On verb-initial and verb-final word orders in lokaa

Verb phrases seems to be head initial in affirmative sentences in Lokaa (a Niger-Congo language of the Cross River area of Nigeria) but head final in negative clauses and gerunds. This article aspires to give a comprehensive description of this phenomenon, together with a theoretical analysis. It considers how a full range of grammatical elements are ordered in both kinds of clauses—including direct objects, second objects, particles, weak pronouns, complement clauses, serial verbs, adverbs, prepositional phrases, tense/mood particles, and auxiliary verbs. The pattern that emerges is a bit different from the one found in some superficially similar languages, such as Vata, Bambara, Nupe, and Nweh. I argue that the details are correctly explained by a “remnant movement” theory in which the Lokaa verb first moves out of the verb phrase to combine with tense/agreement inflection, and then the rest of the verb phrase moves as a unit into a specifier position at the top of the clause. This position is available because the notional subject undergoes dislocation in Lokaa, as has been claimed for many of its Bantu kin.
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