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 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.
David R. Mortensen
Hmong-Mien (also known as Miao-Yao) is a bipartite family of minority languages spoken primarily in China and mainland Southeast Asia. The two branches, called Hmongic and Mienic by most Western linguists and Miao and Yao by Chinese linguists, are both compact groups (phylogenetically if not geographically). Although they are uncontroversially distinct from one another, they bear a strong mutual affinity. But while their internal relationships are reasonably well established, there is no unanimity regarding their wider genetic affiliations, with many Chinese scholars insisting on Hmong-Mien membership in the Sino-Tibetan superfamily, some Western scholars suggesting a relationship to Austronesian and/or Tai-Kradai, and still others suggesting a relationship to Mon-Khmer. A plurality view appears to be that Hmong-Mien bears no special relationship to any surviving language family.
Hmong-Mien languages are typical—in many respects—of the non-Sino-Tibetan languages of Southern China and mainland Southeast Asia. However, they possess a number of properties that make them stand out. Many neighboring languages are tonal, but Hmong-Mien languages are, on average, more so (in terms of the number of tones). While some other languages in the area have small-to-medium consonant inventories, Hmong-Mien languages (and especially Hmongic languages) often have very large consonant inventories with rare classes of sounds like uvulars and voiceless sonorants. Furthermore, while many of their neighbors are morphologically isolating, few language groups display as little affixation as Hmong-Mien languages. They are largely head-initial, but they deviate from this generalization in their genitive-noun constructions and their relative clauses (which vary in position and structure, sometimes even within the same language).
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.
Nora C. England
Mayan languages are spoken by over 5 million people in Guatemala, Mexico, Belize, and Honduras. There are around 30 different languages today, ranging in size from fairly large (about a million speakers) to very small (fewer than 30 speakers). All Mayan languages are endangered given that at least some children in some communities are not learning the language, and two languages have disappeared since European contact. Mayas developed the most elaborated and most widely attested writing system in the Americas (starting about 300 BC).
The sounds of Mayan languages consist of a voiceless stop and affricate series with corresponding glottalized stops (either implosive and ejective) and affricates, glottal stop, voiceless fricatives (including h in some of them inherited from Proto-Maya), two to three nasals, three to four approximants, and a five vowel system with contrasting vowel length (or tense/lax distinctions) in most languages. Several languages have developed contrastive tone.
The major word classes in Mayan languages include nouns, verbs, adjectives, positionals, and affect words. The difference between transitive verbs and intransitive verbs is rigidly maintained in most languages. They usually use the same aspect markers (but not always). Intransitive verbs only indicate their subjects while transitive verbs indicate both subjects and objects. Some languages have a set of status suffixes which is different for the two classes. Positionals are a root class whose most characteristic word form is a non-verbal predicate. Affect words indicate impressions of sounds, movements, and activities. Nouns have a number of different subclasses defined on the basis of characteristics when possessed, or the structure of compounds. Adjectives are formed from a small class of roots (under 50) and many derived forms from verbs and positionals.
Predicate types are transitive, intransitive, and non-verbal. Non-verbal predicates are based on nouns, adjectives, positionals, numbers, demonstratives, and existential and locative particles. They are distinct from verbs in that they do not take the usual verbal aspect markers. Mayan languages are head marking and verb initial; most have VOA flexible order but some have VAO rigid order. They are morphologically ergative and also have at least some rules that show syntactic ergativity. The most common of these is a constraint on the extraction of subjects of transitive verbs (ergative) for focus and/or interrogation, negation, or relativization. In addition, some languages make a distinction between agentive and non-agentive intransitive verbs. Some also can be shown to use obviation and inverse as important organizing principles. Voice categories include passive, antipassive and agent focus, and an applicative with several different functions.
Timothy J. Vance
The term rendaku, sometimes translated as sequential voicing, denotes a morphophonemic phenomenon in Japanese. In a prototypical case, an alternating morpheme appears with an initial voiceless obstruent as a word on its own or as the initial element (E1) in a compound but with an initial voiced obstruent as the second element (E2) in a two-element compound. For example, the simplex word /take/ ‘bamboo’ and the compound /take+yabu/ ‘bamboo grove’ (cf. /yabu/ ‘grove’) begin with voiceless /t/, but this morpheme meaning ‘bamboo’ begins with voiced /d/ in /sao+dake/ ‘bamboo (made into a) pole’ (cf. /sao/ ‘pole’). Rendaku was already firmly established in 8th-century Old Japanese (OJ), the earliest variety for which extensive written records exist, and subsequent sound changes have made the alternations phonetically heterogeneous. Many OJ compounds with eligible E2s did not undergo rendaku, and the phenomenon remains pervasively irregular in modern Japanese. There are, however, many factors that promote or inhibit rendaku, and some of these appear to influence native-speaker behavior on experimental tasks. The best known phonological factor is Lyman’s Law, according to which rendaku does not apply to E2s that contain a non-initial voiced obstruent. Many theoretical phonologists endorse the idea that Lyman’s Law is a sub-case of the Obligatory Contour Principle, which rules out identical or similar units if they would be adjacent in some domain. Other well-known factors involve vocabulary stratum (e.g., the resistance to rendaku of recently borrowed E2s) or the morphological/semantic relationship between E2 and E1 (e.g., the resistance to rendaku of coordinate compounds). Some morphemes are idiosyncratically immune to rendaku. Other morphemes alternate but undergo rendaku in some compounds while failing to undergo it in others, even though no known factor is relevant. In addition, many individual compounds vary between a form with rendaku and a form without, and this variability is often not reflected in dictionary entries. Despite its irregularity, rendaku is productive in the sense that it often applies to newly created compounds. Many compounds, of course, are stored (with or without rendaku) in a speaker’s lexicon, but fact that native speakers can apply rendaku not just to existing E2s in novel compounds but even to made-up E2s shows that rendaku as an active process is somehow incorporated into the grammar.
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.