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SEMINAR: Linguistics Seminar Series

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Today's date is Monday, May 17, 2021
Linguistics Seminar Series : Yours, mine and ours? Trirelational kin terms in a language under pressure Other events...
Trirelational kin terms are lexemes that identify a family member (the referent) via triangulation, by simultaneously specifying their relationship to two other parties: the speaker and propositus (person from whose perspective the relationship is calculated—often the addressee) (Laughren, 1982; McConvell, 1982; Merlan, 1989; O’Grady & Mooney, 1973). Modern descriptions of Australian languages often concede that trirelational terms are no longer actively used, or indeed even remembered (Dalton et al., 1995, p. 93; Meakins & Nordlinger, 2014, p. 166). Logically, as these systems fell out of usage they must have passed through intermediate stages, however brief, in which subsets of speakers still controlled subsets of terms—or, intriguingly, subsets of the meanings that these terms once encoded. To my knowledge, however, the progress of this shift has never been directly observed. This paper provides just such an observation.

Mudburra (Ngumpin-Yapa, Pama-Nyungan) is a highly endangered language of Australia’s central Northern Territory. While modern Mudburra speakers no longer use any trirelational terms as such, these lexemes and their meanings are not entirely lost; in fact, they seem to be contracting in a very systematic fashion. Data from eight speakers of varying fluencies show that trirelational terms are evolving into simple terms through erosion of the speaker-propositus and speaker-referent relationships, with the propositus-referent relationship maintained. Furthermore, data from one elderly speaker reveals an intriguing intermediate stage: as in traditional usage, he insists that these terms must involve three parties—but unlike traditional usage, he only specifies the propositus-referent relation (allowing the other two to be of any sort). This step-by-step contraction suggests that, of the three relationships that trirelational terms index, propositus-referent is most salient. Furthermore, it provides yet more evidence that language change is structured, even in situations of extreme pressure and shift.
Speaker(s) Amanda Hamilton-Hollaway
Location Social Sciences Building, Room 2.63
Contact Maa Ponsonnet <[email protected]>
Start Fri, 10 May 2019 11:00
End Fri, 10 May 2019 12:30
Submitted by Karen Eichorn <[email protected]>
Last Updated Wed, 08 May 2019 11:54
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