Tag Archives: Understudied languages

LingLang Lunch (10/15/2013): Scott AnderBois (Brown University)

A transitivity-based split in Yucatec Maya control complements (joint work with Grant Armstrong, University of Wisconsin)

In a wide variety of environments (e.g. counterfactual antecedents, optatives, different subject irrealis complements), Yucatec Maya (YM) has both transitive and intransitive verb forms which have traditionally been labeled ‘subjunctive’. Semantically, we expect to find such complements in complements to control predicates such as ‘want’ and ‘try’. What we find, however, is that this expectation is met only for complements which are syntactically transitive (e.g. ‘I want to eat it.’), but not for those which are intransitive (e.g. ‘I want to eat’). The transitive complements include subjunctive verb forms as well as showing agreement by both the object and the control subject and is therefore an instance of so-called `copy control’. Intransitive control complements, however, show neither agreement marker and no subjunctive verb form, with the verb instead appearing as a bare stem in citation form.

In this talk, we propose an account of this split based on independently observable properties of agreement in YM together with the Movement Theory of Control (Hornstein 1999, Hornstein and Polinsky 2010 inter alia). First, we develop a clausal syntax for a variety of YM clauses in which absolutive arguments, including intransitive subjunctive subjects, remain low in the clause. Second, we show that this independently motivated syntax together with a particular approach to control predicts the ungrammaticality of intransitive subjunctive control complements. Finally, we argue that the attested bare forms are in fact nominalizations and therefore have a quite different syntax than the transitives.

LingLang Lunch (10/29/2013): Scott AnderBois (Brown University)

On the exceptional status of reportative evidentials

Evidentials are morphemes found regularly in ~25% of the world’s languages which encode the speaker’s grounds for making a particular claim, p, i.e. what sort of evidence they have that has led them to assert p. Some common types of evidential meanings include: direct visual, direct non-visual, conjectural, reportative, deduction from direct evidence of a result state, and deduction from general world knowledge. Given the common characterization of evidentials as providing the grounds for an assertion (of some sort) that p, we expect that it should be infelicitous or contradictory for a speaker who has uttered an evidential assertion, EVID(p), to deny that p is the case.

While this expectation is consistently borne out for most evidentials, we show that reportative evidentials – i.e. those which indicate that the speaker’s source is what some second or third party has told them – consistently do allow for exactly this. Whereas previous authors have proposed semantic accounts for such data, we argue that these exceptional cases are due to pragmatic perspective-shift. Such shifts are only readily possible in the case of reportatives since they introduce another perspectival agent, whereas other evidentials (even including intuitively ‘weaker’ ones like conjecturals) do not. Beyond explaining the cross-linguistic behavior of reportatives, I argue the proposal also makes correct predictions for languages like Bulgarian where a single evidential form has both reportative and inferential uses.

LingLang Lunch (1/29/2014): Anna Shusterman (Wesleyan University)

Language-Thought Interactions in Development

How do language and thought influence each other during development? Drawing on the cases of spatial and numerical cognition, I will discuss recent work from my lab exploring this question. For both cases, I will show evidence of interesting language-thought correspondences that raise questions about the mechanisms through which language and cognition become linked. In the case of space, I will focus on three studies exploring the hypothesis that acquiring frame-of-reference terms (left-right, north-south) causally affects spatial representation in three different populations: English-speaking preschoolers, two cohorts of Nicaraguan Sign Language users, and Kichwa-speaking adults outside of Quito, Ecuador (*Kichwa is a dialect of Quechua spoken in Ecuador). In the case of number, I will focus on emerging evidence that numerical acuity (in the analog magnitude system) and the acquisition of counting knowledge are correlated even in preschoolers. These studies suggest that language acquisition is deeply tied to the development of non-verbal conceptual systems for representing space and number, raising new questions and hypotheses about the roots of this relationship.

LingLang Lunch (11/19/2014): Scott AnderBois (Brown University)

The discourse particle wal in Yucatec Maya: a decompositional approach

Dating back to the philosopher David Lewis, it has been common to think of discourse in terms of a shared “scoreboard” comprising various information about who has said what, what things we know, what our goals are, etc. Discourse particles are elements in sentences which intuitively do not contribute to the content of sentences in which they occur, but rather make reference to the discourse scoreboard itself (e.g. English oh; German ja, doch; Japanese yo, ne). They thus provide a unique lens into understanding the structure of the discourse scoreboard and the ways in which speakers’ utterances interact with it. In this talk, I focus on one particular discourse particle, wal, in Yucatec Maya (an indigenous language of Mexico). Wal serves many seemingly quite different functions. In declaratives, it conveys uncertainty in some cases, but a warning or threat in others. In imperatives, it does two seemingly opposite things: “softening” an imperative to a permission or offer in some cases, and, again, conveying a warning or threat in others. I develop an analysis in which wal has a uniform meaning, serving to highlight a decision problem the hearer faces following the speaker’s turn. The various functions of wal, then, are argued to arise from the interaction of this meaning with intonation, aspects of the utterance in which it occurs, and reasoning based on world knowledge.

LingLang Lunch (4/1/2015): Junwen Lee (Brown University)

Lah revisited – A modal analysis

The linguistic function of the Colloquial Singapore English (CSE) particle lah has been characterized variously as a marker to convey solidarity, warmth and informality; an attenuation or emphasis marker; an assertion marker; and an accommodation marker. As the particle can be pronounced using several pitch contours, the particle has generally been analyzed as either a set of homonymic variants that are distinguished by pitch and function, or a unitary particle that has the same meaning despite tonal differences. However, I argue against both approaches – the former conflates pragmatic function and semantic meaning, while the latter ignores the systematic differences in function that correlate with tonal differences. Instead, I propose that lah is a modal particle that conveys the not-at-issue comment that the lah-marked proposition is entailed by the conjunction of all factors that make a difference to its truth, which is then interpreted by the addressee as justification for the speaker’s lah-marked assertion. In other words, if we consider all the factors that affect the likelihood of the lah-marked proposition p being true to be the set of evidence that together underwrite the speaker’s assertion of p, then lah indicates that this set of evidence is completely reliable in predicting p. However, unlike previous unitary analyses, I propose that this single particle meaning then interacts with a separate effect of intonation to produce the different pragmatic functions that have been observed in the literature.

LingLang Lunch (4/30/2015): Eladio Mateo Toledo (B’alam) (CIESAS-Sureste, México)

The Destinative Construction in Q’anjob’al (Maya)

Purpose constructions involve two situations linked by a purposive relation where a situation, expressed by the matrix predicate, is performed with the intention/goal of obtaining the realization of another situation, the purpose clause (Cristofaro 2005:506, Schmidtke-Bode 2009:20, Verstraete 2008:764). Therefore, they involve intentionality on the part of an argument of the main clause; the purpose clause is intrinsically future oriented; and the outcome is intended or hypothetical. These features are illustrated in (1) (based on Simonin 2011:2).

(1) A monkey picked leaves or fruit in order to eat them, but it never ate them,
     though that was certainly its intention.

Q’anjob’al has two purpose constructions: motion-cum purpose and a finite purpose clause. In this talk, I present a related construction that I call the destinative construction (2).

(2) a. Max-ach             y-i-teq                     ix         s-q’ume-j
          com-abs2sg       erg3-bring-dir       clf       erg3-talk-tv
          ‘She brought you to talk to you.’
      b. Ay-ach             ek’        j-ante-j
          exs-abs2sg       dir       erg1pl-cure-tv
          ‘You are here for us to cure.’

Analyzing this construction as a purpose clause is problematic because intentionality is not necessary, as in (2b). Furthermore, person inflection is rigidly transitive or intransitive in Q’anjob’al but this construction violates it as the second verb, otherwise transitive, lacks a second person argument. However, this inflectional pattern also occurs in complex predicates like the ditransitive one in 3).

(3)  Ch-ach             ul             hin-say                   w-il-a’
      inc-abs2sg       come       erg1s-look.for       erg1s-see-tv
      ‘I come to look for you (for myself).’ {txt062}

I have three goals in this talk. Following Simonin’s (2011) work on English and that of Polian et.al. (2015) on Maya, I firstly show that (2) is a destinative construction and not a purpose clause (‘the construction denotes a situation where the matrix verb makes available an entity that is earmarked for a particular use, specified by the second verb’). Second, I show that the Q’anjob’al destinative and the English weak purpose clause, with different syntax, are licensed by the same types of predicates. I finally show that the Q’anjob’al destinative clause has features of both complex clauses and complex predicates; this makes it unique in Q’anjob’al and Maya.

LingLang Lunch (12/2/2015): Wilson Silva (RIT)

The Desano Language Documentation Project: Fieldwork, Theory and Language Revitalization

Desano is an endangered Tukanoan language of the Vaupés region of Brazil. In this talk I will provide an overview of the Desano Language Documentation Project. I will discuss some of the Desano traits of linguistic interest (e.g., nasal harmony, noun classes, verb serialization, evidentiality) based on fieldwork data; and discuss the creation of digital animation (digital storytelling) based on Desano traditional narratives.

LingLang Lunch (3/14/2018): Susan Kalt (Roxbury Community College)

Susan Kalt’s current research focuses on sequential language acquisition of Quechua and Spanish in Bolivia and Peru. For more information, her website is here.

Acquisition, loss and change in Southern Quechua and Spanish – what happened to evidential marking?

Interviews in rural highlands Peru and Bolivia using graphic story narration (Kalt 2009, 2015, 2016) show that Peruvian speakers of Southern Quechua use evidential suffixes to express speaker stance and information source (experienced vs. hearsay) among other meanings, while these suffixes have been all but lost in Bolivia. Courtney (2015) has established a developmental sequence for the acquisition of these elements and their meanings in Cuzco Quechua. We test the hypothesis that language attrition proceeds in reverse order of child language acquisition (Jakobson 1941, Cook 1989) using the existing literature and our field data. Paradoxically, Babel (2009) and others claim that evidentiality has transferred to Spanish in the same region. A closer look reveals the emergence of a Spanish-like evidential particle in Southern Quechua, demonstrating a complex relationship between the two languages and their speakers, as well as relationships between acquisition, loss and change.

Please note that this LingLang Lunch will take place in the McKinney Conference Room (353) at the Watson Institute (111 Thayer Street), at the regular time.

LingLang Lunch (11/1/2017): Laura Janda (Universitetet i Tromsø)

Laura Janda’s research focuses on Russian aspect and other Slavic grammatical categories, as well as the development of language pedagogy. For more information, her website is here.

What happens to a language under pressure: discriminatory language policy and language change in North Saami

North Saami, a Finno-Ugric language spoken by 20,000 people in the extreme north of Norway, Sweden and Finland, is undergoing a language change in the use of its possessive constructions. We find evidence that a number of factors converge, creating a complex situation that advantages one possessive construction over the other. Given the timing of the change, it seems likely that the replacement of NPx by ReflN was sparked in part by educational policies that removed children from their L1 environment during their school years, creating a sociolinguistic situation in which morphological complexity was disadvantaged. This study thus sheds light on what may be a concrete linguistic effect catalyzed by discriminatory policy.

(Sponsored by Slavic Studies, CLPS, and the C.V. Starr Foundation Lectureship fund through the Dean of the Faculty’s Office.)