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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.
Acceptability judgments are reports of a speaker’s or signer’s subjective sense of the well-formedness, nativeness, or naturalness of (novel) linguistic forms. Their value comes in providing data about the nature of the human capacity to generalize beyond linguistic forms previously encountered in language comprehension. For this reason, acceptability judgments are often also called grammaticality judgments (particularly in syntax), although unlike the theory-dependent notion of grammaticality, acceptability is accessible to consciousness. While acceptability judgments have been used to test grammatical claims since ancient times, they became particularly prominent with the birth of generative syntax. Today they are also widely used in other linguistic schools (e.g., cognitive linguistics) and other linguistic domains (pragmatics, semantics, morphology, and phonology), and have been applied in a typologically diverse range of languages. As psychological responses to linguistic stimuli, acceptability judgments are experimental data. Their value thus depends on the validity of the experimental procedures, which, in their traditional version (where theoreticians elicit judgments from themselves or a few colleagues), have been criticized as overly informal and biased. Traditional responses to such criticisms have been supplemented in recent years by laboratory experiments that use formal psycholinguistic methods to collect and quantify judgments from nonlinguists under controlled conditions. Such formal experiments have played an increasingly influential role in theoretical linguistics, being used to justify subtle judgment claims or new grammatical models that incorporate gradience or lexical influences. They have also been used to probe the cognitive processes giving rise to the sense of acceptability itself, the central finding being that acceptability reflects processing ease. Exploring what this finding means will require not only further empirical work on the acceptability judgment process, but also theoretical work on the nature of grammar.
Katie Wagner and David Barner
Human experience of color results from a complex interplay of perceptual and linguistic systems. At the lowest level of perception, the human visual system transforms the visible light portion of the electromagnetic spectrum into a rich, continuous three-dimensional experience of color. Despite our ability to perceptually discriminate millions of different color shades, most languages categorize color into a number of discrete color categories. While the meanings of color words are constrained by perception, perception does not fully define them. Once color words are acquired, they may in turn influence our memory and processing speed for color, although it is unlikely that language influences the lowest levels of color perception.
One approach to examining the relationship between perception and language in forming our experience of color is to study children as they acquire color language. Children produce color words in speech for many months before acquiring adult meanings for color words. Research in this area has focused on whether children’s difficulties stem from (a) an inability to identify color properties as a likely candidate for word meanings, or alternatively (b) inductive learning of language-specific color word boundaries. Lending plausibility to the first account, there is evidence that children more readily attend to object traits like shape, rather than color, as likely candidates for word meanings. However, recent evidence has found that children have meanings for some color words before they begin to produce them in speech, indicating that in fact, they may be able to successfully identify color as a candidate for word meaning early in the color word learning process. There is also evidence that prelinguistic infants, like adults, perceive color categorically. While these perceptual categories likely constrain the meanings that children consider, they cannot fully define color word meanings because languages vary in both the number and location of color word boundaries. Recent evidence suggests that the delay in color word acquisition primarily stems from an inductive process of refining these boundaries.
Myrto Grigoroglou and Anna Papafragou
To become competent communicators, children need to learn that what a speaker means often goes beyond the literal meaning of what the speaker says. The acquisition of pragmatics as a field is the study of how children learn to bridge the gap between the semantic meaning of words and structures and the intended meaning of an utterance. Of interest is whether young children are capable of reasoning about others’ intentions and how this ability develops over time.
For a long period, estimates of children’s pragmatic sophistication were mostly pessimistic: early work on a number of phenomena showed that very young communicators were egocentric, oblivious to other interlocutors’ intentions, and overall insensitive to subtle pragmatic aspects of interpretation. Recent years have seen major shifts in the study of children’s pragmatic development. Novel methods and more fine-grained theoretical approaches have led to a reconsideration of older findings on how children acquire pragmatics across a number of phenomena and have produced a wealth of new evidence and theories.
Three areas that have generated a considerable body of developmental work on pragmatics include reference (the relation between words or phrases and entities in the world), implicature (a type of inferred meaning that arises when a speaker violates conversational rules), and metaphor (a case of figurative language). Findings from these three domains suggest that children actively use pragmatic reasoning to delimit potential referents for newly encountered words, can take into account the perspective of a communicative partner, and are sensitive to some aspects of implicated and metaphorical meaning. Nevertheless, children’s success with pragmatic communication is fragile and task-dependent.
A growing phenomena in urban centers on the African continent in the latter half of the 20th century and start of the 21st century has been what have been described as Urban Youth Languages,’ although the ‘urban’ moniker is increasingly being dropped as these phenomena spread out from cities to rural areas. The term tends to refer to language phenomena such as Sheng or Engsh in Kenya, Tsotsitaal in South Africa, Nouchi in Ivory Coast, Camfranglais in Cameroon, and many more, both named and unnamed. These language styles are used and innovated predominantly by young people, and in this way they are distinguished from the large urban vernaculars present in African urban centers such as urban Wolof.
African (Urban) Youth Languages usually utilize a dominant urban language as the grammatical base, such as Swahili in Nairobi Sheng and Zulu or Sotho in Johannesburg Tsotsitaal, and they feature a great deal of lexical borrowing from other languages present in Africa’s highly multilingual urban contexts, such as the colonial languages and the local African languages common to a particular urban center. They also may utilize the dominant European language as the grammatical base, such as French in the case of Camfranglais, with borrowings from English and African languages. They strikingly draw on metaphor and pop culture in the innovation of new terms. These varieties are ‘languages relexicalised,’ in Halliday’s terms, and are used by young people for creativity and entertainment, to have fun with peers, to affirm in-group relations, and to indicate status.
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.
Susan Edwards and Christos Salis
Aphasia is an acquired language disorder subsequent to brain damage in the left hemisphere. It is characterized by diminished abilities to produce and understand both spoken and written language compared with the speaker’s presumed ability pre-cerebral damage. The type and severity of the aphasia depends not only on the location and extent of the cerebral damage but also the effect the lesion has on connecting areas of the brain. Type and severity of aphasia is diagnosed in comparison with assumed normal adult language. Language changes associated with normal aging are not classed as aphasia. The diagnosis and assessment of aphasia in children, which is unusual, takes account of age norms.
The most common cause of aphasia is a cerebral vascular accident (CVA) commonly referred to as a stroke, but brain damage following traumatic head injury such as road accidents or gunshot wounds can also cause aphasia. Aphasia following such traumatic events is non-progressive in contrast to aphasia arising from brain tumor, some types of infection, or language disturbances in progressive conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, where the language disturbance increases as the disease progresses.
The diagnosis of primary progressive aphasia (as opposed to non-progressive aphasia, the main focus of this article) is based on the following inclusion and exclusion criteria by M. Marsel Mesulam, in 2001. Inclusion criteria are as follows: Difficulty with language that interferes with activities of daily living and aphasia is the most prominent symptom. Exclusion criteria are as follows: Other non-degenerative disease or medical disorder, psychiatric diagnosis, episodic memory, visual memory, and visuo-perceptual impairment, and, finally, initial behavioral disturbance.
Aphasia involves one or more of the building blocks of language, phonemes, morphology, lexis, syntax, and semantics; and the deficits occur in various clusters or patterns across the spectrum. The degree of impairment varies across modalities, with written language often, but not always, more affected than spoken language. In some cases, understanding of language is relatively preserved, in others both production and understanding are affected. In addition to varied degrees of impairment in spoken and written language, any or more than one component of language can be affected. At the most severe end of the spectrum, a person with aphasia may be unable to communicate by either speech or writing and may be able to understand virtually nothing or only very limited social greetings. At the least severe end of the spectrum, the aphasic speaker may experience occasional word finding difficulties, often difficulties involving nouns; but unlike difficulties in recalling proper nouns in normal aging, word retrieval problems in mild aphasia includes other word classes.
Descriptions of different clusters of language deficits have led to the notion of syndromes. Despite great variations in the condition, patterns of language deficits associated with different areas of brain damage have been influential in understanding language-brain relationships. Increasing sophistication in language assessment and neurological investigations are contributing to a greater, yet still incomplete understanding of language-brain relationships.