Cebuano is idiosyncratic

Something unusual to me when I read this Cebuano sentence:

“Akong gikuha ang lapis” (I took the pencil.)

Ako nga gi-kuha ang lapis
NOM-1SG linker NAF-take NOM-SG pencil

Structurally, the sentence is NAF, so the recipient ‘lapis’ marked by the nominative phrase marker ‘ang’ is the subject. However, the doer of the action is in the nominative case as well, and linked to the verb by the ‘nga’ linker. (If its linked to ‘lapis’ the sentence would have a radical meaning ”The pencil who is me was taken”.) So what is unusual here is the case of the doer, which is in the nominative and not in the genitive.

Compare with these other sentences: “Gihigugma mo ako” (You love me.)

Gi-higugma mo ako

In the above NAF sentence, the doer is in the Genitive case, and the recipient is in the nominative case. This is what we expect. See the next sentence with the same meaning.

“Gihigugma ko nimo” (You love me.)

Gi-higugma ko nimo

Here, the doer is in the form identical with the genitive case! But we know this is not in the genitive case since the Cebuano form of ako is ‘ko’ when not the first word of the sentence, even if in the nominative case. This also happens for nominative pronouns ikaw > ka , kita > ta, kami > mi and for genitive nimo > mo. (Also, generally about Philippine languages, are these true transitive sentence (2 argument) if one of the argument is in the genitive case and not an intransitive sentence?)

Going back to the first sentence, this reminds me as well of another Cebuano case marker the oblique ‘sa’ which functions unusually as genitive. This distinguishes Cebuano from other Bisayan languages.

“Gigukod sa tawo ang pusa” (The man chased the cat.)

Gi-gukod sa tawo ang pusa
NAF-chase GEN man NOM cat


I don’t quite agree in the analysis that ‘sa’ is in the genitive case, because I think it’s in the oblique case, the sentence is truly passive, thus the translation “The cat was chased by a man.” would structurally mimic the original.

As for the first sentence, that seems to be a way to escape the restriction of fronting genitives, but it results in attribution, not possession. Still, I can’t understand how the first sentence cohere syntactically.


It dawned on me that ‘akong’ should probably be akon+nga, not ako+nga. In this case, then everything falls in the right place. Akon would be in the oblique case. Except that the sentence would not be Cebuano but another Bisayan language, like SamarnonHiligaynon, Onhan, Romblomanon (but not Kinaraya) since the Sugbuhanon form is not akon but kanako.

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