Syntactic Relations in Altaic Languages
Researcher: Alan R. Libert
The Altaic family is a widespread group of languages which includes Turkish (and other languages of the Turkic group, such as Uzbek, Kyrgyz, and Kazakh), Mongolian (which is actually a group of languages rather than a single language), Tungusic languages, and possibly Japanese and Korean. Although some members of this group have very large numbers of speakers, some languages and varieties are endangered or close to extinction. This project is investigating several facets of the syntax and microsyntax of some endangered Altaic varieties. Because the issues being examined are very specific, and have not been fully described in previous work on these languages, detailed fieldwork is necessary. This fieldwork is also collecting large amounts of spoken text which will document the varieties under investigation and can be used for other research as well.
The varieties investigated and documented so far include Chinese varieties of Kyrgyz and Kazakh. These languages as spoken in Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan are in a relatively good state, but their Chinese varieties (spoken mainly in Xinjiang) are endangered. Ukrainian varieties of Crimean Tatar have also been recorded and documented; although there are many Crimean Tatars in Ukraine, a fairly low percentage of younger Tatars are fluent speakers of the language.
The syntactic phenomena being focused on are of two types;
- Altaic languages generally have postpositions rather than prepositions, and some of these postpositions have complex case marking behaviors, determined by a complex set of factors. This project aims to discover more precisely what these factors are and how they have changed over time.
- Many Altaic languages have a phenomenon known in the Turcological literature as izafet, in which a possessed or modified noun phrase bears marking linking it to its possessor or modifier. This marking seems to be disappearing in some languages and the project is examining what conditions this loss.