1. University of Virginia
  2. Arts & Sciences

Linguistic Anthropology Seminar -- Fall 2011

Friday, October 7, 1-2:30pm (Brooks Hall 2nd Floor Conference Room)

Peter Hook, University of Virginia

"Alignment, Realignment and Paths of Syntactic Change: A Case Study of Indo-Aryan"

 Diatopy, or the study of variation across space as opposed to across time, may be enlisted as a resource in a general program of syntactic reconstruction (Harris 2008:84-5).  This paper proposes a test of the idea by juxtaposing the results from reconstruction by a diatopic comparison of present-day features with diachronic changes as they are known from the historical record.

In a recent publication V.P. Liperovsky (2007:150) provides data on case alignments and agreement in the Indo-Aryan language Braj in which he demonstrates a striking divergence from the patterns found in Braj’s (geographically) proximate neighbors Hindi-Urdu and Panjabi.  Surprisingly those divergences run closely parallel to the divergences in case alignment and agreement in the (geographically) more distant Indo-Aryan language Kashmiri.  Examples of these divergences include the use of the nominative/absolutive forms of personal pronouns [(1a) and (1b)] where speakers of Hindi-Urdu must use the dative/accusative (1c) and the agreement of the finite verb in person and number with the direct object [cf. (1a) and (1b) vs. (1c)]:

1a.  tai-nẽ   …    mAI                 bacāyau       ũũ                          (Braj)

        you-ERG    I.NOM/ABS   saved.Msg   am                    

      '… you have saved me.'                              

1b.  tsye            chu-th-as             bi                 bačōv-mut       (Kashmiri)

you.ERG   be-2sgERG-1sgNOM/ABS   I.NOM /ABS   saved-Msg 

      'You have saved me.'

1c.  tū-ne           mujhe                 bačāyā    hai                 (Hindi-Urdu)

you-ERG   me.DAT/ACC    saved       be.3sg.DEFAULT

      '… you have saved me.'

On the basis of these data (and other data as recorded by Hendriksen for Kochi and Kotgarhi) I argue that alignment congruences in geographically discontinuous corners of the Indo-Aryan language area are relics. They are to be regarded as evidence that Braj and Kashmiri preserve morphosyntactic patterns that were at one time more generally distributed across the languages of the western Indo-Gangetic plain.

To test this conclusion the paper adduces data from Old and contemporary Marathi. In (2a) from Old Marathi the alignment is congruent with that found in modern Braj and Kashmiri. In (2b), from the modern language, the alignment is in accord with that found in modern Hindi-Urdu [see (1c)]: 

2a. dzoD-unu  tumhĩĩ            dīdhal-e-ti

join-GER you.NOM/ABS gave-Mpl-2pl.NOM/ABS

'[X] joined you [to Y]...'                                                  [Master 1964: 131]


2b.bhumike-lā   nyāy               tumhi     dil-ā-t

role-DAT     justice(Msg)  you.ERG gave-Msg-2pl.ERG

'You were the one who did the role justice.'                                   [maharashtratimes.indiatimes.com]

The relevant data from Old Hindi-Urdu are not available but using diatopic comparison we can safely reconstruct its pattern of alignment and agreement as being parallel to those seen in (1a), (1b) and (2a).

Other patterns, however, may or may not be reliably reconstructed using diatopic comparison.


Harris, Alice. 2008. Reconstruction in Syntax. In G. Ferraresi and M. Goldbach (eds).Principles of Syntactic Reconstruction. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.  Pp. 73-95.  

Hendriksen, Hans. 1986-7. Himachali Studies.[3 vols]. Kobenhavn: Munksgaard.

Liperovsky, V. P. 2007.  Notes on the marking of actants in Braj.  In Masica, Colin P. (ed).Old and new perspectives on South Asian languages: grammar and semantics. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass. Pp. 144-52.

Master, Alfred. 1964. A grammar of Old Marathi. Oxford: Clarendon Press.


Related reading 1. Original Call for Papers from conference where this paper was presented: ICHL-Reconstructing-Syntax-CFP

Related reading 2: Harris, Alice. 2008. Reconstruction in Syntax. In G. Ferraresi and M. Goldbach (eds).Principles of Syntactic Reconstruction. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.  Pp. 73-95.  


Friday, November 4, 1-3pm (Brooks Hall 2nd Floor Conference Room)

Linda Lanz, College of William and Mary

"Language Endangerment and Change in Iñupiaq"

To what extent do recent changes in young speakers' and heritage learners' use of Iñupiaq (Eskimo-Aleut) conform with current expectations of language change in the face of language obscolesence? I suggest that several changes are underway in young speakers' Iñupiaq, including phonological, phonetic, and morphosyntactic. Some are already well established (30 years or more), while others have only recently been described. For example, young speakers' phonological inventories differ from those of older fluent speakers, as does their usage of inflectional morphology. In at least one case, I argue that the trend to teach spoken language simultaneously with literacy skills has led to a phonemic shift. All the changes seen so far are in line with cross-linguistic studies on other endangered languages undergoing change.

Related reading: Palosaari, Naomi & Lyle Campbell. Structural aspects of language endangerment. (Proofs).


Friday, November 11, 1-3pm (Brooks Hall 2nd Floor Conference Room)

Eve Danziger, University of Virginia

"Where No Man Has Gone Before: The Science of Fiction and Pragmatics of YouTube"

In recent debate about the evolutionary origins of Art, scientific attention has turned to the problematic existence of literary fiction. What possible selective pressures might favor the giving of respectful attention to narratives that are known to be untrue? Some evolutionary psychologists have proposed that interest in fictional narratives is parasitic upon the survival value of narrative gossip, in which individuals profit from discovering, for their own social group, who is mating with whom, and who is dominating whom. This paper examines the validity of this claim with respect to a popular genre of video narrative that can be found widely on YouTube--the production of pastiche versions of existing short YouTube videos. An alternative proposal about the adaptive value of fiction is proposed.