The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

MorPhun 4/18 - Juan Cancel (MIT)

Speaker: Juan Cancel (MIT)
Title: Unexpected Syncretisms: A Look at the Nganasan Case and Subjective Agreement Paradigms
Time: Thursday, April 18th, 5pm – 6pm
Location: 32-D769

Abstract: Nganasan (Szeverényi, Várnai, and B. B. Wagner-Nagy 2002, B. Wagner-Nagy 2018) seems to have a near-exact, cross-paradigmatic syncretism between the NOM exponents of the Case Paradigm and 3rd Person exponents of the Subjective Agreement (The relevant syncretic exponents are highlighted):

Nganasan (Reduced) Case Paradigm
(B. Wagner-Nagy 2018, pg.191-193)

   NOM   ACC   GEN 
 SG       (-m)     ∅
 DU    -Kəj  *-Ki  *-Ki
 PL         -j     -ʔ

Nganasan Subjective Agreement Paradigm:
(B. Wagner-Nagy 2018, pg.229)

   1st   2nd    3rd 
 SG   -m    -ŋ    
 DU   -mi   -ri   -gəj 
 PL -mUʔ -rUʔ  

*In the grammar, ACC.DU and GEN.DU have a “ghost” consonant at the end.

I will argue for the following three things:

1) NOM.DU /-Kəj/ and 3rd.DU /-gəj/ are in fact the same exponent, meaning that we can argue that NUM is the morphosyntactic feature behind the syncretism and that there is no contextual allomorphy (Bonet & Harbour 2012) between nominal and verbal stems in the CONTEXT of NOM and 3SG.

2) The apparent syncretism between NOM.SG, ACC.SG and GEN.SG /-∅/ is superficial in nature since phonological phenomena such as Syllabic Gradation and Epenthesis clearly distinguish word-paradigms involving NOM.SG /-∅/ from word-paradigms involving ACC.SG and GEN.SG /-∅/.

3) The apparent syncretism between NOM.PL and GEN.PL /-ʔ/ is also superficial for similar reasons, but in light of the typology of epenthesis and vowel harmony (Finley 2008), GEN.PL /-ʔ/ is better understood as being /-Vʔ/, where V is a vowel that participates in vowel harmony.

Finally, one can see similar syncretisms in the Case and Subjective Agreement Paradigms of Tundra Nenets (Nikolaeva 2014, pg. 57, 59, 61, 78) and Forest Enets (Siegl 2013, pg. 121-124), suggesting that this cross-paradigmatic syncretism is more widespread in the Samoyedic language family.