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Silvina Montrul and James Yoon
Language attrition is the loss of linguistic abilities or the regression of specific grammatical properties and overall fluency in linguistic skills. It impacts language use, lexical access, and grammatical integrity. Non-pathological attrition is natural in situations of language contact and bilingualism and can occur in the first, native, language as well as in a second language. As a gradual and dynamic process of accommodation that occurs when bilinguals use the second language extensively, attrition is a highly individualized phenomenon and hard to predict a priori. If attrition eventually happens, it affects individuals differently, with some exhibiting more widespread loss than others. Two factors that determine the extent of language attrition in bilinguals are the availability of input and the age of the individual at the onset of the reduction in input in their native language. An important question is whether attrition mainly occurs at the level of processing or whether it affects actual linguistic competence. Theoretical approaches to attrition have emphasized its relationship with L1 acquisition, the selectivity of attrition by linguistic modules, the effects of language use on memory, and the interplay between the L1 and the L2 along the life span. We still lack understanding of how attrition affects linguistic representations and processing and the external and individual cognitive factors that modulate, predict, or prevent attrition in bilinguals.
Morphological attrition is far more common and extensive in children than in adults and it manifests itself in a variety of ways: morphophonemic leveling, morphological simplification, including omission of required morphology in obligatory contexts, paradigmatic reduction, simplification/reduction of suffixal allomorphy, regularization of irregular forms, and the replacement of synthetic forms for analytic/periphrastic forms. Morphological attrition has often been discussed in the context of language death and language loss at the community level for both child and adult bilinguals. The scant empirical evidence to date seems to indicate that the processes of omission, regularization, and suppletion that are common in attrition occur regardless of the dominant morphological type of a language. Both inflectional and derivational morphology are affected under language attrition and seem to undergo similar processes of reduction and simplification, regardless of the morphological type of the language. Within inflectional morphology, nominal morphology (gender, number, case) is more prone to attrition in the actual number of occurrences than verbal morphology (agreement, tense, aspect, mood), and attrition occurs more rapidly and extensively.
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.
Theodore Levin and Maria Polinsky
This is an overview of the major morphological properties of Austronesian languages. We present and analyze data that may bear on the commonly discussed lexical-category neutrality of Austronesian and suggest that Austronesian languages do differentiate between core lexical categories. We address the difference between roots and stems showing that Austronesian roots are more abstract than roots traditionally discussed in morphology. Austronesian derivation and inflexion rely on suffixation and prefixation; some infixation is also attested. Austronesian languages make extensive use of reduplication. In the verbal system, main morphological exponents mark voice distinctions as well as causatives and applicatives. In the nominal domain, the main morphological exponents include case markers, classifiers, and possession markers. Overall, verbal morphology is richer in Austronesian languages than nominal morphology. We also present a short overview of empirically and theoretically challenging issues in Austronesian morphology: the status of infixes and circumfixes, the difference between affixes and clitics, and the morphosyntactic characterization of voice morphology.
The Altaic languages (Turkic, Mongolic, Tungusic) are spread across Eurasia, from Central Asia to the Middle East and the Balkans. The genetic affinity between these subgroups has not been definitively established but the commonality among features and patterns points to some linguistic connections. The main morphological operations in Altaic languages are suffixation and compounding. Generally regarded as morphologically regular with easily identifiable suffixes in which there are clear form-meaning correspondences, the languages, nevertheless, show irregularities in many domains of the phonological exponents of morphosyntactic features, such as base modification, cumulative exponence, and syncretism.
Nouns are inflected for number, person, and case. Case markers can express structural relations between noun phrases and other constituents, or they can act as adpositions. Only very few of the Altaic languages have adjectival inflection. Verbs are inflected for voice, negation, tense, aspect, modality, and, in most of the languages subject agreement, varying between one and five person-number paradigms. Subject agreement is expressed through first, second, and third persons singular and plural. In the expression of tense, aspect, and modality, Altaic languages employ predominantly suffixing and compound verb formations, which involve auxiliary verbs.
Inflected finite verbs can stand on their own and form propositions, and as a result, information structure can be expressed within a polymorphic word through prosodic means. Affix order is mostly fixed and mismatches occur between morpholotactic constraints and syntactico-semantic requirements. Ellipsis can occur between coordinated words.
Derivational morphology is productive and occurs between and within the major word classes of nominals and verbs. Semantic categories can block other semantic categories.
Mark J. Alves
The languages of the Austroasiatic (AA) language family share a core set of derivational prefixes and infixes that are largely fossilized. Beyond these, there is a wide range of morphological features throughout these more than 160 languages. Of the 13 branches of AA, there is a geographically central concentration of branches with predominantly isolating morphology (Khmeric, Monic, Vietic, and Pearic), while geographically peripheral branches have more complex morphology (Aslian and Khasic), and some with inflectional morphology (Munda and Nicobaric). Other branches are typologically between, largely lacking inflectional morphology (i.e., systematic, productive grammatical morphology) but having a somewhat more complex range of morphological features (Katuic, Bahnaric, Palaungic, Khmuic, and Mangic), including those with some grammatical functions. Other than Munda and Nicobaric, most AA languages have iambic word-level stress and have only prefixes and infixes while lacking suffixes. This has resulted in a collapsing of older morphological material, while new affixes, with new morphosemantic functions, emerge. Alternating reduplication, in which complete prosodic templates are copied but various segments are alternated, is a common word-formation strategy and sometimes combines with prefixes and affixes. While lexical compounds are common, so are pseudo-compounds with near affix-like semantic, and sometimes phonological, features. Overall, while monomorphemic words are common among the more isolating types of AA languages, ample linguistic descriptions show a substantially wider range of morphological complexity throughout the AA language family.
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.
The Dravidian languages are rich in nominal and verbal morphology. Three nominal gender systems are extant. Pronouns are gender-number marked demonstratives. Gender-number agreement in the DP suggests an incipient classifier system. Oblique cases are layered on a genitive stem; iterative genitive and plural marking is seen. Genitive and dative case mark possession/ experience (there is no verb have), and the adjectival use of property nouns.
Verbs inflect for agreement (in affirmative finite clauses), aspect, causativity, and benefactivity/ reflexivity. Light verbs are ubiquitous as aspect markers and predicate formatives, as are serial verbs. Variants of the quotative verb serve as complementizers and as topic and evidential particles. Disjunctive particles serve as question particles; conjunctive and disjunctive particles on question words derive quantifiers. Reduplication occurs in quantification and anaphor-formation.
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.
Anna Sőrés and Krisztina Hevér-Joly
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 is traditionally divided into two branches: Finno-Ugric and Samoyed languages. The separation of the branches and subgroups is very distant in time; thus, these general morphological features show a notable variation.
Agglutinating is a general feature but there are some syncretisms, fusions, and suppletions and all languages have postpositions beside suffixes and some of them have prepositions.
Nouns and pronouns are inflected for number (singular, plural, and in some languages for dual), person, and case but not for gender. All Uralic languages have a case system. However, the number and the nature of the cases show a great variety: from 3 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 item possessed can be marked by suffixes. Combining the expression of possession and case, the morphotactic rules differ between the languages. Comparative and superlative adjectives can be also formed by inflection.
Verbs are inflected for person/number, tense, and mood. Uralic languages generally do not have the canonical 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, certain languages use a rich system of preverbs or derivational suffixes to express aspect and Aktionsart.
The investigation of morphology and lexical semantics is an investigation into the very essence of the semantics of word formation: the meaning of morphemes and how they can be combined to form meanings of complex words. Discussion of this question within the scholarly literature has been dependent on (i) the adopted morphological model (morpheme-based or word-based); and (ii) the adopted theoretical paradigm (such as formal/generativist accounts vs. construction-based approaches)—which also determined what problem areas received attention in the first place.
One particular problem area that has surfaced most consistently within the literature (irrespective of the adopted morphological model or theoretical paradigm) is the so-called semantic mismatch question, which also serves as the focus of the present chapter. In essence, semantic mismatch pertains to the question of why there is no one-to-one correspondence between form and meaning in word formation. In other words, it is very frequently not possible out of context to give a precise account of what the meaning of a newly coined word might be based simply on the constituents that the word originates from. The article considers the extent to which the meaning of complex words is (at least partly) based on nondecompositional knowledge, implying that the meaning-bearing feature of morphemes might in fact be a graded affair. Thus, depending on the entrenchment and strength of the interrelations among sets of words, the meaning of the components contributes only more or less to a meaning of a word, suggesting that “mismatches” might be neither unusual nor uncommon.
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.
Giorgio Francesco Arcodia and Bianca Basciano
Sino-Tibetan is a highly diverse language family, in which a wide range of morphological phenomena and profiles may be found. The family is generally seen as split into two major branches, i.e., Sinitic and Tibeto-Burman, but while Sinitic is a fairly homogeneous group in terms of morphology, the so-called Tibeto-Burman branch of the family includes isolating languages like Karen, languages with transparent and regular agglutinative morphology (Lolo-Burmese, Tibetic, and Boro-Garo), but also paradigmatically complex languages, with elaborate argument indexation and transitivity management systems; while in some languages morphological complexity is mostly a conservative trait (e.g., Rgyalrongic and Kiranti), other languages developed innovative paradigms, with only few vestiges of the archaic system (Kuki-Chin). Some notable morphological phenomena in modern Tibeto-Burman languages are verb stem alternation, peculiar nominalization constructions, and long sequences of prefixes, which in some languages (Chintang) may even be freely permutated without any relevant change in meaning.
Also, while Sinitic languages are normally taken to be a prototypical example of the (ideal) isolating morphological type (with virtually no inflection, stable morpheme boundaries, no cumulative exponence, and no allomorphy or suppletion), phenomena of strong reduction of morphemes, blurring of morpheme boundaries and fusion between root and suffix, and nonconcatenative morphology, as well as allomorphy and (proto-)paradigmatic organization of morphology, are attested in some Chinese dialects, mostly concentrated in an area of Northern China (Shaanxi, Shanxi, Henan, Hebei, and Shandong provinces). Moreover, ‘Altaic-type’ agglutinative morphology, including case marking, is found in Sinitic languages of the so-called Qinghai-Gansu Sprachbund; in this case, the development of agglutination, as well as other typological traits (as SOV word order), is clearly the product of intense and prolonged contact between Northwestern Chinese dialects and Tibetic and Mongolic languages of China. On the other hand, Southern Chinese dialects have developed in closer contact with Hmong-Mien, Tai-Kadai, and Austroasiatic languages, and are thus closer to the typology of Mainland Southeast Asian languages, with a very strong isolating profile.
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.
D. H. Whalen
The Motor Theory of Speech Perception is a proposed explanation of the fundamental relationship between the way speech is produced and the way it is perceived. Associated primarily with the work of Liberman and colleagues, it posited the active participation of the motor system in the perception of speech. Early versions of the theory contained elements that later proved untenable, such as the expectation that the neural commands to the muscles (as seen in electromyography) would be more invariant than the acoustics. Support drawn from categorical perception (in which discrimination is quite poor within linguistic categories but excellent across boundaries) was called into question by studies showing means of improving within-category discrimination and finding similar results for nonspeech sounds and for animals perceiving speech. Evidence for motor involvement in perceptual processes nonetheless continued to accrue, and related motor theories have been proposed. Neurological and neuroimaging results have yielded a great deal of evidence consistent with variants of the theory, but they highlight the issue that there is no single “motor system,” and so different components appear in different contexts. Assigning the appropriate amount of effort to the various systems that interact to result in the perception of speech is an ongoing process, but it is clear that some of the systems will reflect the motor control of speech.
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.
Multi-word expressions are linguistic objects formed by two or more words that behave like a ‘unit’ by displaying formal and/or functional idiosyncratic properties with respect to free word combinations. They include an extremely varied set of items (from idioms to collocations, from formulae to sayings) which have been the privileged subject matter of fields such as phraseology, lexicology, lexicography, and computational linguistics. Far from being a marginal phenomenon, multi-word expressions are ubiquitous and pervasive: some estimate that they are as numerous as words in some languages, which makes them as central an issue as words for the understanding of human language. However, their relation with words, and morphology, is by far less explored, not to say neglected, especially in terms of demarcation, competition, and cross-linguistic variation.