Young-mee Yu Cho
Due to a number of unusual and interesting properties, Korean phonetics and phonology have been generating productive discussion within modern linguistic theories, starting from structuralism, moving to classical generative grammar, and more recently to post-generative frameworks of Autosegmental Theory, Government Phonology, Optimality Theory, and others. In addition, it has been discovered that a description of important issues of phonology cannot be properly made without referring to the interface between phonetics and phonology on the one hand, and phonology and morpho-syntax on the other. Some phonological issues from Standard Korean are still under debate and will likely be of value in helping to elucidate universal phonological properties with regard to phonation contrast, vowel and consonant inventories, consonantal markedness, and the motivation for prosodic organization in the lexicon.
As might be expected from the difficulty of traversing it, the Sahara Desert has been a fairly effective barrier to direct contact between its two edges; trans-Saharan language contact is limited to the borrowing of non-core vocabulary, minimal from south to north and mostly mediated by education from north to south. Its own inhabitants, however, are necessarily accustomed to travelling desert spaces, and contact between languages within the Sahara has often accordingly had a much greater impact. Several peripheral Arabic varieties of the Sahara retain morphology as well as vocabulary from the languages spoken by their speakers’ ancestors, in particular Berber in the southwest and Beja in the southeast; the same is true of at least one Saharan Hausa variety. The Berber languages of the northern Sahara have in turn been deeply affected by centuries of bilingualism in Arabic, borrowing core vocabulary and some aspects of morphology and syntax. The Northern Songhay languages of the central Sahara have been even more profoundly affected by a history of multilingualism and language shift involving Tuareg, Songhay, Arabic, and other Berber languages, much of which remains to be unraveled. These languages have borrowed so extensively that they retain barely a few hundred core words of Songhay vocabulary; those loans have not only introduced new morphology but in some cases replaced old morphology entirely. In the southeast, the spread of Arabic westward from the Nile Valley has created a spectrum of varieties with varying degrees of local influence; the Saharan ones remain almost entirely undescribed. Much work remains to be done throughout the region, not only on identifying and analyzing contact effects but even simply on describing the languages its inhabitants speak.
This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Linguistics. Please check back later for the full article.
The Dravidian languages, spoken mainly in southern India and south Asia, were identified as a separate language family between 1816 and 1856. Four of the twenty-six Dravidian languages, namely Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, and Malayalam, have long literary traditions, the earliest dating back to the 1st century
A typical characteristic of Dravidian, which is also an areal characteristic of south Asian languages, is that experiencers and inalienable possessors are case-marked dative. Another is the serialization of verbs by the use of participles, and the use of light verbs to indicate aspectual meaning such as completion, (self- or non-self) benefaction, and reflexivization. Subjects, and arguments in general (e.g., direct and indirect objects), may be non-overt. So is the copula, except in Malayalam.
A number of properties of Dravidian are of interest from a universalist perspective, beginning with the observation that not all syntactic categories N, V, A, and P may be primitive. Dravidian postpositions are nominal or verbal in origin. A mere thirty proto-Dravidian roots have been identified as adjectival; these include numerals, quantifiers, and demonstratives in the proximate-distal-wh series. The adjectival function is performed by inflected verbs (participles) and nouns. The nominal encoding of experiences (as fear rather than afraid/afeared), and the absence of the verb have, arguably correlates with the appearance of dative case on experiencers. “Possessed” or genitive-marked N may fulfil the adjectival function, as also noticed for languages like Ulwa (a less exotic parallel may be adduced from the English of-possessive construction; cf. circles of light, cloth/rings of gold). More uniquely perhaps, Kannada instantiates dative-marked nouns as predicative adjectives. A recent argument that Malayalam verbs may originate as dative-marked nouns suggests that N is the only primitive syntactic category, and the seminal role of dative case.
Other important aspects of Dravidian morphosyntax that have received attention are anaphors and pronouns, in particular the long-distance anaphor taan and the verbal reflexive morpheme; question (wh-) words and the question/disjunction morphemes, which combine in a semantically transparent way to form quantifier words like someone; the use of reduplication to indicate distributive quantification; and the occurrence of “monstrous agreement” (first-person agreement in clauses embedded under a speech predicate, triggered by matrix third person antecedents).
Traditionally, agreement has been considered the marker of finiteness in Dravidian. The negative morpheme assumes finite and non-finite forms; the occurrence of matrix non-finite verb forms in finite negative clauses challenges the current equation of finiteness and tense.
The Dravidian languages are standardly considered to be wh- in situ languages, but wh- words, in fact, seem to move to a pre-verbal position in the unmarked word order; the consequent, apparently rightward, movement of some wh- arguments can be avoided by assuming a universal VO order, and wh-movement to a pre-verbal focus phrase.
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).
'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.