School of Languages, Linguistics and Film

LingLunch | William A. Foley (Sydney)

17 May 2018

Time: 1:00 - 2:00pm
Venue: Bancroft 3.11

Parameters of Polysynthesis: Evidence (Largely) from New Guinea

William A. Foley

University of Sydney 

The New Guinea region is well known as linguistically the most complexregion on earth: in a area with only 2% of its land area are spoken as manylanguages as the entire western hemisphere. The typological diversity of Papuanlanguages is very great. Commonly, this high diversity is underestimated inmuch typological work that samples Papuan languages because of a tendency todraw data from languages of the Trans New Guinea family, the largest and mostwidespread family. Languages of this family have provided the picture for manyof what is a ‘typical’ Papuan language, but this is highly misleading, as manyof the other languages of the region diverge quite widely in theirtypology from them. The typological category of polysynthesis is one area inwhich this is relevant. As a result of this narrowed view of Papuan languages,the degree and nature of polysynthesis in New Guinea has been under-recognized.This talk will take as diagnostic of polysynthesis, verbal pronominalagreement affixes (polypersonalism) and the incorporation of adjuncts suchtime, place and manner elements, and will explore how this definition ofpolysynthesis holds across a few Papuan languages. It will argue thatpolysynthesis is not an all or nothing discreet trait, but a cluster offeatures that a language can have to a greater or lesser degree.