Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Studies in Inuktitut grammar
by Beach, Matthew David, Ph.D., State University of New York at Buffalo, 2012, 424; 3495173
Abstract (Summary)

This dissertation addresses a number of issues about the grammar of Eastern Canadian Inuktitut. Inuktitut is a dialect within the Inuit dialect continuum which is a group of languages/dialects within the Eskimo-Aleut language family. (Eastern Canadian Inuktitut has an ISO 693-3 language code of 'ike'.) Typologically, it is an ergative language that is heavily derivationally polysynthetic with a very free word order. The goals are both descriptive and theoretical. Accurate description is essential since some dialects in this language family will soon go extinct, so it is important to know what types of questions need to be asked. While description may be the primary goal of this dissertation, theoretical issues are addressed in various places. Ergative languages are important to many syntactic theories as are languages with freer word order and polysynthetic languages.

Inuktitut has a wide range of transitivity alternations. While both transitive verbs and intransitive verbs have an argument which must bear absolutive case, the language has different restrictions on two different types of absolutive arguments. Absolutive objects must be given a specific reading, whereas absolutive subjects have no such requirement. Both arguments of a transitive verb have different restrictions with respect to either case or interpretation as compared to the single argument of an intransitive verb. It is argued that something along the lines of the lexical constraints of HPSG can be helpful in capturing the generalizations. Inuktitut also has a very wide range of derivational suffixes, which differ in their restrictions in terms of what the restrictions are on the input of the derivational rules and how the input must be mapped to the output. It will be argued that, in a lexicalist model, transitivity alternations are best captured with the TRANS features [intransitive], [transitive], and [atransitive].

An analysis of possessive constructions is important to this dissertation, since there are a number of suffixes which ordinarily express a possessive relationship when they are attached to simple noun roots from the lexicon, but which express some other semantic relationship when they are attached to some deverbal nouns, as determined by a very precise set of rules concerning deverbal noun formation. There are also some deverbal nouns which must ordinarily be followed by a possessive suffix, or which may be followed by one of the derivational suffixes which normally express a possessive relation. While the analysis to be adopted is adequate to explain quite a number of grammatical restrictions in Inuktitut, it should also be helpful in generating descriptive questions about other dialects in this language family.

This dissertation also argues that semantic scope alone should be sufficient to explain many restrictions with regards to affix ordering, and the descriptive generalizations are consistent with the assumptions of lexicalist models. It is also argued that non-lexicalist theories have no advantage over lexicalist theories in explaining noun incorporation, where a verbalizing suffix is attached to a noun stem.

Outside of transitivity alternations, this dissertation delves into more depth with regard to a number of grammatical phenomena than has any previous work on other dialects or languages in this language family. A few areas of note are comparative constructions, the derivational processes which are possible with pronouns, the word atuni, 'each one', or 'all/both of them', noun stem elision, and the ways the language allows possessor arguments to be expressed in noun incorporation.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Dryer, Matthew S.
Commitee: Fertig, David, Koenig, Jean-Pierre
School: State University of New York at Buffalo
Department: Linguistics
School Location: United States -- New York
Source: DAI-A 73/06, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Linguistics
Keywords: Ergativity, Eskimo, Inuktitut, Non-configurational, Polysynthetic, Specificity
Publication Number: 3495173
ISBN: 9781267183293
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