Comparatives in Melanesia: Concentric circles of convergence

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Using a sample of 116 languages, this article investigates the typology of comparative constructions and their distribution in Melanesia, one of the world's least-understood linguistic areas. We present a rigorous definition of a comparative construction as a “comparative concept”, thereby excluding many constructions which have been considered functionally comparatives in Melanesia. Conjoined comparatives are shown to dominate at the core of the area on the island of New Guinea, while (monoclausal) exceed comparatives are found in the maritime regions around New Guinea. Outside of Melanesia adpositional and other comparative constructions including particle comparatives are most frequent in Austronesian languages. The unity of the conjoined comparative type in the core Melanesian area illustrates that, while morpho-syntactic profiles of Melanesian languages are heterogenous, significant convergence in the “ways of saying things” can be found across the region. Additionally, we find no cases of clause chaining constructions being used for encoding comparatives, even in canonical clause chaining languages of central New Guinea. Our findings thus offer no support for Stassen's claim of a correlation between temporal chaining type and comparative construction type. Instead we suggest that an areal preference for mini-clauses may explain the dominance of the conjoined comparative in Melanesia.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)437-494
Number of pages58
JournalLinguistic Typology
Issue number3
Early online date16 Oct 2018
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2018


  • Areal typology
  • Austronesian
  • Comparative constructions
  • Melanesia
  • Papuan


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