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Colloquium with Jonathan Bobaljik

Title:  Syncretism, Person, and a Chukotkan Inverse? *næ-
(includes joint work with Uli Sauerland)


This talk looks at syncretism in paradigms of person marking (pronouns, agreement) in both a large, cross-linguistic perspective and in a detailed case-study of apparently unusual paradigm structures in Chukotkan languages. We pursue the idea there are true linguistic universals in the domain of person-marking, masked by instances of accidental homophony (and other 'surface noise'). We offer a proposal for inferring the most likely feature structure from the observed distribution of paradigm types, recognizing that not every attested observation reflects a deep property of these systems. In the second part of the talk, I look at one such 'irregular'
paradigm, and provide a specific proposal for how it is to be best described synchronically and what its historical source is within Chukotko-Kamchatkan. The analysis offered bears on the typology of 'inverse' marking, concluding that the Chukotkan prefix*næ- is not an inverse marker, contra Comrie and others.