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Dissertation Information

Title: Bardi Verb Morphology in Historical Perspective Add Dissertation
Author: Claire Bowern Update Dissertation
Email: click here to access email
Institution: Harvard University, Department of Linguistics
Completed in: 2004
Linguistic Subfield(s): Language Documentation; Morphology; Syntax;
Subject Language(s): Bardi
Language Family(ies): Australian
Director(s): Jay Jasanoff
Susumu Kuno
Harold Koch

Abstract: This dissertation is an investigation into the structure of verbal predicates in Bardi, a Nyulnyulan language from the North-Western Australian coast. I examine possible synchronic analyses and reconstruct the history of the formation of the systems between Proto-Nyulnyulan and the modern attested languages. There has been very little previous work on the history of complex predicates, and no detailed historical reconstruction for the Nyulnyulan family. The results presented here are a significant contribution to a topic in linguistics that it has only recently become possible to research.

My analysis of Nyulnyulan verbal morphology and predicate formation is both synchronic and diachronic. I give an analysis of the structure of inflecting verbs and complex predicates, and present reconstructions to show how the Nyulnyulan languages have changed over time. Synchronically, there are issues in the analysis of predicate structure that reflect fundamental assumptions about the nature of generative grammar, such as lexical 'adicity' (the ability of lexical items to be modified by their syntactic context) and the role of morphology and syntax (if there is one) in the lexicon.

There are also many intriguing diachronic problems in the Nyulnyulan languages that warrant investigation. Although the two branches of the family are very close, the number and type of simple predicates in each branch is very different. Why, for example, should so few inflecting verb roots be cognate between Eastern and Western Nyulnyulan when the lexicon as a whole is highly isomorphic? Why do Western Nyulnyulan languages have double the number of roots that the Eastern languages do? It is striking that the verbal elements used in root formation of this type are the same light verbs that are used in complex predicates in the modern Nyulnyulan languages. Discussion of Nyulnyulan complex predicates embraces syntactic reconstruction, calquing and language contact.