Standing divided: Dispositional verbs and locative predications in two Mayan languages

Bohnemeyer, J., & Brown, P. (2007). Standing divided: Dispositional verbs and locative predications in two Mayan languages. Linguistics, 45(5), 1105-1151. doi:0.1515/LING.2007.033.
The Mayan languages Tzeltal and Yucatec have large form classes of “dispositional” roots which lexicalize spatial properties such as orientation, support/suspension/blockage of motion, and configurations of parts of an entity with respect to other parts. But speakers of the two languages deploy this common lexical resource quite differently. The roots are used in both languages to convey dispositional information (e.g., answering “how” questions), but Tzeltal speakers also use them in canonical locative descriptions (e.g., answering “where” questions), whereas Yucatec speakers only use dispositionals in locative predications when prompted by the context to focus on dispositional properties. We describe the constructions used in locative and dispositional descriptions in response to two different picture stimuli sets. Evidence against the proposal that Tzeltal uses dispositionals to compensate for its single, semantically generic preposition (Brown 1994; Grinevald 2006) comes from the finding that Tzeltal speakers use relational spatial nominals in the “Ground phrase” — the expression of the place at which an entity is located — about as frequently as Yucatec speakers. We consider several alternative hypotheses, including a possible larger typological difference that leads Tzeltal speakers, but not Yucatec speakers, to prefer “theme-specific” verbs not just in locative predications, but in any predication involving a theme argument.
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