása qénó.
3sg hit def catamite eqt hit dog.
He is beating the catamite as if he were beating a dog.

Relative clauses

(Relativisation is complex, and a fuller treatment is forthcoming.)


Many expressions that in English or similar languages would be expressed by clause co-ordination, such as “I shot the deer and killed it” are expressed in Qári using serial verb constructions. However, in instances where the agents of two co-ordinated verbs do not coincide, Qári exhibits an unusual gapping strategy. 

Typically, in a co-ordinated clause, the patient of the second clause is understood to be the same as the agent of the first clause where not otherwise instantiated. For example:

Já qayiyó qár qeyó at sakar gehixuye.
1sg arrive-tel.in city and def priest greet-tel.an
I arrived in the city and the priest greeted me.

Note that in the second clause ‘the priest greeted me’, the patient (i.e. ‘me’) is not overt, rather it is imported from agent of the first clause. Consider also:

Akyó txeraye qát qeyó Telini pátiksóye.
Akyó kill-tel.an sheep and Telini skin-tel.an
literally: Akyó killed the sheep and Telini skinned.

In the above sentence, the implication is not that Telini skinned the deer, but rather that she skinned Akyó. To express the idea that Telini skinned the deer that Akyó killed, a pronoun is required:

Akyó txeraye qát qeyó Telini pátiksóye du.
Akyó kill-tel.an sheep and Telini skin-tel.an 3sg.obv.
literally: Akyó killed the sheep and Telini skinned it.

2 thoughts on “Qári clausal syntax

  1. Pingback: Relative clauses in Qári – Travels in the Vale of Ukxár

  2. Pingback: A Qári recipe – Travels in the Vale of Ukxár

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