Adrian Stegovec — Language particulars versus language universals: An Algonquian case study

Syntactic work in the generative tradition is increasingly utilizing the findings of large scale typological studies and fieldwork on understudied languages. This expansion of the empirical landscape brings with it new generalizations and thus a clearer picture of what generative syntax should aim to explain. However, determining the theoretical significance of such new data also poses a unique challenge. It is inevitable that we will uncover patterns and phenomena that seem quite alien compared to those of more well studied languages, making it tempting to posit new theoretical mechanisms or even language specific categories to account for them. Since generative syntax seeks to eliminate language specific explanations, we should proceed with caution when faced with this problem. There is no universal solution for this, but there is still a lot we can learn from closely examining individual cases, which is what we are going to do in this course by considering three case studies from the Algonquian language family. 
Algonquian languages are among the best studied Native American languages. There is a rich tradition of descriptive works on Algonquian going back to the 19th century and a growing body of work in the generative tradition.

Algonquian languages are ideal for our purposes because there are many accessible sources of data in English and, more importantly, because there are several categories and constructions that have been argued to be unique to the language family: (i) Conjunct vs. Independent Order – two clause types apparently unique to Algonquian, (ii) preverbs – a heterogeneous class of words/morphemes that can appear, you guessed it, before verbs, and (iii) proximate vs. obviative 3rd person – although not limited to Algonquian, this opposition is often viewed as a prototypically Algonquian phenomenon and notoriously difficult for non-speakers to grasp.

Course outline

Day 1: Introduction / Why Algonquian?
Day 2: Conjunct vs. Independent Order, Part 1  
Day 3: Conjunct vs. Independent Order, Part 2 
Day 4: Preverbs
Day 5: Proximate vs. Obviative 


Selected references (to be provided)

Bogomolets, Ksenia, Paula Fenger and Adrian Stegovec. 2021. Movement in disguise: Morphology as a diagnostic for verb movement in Algonquian. Manuscript.

Branigan, Phil. 2012. Macroparameter Learnability. Ms. Memorial University.

Brittain, Julie. 1997. The conjunct verb in Sheshatshit Montagnais. Canadian Journal of Linguistics/Revue canadienne de linguistique 42 (3): 253–284.

Brittain, Julie. 1999. The distribution of the conjunct verb form in Western Naskapi and related morpho-syntacic issues. PhD diss., Memorial U. of Newfoundland.

Chomsky, Noam. 1957. Syntactic Structures. The Hague: Mouton

Dahlstrom, Amy. 1986. Plains Cree morphosyntax. PhD diss., Berkeley.

Dahlstrom, Amy. 2017. Obviation and information structure in Meskwaki. In Papers of the 46th Algonquian Conference, eds. M. Macaulay and M. Noodin, East Lansing, MI, 39–54. Michigan State University Press.

Holmberg, Anders. 2015. Verb second. In Syntax: Theory and analysis, eds. T. Kiss and A. Alexiadou, 342–383. Berlin: de Gruyter.

Jancewicz, Bill, and Marguerite MacKenzie. 1998. Preverbs in Naskapi: Function and distribution. In Papers of the 29th Algonquian conference, ed. David H. Pentland, 150–168. Winnipeg: University of Manitoba.

Richards, Norvin. 2004. The syntax of the conjunct and independent orders in Wampanoag. International Journal of American Linguistics 70 (4): 327–368.