written by James Tandy (University of Texas at Austin)
The 25th International Conference on Historical Linguistics (ICHL25) took place at the Mathematical Institute of the University of Oxford from August 1-5, 2022. It was attended by about 400 scholars from around the globe. This was a time of reunion for many, as one of the first major in-person linguistics conferences since the pandemic began. For me as a younger scholar from the U.S., the conference provided an opportunity to meet many historical linguists from outside my home country.
Because I study Mayan languages, which have limited historical attestation, I find it inspiring to see the depth and specificity of research topics that people are exploring in better-documented language families. It also made me aware of some broader principles and ideas that my future research could engage with. Two talks that particularly stood out to me were one by Tine Breban on actuation (explaining why a given change occurred when it did), and one by Matthew Baerman and Mirella Blum on “incongruent analogy” in Dinka (showing a case where analogical levelling was heavily localized, creating a pattern that was irregular with respect to the whole paradigm).
I presented a paper as part of the Tuesday afternoon workshop The Typology of Contact-Induced Changes in Morphosyntax. My talk “Direct affix borrowing: Evidence from two Mayan perfect suffixes” discussed the perfect participle suffixes -ɓil and -maχ, both of which are common in the Mayan language family. I argued that both suffixes spread areally through direct affix borrowing: rather than borrowing the suffix indirectly by way of morphologically complex loanwords, bilingual speakers transferred the suffix directly from the donor to the recipient language. As a result, the borrowed perfect suffix is fully productive even with native roots in the recipient language. Direct affix borrowing is more likely in situations with heavy bilingualism, and where there are strong structural similarities between the languages (Winford 2005, Seifart 2015, Thomason 2015), factors which are enhanced with closely related varieties such as Mayan languages (Law 2013, 2014).
In the presentation, I focused on the spread of -maχ in the Guatemalan highlands, which had some typologically interesting outcomes. I claim that -maχ originated in the Poqom subgroup as a fusion of the older Mayan perfect suffix *-ʔm with a passive suffix *-aχ. Poqom languages retain -m for the perfect in active voice and -maχ in passive voice (Mó Isém 2006). In spreading westward, following a known salt trade route (Hill and Monaghan 1987), -maχ was borrowed into the closely related languages Uspanteko, Sakapultek, and Sipakapense, and slightly more distant Mam and Tektiteko. In Mam, borrowed -maχ augments the inherited participial form -ʔn (from *-ʔm), leading to double-marked forms in -ʔn-maχ (England 1983). This is an example of “reinforcement multiple exponence” in the terms of Harris (2017), notable in that both suffixes are cognate. In Sakapultek and Sipakapense, -maχ is used in both active and passive voice (Du Bois 1981, Barrett 1999), so that the -aχ portion of –maχ has been bleached of the passive meaning it contributed in Poqom.The full slides for my presentation may be found on my website.
I am grateful to the Philological Society for a travel bursary which helped to defray the cost of my international flight and lodgings in Oxford. This opportunity has allowed me to get feedback on my research from a wider audience and to be inspired by the amazing community of historical linguists.
Barrett, Edward Rush, III (Rusty). 1999. A Grammar of Sipakapense Maya. Ph.D. dissertation, The University of Texas at Austin.
Can Pixabaj, Telma. 2006. Jkemik yoloj li uspanteko (Gramática uspanteka). Guatemala: Cholsamaj.
DuBois, John. 1981. The Sacapultec Language. Ph.D. dissertation, The University of California, Berkeley.
England, Nora C. 1983. A Grammar of Mam, a Mayan language. Austin: University of Texas Press.
Harris, Alice C. 2017. Multiple exponence. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Hill, Robert M. II, and John Monaghan. 1987. Continuities in Highland Maya Social Organization: Ethnohistory in Sacapulas, Guatemala. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
Law, Danny. 2013. “Inherited similarity and contact-induced change in Mayan Languages.” Journal of Language Contact6(2), 271-299.
Law, Danny. 2014. Language Contact, Inherited Similarity and Social Difference: The story of linguistic interaction in the Maya lowlands. Philadelphia: John Benjamins.
Mó Isém, Romelia. 2006b. Fonología y morfología del poqomchi’ occidental. Licenciate thesis. Guatemala: Universidad Rafael Landívar.
Seifart, Frank. 2015. “Direct and indirect affix borrowing.” Language 91(3), 511–532.
Thomason, Sarah G. 2015. “When is the diffusion of inflectional morphology not dispreferred?” In Gardani, Francesco, Peter Arkadiev, & Nino Amiridze, eds., Borrowed Morphology, 27-46. Berlin: de Gruyter.
Winford, Donald. 2005. “Contact-induced changes: Classification and processes.” Diachronica Vol. 22 No. 2, 373-427.