Linguistics Department

Dissertation Defense - Wikaliler Daniel Smith "A Grammar of Guna: A Community-Centered Approach"

Tue, May 20, 2014 | CLA 4.106

1:00 PM - 2:30 PM

This dissertation is a descriptive grammar of Guna, a Chibchan language of Panama with an approximate 40,000 speakers. The aim of the dissertation is to provide a description of the language that is linguistically relevant and at the same time straightforward and readable for a wider audience that may include the community of Guna speakers.

This work fills a gap that exists in the literature for Guna. Great work has been done about Guna in diverse areas and disciplines. However, as the Guna population seeks to become more involved in their own representation (Howe 2010), there exists a great need for a document that bridges the understanding of Guna linguistics with the community’s efforts of language maintenance and revitalization. In order to accomplish this, chapters are written in such a way that topics can be easily located, linguistic concepts are fully explained, and the language used to describe specific linguistic phenomena is straightforward.

The dissertation is organized as follows: Chapter 1 introduces the reader to the academic and cultural context in which the dissertation was written and the methodology used in data collection and writing; Chapter 2 describes the phonology of the language and explains different orthographies that have surfaced for Guna; Chapter 3 presents the roots/bases and the formatives that attach to them; Chapter 4 builds on the previous chapter to describe phrases that have nouns and modifiers as heads; Chapter 5 discusses verbal morphology; Chapter 6 gives a description of sentence formation, which includes different syntactic phenomena such as type of predicates, word order, and pragmatically determined word orders; Chapter 7 serves as a bridge between Chapters 6 and 8 as it describes serial verb constructions, structures with two verbs that function as one predicate; and Chapter 8 is an account of clause combinations in the language.

Although Guna is still spoken and learned by children, its dwindling percentage of native speakers makes it an endangered language. Therefore, this grammar is a contribution to the field of linguistics and to the efforts of revitalization and maintenance within the community.

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