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Pidgin Languages  

Mikael Parkvall

Pidgin languages sometimes form in contact situations where a means of communication is urgently needed between groups lacking a common code. They are typically less elaborate than any of the languages involved in their formation, and in comparison to those, reduction characterizes all linguistic levels. The process is relatively uncommon, and the life span of pidgins is usually short – most disappear when the contact situation changes, or when another medium of intergroup communication becomes available. In some rare cases, however, they expand (both socially and structurally), and may even nativize, i. e. become mother tongues to their speakers (when they may be re-labelled “creoles”). Pidgins are severely understudied, and while they are often mentioned as precursors to creoles, few linguists have shown a serious interest in them. As a result, many generalizations have been based on extremely limited amounts of data or even on intuition. Some frequently occurring ones is that pidginization is a case of second language acquisition, that power and prestige are important factors, and that most structures are derived from the input languages. My work with pidgins has led me to believe the opposite to be true in these cases: pidgins form through a trial-and-error process, where anything that is understood by the other party is sanctioned, this process is one of collaborative language creation (rather than one involving one group of teachers and one group of learners), and much of what finds its way in the resultant contact language do so independently of what the creators spoke prior to their encounter. As for theoretical implications, pidgins may shed light on which features in traditional languages are necessary for communication, and which are superfluous from the point of view of pure information transmission.

Article

Polysynthesis: A Diachronic and Typological Perspective  

Michael Fortescue

Polysynthesis is informally understood as the packing of a large number of morphemes into single words, as in (1) from Bininj Gun-wok (Evans, in press).1) a-ban-yawoyʔ-wargaʔ-maɳe-gaɲ-giɲe-ŋ 1SGSUBJ-3PLOBJ-again-wrong-BEN-meat-cook-PSTPF 'I cooked the wrong meat for them again.' Its status as a distinct typological category into which some of the world’s languages fall, on a par with isolating, agglutinating, or fusional languages, has been controversial from the start. Nevertheless, researchers working with these languages are seldom in doubt as to their status as distinct from these other morphological types. This has been complicated by the fact that the speakers of such languages are largely limited to hunter-gatherers—or were so in the not too distant past—so the temptation is to link the phenomenon directly to way of life. This proves to be oversimplified, although it is certainly true that languages qualifying as polysynthetic are almost everywhere spoken in peripheral regions and are on the decline in the modern world—few children are learning them today. Perhaps the most pervasive of the traits that give these languages the impression of a “special” status is that of holophrasis, which can be defined as the (possible) expression of what in less synthetic languages would be whole sentences in single complex (usually verbal) words. It turns out, however, that there is much greater variety among polysynthetic languages than is generally thought: there are few other traits that they all share, although distinct subtypes can in fact be distinguished, notably the affixing as opposed to the incorporating type. These languages have considerable importance for the investigation of the diachronic complexification of languages in general and of language acquisition by children, as well as for theories of language universals. The sociolinguistic factors behind their development have only recently begun to be studied in depth. All polysynthetic languages today are to some degree endangered (they are dying off at an alarming rate), and many have been poorly studied if at all, which makes their investigation before it is too late a prime goal for linguistics.

Article

Nominal Inflectional Morphology in Germanic: Nouns  

Christian Zimmer

The modern Germanic languages encode up to three categories on nouns: number (with the values singular and plural), case (with up to four values: nominative, accusative, dative, and genitive), and definiteness (with the values definite and indefinite). The variation within this branch of the Indo-European language family is immense: While, for example, Icelandic encodes all three categories and all the values mentioned, English differentiates only between singular and plural via the inflection of nouns. Such differences in the number of categories that are encoded on nouns are due to the grammaticalization of postnominal articles into bound definiteness markers in the North Germanic languages, which has not taken place in the other Germanic languages, and the loss of case (e.g., in English and most, but not all, other Germanic languages). Furthermore, Germanic languages differ greatly in how number and case are encoded. Firstly, the coding techniques suffixation, stem modulation, subtraction, tone, and combinations of these techniques (plus zero marking) vary in frequency across the languages at hand. Secondly, case and number can be expressed within a cumulative formative (this is the case in Icelandic and Faroese) or with the help of separate formatives. Thirdly, the extent to which allomorphy can be observed varies considerably—ranging from virtually no allomorphy in English (with -s and phonologically determined variants as the only formative) to intricate systems in Icelandic and Faroese. And fourthly, allomorphs are assigned according to different principles, with phonology (both segmental and suprasegmental), semantics, and grammatical gender being of varying importance.

Article

The Acquisition of Syntax in the Romance Languages (in Mono- vs. Multilingual Children)  

Natascha Müller

Children do not speak like adults. This observation is not trivial in a framework in which language acquisition is framed as a process of parameter setting on the basis of universal principles and the child’s input. The present chapter summarizes two main views of language acquisition in this framework, maturation and continuity, with special reference to the acquisition of Romance languages. The debate is difficult to settle on the basis of monolingual data. The comparison of different monolingual populations has the inconvenience that factors like age, cognitive abilities, and abilities related to the performance system come into play in studies that are only interested in the linguistic differences. The multilingual child constitutes an individual with different grammars, but with the same prerequisites if the genetic endowment is concerned, with one performance system and one cognitive system, all facts which can help to settle the debate. Acquisitionists have shown that some routes to adult grammars are shorter and simpler than others. Some of the definitions of complexity, as presented in the literature, will be summarized in relation to the acquisition of grammatical domains in monolingual children. Since complexity can lead to cross-linguistic influence in the multilingual child, the study of this population, again, helps to prove the different definitions of complexity. If it is really the case that grammatical systems are not equally complex, this might also be related to the fact that linguistic variation is best described by parameters which differ in nature—some of which are core parameters (‘deep parameters’), others sub-case parameters—as well as by peripheral variation. Again, parameters which have different settings in the adult language are particularly interesting to study in the multilingual child. Language acquisition is embedded into the child’s linguistic experience, or input. Interestingly, a multilingual child’s input is divided by two, three, or more, in comparison to that of the monolingual child. Arguably, the study of children who acquire more than one language from birth is particularly apt to reveal those grammatical domains which are acquired with ease, even with much less input than the monolingual child receives. Very tentatively, the present article addresses the reduction of intralinguistic variation via child-directed speech and thus opens up a discussion of the relevance of the quality of input in the framework of parameter setting.