Experimental Evidence for Complex Syntax in Pirahã
Uli Sauerland
September 2010

The existence of complex clauses in the Amazonian language Pirahã has been controversially debated. We present a novel analysis of field data demonstrating the existence of complex clauses in Pirahã. The data concern the tone of the morpheme ‘sai’ and stem from a field experiment where a second language speaker of Pirahã presented sentences and Pirahã speakers were asked to correct them saying the correct sentence alound. The experimental items contained the morpheme ‘sai’ in two different clausal environments: a nominalizer and a conditional environment according to Everett’s 1986 description. Our phonetic analysis shows an effect clausal clausal environment on the pitch of ‘sai’. The native Pirahã speakers pronounced conditional ‘sai’ with lower pitch than nominalizer ‘sai’. We show furthermore that the experimenters pitch on ‘sai’ shows the opposite pattern from that of the native Pirahã speakers and hence the Pirahã’s pitch could not just have been copied. The effect of the clausal environment on the tone of ‘sai’ can be explained by a complex clause analysis of Pirahã, while existing alternative proposals do not explain the difference.
Format: [ pdf ]
Reference: lingbuzz/001095
(please use that when you cite this article)
Published in: unpublished
keywords: complementation, tone, pirahã, fieldwork, syntax
previous versions: v1 [July 2010]
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