This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Linguistics. Please check back later for the full article.
Abstract words such as Fr. attention, It. diligenza, Sp. riqueza, Pt. cozedura, Ro. bunătate, belong to the word class nouns. They do not possess materiality and therefore lack sensory perceivability. Within the spectrum of nouns, abstracts are located on the opposite side of appellatives (e.g., Fr. chien, It. albero, Sp. casa); between them, there are collective nouns (e.g., Fr. montagne, It. fogliame, Sp. manada) and mass nouns (e.g., Fr. eau, It. cotone, Sp. leche). Abstract nouns are in part noncount and not able to be pluralized.
In terms of meaning, there is typically a threefold division in groups: (1) action/result nouns (e.g., Fr. lavage, traduction; It. caccia, giuramento; Sp. mordedura, cosecha; Pt. escolha, armação; Ro. arat, stricăciune); (2) status nouns (e.g., Fr. episcopat, It. cuginanza, Sp. almirantazgo, Pt. servidão, Ro. preoţie); and (3) quality nouns (e.g., Fr. dignité, It. cortezza, Sp. modestia, Pt. agrura, Ro. dulceaţă). However, these groups are not clearly delimitable. Action nouns generally tend to become concrete nouns due to metonymic change in meaning. This can be effected through the resultative meaning in fact since the Latin era: calceamentum “making of shoes” is derived from the verb calceare “to make shoes,” which then assumed the collective meaning “footwear,” which is the “result of the making.” Correspondingly, there are numerous examples for collectives and concretes in Romance languages following the morphological pattern of abstracts, for example, Fr. couture “seam,” venaison “venison,” It. ossatura “bone frame,” ornamento “decoration,” Sp. pescado “fi,” verdura “vegetable,” Pt. vestimenta “clothing,” moldura “frame,” Ro. osăminte “bones,” încinsătură “belt.”
From a purely morphological standpoint, a classification of abstracts according to derivation basis appears suitable: (1) (primary) denominal abstracts (e.g., Fr. duché, It. linguaggio, Sp. añada, Pt. compadrio, Ro. pitărie); (2) (primary) deadjectival a. (e.g., Fr. folie, It. bellezza, Sp. cortesía, Pt. baixeza, Ro. greutate); and (3) (primary) deverbal a. (e.g., Fr. mouvement, It. uscita, Sp. nacencia, Pt. perdição, Ro. arătură). Beyond that, there are abstracts that are not derived within the Romance languages, for example, Fr. paix, It. gioia, Sp. edad, Pt. morte, Ro. somn (cf. lat. pax, gaudium, aetas, which are derivatives within Latin). Still other abstracts arise from conversion, in which a change in a word class occurs without the addition of affixes: Fr. le loisir, le froid; It. il bene, il bello; Sp. el parecer, lo dulce. Especially converted adjectives are mainly occasional formations that have not been lexicalized. In Romanian, the long form of the infinitive always has the function of a verbal abstract, for example, cântare “singing” vs. a cânta “to sing.” Other examples for lexicalized conversions arise by means of ellipsis: lat. hibernum (tempus) → Fr. hiver, It. inverno, Sp. invierno, Pt. inverno, Ro. iarnă. The suffixless postverbal formation is of high significance in Romance languages, such as Fr. regret “regret” (← regretter), It. governo “government” (← governare), Sp. cambio “change” (← cambiar), Pt. perda “loss” (← perder), Ro. plac “pleasure” (← plăcea). Other abstract forming processes such as reduplication (Fr. cache cache “hide-and-seek,” It. fuggi fuggi “escape”) or conversion of finite verb forms (Fr. doit “amount”) may be labeled marginal.
In light of this, the question of how far the formation of abstracts in Romance languages then follows Latin patterns (derivation with suffixes) or whether new processes emerge is of particular interest. In addition, the individual Romance languages display different preferences in choosing abstract forming morphological processes. To begin with, we find a larger number of abstract forming suffixes preserving their function in Romance languages, such as -ia (abundantia, sententia), -ía (astrología), -ura (scriptura), -ĭtia (pigritia), -mentum (ornamentum), -io (oratio). In addition, there is a group of Latin suffixes that have assumed the abstract forming function only in Romance. Among these are, for example, -aticu (Fr. péage, Sp. hallazgo), -aceu (Sp. cuchillazo), -aria (Sp. borrachera, It. vecchiaia), -oriu (Sd. albeskidordzu “daybreak”). Abstract forming suffixes of non-Latin origin are very rare, such as Germanic -eins (Old Fr. guerpine, plevine; Fr. haine). Suffixless processes of abstract formation are coming to full fruition only in Romance: The conversion of participles (Fr. vue, offerte; It. dormita, colorito; Sp. llegada, afeitado; Pt. chamada; sentido; Ro. făcut, mulţumită) is of special importance. The conversion of infinitives to nouns with abstract meaning is least common in Modern French (e.g., plaisir, devoir) and most widely spread in Romanian (iertare, stricare, etc., cf. above). Postverbal formation (Fr. amende, It. carica, Sp. Muestra, etc., cf. above), in contrast, is known to have a broad pan-Romance geographic spread. These innovative processes, too, can be traced back to the late Latin era. One problem lies in assigning grammatical gender in cases of suffixless formations: Nominalized participles and postverbal formations can be masculine or feminine while nominalized infinitives are mostly masculine; in Romanian, however, they are feminine.
Finally, the formation of abstracts as it is used in scientific and technical language follows the Neo-Latin and Greek word formation patterns (Fr. arthrite, tuberculose, athéisme; It. artrite, tubercolosi, ateismo; Sp. artritis, tuberculosis, ateísmo; Pt. artrite, tuberculose, ateísmo; Ro. artrită, tuberculoză, ateism) and therefore often only displays limited variation in the individual languages.
The word accent system of Tokyo Japanese might look quite complex with a number of accent patterns and rules. However, recent research has shown that it is not as complex as has been assumed if one incorporates the notion of markedness into the analysis: nouns have only two productive accent patterns, the antepenultimate and the unaccented pattern, and different accent rules can be generalized if one focuses on these two productive accent patterns.
The word accent system raises some new interesting issues. One of them concerns the fact that a majority of nouns are ‘unaccented,’ that is, they are pronounced with a rather flat pitch pattern, apparently violating the principle of obligatoriness. A careful analysis of noun accentuation reveals that this strange accent pattern occurs in some linguistically predictable structures. In morphologically simplex nouns, it typically tends to emerge in four-mora nouns ending in a sequence of light syllables. In compound nouns, on the other hand, it emerges due to multiple factors, such as compound-final deaccenting morphemes, deaccenting pseudo-morphemes, and some types of prosodic configurations.
Japanese pitch accent exhibits an interesting aspect in its interactions with other phonological and linguistic structures. For example, the accent of compound nouns is closely related with rendaku, or sequential voicing; the choice between the accented and unaccented patterns in certain types of compound nouns correlates with the presence or absence of the sequential voicing. Moreover, whether the compound accent rule applies to a certain compound depends on its internal morphosyntactic configuration as well as its meaning; alternatively, the compound accent rule is blocked in certain types of morphosyntactic and semantic structures.
Finally, careful analysis of word accent sheds new light on the syllable structure of the language, notably on two interrelated questions about diphthong-hood and super-heavy syllables. It provides crucial insight into ‘diphthongs,’ or the question of which vowel sequence constitutes a diphthong, against a vowel sequence across a syllable boundary. It also presents new evidence against trimoraic syllables in the language.
Four types of English exist in Africa, identifiable in terms of history, functions, and linguistic characteristics. West African Pidgin English has a history going back to the 15th century, 400 years before formal colonization. Creole varieties of English have a history going back to repatriation of slaves from the Caribbean and the United States in the 19th century. Second language varieties, which are the most widespread on the continent, are prototypically associated with British colonization and its education systems. L1 (First language) English occurred mostly in Southern and East Africa, and is best represented in South Africa. The latter shows significant similarities with the other major Southern Hemisphere varieties of English in Australia and New Zealand. All four subgroups of English are growing in numbers.
Afroasiatic languages are the fourth largest linguistic phylum, spoken by some 350 million people in North, West, Central, and East Africa, in the Middle East, and in scattered communities in Europe, the United States, and the Caucasus. Some Afroasiatic languages, such as Arabic, Hausa, Amharic, Somali, and Oromo, are spoken by millions of people, while others are endangered with extinction. As of the early 21st century, the phylum is composed of six families: Egyptian (extinct), Semitic, Cushitic, Omotic, Berber, and Chadic. There are some typological features shared by all families, particularly in the domain of phonology. Languages are also typologically quite distinct with respect to syntax and functions encoded in the grammatical systems.
Some Afroasiatic languages, such as Egyptian, Akkadian, Phoenician, Hebrew, Arabic, and Ge’ez, have a longtime written tradition, but for many languages no writing system has yet been proposed or adopted. The Old Semitic writing system gave rise to the modern alphabets used in thousands of unrelated contemporary languages. Two Semitic languages, Hebrew (with some Aramaic) and Arabic, were used to write the Old Testament and the Koran, the holy books of Judaism and Islam.
“Altaic” is a common term applied by linguists to a number of language families, spread across Central Asia and the Far East and sharing a large, most likely non-coincidental, number of structural and morphemic similarities. At the onset of Altaic studies, these similarities were ascribed to the one-time existence of an ancestral language—“Proto-Altaic,” from which all these families are descended; circumstantial evidence and glottochronological calculations tentatively date this language to some time around the 6th–7th millennium
The debate over the nature of the relationship between the various units that constitute “Altaic,” sometimes referred to as “the Altaic controversy,” has been one of the most hotly debated topics in 20th-century historical linguistics and a major focal point of studies dealing with the prehistory of Central and East Eurasia. Supporters of “Proto-Altaic,” commonly known as “(pro-)Altaicists,” claim that only divergence from an original common ancestor can account for the observed regular phonetic correspondences and other structural similarities, whereas “anti-Altaicists,” without denying the existence of such similarities, insist that they do not belong to the “core” layers of the respective languages and are therefore better explained as results of lexical borrowing and other forms of areal linguistic contact.
As a rule, “pro-Altaicists” claim that “Proto-Altaic” is as reconstructible by means of the classic comparative method as any uncontroversial linguistic family; in support of this view, they have produced several attempts to assemble large bodies of etymological evidence for the hypothesis, backed by systems of regular phonetic correspondences between compared languages. All of these, however, have been heavily criticized by “anti-Altaicists” for lack of methodological rigor, implausibility of proposed phonetic and/or semantic changes, and confusion of recent borrowings with items allegedly inherited from a common ancestor. Despite the validity of many of these objections, it remains unclear whether they are sufficient to completely discredit the hypothesis of a genetic connection between the various branches of “Altaic,” which continues to be actively supported by a small, but stable scholarly minority.
K. A. Jayaseelan
The Dravidian languages have a long-distance reflexive anaphor taa
The Dravidian languages also have reciprocal and distributive anaphors. These have bipartite structures. An example of a Malayalam reciprocal anaphor is oral … ma
A noteworthy fact about the pronominal system of Dravidian is that the third person pronouns come in proximal-distal pairs, the proximal pronoun being used to refer to something nearby and the distal pronoun being used elsewhere.
Japanese is a language where the grammatical status of arguments and adjuncts is marked exclusively by postnominal case markers, and various argument realization patterns can be assessed by their case marking. Since Japanese is categorized as a language of the nominative-accusative type typologically, the unmarked case-marking frame obtained for transitive predicates of the non-stative (or eventive) type is ‘nominative-accusative’. Nevertheless, transitive predicates falling into the stative class often have other case-marking alignments, such as ‘nominative-nominative’ and ‘dative-nominative’. Consequently, Japanese provides much more varying argument realization patterns than those expected from its typological character as a nominative-accusative language.
In point of fact, argument marking can actually be much more elastic and variable, the variations being motivated by several linguistic factors. Arguments often have the option of receiving either syntactic or semantic case, with no difference in the logical or cognitive meaning (as in plural agent and source agent alternations) or depending on the meanings their predicate carry (as in locative alternation). The type of case marking that is not normally available in main clauses can sometimes be obtained in embedded contexts (i.e., in exceptional case marking and small-clause constructions). In complex predicates, including causative and indirect passive predicates, arguments are case-marked differently from their base clauses by virtue of suffixation, and their case patterns follow the mono-clausal case array, despite the fact that they have multi-clausal structures.
Various case marking options are also made available for arguments by grammatical operations. Some processes instantiate a change on the grammatical relations and case marking of arguments with no affixation or embedding. Japanese has the grammatical process of subjectivization, creating extra (non-thematic) major subjects, many of which are identified as instances of ‘possessor raising’ (or argument ascension). There is another type of grammatical process, which reduces the number of arguments by virtue of incorporating a noun into the predicate, as found in the light verb constructions with suru ‘do’ and the complex adjective constructions formed on the negative adjective nai ‘non-existent.’
Alan Reed Libert
Artificial languages—languages which have been consciously designed—have been created for more than 900 years, although the number of them has increased considerably in recent decades, and by the early 21st century the total figure probably was in the thousands. There have been several goals behind their creation; the traditional one (which applies to some of the best-known artificial languages, including Esperanto) is to make international communication easier. Some other well-known artificial languages, such as Klingon, have been designed in connection with works of fiction. Still others are simply personal projects.
A traditional way of classifying artificial languages involves the extent to which they make use of material from natural languages. Those artificial languages which are created mainly by taking material from one or more natural languages are called a posteriori languages (which again include well-known languages such as Esperanto), while those which do not use natural languages as sources are a priori languages (although many a posteriori languages have a limited amount of a priori material, and some a priori languages have a small number of a posteriori components). Between these two extremes are the mixed languages, which have large amounts of both a priori and a posteriori material. Artificial languages can also be classified typologically (as natural languages are) and by how and how much they have been used.
Many linguists seem to be biased against research on artificial languages, although some major linguists of the past have been interested in them.
Bert Le Bruyn, Henriëtte de Swart, and Joost Zwarts
Bare nominals (also called “bare nouns”) are nominal structures without an overt article or other determiner. The distinction between a bare noun and a noun that is part of a larger nominal structure must be made in context: Milk is a bare nominal in I bought milk, but not in I bought the milk. Bare nouns have a limited distribution: In subject or object position, English allows bare mass nouns and bare plurals, but not bare singular count nouns (*I bought table). Bare singular count nouns only appear in special configurations, such as coordination (I bought table and chairs for £182).
From a semantic perspective, it is noteworthy that bare nouns achieve reference without the support of a determiner. A full noun phrase like the cookies refers to the maximal sum of cookies in the context, because of the definite article the. English bare plurals have two main interpretations: In generic sentences they refer to the kind (Cookies are sweet), in episodic sentences they refer to some exemplars of the kind (Cookies are in the cabinet). Bare nouns typically take narrow scope with respect to other scope-bearing operators like negation.
The typology of bare nouns reveals substantial variation, and bare nouns in languages other than English may have different distributions and meanings. But genericity and narrow scope are recurring features in the cross-linguistic study of bare nominals.
Since the start of the Islamic conquest of the Maghreb in the 7th century
Linguistic influence is found on all levels: phonology, morphology, syntax, and lexicon. In those cases where only innovative patterns are shared between the two language groups, it is often difficult to make out where the innovation started; thus the great similarities in syllable structure between Maghrebian Arabic and northern Berber are the result of innovations within both language families, and it is difficult to tell where it started. Morphological influence seems to be mediated exclusively by lexical borrowing. Especially in Berber, this has led to parallel systems in the morphology, where native words always have native morphology, while loans either have nativized morphology or retain Arabic-like patterns. In the lexicon, it is especially Berber that takes over scores of loanwords from Arabic, amounting in one case to over one-third of the basic lexicon as defined by 100-word lists.
Languages from at least five genetically unrelated families are spoken in the Caucasus, but there are only three endemic linguistic families belonging to the region: Kartvelian, West Caucasian, and Northeast Caucasian. These families are rather heterogeneous in terms of the number of languages and the distribution of the speakers across them. The Caucasus represents a situation where languages with millions of speakers have coexisted with one-village languages for hundreds of years, and where multilingualism has always been the norm. The richness of Caucasian languages on every linguistic stratum is dazzling: here we find some of the largest consonant inventories, inflectional systems where the mere number of word forms strains credibility (one of the Caucasian languages, Archi, is claimed to have over a million and a half word forms), and challenging syntactic structures. The typological interest of the Caucasian languages and the challenges they present to linguistic theory lie in different areas. Thus, for Kartvelian languages, the number of factors at play in the verbal system make the task of the production of a correct verbal form far from trivial. West Caucasian languages represent an instance of polysynthetic polypersonal verb inflection, which is unusual not only for Caucasus but for Eurasia in general. East Caucasian languages have large systems of non-finite forms which, unusually, retain the ability to realize agreement in gender and number while their non-finite nature is determined by the inability to head an independent clause and to express certain morpho-syntactic categories such as illocutionary force and evidentiality. Finally, all Caucasian languages are ergative to some extent.
Haihua Pan and Yuli Feng
Cross-linguistic data can add new insights to the development of semantic theories or even induce the shift of the research paradigm. The major topics in semantic studies such as bare noun denotation, quantification, degree semantics, polarity items, donkey anaphora and binding principles, long-distance reflexives, negation, tense and aspects, eventuality are all discussed by semanticists working on the Chinese language. The issues which are of particular interest include and are not limited to: (i) the denotation of Chinese bare nouns; (ii) categorization and quantificational mapping strategies of Chinese quantifier expressions (i.e., whether the behaviors of Chinese quantifier expressions fit into the dichotomy of A-Quantification and D-quantification); (iii) multiple uses of quantifier expressions (e.g., dou) and their implication on the inter-relation of semantic concepts like distributivity, scalarity, exclusiveness, exhaustivity, maximality, etc.; (iv) the interaction among universal adverbials and that between universal adverbials and various types of noun phrases, which may pose a challenge to the Principle of Compositionality; (v) the semantics of degree expressions in Chinese; (vi) the non-interrogative uses of wh-phrases in Chinese and their influence on the theories of polarity items, free choice items, and epistemic indefinites; (vii) how the concepts of E-type pronouns and D-type pronouns are manifested in the Chinese language and whether such pronoun interpretations correspond to specific sentence types; (viii) what devices Chinese adopts to locate time (i.e., does tense interpretation correspond to certain syntactic projections or it is solely determined by semantic information and pragmatic reasoning); (ix) how the interpretation of Chinese aspect markers can be captured by event structures, possible world semantics, and quantification; (x) how the long-distance binding of Chinese ziji ‘self’ and the blocking effect by first and second person pronouns can be accounted for by the existing theories of beliefs, attitude reports, and logophoricity; (xi) the distribution of various negation markers and their correspondence to the semantic properties of predicates with which they are combined; and (xii) whether Chinese topic-comment structures are constrained by both semantic and pragmatic factors or syntactic factors only.
Compound and complex predicates—predicates that consist of two or more lexical items and function as the predicate of a single sentence—present an important class of linguistic objects that pertain to an enormously wide range of issues in the interactions of morphology, phonology, syntax, and semantics. Japanese makes extensive use of compounding to expand a single verb into a complex one. These compounding processes range over multiple modules of the grammatical system, thus straddling the borders between morphology, syntax, phonology, and semantics. In terms of degree of phonological integration, two types of compound predicates can be distinguished. In the first type, called tight compound predicates, two elements from the native lexical stratum are tightly fused and inflect as a whole for tense. In this group, Verb-Verb compound verbs such as arai-nagasu [wash-let.flow] ‘to wash away’ and hare-agaru [sky.be.clear-go.up] ‘for the sky to clear up entirely’ are preponderant in numbers and productivity over Noun-Verb compound verbs such as tema-doru [time-take] ‘to take a lot of time (to finish).’
The second type, called loose compound predicates, takes the form of “Noun + Predicate (Verbal Noun [VN] or Adjectival Noun [AN]),” as in post-syntactic compounds like [sinsya : koonyuu] no okyakusama ([new.car : purchase] GEN customers) ‘customer(s) who purchase(d) a new car,’ where the symbol “:” stands for a short phonological break. Remarkably, loose compounding allows combinations of a transitive VN with its agent subject (external argument), as in [Supirubaagu : seisaku] no eiga ([Spielberg : produce] GEN film) ‘a film/films that Spielberg produces/produced’—a pattern that is illegitimate in tight compounds and has in fact been considered universally impossible in the world’s languages in verbal compounding and noun incorporation.
In addition to a huge variety of tight and loose compound predicates, Japanese has an additional class of syntactic constructions that as a whole function as complex predicates. Typical examples are the light verb construction, where a clause headed by a VN is followed by the light verb suru ‘do,’ as in Tomodati wa sinsya o koonyuu (sae) sita [friend TOP new.car ACC purchase (even) did] ‘My friend (even) bought a new car’ and the human physical attribute construction, as in Sensei wa aoi me o site-iru [teacher TOP blue eye ACC do-ing] ‘My teacher has blue eyes.’ In these constructions, the nominal phrases immediately preceding the verb suru are semantically characterized as indefinite and non-referential and reject syntactic operations such as movement and deletion. The semantic indefiniteness and syntactic immobility of the NPs involved are also observed with a construction composed of a human subject and the verb aru ‘be,’ as Gakkai ni wa oozei no sankasya ga atta ‘There was a large number of participants at the conference.’ The constellation of such “word-like” properties shared by these compound and complex predicates poses challenging problems for current theories of morphology-syntax-semantics interactions with regard to such topics as lexical integrity, morphological compounding, syntactic incorporation, semantic incorporation, pseudo-incorporation, and indefinite/non-referential NPs.
Creole languages have a curious status in linguistics, and at the same time they often have very low prestige in the societies in which they are spoken. These two facts may be related, in part because they circle around notions such as “derived from” or “simplified” instead of “original.” Rather than simply taking the notion of “creole” as a given and trying to account for its properties and origin, this essay tries to explore the ways scholars have dealt with creoles. This involves, in particular, trying to see whether we can define “creoles” as a meaningful class of languages. There is a canonical list of languages that most specialists would not hesitate to call creoles, but the boundaries of the list and the criteria for being listed are vague. It also becomes difficult to distinguish sharply between pidgins and creoles, and likewise the boundaries between some languages claimed to be creoles and their lexifiers are rather vague.
Several possible criteria to distinguish creoles will be discussed. Simply defining them as languages of which we know the point of birth may be a necessary, but not sufficient, criterion. Displacement is also an important criterion, necessary but not sufficient. Mixture is often characteristic of creoles, but not crucial, it is argued. Essential in any case is substantial restructuring of some lexifier language, which may take the form of morphosyntactic simplification, but it is dangerous to assume that simplification always has the same outcome. The combination of these criteria—time of genesis, displacement, mixture, restructuring—contributes to the status of a language as creole, but “creole” is far from a unified notion. There turn out to be several types of creoles, and then a whole bunch of creole-like languages, and they differ in the way these criteria are combined with respect to them.
Thus the proposal is made here to stop looking at creoles as a separate class, but take them as special cases of the general phenomenon that the way languages emerge and are used to a considerable extent determines their properties. This calls for a new, socially informed typology of languages, which will involve all kinds of different types of languages, including pidgins and creoles.
William F. Hanks
Deictic expressions, like English ‘this, that, here, and there’ occur in all known human languages. They are typically used to individuate objects in the immediate context in which they are uttered, by pointing at them so as to direct attention to them. The object, or demonstratum is singled out as a focus, and a successful act of deictic reference is one that results in the Speaker (Spr) and Addressee (Adr) attending to the same referential object. Thus,
(1)A:Oh, there’sthat guy again (pointing)B:Oh yeah, now I see him (fixing gaze on the guy)
(2)A:I’ll have that one over there (pointing to a dessert on a tray)B:This? (touching pastry with tongs)A:yeah, that looks greatB:Here ya’ go (handing pastry to customer)
In an exchange like (1), A’s utterance spotlights the individual guy, directing B’s attention to him, and B’s response (both verbal and ocular) displays that he has recognized him. In (2) A’s utterance individuates one pastry among several, B’s response makes sure he’s attending to the right one, A reconfirms and B completes by presenting the pastry to him. If we compare the two examples, it is clear that the underscored deictics can pick out or present individuals without describing them. In a similar way, “I, you, he/she, we, now, (back) then,” and their analogues are all used to pick out individuals (persons, objects, or time frames), apparently without describing them. As a corollary of this semantic paucity, individual deictics vary extremely widely in the kinds of object they may properly denote: ‘here’ can denote anything from the tip of your nose to planet Earth, and ‘this’ can denote anything from a pastry to an upcoming day (this Tuesday). Under the same circumstance, ‘this’ and ‘that’ can refer appropriately to the same object, depending upon who is speaking, as in (2). How can forms that are so abstract and variable over contexts be so specific and rigid in a given context? On what parameters do deictics and deictic systems in human languages vary, and how do they relate to grammar and semantics more generally?
Dene-Yeniseian is a proposed genealogical link between the widespread North American language family Na-Dene (Athabaskan, Eyak, Tlingit) and Yeniseian in central Siberia, represented today by the critically endangered Ket and several documented extinct relatives. The Dene-Yeniseian hypothesis is an old idea, but since 2006 new evidence supporting it has been published in the form of shared morphological systems and a modest number of lexical cognates showing interlocking sound correspondences. Recent data from human genetics and folklore studies also increasingly indicate the plausibility of a prehistoric (probably Late Pleistocene) connection between populations in northwestern North America and the traditionally Yeniseian-speaking areas of south-central Siberia. At present, Dene-Yeniseian cannot be accepted as a proven language family until the purported evidence supporting the lexical and morphological correspondences between Yeniseian and Na-Dene is expanded and tested by further critical analysis and their relationship to Old World families such as Sino-Tibetan and Caucasian, as well as the isolate Burushaski (all earlier proposed as relatives of Yeniseian, and sometimes also of Na-Dene), becomes clearer.
Diglossia refers to a situation where two linguistic varieties coexist within a given speech community. One variety, labeled the ‘high variety’, is used in formal domains including education, while the other variety, labeled the ‘low variety’, is used principally in instances of informal extemporaneous communication. The domains of use, however, are not strictly separate and especially so with the increase in electronic modes of communication. This results in what has been described as diglossic code-switching, and the gradual encroaching of, in the case under consideration here, vernacular Arabic upon the domains of use of Standard Arabic.
While the genetic relationship between the two varieties is central in the definition of a classical diglossic situation as in the case of Arabic, the concept of diglossia has often been extended in the literature to cover situations of a functional distribution between languages that are genetically distant, such as with the situation of Spanish and Guaraní in Paraguay.
In North Africa, vernacular Arabic is in a classical diglossic distribution with Standard Arabic, while the Berber languages are often described as existing in a situation of extended diglossia with Arabic. However, distinguishing between diglossia as it exists between the Arabic dialects and Standard Arabic and the situation of bilingualism that involves Arabic, Berber, and European languages provides the best framework for describing the linguistic situation in North Africa. Diglossia is a key element in understanding the mechanisms of the region’s language contact and change as it plays a central role in shaping language attitude, language policy, and language planning.
Chris Rogers and Lyle Campbell
The reduction of the world’s linguistic diversity has accelerated over the last century and correlates to a loss of knowledge, collective and individual identity, and social value. Often a language is pushed out of use before scholars and language communities have a chance to document or preserve this linguistic heritage. Many are concerned for this loss, believing it to be one of the most serious issues facing humanity today. To address the issues concomitant with an endangered language, we must know how to define “endangerment,” how different situations of endangerment can be compared, and how each language fits into the cultural practices of individuals. The discussion about endangered languages focuses on addressing the needs, causes, and consequences of this loss.
Concern over endangered languages is not just an academic catch phrase. It involves real people and communities struggling with real social, political, and economic issues. To understand the causes and consequence of language endangerment for these individuals and communities requires a multifaceted perspective on the place of each language in the lives of their users. The loss of a language affects not only the world’s linguistic diversity but also an individual’s social identity, and a community’s sense of itself and its history.
The Eskimo-Aleut language family consists of two quite different branches, Aleut and Eskimo. The latter consists of Yupik and Inuit languages. It is spoken from the eastern coast of Russia to Greenland. The family is thought to have developed and diverged in Alaska between 4,000 and 6,000 years ago, although recent findings in a variety of fields suggest a more complex prehistory than previously assumed. The language family shares certain characteristics, including polysynthetic word formation, an originally ergative-absolutive case system (now substantially modified in Aleut), SOV word order, and more or less similar phonological systems across the language family, involving voiceless stop and voiced fricative consonant series often in alternation, and an originally four-vowel system frequently reduced to three. The languages in the family have undergone substantial postcolonial contact effects, especially evident in (although not restricted to) loanwords from the respective colonial languages. There is extensive language documentation for all languages, although not necessarily all dialects. Most languages and dialects are severely endangered today, with the exception of Eastern Canadian Inuit and Greenlandic (Kalaallisut). There are also theoretical studies of the languages in many linguistic fields, although the languages are unevenly covered, and there are still many more studies of the phonologies and syntaxes of the respective languages than other aspects of grammar.
Eva Buchi and Steven N. Dworkin
This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Linguistics. Please check back later for the full article.
Within the field of linguistics, etymology is the only subdiscipline that is uniquely historical in its study of the relevant linguistic data. It is one of the oldest fields in Romance linguistics. The scholar credited with establishing Romance linguistics as a scholarly discipline, Friedrich Diez (1794–1876) authored both the first comparative Romance historical grammar (his three-volume Grammatik der Romanischen Sprachen [1836–1844]) and the first pan-Romance etymological dictionary (his Etymologisches Wörterbuch der Romanischen Sprachen ). A similar combination, illustrating the indissoluble link between etymology and historical grammar (especially the study of sound change), can be seen in the work of Wilhelm Meyer-Lübke (1861–1936), author of a four-volume Grammatik der Romanischen Sprachen (1890–1902) and of the last complete pan-Romance etymological dictionary, the Romanisches Etymologisches Wörterbuch (3d definitive edition, 1935).
The concept of etymology as practiced by Romanists has changed over the last 100 years. At the outset, Romance etymologists took as their brief the search for and identification of individual word origins. Starting in the early 20th century, various specialists began to view etymology as the preparation of the complete history of all facets of the evolution over time and space of the words or lexical families under study. Identification of the underlying base was only the first step in the process. From this perspective, etymology constitutes an essential element of diachronic lexicology, which covers all formal, semantic, and syntactic facets of a word’s evolution, including, if appropriate, the circumstances leading to its demise and replacement.
Practitioners of Romance etymology tend to study the history of individual words or word families in specific Romance languages rather than across the entire family. Almost every Romance language and many of their regional varieties have at least one etymological dictionary devoted to the history of its vocabulary (or at least to the identification of relevant word origins), the most notable being such multi-volumed works as the Französisches Etymologisches Wörterbuch (1922–2002), the Lessico Etimilogico Italiano (1979–), the Diccionario crítico etimológico castellano e hispánico (1980–1991), and the Diccionari etimològic i complimenari de la llengua catalana (1980–2001). The last complete pan-Romance dictionary remains the afore-cited third edition of Meyer-Lübke’s Romanisches etymologisches Wörterbuch.
Although originally coined as a riposte to the Neogrammarian view of sound change, Jules Gilliéron’s (1854–1926) dictum, “each word has its own history,” applies equally well to etymology. Yakov Malkiel (1914–1998), one of the leading writers on questions of method and practice in Romance etymology, has discussed the unique and complex nature of etymological solutions. As a result of the emphasis on individual problems and solutions, Romance etymology has not lent itself to the formulation of theories on the nature of lexical change, although there was in the past no shortage of literature on questions of methodology.
Although specialists continue to work on language-specific etymological questions, etymology is not currently at the forefront of work in Romance historical linguistics, a situation that may result, in part, from its lack of engagement with broad theoretical issues. Most studies still appear in the form of journal articles or Festschrift contributions. There is currently underway a new pan-Romance project, the Dictionnaire étymologique Roman (DéRom), with a new (and controversial) methodological underpinning, namely the rigorous application to the Romance data of comparative reconstruction to capture more accurately the phonological and morphological reality of proto-Romance (in essence a register of spoken Latin) and the semantic scope of the etymological base. This project has reawakened an interest in Romance etymology among a new generation of Romanists. Indeed, to remain vital and relevant within the framework of Romance linguistics, etymology must go beyond the details of individual lexical histories and make an effort to link its findings to our understanding of the nature and processes of language change.