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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 Grammar of Have in a Have-less Language: Possession, Perfect, and Ergativity in North Russian Add Dissertation
Author: Hakyung Jung Update Dissertation
Email: click here to access email
Institution: Harvard University, Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures
Completed in: 2008
Linguistic Subfield(s): Historical Linguistics; Syntax; Typology;
Subject Language(s): Russian
Language Family(ies): Slavic Subgroup
Director(s): Alan Timberlake
Andrew Nevins
Michael Flier
Patricia Chaput

Abstract: This dissertation investigates the syntax of the be-possessive and its
extension to the perfect construction that encodes ergativity in North
Russian, in the context of parametric variation. In this study, seemingly
unrelated phenomena such as perfect, obligation, and ergative constructions
are construed as extensions of possessive structure involving be, as the
consequence of the have/be parameter.

One primary claim on the underlying structure of the be-possessive in
Russian is that the possessor is base-generated as an external argument,
whereas the possessed noun is generated as a predicative nominal in a DP
structure embedded under the copula. This view is supported by Russian data
indicating the lack of predicate inversion in this construction. Another
crucial component of the structure is a low focus projection, which is
independently supported by relatively free word order, sensitive to
information structure. The cross-linguistic have-/be-possessive alternation
is viewed as depending on a language's functional inventory, including a
prepositional complementizer with or without a Case feature.

The proposed structure of the Russian be-possessive construction directly
feeds the account of the syntax of the be-perfect in North Russian. The
perfect construction appears to be a parametric variant of the possessive
structure. In particular, the embedded DP structure of the possessive
construction is replaced by the CP structure in the perfect on the
assumption of symmetrical geometry of DP and CP projections. The be-perfect
structure provides an adequate environment where ergativity is encoded via
distinct degrees of nominalization of the participle phrase. The
micro-variations in Case and Agreement in this construction are accounted
for as a consequence of parametric difference of the categorial nature of
the lowest functional node. This proposal provides a unified syntactic
account of case-marking and agreement in Tense/Aspect split-ergative
languages. The relevance of the be-possessive perfect structure for an
ergative pattern shows that the Tense/Aspect split-ergative system is a
syntactically constrained phenomenon rather than a purely morphological

The be-possessive perfect in North Russian developed from the passive
combined with a benefactive/possessive applicative phrase. The most crucial
innovation in the development process of the North Russian perfect is
construed as the change of the argument structure of the small clause
(voice shift) along with the change of the semantic contents of the
possessive phrase and its syntactic mapping. The voice shift was triggered
by the change of the argument status of the possessive phrase from a
benefactive applicative to an agentive external argument. The reanalysis of
the argument status of the possessive phrase is conditioned by the semantic
ambiguity of the possessive phrase (agentive ~ possessive) and directed by
the markedness principle: the most unmarked base-position of an agentive
argument with subject properties is Spec,vP.

An important contribution of this study is that it proposes a syntactic
structure that provides a unified account of various oblique subject
constructions across languages. The derivational process of diverse
constructions from a common underlying structure is represented in terms of
parametric variations. In this respect, this dissertation makes empirical
and theoretical contributions to a long explored question in linguistics,
namely, how to explicate the relation between invariance and variation in
natural languages.