Grammar Without Tears Part I – June 4

Breath of Life June 4, 2015
Breath of Life 2015 is supported by the Documenting Endangered Languages Program
(NSF Award No. 1360675).
and the Smithsonian Institution, Myaamia Center at Miami University, National
Endowment for the Humanities, Recovering Voices, Miami Tribe of Oklahoma, National
Museum of Natural History, National Anthropological Archives, National Museum of the
American Indian, and Library of Congress American Folklife Center
Double Negative
What is “grammar”?
•  The full set of patterns (often called
“rules”) that allow the composition of
words and phrases in a given language.
•  “A grammar” is a description of the
above, usually as a reference book
•  “Grammar is your friend.” -Pat Shaw
Writing conventions are informed by grammar, but are not themselves “grammar”.
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John Eliot’s Apostle to the Indians
(created at the Harvard Indian
“________’s handwriting is pretty good.”
•  "
“The vocabulary of the Miamis was not very
great, probably containing not over six
hundred or eight hundred words, but it was all
they needed in their savage life … they
possibly used no more than one hundred
[words] in common conversation. … The
language was very imperfect as one might
suppose. The noun, the verb, and the adjective
were about the only parts of speech used.”
McClurg, Martha Una. (1961). Miami Indian Stories told by Chief Clarence
Godfroy Ka-pah-pwah (Great-great-grandson of Frances Slocum). Winona
Lake, Indiana: Light and Life Press, p. 159.
McClurg was wrong!
myaamia doesn’t have adjectives …
•  What would be expressed with an
adjective (e.g. color terms) in English is
expressed with a verb in myaamia:
•  moohswa waapisita ‘The deer is white.’
he is white
•  alaakani waapiki ‘The dish is white.’
dish/plate it is white
Nouns (words for persons,
places, things, and ideas)
“Suffixes on Miami nouns
mark the number and the
gender of the noun.”
•  Miami has two numbers – singular and
•  Miami has two genders – animate and
Grammatical “Gender”
What is a “gender” and why is that
term used here?
Number in myaamia
Animate Nouns
alaankwia, alaankwiaki ‘rainbow, rainbows’
piloohsa, piloohsaki ‘child, children’
naala, naalaki ‘cicada, cicadas’
myaamia, myaamiaki ‘Miami, Miamis’
eelaalaahšiwia, eelaalaahšiwiaki ‘monkey, monkeys’
Inanimate Nouns
kaloosioni, kaloosiona ‘word, words’
tawaani, tawaana ‘tree, trees’
alaakani, alaakana ‘spoon, spoons’
siipiiwi, siipiiwa ‘river, rivers’
waawi, waawa ‘egg, eggs’
pakaani, pakaana ‘nut, nuts’
myaamia nouns – summary
Animate nouns: sg: -a pl: -aki
Inanimate nouns: sg: -i pl: -a
Learn several examples!!!!
Also to consider:
-What kind of number contrast (singular, dual, plural, etc.) does
your language make, if any?
-Does number (how many of something) get marked on verbs or in
other classes of words besides nouns?
Be prepared for exceptions –
especially for commonly used
myaamia forms of MOTHER term:
-ninkya ‘my mother’
-ninkiiki ‘my mothers’
(generic nouns that stand in place
of specific nouns)
•  Some major examples – Words for …
I, you (singular), he, she, it, we-inclusive,
we-exclusive, you (plural), they (they-two,
they-more than two)
-Are overt pronouns frequently used in your language?
-Remember that pronouns very often work differently
from regular nouns in terms of where and how they occur.
Units of linguistic analysis that often get
employed in reference materials
The study of word
composition and formation
• A morpheme is the smallest
meaningful unit in the grammar
of a language.
•  Here are some morphemes of English:
– like (one morpheme)
– like-s (two morphemes)
– dis-like-s (three morphemes)
What is the morphemic
breakdown of helicopter?
• heli-copter
• helico-pter
More on the point of the former slide
•  With helicopter, most people intuitively find two morphemes, and the example is
interesting because English speakers usually analyze the break as heli+copter,
instead of the historically accurate helico+pter. Again, you could analyze the word
either way and have a good argument so long as you presented a reasonable
justification for your morphemic breakdown.
•  You could say “Well, it’s helico+pter because the word was created with those
Greek roots (you could look up this word), and those roots show up as units in other
words like pterodactyl and helicobacter pylori (a bacterium shaped like a helix, as
with the wings of a helicopter). You could also point out that English has the
truncated form ‘copter’ (to mean helicopter) and also has words like gyrocopter,
which is based on gyro ‘triangle’ plus ‘copter’. (If it followed Greek roots, it would
be gyropter.) Then you would have a solid argument for why the morphemic
breakdown of helicopter could be described as ‘heli+copter”, even though the
historical breakdown of the word was different.
•  Regardless, laying things out in this way and looking for patterns can help you
discover things about your language that you might otherwise not notice, which can
help with needs such as creating new words.
• The base form(s) within
• Usually there are a large
number of roots in a language.
Free vs. Bound Morphemes
•  Some morphemes are free, which
means they can be used on their own as
– (like ‘walk’)
•  Other morphemes are bound, which
means they must occur with a root
– (like the “past tense” -ed)
Affixes are bound morphemes
• Prefixes come before the root
– (un-happy)
• Suffixes follow the root
– (walk-s, walk-ed)
Note: “affix” is an umbrella
term for bound morphemes that
attach to roots in fixed places.
They have subcategory names
(prefix, suffix) based on where
they attach.
• Infixes go inside the root
• Circumfixes are two-part affixes, one of
which goes before the root, and the other
of which goes after
Point to keep in mind
In most languages of the Western hemisphere, affixation is relatively
robust – that is, most of these language encode important ideas
through affixes (more than English does).
Note that in most dictionaries, hyphens before or after a given entry
indicate that this morpheme must take something before it or after it,
respectively. For example, in myaamia, there is a root -iipiti that
means “tooth”. However, this is not a self-standing word; it needs a
possessive prefix to create a full word (e.g., niipiti ‘my tooth’, kiipiti
‘your tooth’, awiipiti ‘his/her tooth’, etc.). The hyphen before the first
letter in the dictionary entry for TOOTH indicates that something has
to be there. The main myaamia dictionary, however, does not tell its
users what sort of prefix this root takes. This grammatical fact is
something that one has to know in order to be able to use the
dictionary effectively.
(part of) a word is repeated and doing so
has some sort of conventionalized meaning
Ex: myaamia verb root neehse- ‘breathe’
neehseeta ‘(s)he breathes’
There is also a reduplicated form:
neeneehsee-. What do you think it means?
neeneehseeta ‘(s)he _______________’
Isolating languages
• In the simplest case (as in ‘walk’),
one word=one morpheme.
• Some languages (like Chinese)
are predominantly this way
• Each idea can be isolated into a
separate word.
(Poly)Synthetic languages
• (Poly)synthetic means ‘synthesizing
(lots of) things together into a word’
• These languages allow many
morphemes in a word … for
example, an action verb might have
morphemes indicating who’s doing
it, to whom, at what time, by what
means, and so on.
What can you tell about these myaamia verbs?
Some myaamia morphology
• weehsiniaani ‘I eat’
• weehsiniyani ‘you-singular eat’
• weehsinici ‘(s)he eats’
• weehsiniaanki ‘we (not including addressee)
• weehsiniyankwi ‘we (including addressee) eat’
• etc.
myaamia, like many languages, differentiates “inclusive” and
“exclusive” we
A myaamia verb paradigm
• I -aani
we -aanki (first person exclusive)
• you -(y)ani we -(y)ankwi (first person inclusive)
you all -(y)iikwi
• (s)he -ci/-ta they -waaci/-ciki
-kiki (after consonant-final stems)
Imperative singular (command to one person): -lo
(-to after [n])
Imperative plural (command to more than one person): -ko
Let’s ______.”: -taawi
What are the various forms for kiiweeli- ‘to laugh’?
•  The previous slide contains part of a
VERB PARADIGM – a table giving the
set (or a systematic subset) of forms in
which a given verb occurs.
–  number often organized in columns
(singular on left, plural on right)
–  person (1st – I, we; 2nd – you, you guys; 3rd
– s(he), it, they) often presented in rows
(with 1st person on top)
Polysynthesis in Yup’ik Eskimo
-piar -llru -llini
really PST apparently INDIC theytwo
‘the two of them were apparently really hungry’
example from George Charles, a Yup’ik speaker
Mithun, Marianne. (1999). Languages of Native North America, p. 38
Sometimes in linguistic reference materials,
particularly textbooks and other publications,
synthesis gets illustrated with very complicated
examples. This is likely at least partly due to an
intent to show the possible complexity of
Native languages, which is important since
some people assume that these languages are
“primitive”. However, even highly synthetic
languages will normally have some words with
only one or two morphemes.
An example of synthesis as it commonly occurs
What is a word anyway?!
• Speakers normally pause between
words, not morphemes
• General rule: a unit with one primary
(phonological) stress is a word.
• Often morphemes in a word come in a
fixed order; this is called a template.
• Speakers recognize words as words.
Apparently, some U.S. politicians have a
different notion of what constitutes a word …
“One word sums up
probably the
responsibility of any
vice president, and
that one word is
‘to be prepared’.”
-December 6, 1989
Dan Quayle, U.S. Vice President (1989-1993)