Puluqish *paka-/*maka- abilitative

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Prefixed *paka-, originally a causative with *pa- of stative verbs prefixed with *ka- (Zeitoun 2000), retains its causative function in a  broad range of Formosan languages: Saisiyat (pak-), Pazeh, Mayrinax Atayal and Mantauran Rukai (examples in Zeitoun’s paper); Siraya (Adelaar 2012:117), Kavalan (paq -̴ paqa-, Li & Tsuchida 2006:17), Central and Northern Amis (Bril, in press), and Puyuma (as in pa-ka-ulaŋ ‘make crazy’, Cauquelin 2015). paka-causatives are also found in the Philippines (Liao 2011).

In the Puluqish languages of Taiwan (Amis, Puyuma, Paiwan), in addition to paka-causatives, one also finds abilitative verbs with paka-: in the words of Liao Hsiu-chuan (2011:858), paka- expresses an actor’s ability to perform an action: ‘can V, able to V’. The present discussion is largely based on Liao’s  findings on the distribution and functions of paka- and maka- abilitatives, and on her examples for Taiwan and the Philippines.

Here is an example of paka- abilitative in Paiwan, cited by Liao from  Wolff (1995:567):

su=paka-qati-n ‘you (SG) can do it.’ (qati ‘succeed, achieve’).

In addition to paka-, Paiwan and Amis have an Actor-Focus prefix maka- which is also abilitative. A Paiwan example:

maka-qati ‘can do something’ (Wolff, ibid.)

Bril finds maka- abilitatives in Northern Amis too (p.c.):

maka-tengil tiya suwal
(he) could hear these words

Wolff (ibid.) derives Paiwan maka- from an earlier *<um>paka-. This seems likely. I assume the same explanation works for Amis.

Philippine languages use maka- not paka- in abilitatives (Liao 2011:859). maka-abilitatives are also found elsewhere in MP, as in Malagasy, under the form maha- (maha-fotsy ‘qui peut blanchir’).

paka- abilitatives maka-abilitatives
Northern Amis + +
Puyuma +
Paiwan + +
MP-Philippines +
MP-Malagasy +
Kra-Dai ? ?

In view of the fact that Siraya has been claimed to be phylogenetically close to PMP, it is interesting that Siraya uses paka-Vstat to form causatives of ma-statives:

ma-kuptix ‘clean’, paka-kuptix ‘to purify’

In addition paka-Vstat preceded by the auxiliary verb ’lpux ‘can’ (Adelaar 2011:133) results in a abilitative construction ‘lpux pa-ka-V ‘can V, able to V’:

paka-‘lpux=kaw pa-ka-kuptix ĭau-an=da

AS-can=2s.NOM. CAUS-v1-clean 1s-OBLl=ADV

‘you are able to purify me’

In this example, paka– preceding the auxiliary is not a prefix but a copy of the main verb’s initial syllables, which here coincide with the main verb’s prefix. See Adelaar (2011:135) on ‘anticipating sentences’ (AS).

This construction provides a missing link between PAN *pa-ka- ‘causative of nonfinite stative verbs’ and abilitative. It is likely that *paka- abilitatives originate in a similar construction with paka-Vstat preceded by an auxiliary verb meaning ‘can -, able to’: elision of the auxiliary verb resulted in paka- acquiring its abilitative meaning.

These facts are susceptible of phylogenetic interpretation.  *paka- and/or *maka- abilitatives are only found in the southern languages Paiwan, Amis, Puyuma, and in PMP:  the innovations creating these two forms should therefore be assigned to proto-Puluqish.

Since proto-Kra-Dai is a Puluqish language, one would like to know whether these two innovations were present there too. Unfortunately the Kra-Dai languages do not preserve the left edge of words well enough for us to know the answer.


Adelaar, Alexander. 2011. Siraya, Retrieving the Phonology, Grammar and Lexicon of a Dormant Formosan Language. Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton.

Bril, I. in press. Northern Amis. Handbook on Formosan languages, ed. by P. Jen-kuei Li, E. Zeitoun, R. De Busser.  Leiden: Brill

Cauquelin, J. 2015. Nanwang Puyuma-English dictionary. Institute of Linguistics, Academia Sinica, Taipei, Taiwan.

Liao Hsiu-chuan. 2011.  Some morphosyntactic differences between Formosan and Philippine languages. Languages & Linguistics 12, 4:845-876.

Wolff, John U. 1995. The position of the Austronesian languages of Taiwan within the Austronesian group. Austronesian Studies Relating to Taiwan, ed. by Paul Jen-kuei Li, Cheng-hwa Tsang, Ying-kuei Huang, Dah-an Ho & Chiu-yu Tseng, 521-583.
Taipei: Institute of History and Philology, Academia Sinica.

Zeitoun, E. 2000. Concerning ka-, an overlooked marker of verbal derivation in Formosan languages. Oceanic Linguistics, 39.2: 391-414.

Cite this post as: Laurent Sagart, "Puluqish *paka-/*maka- abilitative," in Sino-Tibetan-Austronesian, 07/04/2020, https://stan.hypotheses.org/624.