Dene-Yeniseian is a proposed genealogical link between the widespread North American language family Na-Dene (Athabaskan, Eyak, Tlingit) and Yeniseian in central Siberia, represented today by the critically endangered Ket and several documented extinct relatives. The Dene-Yeniseian hypothesis is an old idea, but since 2006 new evidence supporting it has been published in the form of shared morphological systems and a modest number of lexical cognates showing interlocking sound correspondences. Recent data from human genetics and folklore studies also increasingly indicate the plausibility of a prehistoric (probably Late Pleistocene) connection between populations in northwestern North America and the traditionally Yeniseian-speaking areas of south-central Siberia. At present, Dene-Yeniseian cannot be accepted as a proven language family until the purported evidence supporting the lexical and morphological correspondences between Yeniseian and Na-Dene is expanded and tested by further critical analysis and their relationship to Old World families such as Sino-Tibetan and Caucasian, as well as the isolate Burushaski (all earlier proposed as relatives of Yeniseian, and sometimes also of Na-Dene), becomes clearer.
André Thibault and Nicholas LoVecchio
The Romance languages have been involved in many situations of language contact. While language contact is evident at all levels, the most visible effects on the system of the recipient language concern the lexicon. The relationship between language contact and the lexicon raises some theoretical issues that are not always adequately addressed, including in etymological lexicography. First is the very notion of what constitutes “language contact.” Contrary to a somewhat dated view, language contact does not necessarily imply physical presence, contemporaneity, and orality: as far as the lexicon is concerned, contact can happen over time and space, particularly through written media. Depending on the kind of extralinguistic circumstances at stake, language contact can be induced by diverse factors, leading to different forms of borrowing. The misleading terms borrowings or loans mask the reality that these are actually adapted imitations—whether formal, semantic, or both—of a foreign model. Likewise, the common Latin or Greek origins of a huge proportion of the Romance lexicon often obscure the real history of words. As these classical languages have contributed numerous technical and scientific terms, as well as a series of “roots,” words coined in one Romance language can easily be reproduced in any other. However, simply reducing a word’s etymology to the origin of its components (classic or otherwise), ignoring intermediate stages and possibly intermediating languages in the borrowing process, is a distortion of word history. To the extent that it is useful to refer to “internationalisms,” related words in different Romance languages merit careful, often arduous research in the process of identifying the actual origin of a given coining. From a methodological point of view, it is crucial to distinguish between the immediate lending language and the oldest stage that can be identified, with the former being more relevant in a rigorous approach to comparative historical lexicology. Concrete examples from Ibero-Romania, Gallo-Romania, Italo-Romania, and Balkan-Romania highlight the variety of different Romance loans and reflect the diverse historical factors particular to each linguistic community in which borrowing occurred.
The rigor and intensity of investigation on Japanese in modern linguistics has been particularly noteworthy over the past 50 years. Not only has the elucidation of the similarities to and differences from other languages properly placed Japanese on the typological map, but Japanese has served as a critical testing area for a wide variety of theoretical approaches. Within the sub-fields of Japanese phonetics and phonology, there has been much focus on the role of mora. The mora constitutes an important timing unit that has broad implications for analysis of the phonetic and phonological system of Japanese. Relatedly, Japanese possesses a pitch-accent system, which places Japanese in a typologically distinct group arguably different from stress languages, like English, and tone languages, like Chinese. A further area of intense investigation is that of loanword phonology, illuminating the way in which segmental and suprasegmental adaptations are processed and at the same time revealing the fundamental nature of the sound system intrinsic to Japanese. In morphology, a major focus has been on compounds, which are ubiquitously found in Japanese. Their detailed description has spurred in-depth discussion regarding morphophonological (e.g., Rendaku—sequential voicing) and morphosyntactic (e.g., argument structure) phenomena that have crucial consequences for morphological theory. Rendaku is governed by layers of constraints that range from segmental and prosodic phonology to structural properties of compounds, and serves as a representative example in demonstrating the intricate interaction of the different grammatical aspects of the language. In syntax, the scrambling phenomenon, allowing for the relatively flexible permutation of constituents, has been argued to instantiate a movement operation and has been instrumental in arguing for a configurational approach to Japanese. Japanese passives and causatives, which are formed through agglutinative morphology, each exhibit different types: direct vs. indirect passives and lexical vs. syntactic causatives. Their syntactic and semantic properties have posed challenges to and motivations for a variety of approaches to these well-studied constructions in the world’s languages. Taken together, the empirical analyses of Japanese and their theoretical and conceptual implications have made a tremendous contribution to linguistic research.
Compound and complex predicates—predicates that consist of two or more lexical items and function as the predicate of a single sentence—present an important class of linguistic objects that pertain to an enormously wide range of issues in the interactions of morphology, phonology, syntax, and semantics. Japanese makes extensive use of compounding to expand a single verb into a complex one. These compounding processes range over multiple modules of the grammatical system, thus straddling the borders between morphology, syntax, phonology, and semantics. In terms of degree of phonological integration, two types of compound predicates can be distinguished. In the first type, called tight compound predicates, two elements from the native lexical stratum are tightly fused and inflect as a whole for tense. In this group, Verb-Verb compound verbs such as arai-nagasu [wash-let.flow] ‘to wash away’ and hare-agaru [sky.be.clear-go.up] ‘for the sky to clear up entirely’ are preponderant in numbers and productivity over Noun-Verb compound verbs such as tema-doru [time-take] ‘to take a lot of time (to finish).’ The second type, called loose compound predicates, takes the form of “Noun + Predicate (Verbal Noun [VN] or Adjectival Noun [AN]),” as in post-syntactic compounds like [sinsya : koonyuu] no okyakusama ([new.car : purchase] GEN customers) ‘customer(s) who purchase(d) a new car,’ where the symbol “:” stands for a short phonological break. Remarkably, loose compounding allows combinations of a transitive VN with its agent subject (external argument), as in [Supirubaagu : seisaku] no eiga ([Spielberg : produce] GEN film) ‘a film/films that Spielberg produces/produced’—a pattern that is illegitimate in tight compounds and has in fact been considered universally impossible in the world’s languages in verbal compounding and noun incorporation. In addition to a huge variety of tight and loose compound predicates, Japanese has an additional class of syntactic constructions that as a whole function as complex predicates. Typical examples are the light verb construction, where a clause headed by a VN is followed by the light verb suru ‘do,’ as in Tomodati wa sinsya o koonyuu (sae) sita [friend TOP new.car ACC purchase (even) did] ‘My friend (even) bought a new car’ and the human physical attribute construction, as in Sensei wa aoi me o site-iru [teacher TOP blue eye ACC do-ing] ‘My teacher has blue eyes.’ In these constructions, the nominal phrases immediately preceding the verb suru are semantically characterized as indefinite and non-referential and reject syntactic operations such as movement and deletion. The semantic indefiniteness and syntactic immobility of the NPs involved are also observed with a construction composed of a human subject and the verb aru ‘be,’ as Gakkai ni wa oozei no sankasya ga atta ‘There was a large number of participants at the conference.’ The constellation of such “word-like” properties shared by these compound and complex predicates poses challenging problems for current theories of morphology-syntax-semantics interactions with regard to such topics as lexical integrity, morphological compounding, syntactic incorporation, semantic incorporation, pseudo-incorporation, and indefinite/non-referential NPs.
While in phonology Middle Indo-Aryan (MIA) dialects preserved the phonological system of Old Indo-Aryan (OIA) virtually intact, their morphosyntax underwent far-reaching changes, which altered fundamentally the synthetic morphology of earlier Prākrits in the direction of the analytic typology of New Indo-Aryan (NIA). Speaking holistically, the “accusative alignment” of OIA (Vedic Sanskrit) was restructured as an “ergative alignment” in Western IA languages, and it is precisely during the Late MIA period (ca. 5th–12th centuries ce) when we can observe these matters in statu nascendi. There is copious literature on the origin of the ergative construction: passive-to-ergative reanalysis; the ergative hypothesis, i.e., that the passive construction of OIA was already ergative; and a compromise stance that neither the former nor the latter approach is fully adequate. In the spirit of the complementary view of these matters, more attention has to be paid to various pathways in which typological changes operated over different kinds of nominal, pronominal and verbal constituents during the crucial MIA period. (a) We shall start with the restructuring of the nominal case system in terms of the reduction of the number of cases from seven to four. This phonologically motivated process resulted ultimately in the rise of the binary distinction of the “absolutive” versus “oblique” case at the end of the MIA period). (b) The crucial role of animacy in the restructuring of the pronominal system and the rise of the “double-oblique” system in Ardha-Māgadhī and Western Apabhramśa will be explicated. (c) In the verbal system we witness complete remodeling of the aspectual system as a consequence of the loss of earlier synthetic forms expressing the perfective (Aorist) and “retrospective” (Perfect) aspect. Early Prākrits (Pāli) preserved their sigmatic Aorists (and the sigmatic Future) until late MIA centuries, while on the Iranian side the loss of the “sigmatic” aorist was accelerated in Middle Persian by the “weakening” of s > h > Ø. (d) The development and the establishment of “ergative alignment” at the end of the MIA period will be presented as a consequence of the above typological changes: the rise of the “absolutive” vs. “oblique” case system; the loss of the finite morphology of the perfective and retrospective aspect; and the recreation of the aspectual contrast of perfectivity by means of quasinominal (participial) forms. (e) Concurrently with the development toward the analyticity in grammatical aspect, we witness the evolution of lexical aspect (Aktionsart) ushering in the florescence of “serial” verbs in New Indo-Aryan. On the whole, a contingency view of alignment considers the increase in ergativity as a by-product of the restoration of the OIA aspectual triad: Imperfective–Perfective–Perfect (in morphological terms Present–Aorist–Perfect). The NIA Perfective and Perfect are aligned ergatively, while their finite OIA ancestors (Aorist and Perfect) were aligned accusatively. Detailed linguistic analysis of Middle Indo-Aryan texts offers us a unique opportunity for a deeper comprehension of the formative period of the NIA state of affairs.