Online course on East Caucasian languages
Daghestan is an area of centuries-long contact between dozens of only distantly related (and sometimes unrelated) languages. A unique feature of Daghestan's language ecology is the combination of relatively small language populations and village-based endogamy. In this lecture, I will present new data on the size of language populations in Daghestan before the demographic changes of the 20th century. I will discuss the marriage rules in highland settlements and how they affect languages, and present the results of a recent study of language behavior in linguistically mixed families of highland Daghestan. I will make a brief overview of the typical patterns of multilingualism in Daghestan, such as lingua francas (Avar, Azerbaijani and Kumyk), bilingualism between adjacent villages, bilingualism in distant languages, and gender patterns. The spread of Russian and the changes in the language ecology of Daghestan will also be discussed.
Johanna Nichols (University of California, Berkeley & Linguistic Convergence Laboratory, Higher School of Economics)
This overview talk focuses on the distinctive structural properties of the Nakh-Daghestanian family, its unusually high phonological and grammatical complexity, how the grammar and lexicon do and do not fit into the southwest Asian language area, and ways in which it is unlike any other family in Eurasia. All of these properties are well adapted to the distinctive sociolinguistics and social structure of the eastern Caucasus; also, verticality and altitude profoundly affect the distribution of typological properties and grammatical complexity throughout the family. Not only the structure but also the history and evolution of the family are unlike any other in Eurasia, and I briefly survey the deeper prehistory of the family and its relevance to genetics, archaeology, phylogenetic interpretation, and other possibly connected language families.
This lecture discusses the phonological inventories of East Caucasian languages. In this talk I will show the phonological inventories of different East Caucasian languages, focusing on some peculiarities and rare features. Using the Phoible datasets and the database of Eurasian phonological inventories I will try to define what distinguishes East Caucasian inventories from inventories of other languages of the world and Eurasia.
East Caucasian (Nakh-Daghestanian) languages are known to typologists - and some laymen - as languages with complex and rich systems of nominal inflection, mostly due to the vast inventories of forms with spatial semantics. This abundance is essentially due to the fact that morphemes from two (sometimes even three) different inflectional categories are combined together, often yielding several dozens of productive combinations. The lecture will cover both some general facts known to all experts, such as the observed semantic range of categories represented by these inventories across the family, but also some other facts that are less known, such as the different morphosyntactic status of the markers of these categories and the variation of the patterns they form across the languages of the family.
East Caucasian personal and demonstrative pronouns will be successively presented and compared, with attempts at reconstruction of proto-forms. The former are characterized by systemic stability and numerous renewals in the elements of paradigms, especially with regard to the expression of clusivity; the latter are less uniform across the family, with some languages or branches showing elevational distinctions, while others having simpler, horizontal systems.
Timur Maisak (Linguistic Convergence Laboratory, Higher School of Economics & Institute of Linguistics RAS)
Although it is mostly the nominal paradigm of East Caucasian that has garnered wide acclaim, the verbal systems can also be very rich. The size of verbal paradigms and grammatical distinctions encoded by verb forms can differ widely from one language to another. On average, however, the verbal morphology of East Caucasian languages is relatively simple compared to that of Northwest Caucasian and Kartvelian languages. In this talk I will discuss the morphological make-up of verbal lexemes (in particular, the distinction between simplex and complex verbs) and the main principles of verbal inflection, including periphrastic verb forms. I will overview the most typical inventories of indicative, non-indicative and non-finite forms and the verbal categories which are expressed by them.
The East Caucasian languages are spoken at the center of a large linguistic area characterized by relatively simple systems of evidentiality marking which highlight events not witnessed by the speaker. The languages of the East Caucasian family feature various types of markers that are common to the larger area, such as perfect tenses and hearsay particles, but their distribution on the map reveals a division into two distinct micro-areas. In this lecture I provide an overview of the attested types of evidential markers, with special attention to issues of diachrony and areal diffusion.
East Caucasian languages are famous for their rich and versatile agreement. I will start with an overview of East Caucasian agreement systems outlining agreement domains, agreement features and exponents, controllers and the range of targets. Each of these areas represent impressive range of possibilities from number of genders involved in agreement (from 2 to 8), to factors regulating the choice of agreement controllers (morphosyntactic in most languages, semantic and/or pragmatic in those languages where an innovative feature of person comes into play). I will then focus on what makes East Caucasian agreement stand out: agreeing nominal cases, long-distance agreement, agreement of non-finite forms, and agreement of participles where one word form agrees with two different controllers. Finally, I will discuss situations of agreeing adverbs, postpositions, nouns and discourse particles which are represented widely in all branches of the family.
This lecture discusses the expression of information structure in the East Caucasian languages with a focus on constituent order and particles. At the clause level, East Caucasian languages show a clear preference for SOV, are generally flexible, and also admit other orders. The major focus position is pre-verbal, but postverbal focus is also attested; adjacency to the verb is a violable constraint. At the phrasal level, East Caucasian languages employ postnominal modifiers only for emphasis, contrast, or focus. Many languages from this family make wide use of cleft and pseudo-cleft constructions that normally express constituent focus. Another commonality is the frequent use of enclitics and suffixes of different types for information-structuring purposes. Modal markers, interrogative markers, additive affixes, and markers with grammatical meaning are used as focus-sensitive particles and usually placed after the item they scope over or after the head of the phrase.
A valency alternation is a relationship between two possible constructions of the same verb, or of two verbs related by derivation, differing in the mapping of semantic roles onto syntactic slots. Valency alternations may involve a modification of the verb (as in Russian Я строю дом / Дом строится мной) or not (as in English I broke the glass / The glass broke). Voice refers to the verbal marking of valency alternations, by means of either morphological derivation, or formation of a complex predicate. The verbs lending themselves to valency alternations involving no verbal marking are designated as labile.
In Nakh-Daghestanian languages, derived verb forms expressing causativization (as in Lezgi q͂u-n ‘It becomes cold’ / q͂u-r-un ‘Someone makes it cold’) are particularly common. Antipassive constructions (i.e., intransitive constructions whose S corresponds to the A of the same verb used transitively) are not rare among Nakh-Daghestanian languages, but they do not always involve verbal marking. In the Nakh-Daghestanian language family, the verbal coding of other types of valency alternations is quite marginal (for example, decausativization, or passivization), or not attested at all (for example, applicativization).
Ambitransitivity, defined as the ability for a given verb to occur in transitive and intransitive constructions without necessitating derivation, is the most important type of lability. The two main varieties of ambitransitivity are A‑ambitransitivity (A = S) and P-ambitransitivity (P = S, with two semantic subtypes: causal-noncausal ambitransitivity and active-passive ambitransitivity).
Given the predominance of ergative alignment in Nakh-Daghestanian languages, A-ambitransitivity implies a change in the coding of the A/S argument (as in Godoberi mak’i-di šiwu b-aʔaxa ‘the child sucked milk’ / mak’i w-aʔaxa ‘the baby boy sucked’), and is consequently more ‘visible’ than in languages with accusative alignment. Most Nakh-Daghestanian languages have a very limited number of A-labile verbs, but Dargi languages have a relatively productive active-antipassive alternation involving no antipassive marker, which consequently constitutes a particular variety of A-ambitransitivity.
In the languages that have ergative alignment, P-ambitransitivity implies no change in the coding of the P/S argument (as illustrated by Godoberi imu-di hincu xʷabi ‘Father opened the door’ / hincu xʷabi ‘the door opened’). Consequently, in Nakh-Daghestanian languages, it may be difficult (or even impossible) to distinguish true P-ambitransitivity from the possibility of using transitive verbs in transitive constructions with null As, and the recognition of P-ambitransitivity of the active-passive type in Nakh-Daghestanian languages is a particularly difficult issue. However, it is not difficult to establish that the causal-noncausal type of ambitransitivity (i.e., the type illustrated in English by I broke the glass / The glass broke) is widespread in some Nakh-Daghestanian languages (for example, Avar), but very marginal in some others (for example Akhvakh).
Finally, I will briefly discuss the question of the so-called bi-nominative (or bi-absolutive) construction, which cannot be analyzed as a valency alternation, in spite of the change in the coding of A that constitutes the hallmark of this construction.
Unlike Standard Average European languages, East Caucasian languages do not use conjunctions as the main means of combining clauses in discourse. Instead, clause chaining using a range of converb forms is used. In the lecture, I will discuss the converb inventories of East Caucasian languages, their semantic and syntactic properties, and the applicability of the coordination-subordination distinction to converb constructions.
The systems of complement clauses of East Caucasian languages present interesting issues both in their syntax and semantics. They exhibit a number of puzzling structures that are challenging from the theoretical point of view: non-finite clauses where all the arguments are encoded in the same way as in independent sentences, backward control, long-distance reflexive pronouns, long-distance agreement in complement clauses.
The complementation systems of East Caucasian languages also differ from those of Slavic and Germanic with respect to the semantic distribution of complementation strategies. In particular, East Caucasian languages seem to have a strong preference toward encoding factive clauses by dedicated markers or constructions. Indirect questions show cross-linguistically rare polysemy patterns.
Judging from grammatical descriptions, a typical East Caucasian relative clause is participial and appears before its syntactic head, with the relativized argument being omitted. Yet this image raises a number of issues. First, in some languages a participial form (or a form identical to it) can also serve as the predicate of an independent clause, so synchronically the relevant construction can be described as non-categorial subordination, where a clause’s non-finiteness is manifested neither in the predicate morphology nor in any kind of complementizer but elsewhere. Second, the subordinate clause need not appear prenominally but can also be found postnominally. Third, East Caucasian languages sometimes display reflexive pronouns used as resumptives. Fourth, there is evidence that the so-called participial relative clause constructions in East Caucasian languages are better described as general noun-modifying clause constructions which do not necessarily involve syntactic mechanisms of relativization of some argument and also possibly cover constructions with adjectives. Finally, it is worth noting that in addition to “participial constructions”, some East Caucasian languages display other patterns akin to relative clause constructions.
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