Many of the Niger-Congo languages of Africa are characterized by extensive noun class systems. Explain what noun classes are and how they are realized morphologically in Swahili or Sukuma (two Bantu languages) and in Fula-Pulaar (an Atlantic language), then, making reference to McLaughlin & Sall's essay in Linguistic Fieldwork, discuss some of the difficulties involved in researching noun classes.
Okay, well, I don't know how to explain WHAT noun classes are - that's like trying to explain what water is, or fire - you know it on a basic level, but can't really put it into words. I'll hopefully be able to get that from someone tomorrow morning before we start. But anyway, in the Bantu languages they're marked with prefixes (which were probably originally suffixes which migrated 'through' the words), and in Fula-Pulaar, well, I don't know, because it's not in the book or my notes. That, too, I'll get from someone tomorrow. But as for the difficulties, I've got those.
First off, noun classes are usually determined by the semantic features of the nouns (e.g. 'almost flat but not quite', like a cupped hand or a bird's beak), but sometimes the phonological features of the noun can affect which class it gets assigned to, which makes it difficult for non-native speakers to make out a pattern. Next, there are often multiple 'forms' of a language - for example, the 'urban' form (which, in Wolof, uses heavy borrowing from French) as opposed to the 'deep' or 'rural' form, which is more linguistically 'pure'. A noun can take one class in one form of the language and a different class in another. Dialects also cause problems in this area. Also, there are three other challenges mentioned in the essay which can apply to every area of linguistic research, not just noun classes. First of all, class or status differences between the linguists and informants can cause tension. Second, the lingua franca used by the linguist and informant is not always structurally similar enough for direct translation to/from the language being studied; in other cases, certain ideas cannot be easily expressed due to a 'culture vs. vocabulary' problem. And lastly, the informants often 'over-think' the data that they supply, thinking that they should provide the forms that they know to be grammatically perfect rather than the forms that they themselves use in normal speech. While well-intentioned, this often causes the linguist's portrait of the 'common language' to be less than accurate.
The native languages of the Americas are generally polysynthetic languages. Explain what this means and illustrate your answer with a discussion of the polysynthetic nature of Yup'ik Eskimo described in Lyovin. Referring to either Hale or Mithun's essay in Linguistic Fieldwork, describe some of the challenges of working on Native American languages, many of which are endangered.
Polysynthetic languages are languages in which all the morphemes in a sentence are 'stuck together' into one long word. They generally have a rich morphology with lots of inflection, particularly on the verbs; the morphology does most of the work, so syntax takes a backseat. (They are the opposite of analytic languages such as Mandarin Chinese, in which every morpheme stands alone and has a separate meaning.) Yup'ik Eskimo is one well-known example of a polysynthetic language. The makeup of syntactic units in this language is as follows: base/stem + (post-base) + ending + (enclitic). Most bases and stems can be either nouns or verbs; it is the ending which determines this. Nouns are inflected for case, number, and possession; this inflection also occurs in the ending and is usually so fused together that it is impossible to separate the morphemes; this construction is referred to as a portmanteau morpheme. There is no limit to the number of post-bases which can be used; these morphemes are the equivalent of 'non-essential' words in English, expressing concepts such as probability.
One of the biggest challenges in working on Native American languages is that there are so few speakers left for many of them; the majority are very endangered. Moreover, what work has been done on these languages by other scholars - the 'building blocks' where today's linguists begin their work - is often imperfect. A larger problem, however, is that so many of the speakers are currently bilingual that the grammars of two or more languages in close contact often 'fuse', making it difficult for a linguist to determine which characteristics are true to the language being studied and which are borrowed from an influencing language. This is seen in Hale's essay, where Ulwa is being studied but is influenced by Miskitu, the lingua franca used in elicitation. The two languages have very similar structures and this is part of the reason that Hale finds spontaneous speech to be so important. Elicitation can be misleading for other reasons, too; for example, it is by far easier to elicit nouns than verbs, but if verbs dominate natural speech, this could paint an inaccurate picture. And finally, certain phonological distinctions in Native American languages can be very difficult to hear for native speakers of other languages, which stresses the importance of learning the language being studied to the extent that elicitation and further study with informants can be conducted solely in the language of study.
Contact between languages may have several different outcomes. Describe these outcomes and the social factors that might condition them. Next, discuss what pidgins and creoles are and how they come into being. Then, discuss at least three of the linguistic characteristics of pidgins and creoles, drawing examples from the discussion of Tok Pisin in Lyovin.
There are at least three different possible outcomes when contact occurs between languages. Use of a lingua franca is the easiest method for full communication between speakers of different native languages; for example, if a native speaker of German were visiting Spain, chances are English would be used as the lingua franca. A second possibility is bilingualism, which often results in code switching - a sort of 'mixture' between the two languages. This mixing is systematic, not random, and changes based on the speaker's domain (if he or she is at home versus school or church, etc.) but even so, it often evolves to the point where some speakers can no longer speak either language 'untainted', without some of the second tongue mixed in. The third possibility is the most interesting: the development of a pidgin languages. Pidgin languages develop when two parties must communicate, but neither speaks the other's language. Each party uses rudimentary words and phrases, a 'stripped-down' form of their native language, to try to communicate with each other. Eventually, a mixture of the two parties' languages - a pidgin - is formed. Pidgins are very restrictive, without the full range of nuance and emotion seen in a 'normal' language, and are therefore only used in certain contexts (such as trade); nobody speaks a pidgin as a native language. However, all pidgins (and creoles) share certain characteristics, regardless of where they are spoken, implying that people tend to simplify in similar ways, which leads some linguistics to the Bioprogram Hypothesis - the belief that language is innate in humans and that this might be a clue to the 'language blueprint' - the bare bones of what constitutes a language.
Pidgins can, however, become creoles, through a process known as depidginization or creolization. Creoles differ from pidgins in that they are 'full' languages with the complete range of nuance and emotion; there are many native speakers of creoles. Supporters of the Bioprogram Hypothesis generally believe that young children hear whatever pidgin is spoken around them and take an extra 'leap' and turn the pidgin into a full-bodied language. However, there are other hypotheses for how pidgins and creoles come into being, all of which are still just that - hypothetical. The Independent Parallel Development theory suggests that pidgins and creoles originate in different places all around the world rather than from one original source; this supports the Bioprogram Hypothesis, that the similarities come from the 'language blueprint' in our brains. The Monogenetic Relexification theory, however, says exactly the opposite; that all pidgins and creoles have a common origin (thus accounting for the similarities) and have been simply relexified into the language(s) in the surrounding environment. Still another theory, the Nautical Jargon hypothesis, states that the common origin of pidgins and creoles comes from Portuguese and British sailors who sailed around Africa and left traces behind everywhere they went. This would account for the unusually high occurrence of nautical terms and Portuguese words in pidgins and creoles around the world.
Although there is no one theory which is accepted by the entire linguistic community (is there ever?), there are certain characteristics seen in essentially all pidgins and creoles, (as exemplified in this essay by Tok Pisin, spoken in Papua New Guinea). These languages are almost always analytic, or isolating, meaning that every morpheme stands alone and has a separate meaning. Secondly, case is not marked in and of itself (only by word order and prepositions, as in English). And finally, the gender distinction is usually leveled. In Tok Pisin, the third-person singular 'em' can represent 'he', 'she', or 'it'.
...Tomorrow, I will proceed to regurgitate something along these lines onto my exam paper.