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.
George van Driem
Erich R. Round
The non–Pama-Nyugan, Tangkic languages were spoken until recently in the southern Gulf of Carpentaria, Australia. The most extensively documented are Lardil, Kayardild, and Yukulta. Their phonology is notable for its opaque, word-final deletion rules and extensive word-internal sandhi processes. The morphology contains complex relationships between sets of forms and sets of functions, due in part to major historical refunctionalizations, which have converted case markers into markers of tense and complementization and verbal suffixes into case markers. Syntactic constituency is often marked by inflectional concord, resulting frequently in affix stacking. Yukulta in particular possesses a rich set of inflection-marking possibilities for core arguments, including detransitivized configurations and an inverse system. These relate in interesting ways historically to argument marking in Lardil and Kayardild. Subordinate clauses are marked for tense across most constituents other than the subject, and such tense marking is also found in main clauses in Lardil and Kayardild, which have lost the agreement and tense-marking second-position clitic of Yukulta. Under specific conditions of co-reference between matrix and subordinate arguments, and under certain discourse conditions, clauses may be marked, on all or almost all words, by complementization markers, in addition to inflection for case and tense.
Syntactic features are formal properties of syntactic objects which determine how they behave with respect to syntactic constraints and operations (such as selection, licensing, agreement, and movement). Syntactic features can be contrasted with properties which are purely phonological, morphological, or semantic, but many features are relevant both to syntax and morphology, or to syntax and semantics, or to all three components. The formal theory of syntactic features builds on the theory of phonological features, and normally takes morphosyntactic features (those expressed in morphology) to be the central case, with other, possibly more abstract features being modeled on the morphosyntactic ones. Many aspects of the formal nature of syntactic features are currently unresolved. Some traditions (such as HPSG) make use of rich feature structures as an analytic tool, while others (such as Minimalism) pursue simplicity in feature structures in the interest of descriptive restrictiveness. Nevertheless, features are essential to all explicit analyses.
Morphological defectiveness refers to situations where one or more paradigmatic forms of a lexeme are not realized, without plausible syntactic, semantic, or phonological causes. The phenomenon tends to be associated with low-frequency lexemes and loanwords. Typically, defectiveness is gradient, lexeme-specific, and sensitive to the internal structure of paradigms. The existence of defectiveness is a challenge to acquisition models and morphological theories where there are elsewhere operations to materialize items. For this reason, defectiveness has become a rich field of research in recent years, with distinct approaches that view it as an item-specific idiosyncrasy, as an epiphenomenal result of rule competition, or as a normal morphological alternation within a paradigmatic space.
Rik van Gijn
Switch reference is a grammaticalized system for marking continuity or discontinuity of reference between two clauses. It is therefore not surprising that switch reference has received a lot of attention from syntacticians. From the syntactic discussions of switch reference, it has become clear that switch reference is far from a unified phenomenon, as it seems to range between a strictly syntactic system in some languages and a pragmatically driven marker of discourse cohesion in others. Switch reference involves the marking of (dis)continuity, and switch reference markers are more often than not morphological units. This means that, apart from the syntactic side, switch reference has a morphological side as well. The morphology of switch reference has received far less attention than its syntax and semantics. Although there are clear tendencies with respect to the morphological characteristics of switch reference markers (they tend to be inflectional suffixes that take a verb as their host), their characteristics are by no means uniform across languages. Switch reference is not always clearly an inflectional category, nor is it always expressed strictly morphologically, but rather by clitics or phonologically free words. Languages may furthermore have dedicated switch reference marking, but in many cases, switch reference is expressed in combination with other categories sharing the exponent. Paradigms of switch reference markers may show several types of asymmetries, whether to do with markedness, (co-)exponence, or different morphosyntactic behavior. A possible reason for the diversity found in switch reference markers, sometimes within the same language, may be the diverse origins of the markers: they may for instance stem from gapping structures, nonfinite verb morphology, pronouns, deictic elements, conjunction markers, or case markers.
Laurie Beth Feldman and Judith F. Kroll
We summarize findings from across a range of methods, including behavioral measures of overall processing speed and accuracy, electrophysiological indices that tap into the early time course of language processing, and neural measures using structural and functional imaging. We argue that traditional claims about rigid constraints on the ability of late bilinguals to exploit the meaning and form of the morphology and morphosyntax in a second language should be revised so as to move away from all or none command of structures motivated from strict dichotomies among linguistic categories of morphology. We describe how the dynamics of morphological processing in neither monolingual or bilingual speakers is easily characterized in terms of the potential to decompose words into their constituent morphemes and that morphosyntactic processing is not easily characterized in terms of categories of structures that are learnable and those that are unlearnable by bilingual and nonnative speakers. Instead, we emphasize the high degree of variability across individuals and plasticity within individuals in their ability to successfully learn and use even subtle aspects of a second language. Further, both of the bilingual’s two languages become active when even one language is engaged, and parallel activation has consequences that shape both languages, thus their influence is not in the unidirectional manner that was traditionally assumed. We briefly discuss the nature of possible constraints and directions for future research.
Anthony P. Grant
The Penutian language family, Penutian phylum, or better still, Penutian hypothesis is one of the largest genealogical linguistic groupings to have been proposed for western North America. It involves 16 families or isolates. Only a few of these families are demonstrably relatable to one another according to current knowledge and diachronic techniques. Sometimes Penutian is split by observers into groups of languages assumed to be interrelated, and this is done without assumptions that the groups themselves are interrelated. This article focuses on the Canadian and US languages in “Sapir’s Penutian,” the most commonly accepted version; the most southerly family within Penutian is thus held as Yokutsan of California’s Sierra Nevada. It discusses the subclassification of the so-called Penutian languages into families and smaller units; aspects of their phonology, morphosyntax, and contact histories; and issues in their revitalization and the potential reconstruction of Proto-Penutian.
James Hye Suk Yoon
The syntax of Korean is characterized by several signature properties. One signature property is head-finality. Word order variations and restrictions obey head-finality. Korean also possesses wh in-situ as well as internally headed relative clauses, as is typical of a head-final language. Another major signature property is dependent-marking. Korean has systematic case-marking on nominal dependents and very little, if any, head-marking. Case-marking and related issues, such as multiple case constructions, case alternations, case stacking, case-marker ellipsis, and case-marking on adjuncts, are front and center properties of Korean syntax as viewed from the dependent-marking perspective. Research on these aspects of Korean has contributed to the theoretical understanding of case and grammatical relations in linguistic theory. Korean is also characterized by agglutinative morphosyntax. Many issues in Korean syntax straddle the morphology-syntax boundary. Korean morphosyntax constitutes a fertile testing ground for ongoing debates about the relationship between morphology and syntax in domains such as coordination, deverbal nominalizations (mixed category constructions), copula, and other denominal constructions. Head-finality and agglutinative morphosyntax intersect in domains such as complex/serial verb and auxiliary verb constructions. Negation, which is a type of auxiliary verb construction, and the related phenomena of negative polarity licensing, offer important evidence for crosslinguistic understanding of these phenomena. Finally, there is an aspect of Korean syntax that reflects areal contact. Lexical and grammatical borrowing, topic prominence, pervasive occurrence of null arguments and ellipsis, as well as a complex system of anaphoric expressions, resulted from sustained contact with neighboring Sino-Tibetan languages.
Conjugation classes have been defined as the set of all forms of a verb that spell out all possible morphosyntactic categories of person, number, tense, aspect, mood, and/or other additional categories that the language expresses in verbs. Theme vowels instantiate conjugation classes as purely morphological markers; that is, they determine the verb’s morphophonological surface shape but not its syntactic or semantic properties. They typically split the vocabulary items of the category verb into groups that spellout morphosyntactic and morphosemantic feature specifications with the same inflectional affixes. The bond between verbs and their conjugational marking is idiosyncratic, and cannot be established on semantic, syntactic, or phonological grounds, although there have been serious attempts at finding a systematic correlation. The existence of theme vowels and arbitrary conjugation classes has been taken by lexicalist theories as empirical evidence to argue against syntactic approaches to word formation and are used as one of the main arguments for the autonomy of morphology. They further raise questions on the nature of basic morphological notions such as stems or paradigms and serve as a good empirical ground for theories of allomorphy and syncretism, or to test psycholinguistic and neurolinguistic theories of productivity, full decomposition, and storage. Conjugations and their instantiation via theme vowels may also be a challenge for theories of first language acquisition and the learning of morphological categories devoid of any semantic meaning or syntactic alignment that extend to second language acquisition as well. Thus, analyzing their nature, their representation, and their place in grammar is crucial as the approach to these units can have profound effects on linguistic theory and the architecture of grammar.
Gender is a grammatical feature, in a family with person, number, and case. In the languages that have grammatical gender—according to a representative typological sample, almost half of the languages in the world—it is a property that separates nouns into classes. These classes are often meaningful and often linked to biological sex, which is why many languages are said to have a “masculine” and a “feminine” gender. A typical example is Italian, which has masculine words for male persons (il bambino “the.m little boy”) and feminine words for female persons (la bambina “the.f little girl”). However, gender systems may be based on other semantic distinctions or may reflect formal properties of the noun. In all cases, the defining property is agreement: the behavior of associated words. In Italian, the masculine gender of the noun bambino matches its meaning as well as its form—the noun ends in –o and inflects like a regular –o class noun—but the true indicator of gender is the form of the article. This can be seen in words like la mano “the.f hand,” which is feminine despite its final -o, and il soprano “the.m soprano,” which is masculine, although it usually refers to a woman. For the same reasons, we speak of grammatical gender only if the distinction is reflected in syntax; a language that has words for male and female persons or animals does not necessarily have a gender system. Across the languages of the world, gender systems vary widely. They differ in the number of classes, in the underlying assignment rules, and in how and where gender is marked. Since agreement is a definitional property, gender is generally absent in isolating languages as well as in young languages with little bound morphology, including sign languages. Therefore, gender is considered a mature phenomenon in language. Gender interacts in various ways with other grammatical features. For example, it may be limited to the singular number or the third person, and it may be crosscut by case distinctions. These and other interrelations can complicate the task of figuring out a gender system in first or second language acquisition. Yet, children master gender early, making use of a broad variety of cues. By contrast, gender is famously difficult for second-language learners. This is especially true for adults and for learners whose first language does not have a gender system. Nevertheless, tests show that even for this group, native-like competence is possible to attain.