Universitat Konstanz

SFB 471 "Variation und Entwicklung im Lexikon"

A-24: The role of semantic fields in the development of postpositions and case markers

 




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Introduction

This project is concerned with the development of new case markers as old case morphology erodes. The diachronic developments will be documented (in a database) and evaluated comparatively across languages. Beyond investigating the morphophonological developments of individual morphemes, the diachronic developments will be analyzed with respect to the overall case system employed at each synchronic stage of the language.   The idea for this project was prompted by a recent realization that while South Asian languages are very similar in the organization of their overall case system, the particular case morphology that is involved has been distributed across languages in a dissimilar way.

Given the close historical connection between the Indo-Aryan languages (mostly in the northern part of the Indian subcontinent) and the fact that South Asian languages from different families (i.e., Indo-Aryan, Dravidian, Tibeto-Burman) are part of a Sprachbund (Masica 1976), a common ancestry of the case morphemes is likely.  Indeed, Zakharyin 1979, citing historical reconstructions by Bloch (1920), suggests as much. This project therefore sets out to:
a) document and understand the synchronic case systems of South Asian languages;
b) trace the sources of the modern case morphology in these languages;
c) develop a theory about the development and distribution of modern case morphology.


This project undertakes to understand how the semantic fields occupied by ancestral case markers are mapped onto present day case systems, so as to result in a very different distribution of individual markers, but still retain the case alternations that were characteristic of the ancestral case system. This involves:
a) understanding modern South Asian case systems;
b) tracing the sources of modern case marking in several South Asian languages;
c) understanding the semantic fields occupied by the ancestors of the modern case marker;
d) how these semantic spaces/fields map onto to modern case systems and case oppositions.


Initial prime candidates for an examination of modern case systems are Urdu/Hindi, Punjabi, Siraiki, Nepali, Gujarati, Marathi, and Bengali. These are all Indo-Aryan languages, but the project will include a comparative look at Dravidian. This is because the semantic case oppositions are typical not just of Indo-Aryan languages, but of the larger South Asian language area(Sprachbund).

There are thus several major components to the project:
a) Synchronic investigation of the kinds of case alternations that exist today in South Asian languages.  This involves arriving at a detailed understanding of the morphosyntactic factors governing the case system, as well as being able to articulate a precise semantic understanding of the oppositions.
b) Diachronic investigation establishing the sources of the modern case markers.
c) Formulation of a theory of historical development of new case markers, which takes into account how the semantic fields denoted by an ancestral element interact with existing semantic alternations in the language.


Two sub-goals of the project are:
a) Arrive at an understanding of why a certain form ends up as an ergative in one language, but as a dative in another language (or even within the same language) and a genitive in a third, i.e., to understand the underlying affinity between ergatives, datives, instrumentals and genitives.
b) Understand how underlying case oppositions (case alternations) can remain stable despite a massive change in the attendent morphophonological material.