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The Evolutionary Typology of Verbal Person-Number Indexes

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If you have a question about this talk, please contact Julia Heine.

There will be a tea reception from 4pm.

Intro: The present paper seeks to identify universal trends in the lengths of person-number affixes of verbs (such as English 3SG -s in, e.g., he swim-s). The precise morphophonological realization of indexes is subject to cross-linguistic variation, which, however, has no bearing on the claims to be made here. For example, I gloss over the morphological differences between affixes and clitics. In order to identify universal trends I adopt the dynamic approach to universals (since Greenberg 1969) which is in contrast to the more traditional, static approach. The crucial question here is whether the relevant mechanisms of change provide evidence for the alleged universal (Bybee 2008) or whether the changes bring about a higher degree of adherence to the alleged universal pattern than before these changes (Bickel et al. 2014).

Methods and the data: I rely on a database with obligatory intransitive subject indexes from (a) 290 modern languages from 14 unrelated (sub)families covering all macroareas and (b) their protoforms as reconstructed by the Historical-Comparative Method in the authoritative literature: Indo- European, Uralic, Mayan, Dravidian, Semitic, Oceanic (a subfamily of Austronesian), Bantu (Niger-Congo), Sogeram (Trans-New-Guinea stock), Awyu-Dumut (Trans-New-Guinea stock), Rgyalrongic-Kiranti (Tibeto-Burman), Worrorran, Muskogean, Athabaskan and Turkic.

Bickel, Balthasar, Alena Witzlack-Makarevich & Taras Zakharko 2014: Typological evidence against universal effects of referential scales on case alignment. In: Bornkessel-Schlesewsky, Ina, Andrej Malchukov, Marc Richards (eds.), Scales and Hierarchies: a cross-disciplinary perspective on referential hierarchies. Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton, 7-44.

Bybee, Joan 2008: Formal universals as emergent phenomena: The origins of structure preservation. In: Jeff Good (ed.), Linguistic universals and language change. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 108–121.

Greenberg, Joseph H. 1966: Language universals, with special reference to feature hierarchies. The Hague: Mouton.

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