The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Ling Lunch 3/17 - Polina Berezovskaya

Speaker: Polina Berezovskaya (University of Tübingen)
Title: `Small Degrees’: Degree Modification in Nenets.
Time: Thursday, March 17th, 12:30-1:45 pm
Place: 32-D461

In Nenets, an underrepresented Samoyedic language from the Uralic language family, the suffix ‘-rka’ is commonly found on the gradable adjective in comparison constructions, cf. (1):

(1) Katja Masha-xad saml’ang santimetra-nh pirc’a-rka.
Katja Masha-ABL five cm-DAT tall-RKA
‘Katja is a little taller than Masha.’

Contrary to claims in the descriptive literature (e.g. Terezhenko 1947, Nikolaeva 2014), according to which this suffix is a comparative marker, original fieldwork data shows that it is not. I am proposing an analysis under which ‘-rka’ is a degree modifier that modifies a difference degree stating that this degree is small.

The Puzzle. The striking fact is that this suffix also appears outside of comparison constructions. (2) and (3) show instances of ‘-rka’ on nouns and verbs.

(2) a. ngamderc’- chair, ngamderc’arka – kind of a chair
b. neb’a – mother, neb’arka – a mother who kind of fulfils her duties as a mother, but not quite
c. ne – woman, nerka – kind of a woman (e.g. doesn’t really behave like one)

(3) Man’ s’urba-rka-dm.
I run-RKA-1.SG
‘I ran a little.’

The question here is what the core meaning contributed by ‘-rka’ in all these cases is and whether nouns and verbs carrying this suffix make reference to some kind of an implicit comparison.

The Plot. In this talk, I will explore the meaning contribution of this suffix in and outside of comparison constructions. An analysis of Nenets comparisons that are not marked by ‘-rka’ will be provided in the spirit of the standard analysis (cf. von Stechow 1984, Heim 2001, Beck 2011). I will also propose an analysis of cases like (1) using a certain type of the Restrict operation (cf. Chung and Ladusaw 2004). Ultimately, we will discuss the meaning contribution of -rka outside of comparisons.