By Wallace Chafe
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Extra info for A Grammar of the Seneca Language
The feminine singular forms in 12 (for an agent) and 22 (for a patient) are ambiguous in another way. As the labels suggest, they may refer to a single female: ‘she’ or ‘her’. But they may also refer to unidentified or nonspecific people in general, where they can be translated ‘one’, ‘people’, or ‘they’ in a nonspecific sense. The nonspecific meaning is probably the older of the two, and the form may be remotely cognate with a form yi- that functions in a similar way in the Caddo language (Chafe 1990).
Word-level prosody as described above may combine with other changes to produce words in which vowel length stems from other sources, several of which are illustrated in the following word. 6 above, length in the last vowel in a word where a laryngeal obstruent follows is not predictable and thus needs to be specified in reconstructions, as in this example. The even-numbered penultimate vowel in this word was lengthened because it was not immedately followed by a laryngeal obstruent: *wa’hathehna:yë:’.
Verbs follow a structural pattern that was first comprehensively and accurately described by Floyd Lounsbury in his Oneida Verb Morphology (1953), a work that has been basic to all subsequent work on the Northern Iroquoian languages. Although there are differences in each of these languages, most of the differences are relatively minor. There are, on the other hand, major differences in the phonological changes that have occurred in each language, and it is above all those changes that have set the languages significantly apart.