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Historical Linguistics Circle

Jonathan Slocum

The Historical Linguistics Circle (HLC) is an inter-departmental monthly meeting of people interested in any aspect of historical linguistics. Please contact us (ut.hist.ling at if you are interested in being on the mailing list or presenting your research at one of our meetings.

Unless otherwise specified, meetings will be held (on dates TBA) in Burdine 228 on a Wednesday afternoon from 5:00 to 6:30 p.m. See, also, historical linguistics resources for lists of upcoming events and courses at UT.

2011 Calendar

Wednesday, February 9: Jessica White-Sustaíta presented a talk entitled "A new view on the historical rise of auxiliary 'do'." Abstract: Do-support is a staple of English syntax, and its role in English interrogatives has been a mainstay of theoretical linguistics for over 40 years. However, subject-verb inversion in questions is typologically rare outside of the Indo-European language family. In this paper I consider the syntax of English questions within the context of cross-linguistic variation and argue, contra traditional views, that do-support is not a purely syntactic mechanism for supporting tense and agreement features. Rather, do is used for functional purposes of information structure, and its role as a host for tense and agreement is a consequence of its functional/semantic role. I further consider the historical grammaticalization of auxiliary do as part of a hypothesized interrogative cycle for questions, similar to Jespersen's Cycle of Negation for negative elements (Jespersen 1917).

Wednesday, March 9: There will be no March HLC meeting; instead, everyone is invited to attend Alex Magidow's presentation of Ph.D. thesis ideas on Friday, March 11, at 2:00 in BEN 1.106. Alex hopes "to reconstruct the spoken, non-literary register of the Arabic language (or really, dialect continuum) as it existed prior to the Islamic expansions that brought Arabic from Afghanistan to Iberia within less than two centuries" by adapting "the comparative method, which produces abstract, homogeneous and somewhat a-historical proto-languages, [in order] to be able to reconstruct a specific, historical, heterogeneous state of a language, making use of research in sociolinguistics, typology and language contact studies." Feedback is invited!

Wednesday, April 13: Steve Wechsler & Elizabeth Coppock will present a talk entitled "The Distribution of Person Agreement: A Historical Perspective." Abstract: In this talk we argue that the special distribution of person agreement can be explained as a consequence of its historical origin in incorporated pronouns, with loss of the person feature as a complicating factor. While verbs agree in person, adjectives usually do not. On Wechsler and Zlatic's (2003) theory, this follows from a distinction between two agreement feature bundles, Index and Concord. Only Index includes person, because only Index inflections are derived from incorporated personal pronouns (Wechsler to appear; cf. Lehmann 1988). Thus two kinds of target morpheme can lack person: (i) Concord morphemes (e.g. French adjectives); (ii) Index morphemes from which person distinctions have been historically lost. Loss of the person feature will be explored for object agreement in the Uralic languages, with particular attention to Ostyak and Hungarian.

We hypothesize further that features are bundled on Index and Concord target morphemes, and agree in an 'all-or-none' fashion (Chomsky 2001, Bejar 2008). This predicts that if a given target morpheme reflects the person feature of the controller in any controller position, then that target morpheme will reflect the controller's person in every controller position, a prediction that we test by surveying and classifying the range of attested person agreement restrictions. We argue that the range of such restrictions is limited to those predicted by the 'all-or-none' view.