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.
This article discusses several important phonological issues concerning subtractive processes in morphology. First, this article addresses the scope of subtractive processes that linguistic theories should be concerned with. Many subtractive processes fall in the realm of grammatical theories. Subsequently, previous processual and affixal approaches to subtractive morphology and nonconcatenative allomorphy are reviewed. Then, theoretical restrictiveness is taken up. Proponents of the affixal view often claim that it is more restrictive than the processual view, but their argument is not convincing. We do not know enough to discuss theoretical restrictiveness. Finally, earlier analyses of subtractive morphology in parallel and serial Optimality Theory are reviewed. We have not accomplished enough in this respect, so no conclusive choice of parallelism or serialism is possible at present. As a whole, there are too many unsettled matters to conclude about the nature of subtractive processes in morphology.
Giorgio Francesco Arcodia and Bianca Basciano
Sino-Tibetan is a highly diverse language family, in which a wide range of morphological phenomena and profiles may be found. The family is generally seen as split into two major branches, i.e., Sinitic and Tibeto-Burman, but while Sinitic is a fairly homogeneous group in terms of morphology, the so-called Tibeto-Burman branch of the family includes isolating languages like Karen, languages with transparent and regular agglutinative morphology (Lolo-Burmese, Tibetic, and Boro-Garo), but also paradigmatically complex languages, with elaborate argument indexation and transitivity management systems; while in some languages morphological complexity is mostly a conservative trait (e.g., Rgyalrongic and Kiranti), other languages developed innovative paradigms, with only few vestiges of the archaic system (Kuki-Chin). Some notable morphological phenomena in modern Tibeto-Burman languages are verb stem alternation, peculiar nominalization constructions, and long sequences of prefixes, which in some languages (Chintang) may even be freely permutated without any relevant change in meaning. Also, while Sinitic languages are normally taken to be a prototypical example of the (ideal) isolating morphological type (with virtually no inflection, stable morpheme boundaries, no cumulative exponence, and no allomorphy or suppletion), phenomena of strong reduction of morphemes, blurring of morpheme boundaries and fusion between root and suffix, and nonconcatenative morphology, as well as allomorphy and (proto-)paradigmatic organization of morphology, are attested in some Chinese dialects, mostly concentrated in an area of Northern China (Shaanxi, Shanxi, Henan, Hebei, and Shandong provinces). Moreover, ‘Altaic-type’ agglutinative morphology, including case marking, is found in Sinitic languages of the so-called Qinghai-Gansu Sprachbund; in this case, the development of agglutination, as well as other typological traits (as SOV word order), is clearly the product of intense and prolonged contact between Northwestern Chinese dialects and Tibetic and Mongolic languages of China. On the other hand, Southern Chinese dialects have developed in closer contact with Hmong-Mien, Tai-Kadai, and Austroasiatic languages, and are thus closer to the typology of Mainland Southeast Asian languages, with a very strong isolating profile.
Gerrit Jan Dimmendaal
Nilo-Saharan, a phylum spread mainly across an area south of the Afro-Asiatic and north of the Niger-Congo phylum, was established as a genetic grouping by Greenberg. In his earlier, continent-wide classification of African languages in articles published between 1949 and 1954, Greenberg had proposed a Macro-Sudanic family (renamed Chari-Nile in subsequent studies), consisting of a Central Sudanic and an Eastern Sudanic branch plus two isolated members, Berta and Kunama. This family formed the core of the Nilo-Saharan phylum as postulated by Greenberg in his The Languages of Africa, where a number of groups were added which had been treated as isolated units in his earlier classificatory work: Songhay, Eastern Saharan (now called Saharan), Maban and Mimi, Nyangian (now called Kuliak or Rub), Temainian (Temeinian), Coman (Koman), and Gumuz. Presenting an “encyclopaedic survey” of morphological structures for the more than 140 languages belonging to this phylum is impossible in such a brief study, also given the tremendous genetic distance between some of the major subgroups. Instead, typological variation in the morphological structure of these genetically-related languages will be central. In concrete terms this involves synchronic and diachronic observations on their formal properties (section 2), followed by an introduction to the nature of derivation, inflection, and compounding properties in Nilo-Saharan (section 3). This traditional compartmentalization has its limits because it misses out on the interaction with lexical structures and morphosyntactic properties in its extant members, as argued in section 4. As pointed out in section 5, language contact also must have played an important role in the geographical spreading of several of these typological properties.