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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: The Construction of Topological Space Add Dissertation
Author: Martin Thiering Update Dissertation
Email: click here to access email
Institution: University of Alberta, Department of Linguistics
Completed in: 2007
Linguistic Subfield(s): Semantics;
Director(s): Claude Vandeloise
John Newman
Sally Rice

Abstract: Topological spatial relations are presumably speaker-neutral and objective. This thesis takes issue with this assumption and argues that the construction of topological spatial relations is rather subjective, contextualized and perspectivized. In order to give evidence for this, this dissertation surveys the conceptualization of topological space and the lexicalization and distribution of the various meaning components that go into spatial description. As I look at the effects of and interaction among language, cognition, and perception in a variety of languages, I challenge the idea that there are semantic universals.

The language at the center of my dissertation is the Cold Lake dialect of Dene Suline (Chipewyan), a polysynthetic Athapaskan language spoken in the Subarctic region of Alberta (Canada). I compare this language with an agglutinative language, Upper Necaxa Totonac (Mexico), as well as various Indo-European languages (English, Norwegian, German).

To gain natural language data, I have drawn on two elicitation tools developed at the MPI in Nijmegen, the Topological Relation Markers and the Caused Position test. The first test consists of 71 simple black-and-white drawings of various objects, e.g., a cup on a table. Participants are asked to react to the prompt 'Where is object X?'. The second test consists of 46 videos in which the location of an object is manipulated with or without showing the agent. In addition to these tests, I have developed the Spatial Categorization Elicitation tool that consists of 95 video clips showing static or dynamic relationships between objects.

The results of my dissertation support a distributional and only partially compositional view of semantics. Moreover, the various meaning components that go into the encoding of spatial description in many languages are hard to pinpoint to a single morpheme or word. Moreover, for speakers of some
languages, especially Dene, seemingly static and objective scenes require morphosyntactic devices which signal perspective, level of specificity, motion, causation, and other ‘non-spatial’ meaning components.