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Revitalizing Endangered Languages

Edited by Justyna Olko & Julia Sallabank

Revitalizing Endangered Languages "This guidebook provides ideas and strategies, as well as some background, to help with the effective revitalization of endangered languages. It covers a broad scope of themes including effective planning, benefits, wellbeing, economic aspects, attitudes and ideologies."

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Dissertation Information

Title: Thematic Role Assignment in Indonesian: A case study of agrammatic aphasia Add Dissertation
Author: Whitney Postman Update Dissertation
Email: click here to access email
Institution: Cornell University, Department of Linguistics
Completed in: 2002
Linguistic Subfield(s): Syntax; Neurolinguistics;
Subject Language(s): Indonesian
Director(s): Sally McConnell-Ginet
John Bowers
Gita Martohardjono
John Wolff

Abstract: The linguistic deficits of a man with agrammatic aphasia due to left hemisphere stroke are investigated by examining his ability to attribute thematic roles to arguments in Standard Indonesian (‘SI’). His performance on two comprehension tasks and one production task is compared with that of a man with right hemisphere damage but no aphasia and, in addition, three neurologically intact control subjects. The participants, all fluent speakers of SI, were tested in their hometown of Manado, Indonesia, on sentences with one monotransitive, ditransitive, causative or applicative verb, and on coordinate and embedded sentences with two monotransitive verbs. For all sentence types, active verbs are systematically contrasted with passive verbs.

Two major predictions based on structural complexity are made that may explain the performance of the patient with agrammatic aphasia. First, complex constructions in which an entity has more than one role, and therefore must be related to more than one predicate, should be more difficult than monoclausal constructions in which each argument plays a unique role. Second, passive verbs should not be harder than active verbs because the structure of SI passives is hypothesized to be essentially simpler than that of passives in previously studied languages like English and German. SI passives resemble ergative clauses in related languages like Tagalog in that neither an auxiliary verb nor demotion of the agent is required.

This study yielded three important results for this patient:

1. Passive verbs were not harder to compute than active verbs.

2. He had more trouble with causative, coordinate and embedded sentences than with other items.

3. He usually connected the empty category contained in coordinate and embedded sentences with an agentive argument. He chose an argument with the role of agent as antecedent of the empty category, even when the structure dictated that its antecedent should be the theme argument. Given the prevalence of theme topic forms in SI discourse, and the other participants’ occasional preference for theme arguments as pivots, this finding supports a structural explanation of aphasic deficits that is independent of language-specific properties of frequency and primacy of certain types of expressions.