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Computational models of human sentence comprehension help researchers reason about how grammar might actually be used in the understanding process. Taking a cognitivist approach, this article relates computational psycholinguistics to neighboring fields (such as linguistics), surveys important precedents, and catalogs open problems.
Gemma Rigau and Manuel Pérez Saldanya
This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Linguistics. Please check back later for the full article.
Catalan is a Romance language closely related to the Gallo-Romance languages. However, from the 15th century onward, it has adopted some linguistic solutions that have brought it closer to the Ibero-Romance languages, due to close contact with Spanish.
Catalan exhibits five main dialects: Central, Northern, and Balearic, which are ascribed to the Eastern dialectal branch; and Northwestern and Valencian, which belong to the Western one. Central, Northern, and Northwestern Catalan are historical dialects that derived directly from the evolution of the Latin spoken in Old Catalonia (the Catalan-speaking territory located on both sides of the Pyrenees). Conversely, Valencian and Balearic are dialects resulting from the territorial expansion of the old Crown of Aragon in the Middle Ages.
As a Gallo-Romance language, Catalan lost all final unstressed vowels different from a (
Some of the most distinctive morphosyntactic features of Catalan are the following:
(1) Catalan is the only Romance language that exhibits a periphrastic past tense expressed by means of the verb anar “go” + infinitive (Ahir vas cantar “Yesterday you sang”). The periphrastic past coexists with a simple past (Ahir cantares “Yesterday you sang”). Conversely, Catalan does not have a periphrastic future with the movement verb go.
(2) Depending on the dialect, proper names may take the definite article (el, la) or a specific personal article (en, na from the vocative Latin forms
(3) Demonstratives show a two-term system in most Catalan dialects: aquí “here” (proximal) / allà or allí “there” (distal); but in Valencian and some Northwestern dialects there is a three-term system. In contrast with other languages with a two-term system, Catalan expresses proximity both to the speaker and to the addressee with the proximal demonstrative (Aquí on jo sóc “Here where I am”; Aquí on tu ets “There where you are”). The demonstrative systems show the same deictic properties as the movement verbs anar “go” and venir “come” in Catalan dialects.
(4) To express possession by means of a pronoun or a determiner, Catalan may use the genitive clitic en (En conec l’autor “I know its autor”), the genitive personal pronoun (el nostre fill “our son”), the dative clitic (Li rento la cara “I wash his/her face”) or the definite article (Tancaré els ulls “I will close my eyes”).
(5) Existential constructions may contain the predicate haver-hi “there be,” consisting of the locative clitic hi and the verb haver “have” (Hi ha tres estudiants “There are three students”), the copulative verb ser “be” (Tres estudiants ja són aquí “Three students are already here”) or other verbs, whose behavior can be close to an unaccusative verb when preceded by the clitic hi (Aquí hi treballen forners “There are some bakers working here”).
(6) The negative polarity adverb no “not” may be reinforced by the adverbs pas or cap, in some dialects, and it can co-occur with negative polarity items (ningú “anybody/nobody,” res “anything/nothing,” mai “ever/never,” etc.). These polarity items exhibit negative agreement (No hi ha mai ningú “Nobody is ever here”). However, negative polarity items may express positive meaning in some non-declarative syntactic contexts (Si mai vens, truca’m “If you ever come, call me”).
(7) Catalan dialects are rich in yes-no interrogative and confirmative particles (que, o, oi, no, eh, etc.: (Que) plou? “Is it raining?,” Oi que plou? “It’s raining, isn’t it?”
Morphological change refers to change(s) in the structure of words. Since morphology is interrelated with phonology, syntax, and semantics, changes affecting the structure and properties of words should be seen as changes at the respective interfaces of grammar.
On a more abstract level, this point relates to linguistic theory. Looking at the history of morphological theory, mainly from a generative perspective, it becomes evident that despite a number of papers that have contributed to a better understanding of the role of morphology in grammar, both from a synchronic and diachronic point of view, it is still seen as a “Cinderella subject” today. So there is still a need for further research in this area.
Generally, the field of diachronic morphology has been dealing with the identification of the main types of change, their mechanisms as well as the causes of morphological change, the latter of which are traditionally categorized as internal and external change. Some authors take a more general view and state the locus of change can be seen in the transmission of grammar from one generation to the next (abductive change). Concerning the main types of change, we can say that many of them occur at the interfaces with morphology: changes on the phonology–morphology interface like i-mutation, changes on the syntax–morphology interface like the rise of inflectional morphology, and changes on the semantics–morphology like the rise of derivational suffixes. Examples from the history of English (which in this article are sometimes complemented with examples from German and the Romance languages) illustrate that sometimes changes indeed cross component boundaries, at least once (the history of the linking-s in German has even become a prosodic phenomenon). Apart from these interface phenomena, it is common lore to assume morphology-internal changes, analogy being the most prominent example.
A phenomenon regularly discussed in the context of morphological change is grammaticalization. Some authors have posed the question of whether such special types of change really exist or whether they are, after all, general processes of change that should be modeled in a general theory of linguistic change. Apart from this pressing question, further aspects that need to be addressed in the future are the modularity of grammar and the place of morphology.
Some of the basic terminology for the major entities in morphological study is introduced, focusing on the word and elements within the word. This is done in a way which is deliberately introductory in nature and omits a great deal of detail about the elements that are introduced.
This chapter deals with the discussion that has concerned and concerns the very concept of ‘word’. It considers different definitions which have been advanced according different theoretical positions. Thereafter, it examines various phenomena which are strictly bound to ‘word’: word compounds and multi-word expressions, word formation rules, word classes (or Parts-of-Speech), splinters, univerbation and, finally, word blendings
Malka Rappaport Hovav
Theories of argument realization typically associate verbs with an argument structure and provide algorithms for the mapping of argument structure to morphosyntactic realization. A major challenge to such theories comes from the fact that most verbs have more than one option for argument realization. Sometimes a particular range of realization options for a verb is systematic in that it is consistently available to a relatively well-defined class of verbs; it is then considered to be one of a set of recognized
Phonotactics is the study of restrictions on possible sound sequences in a language. In any language, some phonotactic constraints can be stated without reference to morphology, but many of the more nuanced phonotactic generalizations do make use of morphosyntactic and lexical information. At the most basic level, many languages mark edges of words in some phonological way. Different phonotactic constraints hold of sounds that belong to the same morpheme as opposed to sounds that are separated by a morpheme boundary. Different phonotactic constraints may apply to morphemes of different types (such as roots versus affixes). There are also correlations between phonotactic shapes and following certain morphosyntactic and phonological rules, which may correlate to syntactic category, declension class, or etymological origins.
Approaches to the interaction between phonotactics and morphology address two questions: (1) how to account for rules that are sensitive to morpheme boundaries and structure and (2) determining the status of phonotactic constraints associated with only some morphemes. Theories differ as to how much morphological information phonology is allowed to access. In some theories of phonology, any reference to the specific identities or subclasses of morphemes would exclude a rule from the domain of phonology proper. These rules are either part of the morphology or are not given the status of a rule at all. Other theories allow the phonological grammar to refer to detailed morphological and lexical information. Depending on the theory, phonotactic differences between morphemes may receive direct explanations or be seen as the residue of historical change and not something that constitutes grammatical knowledge in the speaker’s mind.
Olaf Koeneman and Hedde Zeijlstra
Many, and according to some estimates most, of the world’s languages allow the subject of the sentence to be unexpressed, a phenomenon known as ‘pro(noun) drop’. In a language like Italian, Gianni parla ‘Gianni speaks’ and Parla ‘(S)he speaks’ are both grammatical sentences. This is in contrast to a language like English, in which not expressing the subject leads to an ungrammatical sentence: *Speaks. The difference between being and not being able to leave the subject unexpressed (or, to put it differently, to have a ‘null subject’) has been related to the richness of the verbal paradigm of a language. Whereas Italian has six different agreement endings in the present tense, English only marks the third-person singular differently (with an -s affix, as in John speak-s). Although this correlation with rich agreement is pervasive, it does not successfully capture all the cross-linguistic variation that is attested. Languages like Japanese and Chinese, for instance, allow unexpressed arguments (including subjects) in the absence of any agreement. For these languages, it has been observed that their pronominal paradigms tend to have transparent, agglutinative nominal morphology, expressing case or number features. Trickier perhaps are languages that allow pro drop under certain conditions only. Some languages, such as Finnish or colloquial variants of German, allow it in certain but not all person/number contexts. Other languages, such as Icelandic, allow the subject to be unexpressed only if it is an expletive, the counterpart of English it (cf. It is raining) or there (There is a man in the garden). For these so-called partial pro drop languages, it is still unclear if one can relate their more restricted absence of overt subjects to other observable properties that they possess.
Cognitive linguistics and morphology bear the promise of a happy marriage. Cognitive linguistics provides theoretical concepts and analytical tools for empirical analysis, while morphology offers fertile ground for testing hypotheses and refining core concepts. It is no wonder, then, that numerous contributions to the field of morphology have been couched in cognitive linguistics, and that morphological phenomena have figured prominently in cognitive linguistics.
Cognitive linguistics is a family of closely related frameworks that share the idea that language should be analyzed in terms of what is known about the mind and brain from disciplines other than linguistics. Cognitive linguistics furthermore adopts a semiotic perspective, claiming that the raison d’êtreof language is to convey meaning. Another central tenet is the usage-based approach, the idea that grammar emerges through usage, which implies a strong focus on language use in cognitive linguistics.
An example of how cognitive linguistics relates morphology to general principles of cognition is the application of general principles of categorization to morphology. Morphological categories are analyzed as radial categories, that is, networks structured around a prototype. Such category networks can be comprised of the allomorphs of a morpheme or be used to model theoretical concepts such as paradigm and inflection class.
The radial category is also instrumental in analyzing the meaning of morphological concepts. Rather than assuming abstract invariant meanings for morphemes, cognitive linguistics analyzes the meaning of morphological phenomena through networks of interrelated meanings. The relationships among the nodes in a category network are analyzed in terms of general cognitive processes, such as metaphor, metonymy, and blending.
The usage-based approach of cognitive linguistics manifests itself in the strong focus on frequency effects in morphology. It is argued that frequency is an important structuring principle in cognition, and that frequent forms have a privileged status in a morphological paradigm.
Dene-Yeniseian is a putative family consisting of two branches: Yeniseian in central Siberia and Na-Dene (Tlingit-Eyak-Athabaskan) in northwestern North America. Yeniseian contains a single living representative, Ket, as well as the extinct Yugh, Kott, Assan, Arin, and Pumpokol languages. Na-Dene contains Tlingit, spoken mainly in the Alaskan Panhandle, and a second branch divided equidistantly between the recently extinct Eyak language of coastal Alaska and the widespread Athabaskan subfamily, which originally contained more than 40 distinct languages, some now extinct. Athabaskan was once spoken throughout interior Alaska (Dena’ina, Koyukon) and most of northwestern Canada (Slave, Witsuwit’en, Tsuut’ina), with enclaves in California (Hupa), Oregon (Tolowa), Washington (Kwalhioqua-Clatskanie), and the American Southwest (Navajo, Apache). Both families are typologically unusual in having a strongly prefixing verb and nominal possessive prefixes, but postpositions rather than prepositions. The finite verb arose from the amalgamation of an auxiliary and a main verb, both with its own agreement prefixes and tense-mood-aspect suffixes, creating a rigid, mostly prefixing template. The word-final suffixes largely elided in Yeniseian but merged with the ancient verb root in Na-Dene to create a series of allophones called stem sets. Na-Dene innovated a unique complex of verb prefixes called “classifiers” on the basis of certain inherited agreement and tense-mood-aspect markers; all of these morphemes have cognates in Yeniseian, where they did not innovate into a single complex. Metathesis and reanalysis of old morphological material is quite prevalent in the most ancient core verb morphology of both families, while new prefixal or suffixal slots added onto the verb’s periphery represent innovations that distinguish the individual daughter branches within each family. Other shared Dene-Yeniseian morphology includes possessive constructions, directional words, and an intricate formula for deriving action nominals from finite verb stems.
Yeniseian languages have been strongly affected by the exclusively suffixing languages brought north to Siberia by reindeer breeders during the past two millennia. In modern Ket the originally prefixing verb has largely become suffixing, and possessive prefixes have evolved into clitics that prefer to attach to any available preceding word. Na-Dene languages were likewise influenced by traits prevalent across the Americas. Athabaskan, for example, developed a system of obviation in third-person agreement marking and elaborated an array of distinct verb forms reflecting the shape, animacy, number, or consistency of transitive object or intransitive subject. Features motivated by language contact differ between Tlingit, Eyak, and Athabaskan, suggesting they arose after the breakup of Na-Dene, as the various branches spread across northwestern North America.
The study of Dene-Yeniseian morphology contributes to historical-comparative linguistics, contact linguistics, and also to the diachronic study of complex morphology. In particular, comparing Yeniseian and Na-Dene verb structure reveals the prominence of metathesis and reanalysis in processes of language change. Dene-Yeniseian is noteworthy not only for its wide geographic spread and for the effects of language contact on each separate family, but also for the opportunity to trace the evolution of uncommon morphological structures.
This chapter is an overview of the structure of words belonging to the major lexical categories (nouns and verbs) in Niger-Congo languages, with an emphasis on the morphological patterns typically found in the core Niger-Congo languages commonly considered as relatively conservative in their morphology: rich systems of verb morphology, both inflectional and derivational, and systems of gender-number marking with a relative high number of genders, and no possibility to isolate number marking from gender marking. As regards formal aspects of the structure of words, as a rule, verb forms are morphologically more complex than nominal forms. The highest degree of synthesis is found in the verbal morphology of some Bantu languages. Both prefixes and suffixes are found. Cumulative exponence is typically found in gender-number marking. Multiple exponence is very common in the verbal morphology of Bantu language but rather uncommon in the remainder of Niger-Congo. Consonant alternations are common in several groups of Niger-Congo languages, and various types of tonal alternations play an important role in the morphology of many Niger-Congo languages. The categories most commonly expressed in the inflectional morphology of nouns are gender, number, definiteness, and possession. The inflectional morphology of verbs commonly expresses agreement, TAM, and polarity, and is also widely used to express interclausal dependencies and information structure. As regards word formation, the situation is not uniform across the language groups included in Niger-Congo, but rich systems of verb-to-verb derivation are typically found in the Niger-Congo languages whose morphological patterns are commonly viewed as conservative.
This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Linguistics. Please check back later for the full article.
Uralic languages are synthetic, agglutinative languages, overwhelmingly suffixing, and they have a rich inflectional morphology in both the nominal and the verbal domain. The Uralic family includes about 30 languages spoken in Europe and in North Eurasia and can be divided in two branches: Finno-Ugric and Samoyed languages. The differentiation of the branches and subgroups is very significant; thus, these general morphological features show a notable variation.
Agglutinating is a general feature, but there are some synchretisms, fusions, and suppletions, and all languages have postpositions beside suffixes.
Nouns and pronouns are inflected for number (singular, plural, and in some languages dual), person, and case but not for gender. All Uralic languages have a case system. However, the number and the nature of cases show a great variety: from three to 18 cases including grammatical cases (nominative, accusative, and genitive) and other, spatial and non-spatial cases. A characteristic feature of these languages is the tripartite location system. The system of personal possessive markers is particularly interesting: The person and the number of the possessor and the number of the thing possessed can be marked by suffixes. Combining the expression of possession and case, the morphotactic rules are different among the languages. Comparative and superlative adjectives are also formed by inflection.
Verbs are inflected for person/number, tense, and mood. Uralic languages generally do not have the passive voice. A characteristic feature of Ugric languages is the double conjugation of transitive verbs depending on the definiteness of the direct object. As verbal aspect is not an inflectional category, several languages use derivational affixes, namely, a rich system of preverbs in expressing aspect and Aktionsart.
Matthew J. Carroll
This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Linguistics. Please check back later for the full article.
The Yam Languages are a primary language family that is spoken in Southern New Guinea across an area spanning around 180 km west to east across both the Indonesian province of Papua and Papua New Guinea.
The Yam languages are morphologically remarkable for their complex verbal inflection characterized by a tendency to distributed inflectional exponence across multiple sites. Under this pattern of distributed exponence, segmental formatives, that is, affixes, are identifiable but assigning any coherent semantics to these elements is often difficult and instead the inflectional meanings can only be determined once multiple formatives have been combined. This raises interesting theoretical and typological questions about monotonic notions of morpheme and the isomorphic alignment of meaning and form. Yam languages are known for their complex inflectional morphology but display comparatively impoverished word formation or derivational morphology.
Nominal inflection is characterized by moderately large inventories of cases, the largest displaying 16 cases. Nouns may also be marked for number but this is typically restricted to certain case values. Verbal paradigms are also large; verbs mark agreement with up to two arguments in person, number, and at times natural gender. Additionally, languages display numerous tense, aspect, and mood values; this typically involves at least two aspect values, multiple past tense values, and some level of grammatical mood marking. Verbs may also be marked for diathesis, direction, and/or pluractionality.
Architecturally, nominal inflection is rather straightforward with nominal taking case suffixes or clitics with little to no inflectional classes. The true complexity lies in the organization of the verbal inflectional system and the prevalence of distributed exponence. While each language exploits distributed exponence in a unique manner, there are a number of architectural generalizations that can be made across the family. The languages display a remarkably similar inflectional template for verbs and inflectional classes are organized along similar lines. The primary inflectional class divide is between prefixing and ambifixing verbs. Prefixing verbs mark their agreement with a prefix only while ambifixing verbs mark agreement with the suffix, for monovalent clauses, or with both a prefix and a suffix for bivalent verbs. The verbal template involves these agreement prefixes and suffixes that also mark tense, aspect, and mood. The most prominent of those are a set of agreement prefixes known as undergoer prefixes, which mark tense, aspect, and mood in a non-transparent or morphomic manner.
It has been an ongoing issue within generative linguistics how to properly analyze morpho-phonological processes. Morpho-phonological processes typically have exceptions, but nonetheless they are often productive. Such productive, but exceptionful, processes are difficult to analyze, since grammatical rules or constraints are normally invoked in the analysis of a productive pattern, whereas exceptions undermine the validity of the rules and constraints. In addition, productivity of a morpho-phonological process may be gradient, possibly reflecting the relative frequency of the relevant pattern in the lexicon. Simple lexical listing of exceptions as suppletive forms would not be sufficient to capture such gradient productivity of a process with exceptions. It is then necessary to posit grammatical rules or constraints even for exceptionful processes as long as they are at least in part productive. Moreover, the productivity can be correctly estimated only when the domain of rule application is correctly identified. Consequently, a morpho-phonological process cannot be properly analyzed unless we possess both the correct description of its application conditions and the appropriate stochastic grammatical mechanisms to capture its productivity.
The same issues arise in the analysis of morpho-phonological processes in Korean, in particular, n-insertion, sai-siot, and vowel harmony. Those morpho-phonological processes have many exceptions and variations, which make them look quite irregular and unpredictable. However, they have at least a certain degree of productivity. Moreover, the variable application of each process is still systematic in that various factors, phonological, morphosyntactic, sociolinguistic, and processing, contribute to the overall probability of rule application. Crucially, grammatical rules and constraints, which have been proposed within generative linguistics to analyze categorical and exceptionless phenomena, may form an essential part of the analysis of the morpho-phonological processes in Korean.
For an optimal analysis of each of the morpho-phonological processes in Korean, the correct conditions and domains for its application need to be identified first, and its exact productivity can then be measured. Finally, the appropriate stochastic grammatical mechanisms need to be found or developed in order to capture the measured productivity.
The Dravidian languages, spoken mainly in southern India and south Asia, were identified as a separate language family between 1816 and 1856. Four of the 26 Dravidian languages, namely Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, and Malayalam, have long literary traditions, the earliest dating back to the 1st century
A typical characteristic of Dravidian, which is also an areal characteristic of south Asian languages, is that experiencers and inalienable possessors are case-marked dative. Another is the serialization of verbs by the use of participles, and the use of light verbs to indicate aspectual meaning such as completion, self- or nonself-benefaction, and reflexivization. Subjects, and arguments in general (e.g., direct and indirect objects), may be nonovert. So is the copula, except in Malayalam.
A number of properties of Dravidian are of interest from a universalist perspective, beginning with the observation that not all syntactic categories N, V, A, and P are primitive. Dravidian postpositions are nominal or verbal in origin. A mere 30 Proto-Dravidian roots have been identified as adjectival; the adjectival function is performed by inflected verbs (participles) and nouns. The nominal encoding of experiences (e.g., as fear rather than afraid/afeared) and the absence of the verb have arguably correlate with the appearance of dative case on experiencers. “Possessed” or genitive-marked N may fulfill the adjectival function, as noticed for languages like Ulwa (a less exotic parallel is the English of-possessive construction: circles of light, cloth of gold). More uniquely perhaps, Kannada instantiates dative-marked N as predicative adjectives. A recent argument that Malayalam verbs originate as dative-marked N suggests both that N is the only primitive syntactic category, and the seminal role of the dative case.
Other important aspects of Dravidian morphosyntax to receive attention are anaphors and pronouns (not discussed here; see separate article, anaphora in Dravidian), in particular the long-distance anaphor taan and the verbal reflexive morpheme; question (wh-) words and the question/disjunction morphemes, which combine in a semantically transparent way to form quantifier words like someone; the use of reduplication for distributive quantification; and the occurrence of ‘monstrous agreement’ (first-person agreement in clauses embedded under a speech predicate, triggered by matrix third-person antecedents).
Traditionally, agreement has been considered the finiteness marker in Dravidian. Modals, and a finite form of negation, also serve to mark finiteness. The nonfinite verbal complement to the finite negative may give the negative clause a tense interpretation. Dravidian thus attests matrix nonfinite verbs in finite clauses, challenging the equation of finiteness with tense.
The Dravidian languages are considered wh-in situ languages. However, wh-words in Malayalam appear in a pre-verbal position in the unmarked word order. The apparently rightward movement of some wh-arguments could be explained by assuming a universal VO order, and wh-movement to a preverbal focus phrase. An alternative analysis is that the verb undergoes V-to-C movement.
George van Driem
Several language families and a few language isolates are represented in the Himalayas, the world’s greatest massif, running a length of over 3,600 km. The most well-represented language family in this region happens to be the Trans-Himalayan language family, whose very centre of gravity and phylogenetic diversity is situated within the Eastern Himalaya. This most populous language family on our planet in terms of numbers of speakers used to be known as Tibeto-Burman but, in some circles, the family formerly also went by the names “Indo-Chinese” or “Sino-Tibetan”, the latter two labels actually designating empirically unsupported and now obsolete models of language relationship. The study of Trans-Himalayan historical grammar began with Brian Houghton Hodgson in the 1830s, who during this time served at Kathmandu as the British Resident to the Kingdom of Nepal. Periodically, minor studies devoted attention to several of the more salient morphosyntactic phenomena of Trans-Himalayan historical grammar, but Stuart Wolfenden contributed the first major monograph to the subject in the 1920s. Finally, the historical morphosyntax of the Trans-Himalayan language family came to be the focus of numerous linguistic studies from the 1970s onward, and since that time our understanding of the historical grammar of the language family has changed drastically.
As ever more languages out of the hundreds of previously undocumented Trans-Himalayan tongues came to be described and analysed in great detail, it came to be understood that the flamboyant verbal agreement morphology observed in languages such as the Kiranti languages of eastern Nepal and the rGyalrongic languages of southwestern China were neither grammatically innovative nor represented typological flukes, but instead represented the most grammatically conservative languages within the entire language family. Subsequently, cognate inflectional systems or vestiges of cognate conjugational morphology were discovered in most other branches of the language family as well. The geographical centre, as well as the centre of phylogenetic diversity of the Trans-Himalayan language family, was identified as the highland arc of the Eastern Himalaya. Sinitic languages, although representing by far the most populous single branch of the Trans-Himalayan family, were now understood as constituting just one out of many subgroups, not more divergent from other branches than any one of the four dozen other subgroups making up the language family. The various types of epistemic marking systems observed sporadically throughout the region were shown to be secondary innovations, reflecting a great variety of semantically distinct language-specific grammatical categories. Particularly, languages showing the typology of the Loloish or Sinitic type were shown to be innovative in their grammar, having lost much of the original Trans-Himalayan morphosyntax.
Pierpaolo Di Carlo, Jeff Good, and Rachel Ojong Diba
The pervasiveness of multilingualism throughout the African continent has led it to be viewed as Africa’s “lingua franca.” Nevertheless, sociolinguistic research on this topic has concentrated mostly on urbanized areas, even though the majority of Africans still live in rural regions, and rural multilingualism is clearly of much older provenance than its urban counterpart. In urban domains, individual language repertoires are dominated by the interplay between European ex-colonial languages, African lingua francas, and local languages, and language ideologies emphasize the ordering of languages in a hierarchy that is tied to social status. The situation in rural areas is clearly distinct, though it has yet to be thoroughly investigated.
Early work on language use in rural Africa tended to background the presence of multilingualism and was dominated by an approach that viewed each community (or “tribe”) as having its own language. Thanks to the progressive adoption of ethnographic methods of inquiry, facilitated by language documentation research especially since the beginning of the 21st century, it has been possible to more effectively study areas of high linguistic diversity in West and Central Africa which demonstrate that multilingualism plays an integral role in structuring social relations. Available case studies document the presence of individuals with linguistic repertoires that are primarily oriented around local languages, ideologies, and practices and that do not clearly fit with what is known from urban environments. The most important theme that emerges from this work is the extent to which rural multilingualism is linked to the specific dynamics holding among communities that are near to each other rather than being a reflection of a more general, externally imposed value system.
While this result makes it difficult to characterize rural multilingualism as a single, coherent phenomenon, it does point to the utility of a shared toolkit of research strategies for exploring it in more detail. In particular, ethnographic methods are required in order to ascertain the major local social divisions which language choice both reflects and constructs in these areas, and it is additionally important to focus on how individual repertoires are tied to specific life histories rather than to assume that groupings that are salient to the outside researcher (e.g., “villages” or “compounds”) are the relevant units of analysis.
Finally, investigation of multilingualism in rural Africa is not only valuable for what it reveals about social dynamics on the continent, but it also seems likely to yield important insights for the study of sociolinguistics more broadly.
Gregory D. S. Anderson
The Munda language family constitutes the westernmost branch of the widespread Austroasiatic language family. Munda formerly was considered sister to the rest of the phylum, then known as Mon-Khmer, but this has been revised, and Munda is considered as Austroasiatic as any other branch. The internal classification of the Munda languages is still disputed, but a clear North Munda group exists and is uncontroversial. Other higher-order internal divisions remain disputed, although low-level groups like Sora-Gorum or Gutob-Remo are clear and accepted by almost all researchers today.
Phonologically speaking, Munda languages make extensive use of glottal stop and pre-glottalized stops, nasal vowels, and retroflexion. Word level prosody shows Austroasiatic features with an overlay of South Asian areal features on the phrase level. Register and tone have been reported for individual languages such as creaky voice in Gorum and a low tone in Korku.
Nouns in Munda languages may encode a range of grammatical and local cases, person and number of possessors, and covert distinctions of animacy in agreement and other morphosyntactic features. Verbs in Munda languages can be quite complex, with subject and object as well as TAM encoding, transitivity, finiteness, etc. Kherwarian languages stand out in this regard as well as for the distributional facts of the subject clitics, where the preferred locus is enclitic to the word immediately preceding the verb. Systems of negation can be very complicated and show unexpected interactions with TAM marking in languages like Gutob.
Syntactically, Munda languages show many typical South Asian features such as verb-final structure, as well as non-finite structures, and in some cases switch reference systems or noun incorporation.
The current sociolinguistic and demographic contexts of the different Munda languages range from expanding and healthy with official status in the case of Santali to seriously endangered in the case of Gorum.
Jack B. Martin
The Muskogean languages are a family of languages indigenous to the southeastern United States. Members of the family include Chickasaw, Choctaw, Alabama, Koasati, Apalachee, Hitchiti-Mikasuki, and Muskogee (Creek). The trade language Mobilian Jargon is based on Muskogean vocabulary and grammar. The Muskogean languages all have SOV word order. Noun phrases are marked for subject or non-subject case. Alienable and inalienable possession is marked on possessed nouns. Agreement on verbs for subjects and objects is sensitive to agency. The languages have grammatical tone (used to indicate verbal aspect) and switch reference. Several of the languages have measured tense systems (indicating several degrees of distance in the past).
Natural language ontology is a branch of both metaphysics and linguistic semantics. Its aim is to uncover the ontological categories, notions, and structures that are implicit in the use of natural language, that is, the ontology that a speaker accepts when using a language. Natural language ontology is part of “descriptive metaphysics,” to use Strawson’s term, or “naive metaphysics,” to use Fine’s term, that is, the metaphysics of appearances as opposed to foundational metaphysics, whose interest is in what there really is.
What sorts of entities natural language involves is closely linked to compositional semantics, namely what the contribution of occurrences of expressions in a sentence is taken to be. Most importantly, entities play a role as semantic values of referential terms, but also as implicit arguments of predicates and as parameters of evaluation.
Natural language appears to involve a particularly rich ontology of abstract, minor, derivative, and merely intentional objects, an ontology many philosophers are not willing to accept. At the same time, a serious investigation of the linguistic facts often reveals that natural language does not in fact involve the sort of ontology that philosophers had assumed it does.
Natural language ontology is concerned not only with the categories of entities that natural language commits itself to, but also with various metaphysical notions, for example the relation of part-whole, causation, material constitution, notions of existence, plurality and unity, and the mass-count distinction.
An important question regarding natural language ontology is what linguistic data it should take into account. Looking at the sorts of data that researchers who practice natural language ontology have in fact taken into account makes clear that it is only presuppositions, not assertions, that reflect the ontology implicit in natural language.
The ontology of language may be distinctive in that it may in part be driven specifically by language or the use of it in a discourse. Examples are pleonastic entities, discourse referents conceived of as entities of a sort, and an information-based notion of part structure involved in the semantics of plurals and mass nouns. Finally, there is the question of the universality of the ontology of natural language. Certainly, the same sort of reasoning should apply to consider it universal, in a suitable sense, as has been applied for the case of (generative) syntax.