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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

Abstract Nouns in the Romance Languages  

Philipp Burdy

Abstract words such as Fr. livraison ‘delivery’, It. fedeltà ‘faithfulness’, Sp. semejanza ‘resemblance’, belong to the word class of nouns. They do not possess materiality and therefore lack sensory perceivability. Within the spectrum of nouns, abstract nouns are located on the opposite side of proper names; between them, there are common nouns, collective nouns, and mass nouns. Abstract nouns are in part non-count and not able to be pluralized. In terms of meaning, there is typically a threefold division in groups: (a) Action/result nouns (e.g., Fr. lavage ‘washing’, It. giuramento ‘oath’, Sp. mordedura ‘bite’); (b) Quality nouns (e.g., Fr. dignité ‘dignity’, It. biancore ‘whiteness’, Sp. modestia ‘modesty’); and (c) Status nouns (e.g., Fr. episcopat ‘episcopate’, It. cuginanza ‘cousinhood’, Sp. almirantazgo ‘admiralship’). From a purely morphological standpoint, a classification of abstract nouns according to derivation basis appears suitable: (a) (primary) denominal abstract nouns (e.g., Fr. duché ‘dukedom’, It. linguaggio ‘language’, Sp. añada ‘vintage’); (b) (primary) deadjectival abstract nouns (e.g., Fr. folie ‘madness’, It. bellezza ‘beauty’, Sp. cortesía ‘courtesy’); and (c) (primary) deverbal abstract nouns (e.g., Fr. mouvement ‘movement’, It. scrittura ‘writing’, Sp. venganza ‘revenge’). Other abstract nouns arise from conversion, for example, Fr. le devoir ‘duty’, It. il freddo ‘coldness’, Sp. el cambio ‘change’. In light of this, the question of how far the formation of abstract nouns in Romance languages follows Latin patterns (derivation with suffixes) or whether new processes emerge is of particular interest. In addition, the individual Romance languages display different preferences in choosing abstract-forming morphological processes. On the one hand, there is a large number of Latin abstract-forming suffixes whose outcomes preserve the same function in the Romance languages, such as -ía (astrología ‘astrology’), -ura (scriptura ‘writing’), -ĭtia (pigrĭtia ‘sloth’), -io (oratio ‘speaking’). Furthermore, there is a group of Latin suffixes that gave rise to suffixes deriving abstract nouns only in Romance. Among these are, for example, -aticu (Fr. péage ‘road toll’, Sp. hallazgo ‘discovery’), -aceu (Sp. cuchillazo ‘knife thrust’), -aria (Sp. borrachera ‘drunkenness’, It. vecchiaia ‘old age’). On the other hand, suffixless processes of abstract noun formation are coming to full fruition only in Romance: The conversion of past participles (e.g., Fr. vue ‘sight’, It. dormita ‘sleep’, Sp. llegada ‘arrival’) is of special importance. The conversion of infinitives to nouns with abstract meaning is least common in Modern French (e.g., penser ‘thought’) and most common in Romanian (iertare ‘pardon’, durere ‘pain’, etc.). Deverbal noun formation without suffixes (Fr. amende ‘fine’, It. carica ‘charge’, Sp. socorro ‘help’, etc.), in contrast, is known to have developed a broad pan-Romance geographic spread.

Article

Instrument and Place Nouns in the Romance Languages  

Franz Rainer

Even the most primitive hunter-gatherers occasionally had to give names to tools and places, and the need for instrument and place nouns has grown ever since in tandem with the unfolding of human culture. It is therefore no wonder that the majority of languages of the world, among them Latin and the Romance languages, have specific patterns of word formation to this effect. As is the case with other categories of word formation, those referred to with instrument noun and place noun do not constitute conceptually homogeneous sets, but sets of conceptually related subcategories. Instrument nouns comprise objects that can range from simple tools and gadgets to complex machines, but can also represent less prototypically instrumental objects like chemical substances or pieces of clothing and armor, as well as more abstract entities that are often referred to as means. Place names, in turn, cover subcategories as diverse as terrains, fields and groves, burrows, stalls and other buildings, countries, regions, and towns. Vessels represent a category located halfway between instrument and place nouns: an inkpot, for example, is an artifact designed to contain ink and as such close to an instrument, but can also be viewed as a place where ink is stored. Both instrument and place nouns can take as bases nouns and verbs, more rarely adjectives. This description of the two categories is essentially valid for both Latin and Romance. The category of place nouns has remained relatively stable at the conceptual level throughout the period considered here, although many changes can be observed for individual suffixes. Instrument nouns, by contrast, have suffered a major overhaul in the wake of the scientific and industrial revolutions.

Article

Sex-Denoting Patterns of Word Formation in the Romance Languages  

Franz Rainer

Since sex distinctions are a basic fact of nature and society, any natural language must make available means to refer separately to males and females of humans as well as animals, to the extent that sex is salient or relevant with reference to animals. In each language, these means comprise a peculiar mix of the patterns used in enriching the lexicon, ranging from syntax to compounding, affixation, conversion, and sometimes devices that are even more exotic. In a minority of the languages of the world, such as Latin and its daughters, the distinction between the sexes has even been built into the grammar in the form of gender systems whose rules of gender assignment rely heavily on it for animate nouns. In these languages, the gender system itself can also be put to use in the creation of designations for males and females. As is well known, the Indo-European gender system in origin reflected the animate/inanimate distinction, while the classification of animates along the feminine/masculine axis was a later development whose gradual expansion can still be observed in Latin and Romance. The demise, in spoken Latin, of one central pillar of feminization, namely, the suffix -trix, as well as other disruptive factors such as sound change and language contact, brought instability into the system. Each Latin and later Romance variety therefore had to adapt its system in order to cope with communicative needs concerning the expression of the male/female distinction. Different varieties did so in different ways, creating a large array of systems of sex-denoting patterns. In principle, it would be desirable to deal with each variety’s system on its own terms, describing as exactly as possible the domain of each pattern at the different stages of development as well as the mutual relationships among competing patterns and the mechanisms behind the changes. However, such an approach is unrealistic in the absence of detailed descriptions for many varieties, most notably the dialects.

Article

Pitch Accent in Korean  

Chiyuki Ito and Michael J. Kenstowicz

Typologically, pitch-accent languages stand between stress languages like Spanish and tone languages like Shona, and share properties of both. In a stress language, typically just one syllable per word is accented and bears the major stress (cf. Spanish sábana ‘sheet,’ sabána ‘plain,’ panamá ‘Panama’). In a tone language, the number of distinctions grows geometrically with the size of the word. So in Shona, which contrasts high versus low tone, trisyllabic words have eight possible pitch patterns. In a canonical pitch-accent language such as Japanese, just one syllable (or mora) per word is singled out as distinctive, as in Spanish. Each syllable in the word is assigned a high or low tone (as in Shona); however, this assignment is predictable based on the location of the accented syllable. The Korean dialects spoken in the southeast Kyengsang and northeast Hamkyeng regions retain the pitch-accent distinctions that developed by the period of Middle Korean (15th–16th centuries). For example, in Hamkyeng a three-syllable word can have one of four possible pitch patterns, which are assigned by rules that refer to the accented syllable. The accented syllable has a high tone, and following syllables have low tones. Then the high tone of the accented syllable spreads up to the initial syllable, which is low. Thus, /MUcike/ ‘rainbow’ is realized as high-low-low, /aCImi/ ‘aunt’ is realized as low-high-low, and /menaRI/ ‘parsley’ is realized as low-high-high. An atonic word such as /cintallɛ/ ‘azalea’ has the same low-high-high pitch pattern as ‘parsley’ when realized alone. But the two types are distinguished when combined with a particle such as /MAN/ ‘only’ that bears an underlying accent: /menaRI+MAN/ ‘only parsely’ is realized as low-high-high-low while /cintallɛ+MAN/ ‘only azelea’ is realized as low-high-high-high. This difference can be explained by saying that the underlying accent on the particle is deleted if the stem bears an accent. The result is that only one syllable per word may bear an accent (similar to Spanish). On the other hand, since the accent is realized with pitch distinctions, tonal assimilation rules are prevalent in pitch-accent languages. This article begins with a description of the Middle Korean pitch-accent system and its evolution into the modern dialects, with a focus on Kyengsang. Alternative synchronic analyses of the accentual alternations that arise when a stem is combined with inflectional particles are then considered. The discussion proceeds to the phonetic realization of the contrasting accents, their realizations in compounds and phrases, and the adaptation of loanwords. The final sections treat the lexical restructuring and variable distribution of the pitch accents and their emergence from predictable word-final accent in an earlier stage of Proto-Korean.