LINGUIST List 31.1000

Fri Mar 13 2020

Diss: Tlingit; Na-Dene; Language Documentation; Linguistic Theories; Morphology; Semantics; Syntax: James A. Crippen: '' The syntax in Tlingit verbs''

Editor for this issue: Sarah Robinson <>

Date: 07-Mar-2020
From: James Crippen <>
Subject: The syntax in Tlingit verbs
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Institution: University of British Columbia
Program: Department of Linguistics
Dissertation Status: Completed
Degree Date: 2019

Author: James A. Crippen

Dissertation Title: The syntax in Tlingit verbs

Dissertation URL:

Linguistic Field(s): Language Documentation
                            Linguistic Theories

Subject Language(s): Tlingit (tli)
Language Family(ies): Na-Dene

Dissertation Director:
Lisa Matthewson
Michael Rochemont
Rose-Marie D├ęchaine
Seth Cable

Dissertation Abstract:

Tlingit verbs appear to be single phonological words but they are constructed from a large number of distinct morphological elements that correspond to argument structure, event structure, aspect, mood, modality, tense, and qualia. Previous analyses have accounted for the verbal morphology of Tlingit with opaque position class template systems. These systems present the internal structure of verbs as arbitrary and do not address the many dependencies between elements. This dissertation argues that the Tlingit verb implements a regular syntax with each morpheme instantiating a syntactic terminal. Ordering within the verb word is a consequence of regular syntactic structure with all dependencies between elements reflecting selection and agreement phenomena. The verb-internal syntax requires no extraordinary theoretical mechanisms: Tlingit verb morphology is neither unique nor problematic from a theoretical perspective. To demonstrate this argument, this dissertation develops a formal theoretical model of Tlingit verbal structure within the Minimalist Program framework. An acategorial root forms the basis of the syntactic structure, encoding the majority of lexical properties. Other verbal morphology is either functional heads such as v, Voice, and Asp, or minimal lexical elements such as D pronouns or N incorporates. As well as phonological form and encyclopedic meaning, roots also encode valency, qualia, durativity, stativity, and irrealis, along with other morphosyntactic properties. These properties influence both the syntactic functions and semantic interpretations of the functional heads, so that the syntax and semantics of each head is contextually dependent, fully predictable and compositional. Long distance dependencies arise from selection, movement, and agreement between heads. Every morpheme either saturates or restricts an event or an argument, thus predictably contributing to the structure and interpretation of the whole verb. Movement and spellout are determined by phases which correspond to regular domains in the phonological verb word and phrase. Careful attention is paid to many supposedly irregular or lexical phenomena, showing that most are extensions of regular phenomena, and that some actually reflect underdocumented grammatical patterns. The results of this research have many implications for linguistic theory and for related Na-Dene languages and provide a robust analytical foundation for Tlingit language teaching and revitalization.

Page Updated: 13-Mar-2020