Speaker Series: Karlos Arregi (U Chicago)

Nov 18, 2016 at - | Annenberg 111 (3620 Walnut Street)

Below is the abstract for Karlos Arregi: Paradigmatic order in Nuer Nuer (Nilotic, South Sudan & Ethiopia) has a particularly complex system of nominal inflection that includes (at least) 25 separate classes of nouns (Frank 1999). In well-studied Indo-European inflectional systems (e.g. Latin, Russian) word classes are determined on the basis of inflectional allomorphy: different classes trigger different allomorphs of the same inflectional morpheme (e.g. in Latin, nominative singular is -a in class 1, but -us in class 2 masculines). Although allomorphy does play a role in Nuer, this is not the main factor that contributes to the large number of noun classes in this language. In fact, the number of allomorphs available for each inflectional morpheme is comparatively small, considering the high number of noun classes (e.g. the nominative singular is always zero, and the locative plural can only be -ni or zero), and so is the number of cells in each paradigm (only six: two numbers and three cases). The main factor distinguishing the classes is patterns of syncretism. For instance, while in some classes nominative singular is zero and both genitive and locative singular are realized as syncretic -kä, in others the syncretic pair is either nominative and genitive (both zero, with locative as -kä) or nominative and locative (both zero, with genitive as -kä), yet in others the whole singular paradigm is syncretic (zero). Contra Baerman 2012, I argue that, despite this apparent complexity, any framework that incorporates some of the basic tools of realizational theories of morphology can account for Nuer nominal inflection, and I illustrate this claim with an analysis in the framework of Distributed Morphology (DM). These tools are: (i) diacritic features (used in defining the different classes), and (ii) rules of referral (more specifically, rules of impoverishment, which account for certain kinds of syncretism). The key to understanding the Nuer paradigm is the simple assumption (common at least in DM) that diacritic features are features, and as such can both trigger rules and be themselves subject to rules. To the extent that the analysis is successful in describing the Nuer facts, it provides evidence against extending the toolbox of realizational theories beyond what was proposed in Zwicky 1985 and related work.