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Laura A. Michaelis
Meanings are assembled in various ways in a construction-based grammar, and this array can be represented as a continuum of idiomaticity, a gradient of lexical fixity. Constructional meanings are the meanings to be discovered at every point along the idiomaticity continuum. At the leftmost, or ‘fixed,’ extreme of this continuum are frozen idioms, like the salt of the earth and in the know. The set of frozen idioms includes those with idiosyncratic syntactic properties, like the fixed expression by and large (an exceptional pattern of coordination in which a preposition and adjective are conjoined). Other frozen idioms, like the unexceptionable modified noun red herring, feature syntax found elsewhere. At the rightmost, or ‘open’ end of this continuum are fully productive patterns, including the rule that licenses the string Kim blinked, known as the Subject-Predicate construction. Between these two poles are (a) lexically fixed idiomatic expressions, verb-headed and otherwise, with regular inflection, such as chew/chews/chewed the fat; (b) flexible expressions with invariant lexical fillers, including phrasal idioms like spill the beans and the Correlative Conditional, such as the more, the merrier; and (c) specialized syntactic patterns without lexical fillers, like the Conjunctive Conditional (e.g., One more remark like that and you’re out of here). Construction Grammar represents this range of expressions in a uniform way: whether phrasal or lexical, all are modeled as feature structures that specify phonological and morphological structure, meaning, use conditions, and relevant syntactic information (including syntactic category and combinatoric potential).
Matthew K. Gordon
Metrical structure refers to the phonological representations capturing the prominence relationships between syllables, usually manifested phonetically as differences in levels of stress. There is considerable diversity in the range of stress systems found cross-linguistically, although attested patterns represent a small subset of those that are logically possible. Stress systems may be broadly divided into two groups, based on whether they are sensitive to the internal structure, or weight, of syllables or not, with further subdivisions based on the number of stresses per word and the location of those stresses. An ongoing debate in metrical stress theory concerns the role of constituency in characterizing stress patterns. Certain approaches capture stress directly in terms of a metrical grid in which more prominent syllables are associated with a greater number of grid marks than less prominent syllables. Others assume the foot as a constituent, where theories differ in the inventory of feet they assume. Support for foot-based theories of stress comes from segmental alternations that are explicable with reference to the foot but do not readily emerge in an apodal framework. Computational tools, increasingly, are being incorporated in the evaluation of phonological theories, including metrical stress theories. Computer-generated factorial typologies provide a rigorous means for determining the fit between the empirical coverage afforded by metrical theories and the typology of attested stress systems. Computational simulations also enable assessment of the learnability of metrical representations within different theories.
Cynthia L. Allen
Middle English is the name given to the English of the period from approximately 1100 to approximately 1450. This period is marked by substantial developments in all areas of English grammar. It is also the period of English when different dialects are the most fully attested in the texts. At the beginning of the Middle English period, the sociolinguistic status of English was low due to the Norman Invasion, and although religious texts of Old English composition continued to be copied and updated, few original compositions are extant. By the end of the period, English had regained its status as the language of government, law, and literature generally.
Although some notable changes to the phonemic inventory of consonants date from the Middle English period, the most dramatic phonological developments of the period involve vowels. The reduction of the vowels of unstressed syllables, one of the changes that marks the beginning of the Middle English period, is a phonological change with substantial morphological effects, as it substantially reduced the number of distinctive inflectional forms. Constituent order replaced case marking as the primary means of signaling grammatical relations. By the end of the Middle English period, subject-verb-object order had become established as the norm.
The lexicon of English was transformed in this period by an enormous influx of French words. The role of derivational morphology declined as its functions were to some extent replaced by the adoption of French words. Most Scandinavian loans in English first appear in the texts of this period. The Scandinavian loans are typically everyday words, while the words adopted from French are more often in areas of government, law, and higher culture, reflecting the nature of the contact between English speakers and the speakers of these languages.
The density of the Scandinavian population in the northern part of England is generally held to be responsible for the earlier appearance of changes in the north than in the south. The replacement of the third person plural personal pronoun hie by the Scandinavian they is an example of a development which is apparent only in the north early in Middle English but became general in English by the end of this period.
An important phonological development of later Middle English is the beginning of the Great Vowel Shift, which affected long vowels and involved successive changes and was implemented differently in different dialects, the north-south divide being the most evident.
Early Middle English is a language that cannot be understood by Modern English readers without special study, while the language of the late Middle English period, especially that coming from the London area, can be understood with the heavy use of explanatory notes.
Missionary dictionaries are printed books or manuscripts compiled by missionaries in which words are listed systematically followed by words which have the same meaning in another language. These dictionaries were mainly written as tools for language teaching and learning in a missionary-colonial setting, although quite a few dictionaries have also a more encyclopedic character, containing invaluable information on non-Western cultures from all continents. In this article, several types of dictionaries are analyzed: bilingual-monodirectional, bilingual and bidirectional, and multilingual. Most examples are taken from an illustrative selected corpus of missionary dictionaries describing non-Western and languages during the colonial period, with particular focus on the function of these dictionaries in a missionary context, the users, macrostructure, organizational principles, and the typology of the microstructure and markedness in lemmatization.
Missionary grammars are printed books or manuscripts compiled by missionaries in which a particular language is described. These grammars were mainly written as pedagogical tools for language teaching and learning in a missionary-colonial setting, although quite a few grammars have also a more normative character. Missionary grammars contain usually an opening section, a prologue, in which the author exhibits the objectives of his work. The first part is usually a short introduction into phonology and orthography, followed by the largest section, which is devoted to morphology, arranged according to the traditional division of the parts of speech. The final section is sometimes devoted to syntax, but the topics included can vary considerably. Sometimes word lists are appended, containing body parts, measures, counting, manners of speaking, or rhetorical figures. The data presented in the grammar are mainly based on an oral corpus, whereas in other cases high registers from prestigious texts are used in which the eloquence or elegance of the language under study is illustrated. These grammars are modeled according to the traditional Greco-Latin framework and often contain invaluable information regarding language typologies, semantics, and pragmatics. In the New World, Asia, and elsewhere, missionaries had to find an adequate methodology in order to describe typological features they had never seen before. They adapted European models to new linguistic realities and created original works which deserve our attention within the discipline of the history of linguistics alongside contemporary pedagogical works written in Europe. This article concentrates on sources written in Spanish, Portuguese, and Latin during the colonial period, since these sources outnumber the production of missionary grammars in other languages.
Mixed languages are a rare category of contact language which has gone from being an oddity of contact linguistics to the subject of media excitement, at least for one mixed language—Light Warlpiri. They show considerable diversity in structure, social function, and historical origins; nonetheless, they all emerged in situations of bilingualism where a common language is already present. In this respect, they do not serve a communicative function, but rather are markers of an in-group identity. Mixed languages provide a unique opportunity to study the often observable birth, life, and death of languages both in terms of the sociohistorical context of language genesis and the structural evolution of language.
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
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.
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.