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 its 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: (a) the antepenultimate and unaccented patterns, as opposed to (b) multiple patterns. Seemingly different accent rules can be generalized if one focuses on these 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 de-accenting or pseudo-de-accenting morphemes, certain syntactic categories, as well as some 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, which is also characteristic of compounds: 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.
Japanese pitch accent also displays interesting features in the domains beyond the word. For example, it actively participates in downstep, an intonational process by which word accent lowers the pitch range of subsequent materials in the same utterance. It also exhibits intriguing properties with respect to the ways accent neutralization is avoided in sentence-level phonology.
Finally, careful analysis of word accent sheds new light on the syllable structure of the language, notably on two interrelated questions about diphthonghood and super-heavy syllables. It provides crucial insight into diphthongs, or the question of which vowel sequence constitutes a diphthong as against vowel sequences across syllable boundaries. It also presents new evidence against trimoraic syllables in the language.
“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.
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 quantification, polarity items, donkey anaphora and binding principles, negation, indexicals, tense and aspects, and eventuality, are all discussed by semanticists who work on the Chinese languages. The issues of particular interest include and are not limited to:
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.
The Eskimo-Aleut language family consists of two quite different branches, Aleut and Eskimo. The latter consists of Yupik and Inuit languages. It is spoken from the eastern coast of Russia to Greenland. The family is thought to have developed and diverged in Alaska between 4,000 and 6,000 years ago, although recent findings in a variety of fields suggest a more complex prehistory than previously assumed. The language family shares certain characteristics, including polysynthetic word formation, an originally ergative-absolutive case system (now substantially modified in Aleut), SOV word order, and more or less similar phonological systems across the language family, involving voiceless stop and voiced fricative consonant series often in alternation, and an originally four-vowel system frequently reduced to three. The languages in the family have undergone substantial postcolonial contact effects, especially evident in (although not restricted to) loanwords from the respective colonial languages. There is extensive language documentation for all languages, although not necessarily all dialects. Most languages and dialects are severely endangered today, with the exception of Eastern Canadian Inuit and Greenlandic (Kalaallisut). There are also theoretical studies of the languages in many linguistic fields, although the languages are unevenly covered, and there are still many more studies of the phonologies and syntaxes of the respective languages than other aspects of grammar.
D. Gary Miller
Apart from runic inscriptions, Gothic is the earliest attested language of the Germanic family, dating to the 4th century. Along with Crimean Gothic, it belongs to the branch known as East Germanic. The bulk of the extant Gothic corpus is a translation of the Bible, of which only a portion remains. The translation is traditionally ascribed to Wulfila, who is credited with inventing the Gothic alphabet. The many Greek conventions both help and hinder interpretation of the Gothic phonological system. As in Greek, letters of the alphabet functioned as numerals, but the late letter names were from runic.
Gothic inflectional categories include nouns, adjectives, and verbs. Nouns are inflected for three genders, two numbers, and four cases. Various stem types inherited from Indo-European constitute different form classes in Gothic. Adjectives have the same properties, and are also inflected according to so-called weak and strong forms, as are Gothic verbs. Verbs are also inflected for three persons and numbers; past and nonpast tense; an indicative and a non-indicative mood (here called optative); and voice. The mediopassive survives in Gothic partly as a synthetic passive and partly in innovated periphrastic formations, with middle and anticausative functions taken over by reflexive-type structures.
In syntax, Gothic had null subjects as an option, mostly in the third person singular. Aspect was effected primarily by prefixes, which have many other functions, and aspect was not consistently indicated. Absolute constructions with a participle occurred in various cases with functional differences. Relativization was primarily effected by relative pronouns built on demonstratives plus a complementizer. Complementizers could be used with subordinate clause verbs in the indicative or optative. A switch to the optative was triggered by irrealis, matrix verbs that do not permit a full range of subordinate tenses, expression of a hope or wish, potentiality, and several other conditions. Many of these are also relevant to matrix clauses (independent optatives).
Essentials of linearization include prepositional phrases, postposed genitives, (normally) postposed possessive adjectives, and preposed demonstratives. Verb-object order predominates, but there was much Greek influence. Verb-auxiliary is native Gothic.
While Middle Indo-Aryan dialects preserved the phonological system of old Indo-Aryan (OIA) virtually intact, their morpho-syntax underwent far-reaching changes, which fundamentally altered the synthetic morphology of earlier Prākrits in the direction of the analytic typology of New Indo-Aryan. Speaking holistically, the “accusative alignment” of OIA (Vedic Sanskrit) was restructured as an “ergative alignment” in Western IA languages, and it is precisely during the late middle Indo-Aryan (MIA) period (ca. 5th–12th c.
(a) Restructuring of the nominal case system (reduction of the number of cases from seven to four, and ultimately the rise of the binary distinction of the “absolutive” versus “oblique” case at the end of the MIA period; (b) The crucial role of animacy in the restructuring of the pronominal system, and the rise of the “double-oblique” system in Ardha-Māgadhī and Western Apabhramśa will be explicated; (c) In the verbal system, we witness complete remodeling of the aspectual system as a consequence of the loss of earlier synthetic forms expressing the perfective (Aorist) and “retrospective” (Perfect) aspect. Early Prākrits (Pāli) preserved their sigmatic Aorists (and the sigmatic Future) until late MIA centuries, while on the Iranian side, the loss of the “sigmatic” aorist was accelerated in Middle Persian by the weakening of s > h > Ø); (d) The development and the establishment of “ergative alignment” at the end of the MIA period will be presented as a consequence of the above typological changes: the rise of the absolutive vs. oblique case system; the loss of the finite morphology of the perfective and retrospective aspect; and the recreation of the aspectual contrast of perfectivity by means of quasinominal (participial) forms. (e) Concurrently, with the development towards the analyticity in grammatical aspect, we witness the evolution of lexical aspect (Aktionsart) ushering the florescence of “serial” verbs in New Indo-Aryan.
On the whole, a contingency view of alignment considers the increase in ergativity as a by-product of the restoration of the OIA aspectual triad: Imperfective—Perfective—Perfect (in morphological terms Present—Aorist—Perfect). The New Indo-Aryan (NIA) Perfective and Perfect are aligned ergatively, while their finite OIA ancestors (Aorist and Perfect) were aligned accusatively. Detailed linguistic analysis of Middle Indo-Aryan texts offers us a unique opportunity for our deeper comprehension of the formative period of the NIA state of affairs.
Hokan is a linguistic stock or phylum based on a series of hypotheses about deeper genetic relationships among languages that extend geographically from Northern California to Nicaragua. Following the general effort to genetically link the vast number of Native American languages and to reduce them to a few superstocks, Dixon and Kroeber first proposed the Hokan stock in 1913, to include several California indigenous languages: Karuk, Chimariko, Shastan, Palaihnihan (Atsugewi and Achumawi), Pomoan, Yana, and later Esselen and Yuman. The name Hokan stems from the Atsugewi word for “two”: hoqi. While the first proposals by Dixon and Kroeber rested on very limited cognate sets comprising only five words, later assessments by Sapir included hundreds of putative cognate sets and analyses of Hokan morphosyntax. By 1925, Sapir further included Washo, Salinan, Seri, Chumashan, Tequistlatecan, and Subtiaba-Tlapanec as the Southern Hokan branch into the stock.
Throughout the 20th century, scholars sought additional evidence for the stock as more and refined data on the languages became available. A number of languages were added, and earlier proposals were abandoned. A new surge in work on individual California indigenous languages in the 1950s and 1960s prompted a string of studies conducting binary comparisons. This renewed interest inspired a series of Hokan conferences held until the 1990s. A more recent comprehensive assessment of the entire stock was undertaken by Kaufman in 1988. Applying rigorous analysis and only implicating those languages for which he encountered substantial evidence, Kaufman proposes sixteen classificatory units for Hokan clustered geographically. Kaufman’s Hokan stock also includes Coahuilteco and Comecrudan in Mexico and Jicaque in Nicaragua.
Although Hokan was widely studied in the 20th century, and many scholars presented what they thought to be supporting evidence, it is far from being an established genetic unit. In fact, many scholars today treat it with a lot of skepticism. One major challenge, as with any phylum-level affiliation, is its time depth. Proto-Hokan is thought to be at least as antique as Proto-Indo-European. Moreover, many of the languages were spoken in geographically contiguous areas, with speakers being multilingual and in close contact for an extended period of time, as is the case in Northern California. This suggests considerable language contact effects and complicates the distinction between true cognates and ancient borrowings. Many of the languages involved further show similarities in grammatical structure as a result of language contact.
Hokan languages stretch across California, Nevada, South Texas, various parts of Mexico, Honduras, and Nicaragua and display notable structural differences. Phonologically, the languages show great variation including small and large phoneme inventories and different phonological processes. Typologically, they are equally diverse, but many are considered polysynthetic to varying degrees. Morphosyntactic and grammatical similarities are evident especially among languages spoken in Northern California. These resemblances include sets of lexical affixes with similar meanings and affinities in core argument patterns.
The Iroquoian languages are spoken today in New York State, Ontario, Quebec, Wisconsin, North Carolina, and Oklahoma. The languages share a relatively small segment inventory, a challenging accentual system, polysynthetic morphology, a complex system of pronominal affixes, an unusual kinship terminology, and a syntax that functions almost exclusively to combine the meaning of two expressions. Some of the languages have been documented since contact with Europeans in the 16th century. There exists substantial scholarly linguistic work on most of the languages, and solid teaching materials continue to be developed.
The rigor and intensity of investigation on Japanese in modern linguistics has been particularly noteworthy over the past 50 years. Not only has the elucidation of the similarities to and differences from other languages properly placed Japanese on the typological map, but Japanese has served as a critical testing area for a wide variety of theoretical approaches.
Within the sub-fields of Japanese phonetics and phonology, there has been much focus on the role of mora. The mora constitutes an important timing unit that has broad implications for analysis of the phonetic and phonological system of Japanese. Relatedly, Japanese possesses a pitch-accent system, which places Japanese in a typologically distinct group arguably different from stress languages, like English, and tone languages, like Chinese. A further area of intense investigation is that of loanword phonology, illuminating the way in which segmental and suprasegmental adaptations are processed and at the same time revealing the fundamental nature of the sound system intrinsic to Japanese.
In morphology, a major focus has been on compounds, which are ubiquitously found in Japanese. Their detailed description has spurred in-depth discussion regarding morphophonological (e.g., Rendaku—sequential voicing) and morphosyntactic (e.g., argument structure) phenomena that have crucial consequences for morphological theory. Rendaku is governed by layers of constraints that range from segmental and prosodic phonology to structural properties of compounds, and serves as a representative example in demonstrating the intricate interaction of the different grammatical aspects of the language. In syntax, the scrambling phenomenon, allowing for the relatively flexible permutation of constituents, has been argued to instantiate a movement operation and has been instrumental in arguing for a configurational approach to Japanese. Japanese passives and causatives, which are formed through agglutinative morphology, each exhibit different types: direct vs. indirect passives and lexical vs. syntactic causatives. Their syntactic and semantic properties have posed challenges to and motivations for a variety of approaches to these well-studied constructions in the world’s languages.
Taken together, the empirical analyses of Japanese and their theoretical and conceptual implications have made a tremendous contribution to linguistic research.