A central goal of modern linguistic theory is to find out what properties are shared, and what properties are different across human languages. Following Chomsky (1981, 1988), the shared properties are attributable to Universal Grammar, i.e. our innate capacity to learn a human language, and following Borer (1984) the variable ones are due to cross-linguistic differences in inflectional elements or grammatical markers. The proposed research project pursues this broadly defined question, but focuses specifically on different kinds of noun class markers and in particular how animacy based noun class markers differ from gender-based ones in their interpretive function and syntactic category. I explore the hypothesis that these formatives may realize the category responsible for either CLASSIFICATION or CATEGORIZATION, two functions that interact closely with one another, and assumes that the choice between them will have subtle, but important grammatical consequences. Taking a cue from the clausal domain, I will explore the hypothesis that these are the nominal counterparts of v (pronounced “little v”) and INNER (SITUATION) ASPECT, cf. Rijkoff 1991, Wiltschko 2011, Megerdoomian 2000.
I propose to undertake comprehensive case study of Blackfoot, a language with animacy-based noun classes, in conjunction with comparative studies of other languages that differ from Blackfoot in their utilization of noun classes. In particular, I will compare Blackfoot to Hebrew, a language with gender based noun classes. The hypotheses I develop from this comparative approach will be tested against a range of other languages, which differ from the focal languages with respect to noun class assignment. In this way I hope to achieve a better understanding of the distinctive properties of Blackfoot’s animacy-based grammatical system, and to increase our understanding of the universal functions of categories “little n/v” and inner aspect across phrases and across languages.
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