Thursday, September 18, 2008

papers for conference proceedings

Though I think so few people read this that I have little need of apologies, I thought I would make available to the public the reason there was no post on Monday: I was finishing up two papers which were due for conference proceedings that day. I won't get into detail about them, but I thought I would offer a short description of each.

Neologisms in Indigenous Languages of North America

A neologism is a new word created to name a new concept, often using productive morphology. For instance, "computer" is a neologism in English. In English we borrow --a LOT--, and most of our technical terms come essentially wholesale from Latin or Greek. However, Native American langauges are different. The reason I chose this topic was because I kept noticing that their names for new (esp. European) concepts weren't borrowings, but rather descriptive words or phrases (e.g., the Blackfoot word for 'car' means "it starts moving without apparent cause"). So I decided to investigate further and hopefully prove what I had a hunch was true: American languages coin new words much more often than they borrow words or expand the semantic scope of existing words. In the end, this did indeed turn out to be true. I also discovered an interesting trend: for animals, the trend didn't hold. In that category words were slightly more likely to borrow (though it wasn't a statistically significant difference).

Irrealis in Blackfoot (with Leora Bar-el)

The term "irrealis" is used to sentences that refer to the world other than how it is. The most typical irrealis contexts are conditionals and counterfactuals (e.g., "If I had a million dollars... [but I don't]"), but also can include imperatives, future, negation, and several other situations. Our goal was to investigat whether it makes sense to say that Blackfoot has irrealis as a grammatical category. Some languages clearly do. In Caddo, a Caddoan language spoken in Oklahoma, they use a different set of person prefixes depending on whether the context is realis or irrealis. English does not seem to have irrealis as a grammatical category, because we treat many different irrealis contexts in different ways (compares imperatives, negation, questions, conditionals, and counterfactuals -- you won't find any striking morphological or syntactic similarities as we do in Caddo). Our conclusion was that Blackfoot indeed lacks a grammatical category irrealis because no irrealis contexts are marked in a similar manner except for yes/no questions and negative statements. Mithun (1999) claims that minimally we would expect conditionals and counterfactuals to pattern together if irrealis has any real status in a language. Since this isn't true in Blackfoot (and for several other reasons), we concluded that Blackfoot lacks irrealis as a true grammatical category.


Anonymous said...

Nice post! Useful and well elaborated

Alex Remington said...

"Irrealis" sounds like a movie with a score by Philip Glass.