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International Chair 2023 - Peter Arkadiev - Johannes-Gutenberg University (Allemagne)

Updated: May 26, 2023

We will welcome from May 09, 2023, Professor Peter Arkadiev from Johannes-Gutenberg University (Mainz - Germany) for a series of four seminars on the theme "Problems of polysynthesis, with special reference to the Northwest Caucasian languages". The seminars will take place at INALCO, 65 rue des Grands Moulins 75013 Paris - Room 4.18, on the following dates :

- May 09 from 5:30 to 7:00 pm

- May 16 from 6:00 pm to 7:30 pm

- May 23 from 6:00 pm to 7:30 pm

- May 30th from 6:00 pm to 7:30 pm

General Abstract :

The course will deal with the notions of “polysynthesis” and “polysynthetic language”, traditionally conceived of as showing extreme morphological complexity of the verb and mainly known from North America and the neighbouring regions, with other hotspots in such areas as Amazonia, Northern Australia or Tibet. The course will discuss approaches to polysynthesis in linguistic typology, problems with the various definitions of polysynthesis and the fuzzy and multifaceted nature of the concept and the cross-linguistic variation in the associated empirical domain. In addition, it will offer a detailed overview of polysynthesis and related phenomena in the Northwest Caucasian languages, which have so far not figured with sufficient prominence in typological studies of the phenomenon. Seminars 2–4 will start with a brief recapitulation of the main contents of the previous seminar.

Seminar 1: 9 May: What is polysynthesis?

After a brief introduction to the history of the notion of polysynthesis starting with the works of Pierre-Étienne (Peter) Du Ponceau (1819) and a presentation of a few characteristic examples of polysynthetic structures, I shall offer a discussion of various definitions of polysynthesis found in the linguistic literature, from Joseph Greenberg’s “A quantitative approach to the morphological typology of language” (1954) to the recent compendium “The Oxford Handbook of Polysynthesis” (Fortescue, Evans & Mithun eds. 2017). Empirical and conceptual problems arising from these definitions will be discussed, showing that polysynthesis is by necessity a multifaceted notion without clearly delineated boundaries.

Lecture 1 Slides :

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Seminar 2: 16 May: Internal variation and fringes of polysynthesis

The second session will address the morphological typology of polysythesis, i.e. cross- linguistic variation in the morphological makeup (on both syntagmatic and paradigmatic axes) of languages characterised as “polysynthetic” according to some of the more recent definitions. Starting with the proposals by Johanna Mattissen (2004, 2017), I shall offer a typological overview of such phenomena associated with polysynthesis as head-marking, polypersonalism, incorporation, lexical affixation (Mithun 1997, Mattissen 2006) and productive noninflectional concatenation (de Reuse 2009). I shall also present examples of these phenomena manifesting themselves in the languages traditionally not considered “polysynthetic” (e.g. Lithuanian, cf. Arkadiev 2021) and discuss their implications for the typology and diachrony of polysynthesis.

Lecture 2 slides :

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Seminar 3: 23 May: Polysynthetic morphology in Northwest Caucasian languages

In seminar 3 I shall offer a more detailed discussion of the grammatical structures of the Northwest Caucasian languages (cf. Arkadiev & Lander 2020) with reference to the properties associated with polysynthesis. These languages are characterised by a high degree of morphological complexity in both verbs and nominals, extreme polypersonalism coupled with a rich system of valency-increasing devices, and a large number of affixes expressing spatial, aspectual, modal and evaluative meanings. It will be shown that the Northwest Caucasian polysynthetic verbal morphology cannot be unequivocally characterised as either scope-based or templatic, nor as purely affixal despite the absence of productive incorporation.

Lecture 3 slides :

Arkadiev2023_polysynthesisNWC_LabEx_Lecture3 (1)
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Seminar 4: 30 May: Morphology-syntax interface in polysynthetic languages (with special reference to Northwest Caucasian)

The last seminar will deal with the specifics of the morphology-syntax interface in polysynthetic languages and discuss the question whether languages with extreme morphological complexity possess less elaborate syntax than non-polysynthetic languages. I shall review the typological claims found in Baker’s “The Polysynthesis Parameter” (1996) regarding the putative absense in polysynthetic languages of such features as asymmetries between noun phrases, rigid word-order, grammatical case, non-finite clauses, certain types of pronouns and quantifiers. The main focus of the seminar will be devoted to a discussion of the complexity of the interactions between morphology and syntax in the Northwest Caucasian languages, where a large part of the polysynthetic morphology is employed for the purposes of syntax, including a highly elaborate system of clause-combining.

Lecture 4 slides :

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refs (1)
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  • Arkadiev, Peter. 2021. Is Lithuanian a polysynthetic language? In Peter Arkadiev, Jurgis Pakerys, Inesa Šeškauskienė & Vaiva Žeimantienė (eds.), Studies in Baltic and other Languages. A Festschrift for Axel Holvoet on the occasion of his 65th birthday, 28–44. Vilnius: Vilnius University Press. Available at: series/article/view/24481

  • Arkadiev, Peter & Yury Lander. 2020. The Northwest Caucasian languages. In Maria Polinsky (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of the Languages of the Caucasus, 369–446. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

  • Baker, Mark C. 1996. The Polysynthesis Parameter. Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press.

  • de Reuse, Willem. 2009. Polysynthesis as a typological feature. An attempt at a characterization from Eskimo and Athabaskan perspectives. In Marc-Antoine Mahieu & Nicole Tersis (eds.), Variations on Polysynthesis: The Eskaleut languages, 19–34. Amsterdam, Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

  • Duponceau, Peter S. 1819. Report of the corresponding secretary to the committee, of his progress in the investigation committed to him of the general character and forms of the languages of the American Indians. Transactions of the Historical & Literary Committee of the American Philosophical Society 1. xvii–xivii.

  • Fortescue, Michael, Marianne Mithun & Nicholas Evans (eds.) 2017. Oxford Handbook of Polysynthesis. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

  • Greenberg, Joseph H. 1960 A quantitative approach to the morphological typology of language. International Journal of American Linguistics 26(3). 178–194.

  • Mattissen, Johanna. 2004. A structural typology of polysynthesis. Word 55(2). 189–216.

  • Mattissen, Johanna. 2006. The ontology and diachrony of polysynthesis. In Dieter Wunderlich (ed.), Advances in the Theory of the Lexicon, 287–353. Berlin, New York: Mouton de Gruyter.

  • Mattissen, Johanna. 2017. Sub-types of polysynthesis. In: Fortescue et al. (eds.), 70–98.

  • Mithun, Marianne. 1997. Lexical affixes and morphological typology. In John Haiman, Joan Bybee & Sandra Thompson (eds.), Essays on Language Function and Language Type. Dedicated to T. Givón, 357–372. Amsterdam, Philadelphia: John Benjamins.


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