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Title: Tense, Aspect, Modality, and Evidentiality Marking in South American Indigenous Languages
Authors: Mueller, Neele Janna
Keywords: American Indigenous Languages (Southern)
Issue Date: 2013
Publisher: Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen
Abstract: This study presents an analysis of morpho-syntactic Tense, Aspect, Modality, and Evidentiality marking (henceforth: TAME) in a sample of 63 South American indigenous languages (henceforth: SAILs) with regard to typological, geographical, and genealogical distributions.1 This chapter introduces the study and serves to embed it in the current research on South American linguistics. An overview of the structure of the book is given at the end of this chapter. The main goals of this thesis are twofold: (i) to present a typological profile of morpho-syntactic Tense, Aspect, Modality, and Evidentiality marking in a sample of 63 South American indigenous languages, (ii) to uncover genealogical and geographical relationships of SAILs according to the TAME profile with special focus on language contact. This is the first comprehensive and comparative study of TAME in South American languages in a broad sample and it will hopefully serve as a basis for both detailed studies of TAME categories in SAILs as well as those of a global typological nature. A questionnaire was designed for Tense, Aspect, Modality, and Evidentiality, and the data of 63 languages were entered in full, with various additional languages for specific subtopics (see section 2.5.2). Until recently, there was a discrepancy between the enormous range of SAILs and their deficient documentation, but in the last decades the increasing number of high-quality descriptions has made it possible to conduct large scale research on SAILs. A number of research questions have arisen, most prominently with regard to the high genealogical diversity and the spread of certain language families, but also to the typological characteristics and how they contrast with other parts of the world. For instance, the most recent count by Hammarström (2009, appendix) presents 111 language families (or isolates) in South America. For comparison, there are only 33 families in Eurasia (ibid.). The nature of the topic, the methodology, and the language sample present their own sets of problems, and it is important to list them here. First, the categories of Tense, Aspect, Modality, and Evidentiality stand out by their closely connected semantic relationships and the difficulties to demarcate the categories from each other. Second, the language sample is a convenience sample and therefore any extrapolation on the basis of the results must be taken with caution. Third, the very fact that there are at least 63 different sources with different opinions of terminology by the authors that have I have to reconcile with my own chosen definitions. Fourth, even though mostly well documented languages were chosen, the available grammatical descriptions are often not sufficiently precise. It became apparent quite early in the study that a full analysis of TAME systems in the sample was not feasible in the defined time frame. Because I was inspired by recent work on grammaticalization (cf. Bybee et al. 1994) and its relevance for borrowing (cf. Heine & Kuteva 2005) I decided to limit the study to morpho-syntactic marking. Recently, attempts have been made to infer population pathways of the South American continent by relating the distribution of languages to archaeological, anthropological, and data from similar research fields (cf. Eriksen 2011, Hornborg & Hill 2011) by applying both old and new research techniques. For example, the study of phylogenetics has been adopted from biology to reveal relationships of languages that have yet to be classified, and to confirm language families (cf. Dunn et al. 2008). Although it is disputed whether phylolinguistics yields significant results this is just one example of the new and exciting possibilities to increase our knowledge of SAILs where traditional methods fail. Each source was carefully checked although in the case of e.g. bad data that was not always possible. In several instances, my analysis deviates from the sources. That, of course, risks bringing the wrath of the individual language specialists upon me. As Stassen (1997, preface) aptly puts it: “Thus, the primary aim of my research project has been theoretical and universal in nature, but it is evident that it relies heavily on the descriptive work done by specialists on singular languages or language groups. […] As is always the case with gobetweens, this puts typologists in a somewhat uncomfortable position, in which one runs the risk of being shot at from both sides”. I welcome any shots from any side as opportunity to expand on my scholarly education. This book is structured as follows: First, the framework and methodology are explained in chapter 2, together with presenting the language sample and the structure of the questionnaire. Chapters 3 to 6 constitute the main body of the thesis and investigate in detail the typological patterns and geographical and genealogical distributions. The order is Tense (chapter 3), Aspect (chapter 4), Modality (chapter 5), and Evidentiality (chapter 6). Each chapter begins with a definition of the respective categories. Chapter 7 aims to consolidate the results from the previous chapters and examine their categories in a comprehensive manner, with special focus on geographical and genealogical distributions, TAME prominence, and temporal stability of TAME features.
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