Ahtna (Dene) Verbal Morphosyntax
Wednesday, March 1, 3-4 p.m.
Talk in Current research in Linguistics seminar series: Phil Branigan and Nicholas Welch will present.
Verbal structures in Dene languages offer any number of challenges to linguistic analysis. In these languages, the
verbal morphology includes verb stems subject to rich allomorphy, the contextual triggers for which are not always
immediately evident. Here we explore the general question with a focus on Ahtna, a morphologically conservative
representative of the Southern Alaska branch of the language family. The Ahtna verb stem is preceded (in all cases) by some number of “conjunct” prefixes, which together express a diverse and not obviously related set of properties involving argument agreement, tense, aspect, aktionsart, voice, conjugation class, and lexical/thematic roles. In addition, to the left of the conjunct prefixes can often be found some number of “disjunct prefixes”. These are less tightly connnected to the verb for morphophonological processes than the conjunct prefixes are, but still provide information that can complete the lexical/thematic identity of the verbal meaning, as well as adverbial nuance, incorporated stems, and various other types of information. Rice’s (1993, 2000) models derive some of these grammatical patterns from a transformation which displaces the verb root to the right edge of the clause; this
insightful solution captures some of the data, but the mechanisms required lack principled motivation. In this talk, we demonstrate that much of the very complex morphology in Ahtna is the result of transformational derivations in which multiple head-movement plays a central role. This analysis captures Rice’s results and extends them to explain grammatical phenomena that her model does not. Once the effect of these transformations is unpacked, Dene clause structure is seen to pattern more closely with what is found in other language families.
Presented by Department of Linguistics