Multiple Exponence in Piaroa Subject Marking: Understanding Its Origins


Piaroa, a Sáliban language of Venezuela and Colombia, marks subjects in future tense two times: once with one of two sets of subject affixes that either immediately precede or follow the verb root and a second time with three “right-edge” suffixes (namely, -sæ ‘1’, -hæ ‘2’ and -Ø ‘3’). Marking one or more morphological features (in this case, person and number of subjects) more than once in a word–a phenomenon known as multiple exponence–is cross-linguistically rare (Harris 2008). In this talk, I explore the origins of ME in the marking of Piaroa subjects on the verb. Based on primary fieldwork data on Mako and Piaroa, I propose that the markers -sæ ‘1’, -hæ ‘2’ and -Ø ‘3’ are in fact old copular suffixes that entered the verbal predicate domain via a habitual aspect construction; their use being extended to other tense/aspect combinations later. Support for this claim comes from the presence of a cognate habitual aspect construction in Mako and the use of the Mako habitual subject markers -tsa ‘1’, -ha ‘2’ and -Ø ‘3’ in nominal predicates. I also draw on published data from Sáliba to show that the system of affixes that immediately precede or follow the verb root is inherited from Proto-Sáliban.


Jorge Emilio Rosés Labrada is an Honorary Killam and Banting postdoctoral fellow and a postdoctoral teaching fellow in the First Nations and Endangered Languages Program. His research focuses primarily on the diachronic and synchronic morphosyntax of American indigenous languages, especially those of the Amazon; and on language documentation and revitalization in Latin American contexts. To learn more about Jorge’s work, click here.