Edited by Gerrit J. Dimmendaal
[Studies in Language Companion Series 110] 2009
► pp. 23–53
!Xun (also known as Jul'hoan) is essentially an isolating language. Phonetically it represents one of the most complex languages of the world (see Heikkinen 1986). It shows a productive serial verb construction (Svc) which has properties of compounding. Although nearly all verbs of the language can appear in an Svc, a subset of roughly thirty verbs, called coverb, is used in a more grammaticalized way to express functions like manner, location, position, way of moving, tense, aspect, and modality. There is hardly any cross reference on the verb. Participant marking is optional. The basic constituent order is verb-medial. !Xun has a noun class system of three (in some dialects four) noun classes (or genders). Gender is covertly expressed on nominal modifiers such as demonstratives and possessives. Gender and number are basically independent. Each noun class can either refer to singular or plural. Plurality is optionally marked by clitics suffixed to the noun phrase.
Verbs are either intransitive or transitive, ditransitive verbs are absent. The language uses two productive mechanisms to increase the valency: A verbal suffix -ā, increasing the valency by one, and a preposition like element called the transitivizer kē. The transitivizer provides the most general way to include further participants, whether core, like objects, or peripheral, like locatives. Its occurrence is in principle not constrained. Its use is mainly restricted to the position after the verb. All the features mentioned above, such as a Svc, a noun class system where gender and number are basically independent of one another, a transitivizing device which freely adds participants, used only post-verbally, are salient not only in !Xuu (North Khoisan) but also in !Ui-Taa (South Khoisan) languages. However, whether these two groupings are genetically related remains unclear. In two dialects of !Xun there is an obligatory topic marker, which in some contexts is used like a subject case marker. Focus constituents precede topic ones, so that the general discourse structure tends to show the ordering is focus – topic – subject – verb – object.
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