Round Table Seminar of the Language and Culture Research Centre, 11 July 4 pm A4-222

Round Table Seminar of the Language and Culture Research Centre, 11 July 4 pm A4-222

Referring to space in Paluai

Gerda H. (Dineke) Schokkin


Languages all have ways of expressing spatial relations. Much research has been carried out to study the interrelationship between language and cognition with regard to the representation of space in grammar (Levinson 2003; Levinson & Wilkins 2006). There has been a strong focus on the representation of space in Austronesian languages (Senft 1997). Generally, the reflexes of Proto-Oceanic verbal roots *la(ko) ‘to go, hither’ and *mai ‘to come, thither’ (Lynch et al. 2002: 85) play an important role in referring to space in modern Austronesian languages.

Paluai is an Oceanic language belonging to the Eastern Admiralties subgroup (Lynch et al. 2002). It is spoken on Baluan Island, Manus Province, Papua New Guinea. Even for Austronesian standards, Paluai has an exceptionally large paradigm of ten to twelve directional verbs, which are obligatorily used in serial verb constructions to express motion of the action expressed by the main verb.

Which directional verb is used in what context depends on two variables: a land-sea axis (absolute direction) and uphill/downhill or on a level from or towards the speaker (relative direction). The land-sea axis is an important component of spatial reference in many Austronesian languages (Senft 1997). Although the directional verbs are used predominantly in SVC’s, they are all attested functioning as main verb in a clause too. For this reason, they are considered full verbs in the present analysis. Most of them, however, have undergone some degree of grammaticalization; this appears to be strongest in the most generally and widely used directional verb la. There is evidence that a similar grammaticalisation process is ongoing for a related language spoken in the Manus Province, Loniu (Hamel 1993).

This paper discusses the directional verb paradigm in Paluai in detail, giving examples of its usage and discussing geographical factors that could explain its emergence. Next, possible pathways of grammaticalization for a number of directional verbs will be discussed, and extensions of their use into non-spatial domains, most notably that of time reference.





Hamel, P.J. (1993), ‘Serial verbs in Loniu and an evolving preposition.’ Oceanic Linguistics 32-1, pp. 111-132

Levinson, S. C. (2003). Space in language and cognition: Explorations in cognitive diversity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Levinson, S. C., & Wilkins, D. P. (Eds.). (2006). Grammars of space: Explorations in cognitive diversity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Lynch, Ross & Crowley (2002). The Oceanic Languages.

Senft, G. (Ed.). (1997). Referring to space: Studies in Austronesian and Papuan languages. Oxford: Clarendon Press.