Fieldwork on West Polesian

by Kristian Roncero (University of Surrey)

West Polesian belongs to the Eastern Slavonic subgroup and is spoken in the Polish region of Podlasie, the south-western half of the Brest region in Belarus, and the Volynsk region in Ukraine. West Polesian has hardly been studied separately, yet it differs considerably from the national standard  (or literary) languages where it is spoken. One of the main reasons is its isolation. Older stages of the Common Eastern Slavonic language and culture have been preserved thanks to the fact that Polesians live in a marshy area which can be difficult to access as it is frequently flooded. In Žydča (see map), some speakers  remember the times when they were kids and a helicopter would bring bread to the village as the ‘road’ was flooded (before they drained some roads in the 80’s-90’s).

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Map of the studied villages in the region of Brest (Belarus)

There is very little work on West Polesian grammar, which is why I decided that I needed to get it from first hand witnesses. Continue reading “Fieldwork on West Polesian”

TPS 115(1) – Abstract 6

Enclisis/proclisis alternations in Romance: allomorphies and (re)ordering

by M. Rita Manzini & Leonardo M. Savoia (Università di Firenze) 

Romance clitic pronouns appear to the left of the verb in I and to the right of the verb in C. This alternation correlates with (a) allomorphy, specifically l- vs. zero; (b) stress shifts; (c) reordering of the clitic string. The alternations in (a)-(c) are also observed between non-negative and negative contexts. The key points of our analysis are: (i) the l- segment is associated with definite content; (ii) interpretively, pronouns scope out of modal/non-veridical operators; (iii) syntactically, the exponent for modality/nonveridicality may have the pronoun in its domain; (iv) externalization of the l- segment is found when semantic scope (ii) and syntactic configuration (iii) are mismatched. Therefore allomorphies (including also stress), far from being morphophonological quirks, contribute to the externalization of syntactico-semantic notions of nonveridicality. In dealing with clitic (re)ordering we propose a model based on the dissociation between Merge and linear order. Phrasal constituents are ordered to the right of the verb in Romance; clitics mirror them in that they are ordered to the left, while keeping the Merge relations constant.

DOI: 10.1111/1467-968X.12093

TPS 115(1) – Abstract 5

Notes on the nominal system of Bashkardi

by Agnes Korn (CNRS / UMR Mondes iranien et indien)

This article studies the nominal system and noun phrase of Bashkardi, a language of the Iranian family spoken in Southern Iran in the region of Bashakerd. Bashkardi is a very little studied language, and is in particular need of being documented because it is a minority language endangered by heavy influence from Persian. The article is based on recordings made by Ilya Gershevitch in 1956.

In discussing the Bashkardi nominal system, I compare it to that of geographically or historically neighbouring languages such as Balochi, spoken nearby in the province (and also in the form of the Koroshi dialect spoken in Fars province to the west). From a historical perspective, Middle Persian and Parthian, the only two Western Iranian languages attested from Middle Iranian times, are adduced to elucidate the development of the Bashkardi nominal system.

I argue that the nominal system of Bashkardi agrees with Persian and other Western Ir. languages in having lost the distinction between direct and oblique case (preserved in Kurmanji, Balochi etc.), but that a trace of the oblique case might be present in the possessive marker -ī. Like Middle Persian, Bashkardi employs adpositions to mark syntactic relations, but none of these is used in a systematic way as of yet.

DOI: 10.1111/1467-968X.12087

TPS 115(1) – Abstract 4

Collective Nouns in Welsh: a Noun Category or a Plural Allomorph?

by Silva Nurmio (Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies)

A noun category in Welsh which has a shorter form for a collection/plural meaning and a suffixed singulative for a single instance has been described in the literature as both a number category and a plural allomorph, often with terminological ambiguity and blurring of boundaries between different noun types. This paper is an investigation of the features of these nouns using a number of theoretical approaches which cumulatively support the argument that collective can be considered a full number category in Welsh. 

DOI: 10.1111/1467-968X.12086

TPS 115(1) – Abstract 3

Reduction in Remoteness Distinctions and Reconfiguration in the Bemba Past Tense

by Nancy Kula (University of Essex)

Bantu languages are well-known for having multiple remoteness distinctions in both the past and the future. This paper looks at the 4-way remoteness distinction of Bemba (central Bantu) showing that the system is undergoing change that is resulting in the loss of an intermediate past tense by merger with the remote past. Two factors are central in driving this change; a merger of forms by tone loss and neutralisation and a shift in the scope of semantic function. Because the Bemba tense-aspect system manifests the so-called conjoint-disjoint alternation there is also some reconfiguration of the TA system that accompanies the merger. The different factors involved in this change are unified under a cognitive multi-dimensional approach to tense, which is here extended to account for language change in tense systems.

DOI: 10.1111/1467-968X.12084

TPS 115(1) – Abstract 2

Verbal triplication morphology in Stau རྟའུ། (Mazi dialect)

by Jesse P. Gates (Southwest University for Nationalities)

This paper presents the first documentation and analysis of a typologically remarkable process of verbal triplication in the Stau language (Sino-Tibetan). Moreover, Stau’s triplication of verbs to index multiple agents (S/A) and to pragmatically highlight those agents, as is demonstrated in this study, is a morphological process that has not been documented among any of the world’s spoken languages to date. Stau’s verbal triplication, although unique in many regards, falls into a broader typological linguistic pattern of iconicity, demonstrating that there is often a strong tie between form and function.

DOI: 10.1111/1467-968X.12083

TPS 115(1) – Abstract 1

Words and Paradigms: Peter H. Matthews and the Development of Morphological Theory

by Stephen Anderson (Yale University)

The tension between morpheme-based views of word structure, on which words are exhaustively divided into atomic units linking form and content, and word and paradigm views, on which words are analyzed in terms of their relations to others, goes back at least to the beginning of the twentieth century. The history of this opposition within modern linguistics is described, and the specific role of Peter H. Matthews in promoting the superiority of a non-morphemic approach to morphology is highlighted. Arguments for such an approach are briefly reviewed, with discussion of the response to these on the part of the broader field of linguistics.

DOI: 10.1111/1467-968X.12090

Finiteness in Greek and Latin, then and now

by Dag Haug (University of Oslo)

Finiteness is a crucial notion in modern theories of grammar.  The concept originates in the work of ancient grammarians on Greek and Latin and it has often been thought to be inadequate for other languages. In my talk, I trace a very brief history of the idea and then show that Greek and Latin themselves actually display a number of phenomena relating to the syntax and semantics of participles and infinitives that challenge this traditional idea of finiteness. Thus, there is still a lot to learn from the grammar of Greek and Latin if one is willing to dig deeper than the traditional descriptions.

A video recording of the talk can be found below.

This paper was read at the Philological Society meeting in London, SOAS Main Building, Room 116, on Friday, 13 January, 4.15pm. The slideshow accompanying the paper is available here.

Exaptation: acquiring the unacquirable

by Benjamin Lowell Sluckin (Humboldt University of Berlin, formerly University of Cambridge)

I was fortunate enough to receive a PhilSoc Masters Bursary in 2015/16, which has been of greater value to me than the £4000 awarded. It enabled me to study for an MPhil in Theoretical and Applied Linguistics at my institution of choice, the University of Cambridge. I’m happy to say it was worth it!  So before I get down to writing about my experiences of postgraduate study and research, I want to thank PhilSoc for their generosity and for seeing value in that hopeful letter of application penned in early Spring 2015.

First I’ll say a bit about my general experience and then I’ll get down to the linguistic meat. Cambridge is a weird and wonderful place. It is like stepping into a time machine and stepping out in 1870 where everyone has a MacBook. It is a bubble, as everyone says; the real world seems distant and at times one can feel claustrophobic. However, the bubble is good for doing research. It is quiet, there are talks almost every day and there was always the possibility of valuable academic discussion with my peers and seniors in the department, from whom I learnt a great deal.  Like any University, but perhaps especially, there is also the constant opportunity to have your assumptions about everything and anything challenged by those who know better, or at least pretend to do so. The Masters Bursary allowed me not only to learn some serious linguistics, but also to acquire the ability to power a very unstable boat with a very long stick. All in all, I learnt a great deal. I can now say with some confidence that I understand enough syntax to understand what people are disagreeing about most of the time, but not to always understand why they insist on disagreeing.

In my bursary application I said I wanted to specialise in diachronic morphosyntax in Germanic and I specifically “promised” to look at exaptive changes in language (my thanks to George Walkden whose support and lectures got me thinking about these things). In short, Lass (1990, 1997) said that when form-to-function mappings are eroded in language, we can be left with functionless linguistic “junk” which can then be co-opted for an unrelated function. The canonical example from Lass (1990) is the recycling of afrikaans gender marking from Dutch syntactic agreement marking for gender and definiteness (1a,b) to conditioning by the morphological character of the adjective itself (1c,d): simple vs complex.   I found Lass’ ideas interesting and I knew that David Willis in Cambridge had been working on this topic, so I was keen to get in on the action (for lack of a better term). Once arrived, he was always ready to challenge my ideas and encourage me to refine my arguments.

(1) Examples
a. Dutch common/neuter definite & common indefinite

de gevaarlijk-e muis/paard
the dangerous-e mouse.com/horse.neut

b. Dutch neuter, indefinite

een gevaarlijk-∅ paard
a dangerous-∅ horse.neut
(adapted from ex.23, Norde & Trousdale 2016:187)

c. Afrikaans simple adjective

die groot groep
the large-∅ group
([Lubbe & Plessis 2014:28] cf. Sluckin 2016:6)

d. Afrikaans complex adjective

die belangrik-e rol
the important-e role
([Lubbe & Plessis 2014:21] cf. Sluckin 2016:6)

Scholars have argued about exaptation for 25 years; so I will admit now that I approach this problem from a minimalist perspective. That means: I focus on Child Language Acquisition as the primary locus of morphosyntactic change, I reject junk, i.e. functionless material as impossible (like many but not all), and crucially my work assumes that the syntactic architecture is based on a hierarchical generation of formal features and projecting heads, and so on and so on….

This type of change is especially interesting because, in my mind, it shows the incredible capacity of the child acquiring language to regularise seemingly incoherent data. Research into exaptive reanalyses can tell us something about how humans can make good data from bad data.

So what is bad data? Well “junk” doesn’t work if we assume that every utterance is somehow a representation of linguistic units stored in the lexicon – or whatever we call it. Sadly,  I don’t have the space elaborate on all past approaches (see Vincent 1995; Willis 2010, 2016; Lass 1997, and Van de Velde & Norde 2016 for a review), but my hypothesis can be summed up as follows: breakdown in language can, over time, render structures increasingly difficult to acquire; this can reach a point where the target structure—dare I say parameter—is no longer acquirable from the input. The child is faced with the choice of losing the structure or finding any other possible analysis. What’s the difference between this and any other reanalysis, I hear you ask. Well, one standard view is that reanalysis works on the basis of ambiguity between possible analyses; so if there are two or more possible analyses, the child is more likely to choose the simpler one (2a). If the more economical analysis were not found, the original would still be available from the input. I argue that for exaptation what we instead find is that the original analysis is removed completely for the acquirer (2b). Therefore, any new analysis does not rely on ambiguity between the target and other analyses, as the target just doesn’t factor for the child making sense of the input.

I have tried to test this for syntax alone, whereas past work focused more on morphosyntax. The questions I am trying to answer is: how pervasive is exaptive reanalysis and what strategies do children use to find analyses when they can’t draw on strategies of economy. To these ends, I am looking for explanations orthogonal to Universal Grammar. My MPhil thesis research on the collapse of V2 and its reanalysis as Locative Inversion in Early Modern English involving the actuation of locative formal features, e.g. out of the woods came the bear, seems to suggest that phonologically silent syntactic heads might be especially vulnerable to this kind of change, as their acquisition is purely dictated by overt syntax (3a,b: trees for those who like them – click on the “Read more” button). Metaphorically speaking, we knew Pluto was there before we could see it because we could see things orbiting it. Syntax works similarly, the only difference is that if we change an orbit we change the planet, or rather syntactic head, too.  I am pursuing these ideas with larger case studies as part of my PhD project at the Humboldt University in Berlin, where I am now part of Artemis Alexiadou’s  research group.  I am also trying to see how grammar competition, language contact and exaptive reanalysis might go hand in hand in certain situations.

Continue reading “Exaptation: acquiring the unacquirable”