This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Linguistics. Please check back later for the full article.
Abstract words such as Fr. attention, It. diligenza, Sp. riqueza, Pt. cozedura, Ro. bunătate, belong to the word class nouns. They do not possess materiality and therefore lack sensory perceivability. Within the spectrum of nouns, abstracts are located on the opposite side of appellatives (e.g., Fr. chien, It. albero, Sp. casa); between them, there are collective nouns (e.g., Fr. montagne, It. fogliame, Sp. manada) and mass nouns (e.g., Fr. eau, It. cotone, Sp. leche). Abstract nouns are in part noncount and not able to be pluralized.
In terms of meaning, there is typically a threefold division in groups: (1) action/result nouns (e.g., Fr. lavage, traduction; It. caccia, giuramento; Sp. mordedura, cosecha; Pt. escolha, armação; Ro. arat, stricăciune); (2) status nouns (e.g., Fr. episcopat, It. cuginanza, Sp. almirantazgo, Pt. servidão, Ro. preoţie); and (3) quality nouns (e.g., Fr. dignité, It. cortezza, Sp. modestia, Pt. agrura, Ro. dulceaţă). However, these groups are not clearly delimitable. Action nouns generally tend to become concrete nouns due to metonymic change in meaning. This can be effected through the resultative meaning in fact since the Latin era: calceamentum “making of shoes” is derived from the verb calceare “to make shoes,” which then assumed the collective meaning “footwear,” which is the “result of the making.” Correspondingly, there are numerous examples for collectives and concretes in Romance languages following the morphological pattern of abstracts, for example, Fr. couture “seam,” venaison “venison,” It. ossatura “bone frame,” ornamento “decoration,” Sp. pescado “fi,” verdura “vegetable,” Pt. vestimenta “clothing,” moldura “frame,” Ro. osăminte “bones,” încinsătură “belt.”
From a purely morphological standpoint, a classification of abstracts according to derivation basis appears suitable: (1) (primary) denominal abstracts (e.g., Fr. duché, It. linguaggio, Sp. añada, Pt. compadrio, Ro. pitărie); (2) (primary) deadjectival a. (e.g., Fr. folie, It. bellezza, Sp. cortesía, Pt. baixeza, Ro. greutate); and (3) (primary) deverbal a. (e.g., Fr. mouvement, It. uscita, Sp. nacencia, Pt. perdição, Ro. arătură). Beyond that, there are abstracts that are not derived within the Romance languages, for example, Fr. paix, It. gioia, Sp. edad, Pt. morte, Ro. somn (cf. lat. pax, gaudium, aetas, which are derivatives within Latin). Still other abstracts arise from conversion, in which a change in a word class occurs without the addition of affixes: Fr. le loisir, le froid; It. il bene, il bello; Sp. el parecer, lo dulce. Especially converted adjectives are mainly occasional formations that have not been lexicalized. In Romanian, the long form of the infinitive always has the function of a verbal abstract, for example, cântare “singing” vs. a cânta “to sing.” Other examples for lexicalized conversions arise by means of ellipsis: lat. hibernum (tempus) → Fr. hiver, It. inverno, Sp. invierno, Pt. inverno, Ro. iarnă. The suffixless postverbal formation is of high significance in Romance languages, such as Fr. regret “regret” (← regretter), It. governo “government” (← governare), Sp. cambio “change” (← cambiar), Pt. perda “loss” (← perder), Ro. plac “pleasure” (← plăcea). Other abstract forming processes such as reduplication (Fr. cache cache “hide-and-seek,” It. fuggi fuggi “escape”) or conversion of finite verb forms (Fr. doit “amount”) may be labeled marginal.
In light of this, the question of how far the formation of abstracts in Romance languages then 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. To begin with, we find a larger number of abstract forming suffixes preserving their function in Romance languages, such as -ia (abundantia, sententia), -ía (astrología), -ura (scriptura), -ĭtia (pigritia), -mentum (ornamentum), -io (oratio). In addition, there is a group of Latin suffixes that have assumed the abstract forming function only in Romance. Among these are, for example, -aticu (Fr. péage, Sp. hallazgo), -aceu (Sp. cuchillazo), -aria (Sp. borrachera, It. vecchiaia), -oriu (Sd. albeskidordzu “daybreak”). Abstract forming suffixes of non-Latin origin are very rare, such as Germanic -eins (Old Fr. guerpine, plevine; Fr. haine). Suffixless processes of abstract formation are coming to full fruition only in Romance: The conversion of participles (Fr. vue, offerte; It. dormita, colorito; Sp. llegada, afeitado; Pt. chamada; sentido; Ro. făcut, mulţumită) is of special importance. The conversion of infinitives to nouns with abstract meaning is least common in Modern French (e.g., plaisir, devoir) and most widely spread in Romanian (iertare, stricare, etc., cf. above). Postverbal formation (Fr. amende, It. carica, Sp. Muestra, etc., cf. above), in contrast, is known to have a broad pan-Romance geographic spread. These innovative processes, too, can be traced back to the late Latin era. One problem lies in assigning grammatical gender in cases of suffixless formations: Nominalized participles and postverbal formations can be masculine or feminine while nominalized infinitives are mostly masculine; in Romanian, however, they are feminine.
Finally, the formation of abstracts as it is used in scientific and technical language follows the Neo-Latin and Greek word formation patterns (Fr. arthrite, tuberculose, athéisme; It. artrite, tubercolosi, ateismo; Sp. artritis, tuberculosis, ateísmo; Pt. artrite, tuberculose, ateísmo; Ro. artrită, tuberculoză, ateism) and therefore often only displays limited variation in the individual languages.
The word accent system of Tokyo Japanese might look quite complex with a number of accent patterns and rules. However, recent research has shown that it is not as complex as has been assumed if one incorporates the notion of markedness into the analysis: nouns have only two productive accent patterns, the antepenultimate and the unaccented pattern, and different accent rules can be generalized if one focuses on these two productive accent patterns.
The word accent system raises some new interesting issues. One of them concerns the fact that a majority of nouns are ‘unaccented,’ that is, they are pronounced with a rather flat pitch pattern, apparently violating the principle of obligatoriness. A careful analysis of noun accentuation reveals that this strange accent pattern occurs in some linguistically predictable structures. In morphologically simplex nouns, it typically tends to emerge in four-mora nouns ending in a sequence of light syllables. In compound nouns, on the other hand, it emerges due to multiple factors, such as compound-final deaccenting morphemes, deaccenting pseudo-morphemes, and some types of prosodic configurations.
Japanese pitch accent exhibits an interesting aspect in its interactions with other phonological and linguistic structures. For example, the accent of compound nouns is closely related with rendaku, or sequential voicing; the choice between the accented and unaccented patterns in certain types of compound nouns correlates with the presence or absence of the sequential voicing. Moreover, whether the compound accent rule applies to a certain compound depends on its internal morphosyntactic configuration as well as its meaning; alternatively, the compound accent rule is blocked in certain types of morphosyntactic and semantic structures.
Finally, careful analysis of word accent sheds new light on the syllable structure of the language, notably on two interrelated questions about diphthong-hood and super-heavy syllables. It provides crucial insight into ‘diphthongs,’ or the question of which vowel sequence constitutes a diphthong, against a vowel sequence across a syllable boundary. It also presents new evidence against trimoraic syllables in the language.
Afroasiatic languages are the fourth largest linguistic phylum, spoken by some 350 million people in North, West, Central, and East Africa, in the Middle East, and in scattered communities in Europe, the United States, and the Caucasus. Some Afroasiatic languages, such as Arabic, Hausa, Amharic, Somali, and Oromo, are spoken by millions of people, while others are endangered with extinction. As of the early 21st century, the phylum is composed of six families: Egyptian (extinct), Semitic, Cushitic, Omotic, Berber, and Chadic. There are some typological features shared by all families, particularly in the domain of phonology. Languages are also typologically quite distinct with respect to syntax and functions encoded in the grammatical systems.
Some Afroasiatic languages, such as Egyptian, Akkadian, Phoenician, Hebrew, Arabic, and Ge’ez, have a longtime written tradition, but for many languages no writing system has yet been proposed or adopted. The Old Semitic writing system gave rise to the modern alphabets used in thousands of unrelated contemporary languages. Two Semitic languages, Hebrew (with some Aramaic) and Arabic, were used to write the Old Testament and the Koran, the holy books of Judaism and Islam.
“Altaic” is a common term applied by linguists to a number of language families, spread across Central Asia and the Far East and sharing a large, most likely non-coincidental, number of structural and morphemic similarities. At the onset of Altaic studies, these similarities were ascribed to the one-time existence of an ancestral language—“Proto-Altaic,” from which all these families are descended; circumstantial evidence and glottochronological calculations tentatively date this language to some time around the 6th–7th millennium
The debate over the nature of the relationship between the various units that constitute “Altaic,” sometimes referred to as “the Altaic controversy,” has been one of the most hotly debated topics in 20th-century historical linguistics and a major focal point of studies dealing with the prehistory of Central and East Eurasia. Supporters of “Proto-Altaic,” commonly known as “(pro-)Altaicists,” claim that only divergence from an original common ancestor can account for the observed regular phonetic correspondences and other structural similarities, whereas “anti-Altaicists,” without denying the existence of such similarities, insist that they do not belong to the “core” layers of the respective languages and are therefore better explained as results of lexical borrowing and other forms of areal linguistic contact.
As a rule, “pro-Altaicists” claim that “Proto-Altaic” is as reconstructible by means of the classic comparative method as any uncontroversial linguistic family; in support of this view, they have produced several attempts to assemble large bodies of etymological evidence for the hypothesis, backed by systems of regular phonetic correspondences between compared languages. All of these, however, have been heavily criticized by “anti-Altaicists” for lack of methodological rigor, implausibility of proposed phonetic and/or semantic changes, and confusion of recent borrowings with items allegedly inherited from a common ancestor. Despite the validity of many of these objections, it remains unclear whether they are sufficient to completely discredit the hypothesis of a genetic connection between the various branches of “Altaic,” which continues to be actively supported by a small, but stable scholarly minority.
K. A. Jayaseelan
The Dravidian languages have a long-distance reflexive anaphor taa
The Dravidian languages also have reciprocal and distributive anaphors. These have bipartite structures. An example of a Malayalam reciprocal anaphor is oral … ma
A noteworthy fact about the pronominal system of Dravidian is that the third person pronouns come in proximal-distal pairs, the proximal pronoun being used to refer to something nearby and the distal pronoun being used elsewhere.
Japanese is a language where the grammatical status of arguments and adjuncts is marked exclusively by postnominal case markers, and various argument realization patterns can be assessed by their case marking. Since Japanese is categorized as a language of the nominative-accusative type typologically, the unmarked case-marking frame obtained for transitive predicates of the non-stative (or eventive) type is ‘nominative-accusative’. Nevertheless, transitive predicates falling into the stative class often have other case-marking alignments, such as ‘nominative-nominative’ and ‘dative-nominative’. Consequently, Japanese provides much more varying argument realization patterns than those expected from its typological character as a nominative-accusative language.
In point of fact, argument marking can actually be much more elastic and variable, the variations being motivated by several linguistic factors. Arguments often have the option of receiving either syntactic or semantic case, with no difference in the logical or cognitive meaning (as in plural agent and source agent alternations) or depending on the meanings their predicate carry (as in locative alternation). The type of case marking that is not normally available in main clauses can sometimes be obtained in embedded contexts (i.e., in exceptional case marking and small-clause constructions). In complex predicates, including causative and indirect passive predicates, arguments are case-marked differently from their base clauses by virtue of suffixation, and their case patterns follow the mono-clausal case array, despite the fact that they have multi-clausal structures.
Various case marking options are also made available for arguments by grammatical operations. Some processes instantiate a change on the grammatical relations and case marking of arguments with no affixation or embedding. Japanese has the grammatical process of subjectivization, creating extra (non-thematic) major subjects, many of which are identified as instances of ‘possessor raising’ (or argument ascension). There is another type of grammatical process, which reduces the number of arguments by virtue of incorporating a noun into the predicate, as found in the light verb constructions with suru ‘do’ and the complex adjective constructions formed on the negative adjective nai ‘non-existent.’
Bert Le Bruyn, Henriëtte de Swart, and Joost Zwarts
Bare nominals (also called “bare nouns”) are nominal structures without an overt article or other determiner. The distinction between a bare noun and a noun that is part of a larger nominal structure must be made in context: Milk is a bare nominal in I bought milk, but not in I bought the milk. Bare nouns have a limited distribution: In subject or object position, English allows bare mass nouns and bare plurals, but not bare singular count nouns (*I bought table). Bare singular count nouns only appear in special configurations, such as coordination (I bought table and chairs for £182).
From a semantic perspective, it is noteworthy that bare nouns achieve reference without the support of a determiner. A full noun phrase like the cookies refers to the maximal sum of cookies in the context, because of the definite article the. English bare plurals have two main interpretations: In generic sentences they refer to the kind (Cookies are sweet), in episodic sentences they refer to some exemplars of the kind (Cookies are in the cabinet). Bare nouns typically take narrow scope with respect to other scope-bearing operators like negation.
The typology of bare nouns reveals substantial variation, and bare nouns in languages other than English may have different distributions and meanings. But genericity and narrow scope are recurring features in the cross-linguistic study of bare nominals.
Since the start of the Islamic conquest of the Maghreb in the 7th century
Linguistic influence is found on all levels: phonology, morphology, syntax, and lexicon. In those cases where only innovative patterns are shared between the two language groups, it is often difficult to make out where the innovation started; thus the great similarities in syllable structure between Maghrebian Arabic and northern Berber are the result of innovations within both language families, and it is difficult to tell where it started. Morphological influence seems to be mediated exclusively by lexical borrowing. Especially in Berber, this has led to parallel systems in the morphology, where native words always have native morphology, while loans either have nativized morphology or retain Arabic-like patterns. In the lexicon, it is especially Berber that takes over scores of loanwords from Arabic, amounting in one case to over one-third of the basic lexicon as defined by 100-word lists.
Languages from at least five genetically unrelated families are spoken in the Caucasus, but there are only three endemic linguistic families belonging to the region: Kartvelian, West Caucasian, and Northeast Caucasian. These families are rather heterogeneous in terms of the number of languages and the distribution of the speakers across them. The Caucasus represents a situation where languages with millions of speakers have coexisted with one-village languages for hundreds of years, and where multilingualism has always been the norm. The richness of Caucasian languages on every linguistic stratum is dazzling: here we find some of the largest consonant inventories, inflectional systems where the mere number of word forms strains credibility (one of the Caucasian languages, Archi, is claimed to have over a million and a half word forms), and challenging syntactic structures. The typological interest of the Caucasian languages and the challenges they present to linguistic theory lie in different areas. Thus, for Kartvelian languages, the number of factors at play in the verbal system make the task of the production of a correct verbal form far from trivial. West Caucasian languages represent an instance of polysynthetic polypersonal verb inflection, which is unusual not only for Caucasus but for Eurasia in general. East Caucasian languages have large systems of non-finite forms which, unusually, retain the ability to realize agreement in gender and number while their non-finite nature is determined by the inability to head an independent clause and to express certain morpho-syntactic categories such as illocutionary force and evidentiality. Finally, all Caucasian languages are ergative to some extent.
Haihua Pan and Yuli Feng
Cross-linguistic data can add new insights to the development of semantic theories or even induce the shift of the research paradigm. The major topics in semantic studies such as bare noun denotation, quantification, degree semantics, polarity items, donkey anaphora and binding principles, long-distance reflexives, negation, tense and aspects, eventuality are all discussed by semanticists working on the Chinese language. The issues which are of particular interest include and are not limited to: (i) the denotation of Chinese bare nouns; (ii) categorization and quantificational mapping strategies of Chinese quantifier expressions (i.e., whether the behaviors of Chinese quantifier expressions fit into the dichotomy of A-Quantification and D-quantification); (iii) multiple uses of quantifier expressions (e.g., dou) and their implication on the inter-relation of semantic concepts like distributivity, scalarity, exclusiveness, exhaustivity, maximality, etc.; (iv) the interaction among universal adverbials and that between universal adverbials and various types of noun phrases, which may pose a challenge to the Principle of Compositionality; (v) the semantics of degree expressions in Chinese; (vi) the non-interrogative uses of wh-phrases in Chinese and their influence on the theories of polarity items, free choice items, and epistemic indefinites; (vii) how the concepts of E-type pronouns and D-type pronouns are manifested in the Chinese language and whether such pronoun interpretations correspond to specific sentence types; (viii) what devices Chinese adopts to locate time (i.e., does tense interpretation correspond to certain syntactic projections or it is solely determined by semantic information and pragmatic reasoning); (ix) how the interpretation of Chinese aspect markers can be captured by event structures, possible world semantics, and quantification; (x) how the long-distance binding of Chinese ziji ‘self’ and the blocking effect by first and second person pronouns can be accounted for by the existing theories of beliefs, attitude reports, and logophoricity; (xi) the distribution of various negation markers and their correspondence to the semantic properties of predicates with which they are combined; and (xii) whether Chinese topic-comment structures are constrained by both semantic and pragmatic factors or syntactic factors only.