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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: Morphosyntax of Puma, a Tibeto-Burman Language of Nepal Add Dissertation
Author: Narayan Sharma Update Dissertation
Email: click here to access email
Institution: School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, Department of Linguistics
Completed in: 2014
Linguistic Subfield(s): Language Documentation; Morphology; Syntax; Typology;
Subject Language(s): Puma
Director(s): Peter Sells
Peter Austin
Irina Nikolaeva

Abstract: Puma is an endangered Tibeto-Burman language of the Kiranti subgroup spoken by approximately 4,000 people in eastern Nepal. This dissertation investigates the phonology and morphosyntax of Puma. Data are presented and analysed from a cross-linguistic typological perspective where possible. The analysis is based mainly on annotated texts from a substantial corpus of spoken Puma, and from informally collected data and direct elicitation to supplement the corpus.

Puma is a polysynthetic and complex pronominalised language where words can consist of a series of morphemes. Verbal agreement, where verbs agree with subjects and objects, is very complex, and differs strikingly from the case-marking system used with independent noun phrases. Case-marking of nouns and pronouns is split between nominative-accusative and ergative-absolutive-dative. Intransitive subjects also exhibit characteristics of a split-S pattern: some intransitive subjects display grammatical properties similar to those of transitive objects, while others do not.

In contrast to Dryer’s (1986, 2007) typology of primary object type and direct object type languages, Puma is neither a fully primary object nor a fully direct object language. Transitive verbs can be detransitivised with a kha- prefix or with zero, which is typologically more common (Bickel et al. 2007). For kha-detransitivisation the affected entity must be human; this is typologically unusual, but characteristic of the Kiranti subgroup.

The syntactic pivot for both inter-clausal and intra-clausal syntax is ‘subject’, comprising the single argument of intransitive verbs and the agent-like argument of transitive verbs. Interestingly, the morphology does not treat these in a consistent way but the syntax does. Verbs fall into classes that show distinct syntactic behaviours in different constructions. Compound verbs, which are an areal feature of South Asian languages (Masica 1976), comprise verbal, nominal and lexical types. Different nominalisation and relativisation strategies exist for S human and non-human, A and P arguments.

The dissertation aims to provide a comprehensive description of Puma and includes hundreds of examples drawn from the corpus, plus Appendices of sample verb paradigms and texts, and names of contributors.