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Semantic alignment in Chitimacha

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This paper seeks to determine the system of grammatical relations for verbal person marking in Chitimacha, a once-extinct isolate from Louisiana now undergoing revitalization efforts. Though the language was documented intermittently from 1802 onwards, the most extensive and reliable documentation is from Morris Swadesh's work with the last two native speakers in the 1930s. These efforts resulted in a grammar, 3,500-word dictionary, and collection of 110 texts, all unpublished and as yet untranscribed. This study examines a selection of of those texts to determine whether Chitimacha person marking follows an agent-patient system, an active-stative system, or something else entirely.
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... When pattern replication is widespread through a geographic zone, this is known as a CONVERGENCE AREA (Matras 2009;Weinreich 1966). The U.S. Southeast appears to be one of these zones, with extensive pattern borrowing in grammatical structures and even parallel grammaticalization (Campbell 1997:341-344;Heaton 2014;Hieber forthcoming;Mithun 1999:319-320;Mithun to appear). At the level of the lexicon, the replication of linguistic matter is generally referred to as a LOANWORD, while the replication of a linguistic pattern is termed a CALQUE or LOAN TRANSLATION. ...
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Term paper, 'Languages in contact’, Prof. Marianne Mithun, Winter 2014, UC Santa Barbara.
...  Chitimacha shows agent-patient alignment in verbal person marking for the 1 st person (Hieber 2014). ...
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Chitimacha is a language isolate formerly spoken in southern Louisiana, and is a part of the Southeast linguistic area. Using documentary materials recorded by Morris Swadesh in the 1930s, this talk examines the language-internal evidence for the diachrony of three features of Chitimacha grammar: positional auxiliary verbs, switch-reference, and agent-patient alignment. Each feature is shown to have a clear, language-internal diachronic pathway, wherein existing lexical and grammatical material were recruited for new functions. However, each of these features is shared by other unrelated languages of the Southeast, suggesting that they were in fact motivated by contact. How then did Chitimacha borrow these structural features without borrowing any lexical or grammatical material? The answer, I suggest, is that multilingual speakers in the Southeast carried over discourse-level patterns of managing information flow from other languages, and that as these discourse patterns became more frequent and routinized, they fundamentally reshaped the structure of Chitimacha grammar.
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Within historical linguistics, language isolates are often viewed as a problem. Their isolate status makes it difficult to peer into their history, and internal reconstruction is generally thought to be of limited utility. Campbell (2013:170–172) briefly discusses how historical linguists might productively gain insights into the diachrony of language isolates, but notes the “frequent sentiment that it is not to be tolerated that there should be languages with no relatives” (p. 170). Chitimacha (ISO 639-3: ctm) is one such isolate from Louisiana. It was documented extensively by Albert S. Gatschet, John R. Swanton, and Morris Swadesh from 1881–1934 (Gatschet 1881a; Gatschet 1881b; Gatschet 1883; Swanton 1908; Swanton 1920; Swadesh 1939), and its last native speaker passed away in 1939. Very little has been published on the language, and the majority of what has been published reflects the sentiment mentioned by Campbell – attempts to resolve Chitimacha’s isolate status by incorporating it into this or the other language family (Swanton 1919; Swadesh 1946; Swadesh 1947; Haas 1951; Haas 1952; Gursky 1969; Brown, Wichmann & Beck 2014). None of these proposals has been widely accepted (Campbell & Kaufman 1983; Kimball 1992; Kimball 1994; Campbell 1997). This talk attempts to view Chitimacha’s status not as a problem to be solved, but as a potential treasure trove of insights into the social and linguistic history of both the Chitimacha language and the Southeast U.S. more generally. Because of the limited accessibility of the Chitimacha corpus until recently, and the prevailing interest in language classification, the precise nature of Chitimacha’s participation in the Southeast linguistic area has until now remained largely uncertain. This talk uses language-internal evidence to shed some initial light onto that history and the relationship between Chitimacha and the other languages of the Southeast. In this talk I examine the language-internal evidence for the diachrony of three major grammatical features of Chitimacha: positional auxiliary verbs, switch-reference, and agent-patient alignment. Using archival data from Morris Swadesh (1939), I show that each of these features has a clear, language-internal diachronic pathway, wherein existing lexical and grammatical material were recruited for these new functions. However, each of these features is shared by other unrelated languages of the Southeast U.S., suggesting that their development in Chitimacha was in fact motivated by contact. How then did Chitimacha borrow these structural features without borrowing any lexical or grammatical material? Following Mithun (2012), I propose that multilingual speakers in the Southeast carried over discourse-level patterns of managing information flow into Chitimacha, and that as these discourse patterns became more frequent and routinized, they grammaticalized into major features of Chitimacha grammar. It is not grammatical structures themselves that are borrowed, but rather a preference for packaging information in discourse in ways that parallel grammatical structures in the original language. The existence of these shared structural patterns between Chitimacha and other languages shows that Chitimacha is indeed situated firmly within the Southeast linguistic area. Chitimacha’s isolate status, rather than forming a barrier to our understanding of Southeastern history, in fact provides a unique window into the history of the Southeast, as well as mechanisms of contact-induced grammatical change.
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Though valency has long been of interest to linguists, there are relatively few surveys of valency classes from a crosslinguistic perspective (Dixon & Aikhenvald 2000a; Kulikov, Malchukov & de Swart 2006; Malchukov & Comrie 2015; Tsunoda & Kageyama 2006). A minority but persistent perspective that appears in valency research, however, is the suggestion that valency classes may not be a concept equally applicable to all languages. This skepticism takes different forms for different researchers and languages. In some languages, valency classes claimed to be epiphenomenal, or the indirect result of other mechanisms in the grammar. For example, Martin (2000) argues that valency classes in Creek (Muskogean) are merely a side effect of changes in event perspective. Likewise for Mohawk (Iroquoian), Mithun (2006:214) shows that “voice alternations are not exploited for purely syntactic purposes. They can serve important semantic, lexical, and discourse functions, however.” The present paper offers another potential difficulty in the crosslinguistic application of valency: How does one determine valency classes in a language where there is no consistent means of deciding the number of arguments that a given verb has? While many have noted the difficulty in determining whether a given participant is an argument or adjunct in various languages, the problem presented here is more foundational, i.e., whether a given participant can be said to be present in the clause at all. I argue that Chitimacha, a language isolate of Louisiana, presents precisely this challenge for the study of valency classes. Since nearly all definitions of transitivity and valency rely crucially on knowing the number of arguments in a clause (Dixon & Aikhenvald 2000b:4; Haspelmath 2015:136; Næss 2007:6), the case of Chitimacha suggests that a more robust definition of valency than these is needed. Using data from an archival corpus collected by Morris Swadesh in the 1930s, I show that each of the potential morphological valency-adjusting devices in Chitimacha are in fact not valency-adjusting per se, but rather alter the lexical semantics of the verb in ways that license and abet – but do not require – changes in valency.
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