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Conference Information

Full Title: Inflectional Classes in the Languages of the Americas

Location: Boston, MA, USA
Start Date: 03-Jan-2013 - 06-Jan-2013
Contact: Enrique L. Palancar
Meeting Email: click here to access email
Meeting Description: The Surrey Morphology Group (University of Surrey) is organizing a joint LSA-SSILA session entitled ‘Inflectional Classes in the Languages of the Americas’ for the 2013 Annual Meeting to be held during the LSA 2013 Annual Meeting in Boston, MA from 3 to 6 January 2013.

Inflectional morphology expresses grammatical information, and in an ideal world, each distinct form would correspond to a distinct meaning. But inflectional markers may also display apparently unmotivated morphological differences. For example, the present indicative of the second person in Spanish has the ending -es for some verbs and -as for others (e.g. rompes ‘you break’ vs. cantas ‘you sing’), while in the subjunctive, the situation is reversed (e.g. rompas ‘you may break’ vs. cantes ‘you may sing’). Often such inflectional allomorphy pervades the entire paradigm, as indeed it does in Spanish, so that a given word class falls into morphologically distinct inflection classes. Inflection classes are seemingly useless in functional terms, and yet they are widely found across languages and remarkably resilient over time.

Inflectional classes, as they resist a syntactic or phonological explanation, are in themselves an interesting object of study for a theory of language because they introduce into the linguistic system a layer of complexity which is purely morphological. This has motivated a recent interest in their study. See for example Ackerman et al. (2009), Finkel and Stump (2007), or Müller (2007) among others.

Nevertheless our knowledge of inflectional classes to date is still largely based on European languages and is thus limited by their typological characteristics. To elucidate a sound typology of inflectional classes, a comprehensive theory must expand its horizons beyond well-known languages.

In this connection, the languages of the Americas are notable for the richness of their morphological systems. The general emphasis in the analyses of such languages has been led by a quest to elucidate the complexities of their morphosyntax, that is, the aspects of their morphologies which are motivated by their syntax. This is understandable, but much less is known, for example, about the ways verbal lexemes are grouped in some American Indian languages into various classes based solely on their inflectional properties, although a number of studies have indeed revealed layers of morphological complexity in some of these languages that go far beyond the requirements of syntax, such as for example Angulo (1933) and more recently Blevins (2005) and Campbell (2011), among others.

On the other hand, in the canonical case membership in an inflectional class is random; that is to say, a given lexeme is a member of a certain inflectional class not because of its phonological or semantic properties. However, there are interesting borderline cases where membership in a class is partially random and partially motivated by more general principles. Such borderline cases reveal ways that allow inflectional classes to emerge in linguistic systems and ways that may help language users to maintain them over time. In this regard, studies based on lesser known languages can help to enhance our understanding of the role played by such factors in how inflectional classes operate, especially when there are major classes competing in the partition of the lexicon of a given language.
Linguistic Subfield: Morphology
LL Issue: 23.2843

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