1. University of Virginia
  2. Arts & Sciences

Linguistic Anthropology Seminar -- Spring 2009

Wednesday, February 11, 3-5pm (Folklore Archive, basement of Brooks Hall)

Erik Larsen and Neal Fox (University of Virginia)
"A Comparative Optimality Theoretic Outlook on Loanword Phonology in Huave Dialects in Mexico"

This paper compares the success that the linguistic constraints proposed by Davidson and Noyer (see background reading) have in explaining the phonological changes inherent in loanword nativization in two dialects of Huave: San Mateo and San Dionisio del Mar. This comparison is made between the 469 loanwords collected from San Mateo by Davidson and Noyer and 246 loanwords compiled from sixteen stories transliterated from San Dionisio by Radin in 1929. Analysis reveals that the constraint set of Davidson and Noyer performs well in explaining the changes in phonological structure of Spanish loanwords in San Dionisio; it fully explains 77% of all changes. Loanwords left unexplained by their constraints can be resolved by newly theorized constraints, including COD, which restricts certain codas involving consonant clusters, and MAXCON:I-O, a faithfulness constraint governing the maintenance of individual phonemes from the Spanish source words. The addition of these constraints improves the total percentage of explainable phonological changes to over 86%. When applied to the original sample set from San Mateo, these two constraints, when combined with another new constraint called A-DROP, which results in the loanword dropping a fronted “a” from the Spanish source word, improves the percentage of words fully described by the constraint system from nearly 40% to over 50%. Patterns in vocalic change are evident, but more research is required to determine constraints governing their changes. A new category for organization of the constraint system is proposed which distinguishes between phonemic and segmental changes in phonology. Dialectical comparison reveals that members of the same language family share the same general constraint ordering, but some differences are to be expected.

Suggested Reading

Davidson, Lisa, and Rolf Noyer. 1997. Loan Phonology in Huave: Nativization and the Ranking of Faithfulness Constraints. In B. Agbayani and S. Tang (eds.), Proceedings of WCCFL15. Palo Alto: CSLI Publications.


Tuesday, March 24, 3-5pm (Brooks Hall Library)

Coulter George, Department of Classics, University of Virginia.

"Semitic Influence on the Greek of the Septuagint and New Testament: Evidence from the Use of Prepositions"

Ancient Greek had several competing ways of expressing when an event happened: all three oblique cases (genitive, dative, accusative) as well as a host of prepositional constructions can be used to indicate when, for how long, or within what time frame a given event took place. But the standard accounts of these constructions fail to capture many of the conditions that trigger the use of one rather than another. My ongoing monograph project is aimed at determining more precisely what these conditions were, especially in classical Attic prose authors (the corpus currently includes Thucydides, Xenophon, and Plato, a range of approximately 430–350 bc). To a large extent, the choice of construction is connected with the actionality of the verb modified by the construction, the pronominal and adjectival modifiers of the noun in the expression, as well as lexical quirks associated with individual nouns of time (e.g. the words for night and day take different constructions). The current paper, however, represents the beginnings of the second major part of this project, namely the extension of the study to the Koine Greek of the Hellenistic and Roman periods. Two major texts for our knowledge of the Greek of this time are the Septuagint (translated from Hebrew probably in the third and second centuries bc) and the New Testament (written largely by speakers with at least some fluency in Aramaic in the late first century ad). Debate continues over the extent to which the Greek of these Judeo-Christian texts differs from earlier Attic because of diachronic development in the Greek language on the one hand, or interference from Semitic on the other. On the basis of the clearer understanding of the Attic constructions attained in the earlier stages of this project, the paper at hand will examine how closely the temporal constructions from the Septuagint and New Testament match those of Hebrew and Aramaic as opposed to Greek texts of the period that are less likely to have been subject to Semitic influence.

Suggested Readings

Christidis, A.-F. 2007. A History of Ancient Greek: From the Beginnings to Late Antiquity, CUP, pp. 638-653.

Horrocks, Geoffrey. 1997. Greek: A History of the Language and Its Speakers, Longman, pp. 56-59 and 92-95.


Friday, April 3, 1-3pm (Kaleidoscope, Newcomb Hall)

Patrick McConvell, Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies

"From Pama to Nyungan: Change in Australian Kinship Terminologies from the North-east to the South-west"

Geoff O'Grady, who recently passed away, bequeathed to us a great idea: the Pama-Nyungan family of languages covering most of Australia. One of his major concerns was the linking together of cognates whose meanings were apparently quite disparate, and providing innovative explanations often based on specific metaphors and associations in Australian indigenous thought. Sometimes these hypotheses were, on his own admission, adventurous to the point of lacking caution, but the debate engendered is the spur to progress.

When it comes to kinship, semantic change is commonplace both worldwide and in Australia. The specific focus here is the Pama-Nyungan languages. Some of the semantic changes are universal as aspects of kinship are universal but others reflect specific types of social system in indigenous Australia. So a single root may have different meanings in different languages and the problem is what meaning or meanings to reconstruct to various proto-languages, including proto-Pama-Nyungan itself.

Various approaches have been proposed to answer such questions. One was that of Dyen and Aberle for the Athapaskan languages, but that has been criticised as too mechanistic and not sufficiently attuned to regional cultural factors by Blust and others. A number of proposals both old and recent have suggested that certain types of changes to systems are unidirectional. Other approaches see changes in meaning as proceeding via changes in usage and pragmatics, and an intermediate stage of polysemy (Evans and Wilkins). If we put this together with what we know of the constraints on types of kinship systems worldwide and in particular regions like Australia, the hypotheses about how systems might have developed and particular terms changed meanings are considerably narrowed down together with our choices of proto-meanings.

This paper looks at the types of meaning change found in Australian languages and how this fits together with general theories of kinship semantics and semantic change. Then a couple of examples are examined in detail to illustrate how this approach can enable us to arrive a stronger hypotheses about the meanings of proto-terms and the systems they form part of. These examples are illustrated using the AUSTKIN on-line database and mapping system.

(1) The terms *tyam(p)V and *ngatyi which have reflexes in many Pama-Nyungan and in the the case of the first at least, Non-Pama-Nyungan languages. Reflexes of these roots have a number of meanings in different languages and sometimes in the same language including preponderantly Mother's Father, cross-cousin (related to MF by the alternate generation equivalence principle) and spouse/sibling-in-law (based on cross-cousin marriage). It is implausible however that there should be two terms with the same meaning (MF) in a single proto-language so ways out of this impasse are discussed.

(2) The term *kaala- means Mother's Brother (or younger Mother's Brother) in north-eastern languages and cross-cousin/spouse elsewhere. Here there are also languages in which there is polysemy with both meanings, following what is known as Omaha skewing. This provides the bridging context for the change from uncle to cousin.

Co-sponsored by the Department of Anthropology and the Linguistics Program.


Monday, April 13, 7:30-9:30pm (Brooks Hall Library)

Joel Robbins, Department of Anthropology, UC San Diego

"Some Things You Say, Some Things You Dissimulate, and Some Things You Keep to Yourself: Linguistic and Material Exchange in the Construction of Melanesian Societies"

This workshop will be a joint discussion with the Department of Anthropology Sociocultural Workshop of a precirculated draft paper, which can be accessed here.