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Indigenous narrative texts in linguistic typology

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Title: Indigenous narrative texts in linguistic typology
Authors: Schnell, Stefan
Haig, Geoffrey
Issue Date: 03 Mar 2017
Description: Recent years have witnessed the developments of a new strand in linguistic typology called “text-based” or “corpus-based” typology (Authors, 2011). The central idea is to supplement grammar-based language typology (cf Dryer & Haspelmath 2013) by the systematic analysis of text corpora from diverse languages (Waelchli 2006, 2009; Cysouw & Waelchli 2007). Corpus- or text- based typological studies can reveal differences and universals of language use that are not usually captured in descriptive grammars; they thus make important contributions to usage-based accounts of linguistic diversity and universals. Text-based typology has important precursors in the studies of discourse structure and referentiality pioneered by Wallace Chafe and Talmy Givón in the 1970ies. Despite the immense ramification for usage-based accounts of discourse and grammatical structures, research in the Chafe-Givón tradition has mostly been restricted to relatively small text-data sets, often from relatively well-studied languages of Europe or East Asia. Furthermore, to date there has been comparatively little attempt to harness more recent technical developments in documentary and corpus linguistics to the cross-linguistic investigation of natural discourse. We here report on a text-based typological initiative that taps into the spoken language data compiled in unprecedented amounts and quality within various language documentation projects. In contrast to other efforts in text-based typology that use parallel (Waelchli 2009; Cysouw & Waelchli 2007) or stimuli- based texts (Pear Film re-tellings; Bickel 2003; Du Bois 1987; or Frog Story re- tellings; Berman & Slobin 1994), we aggregate spoken language corpora of what we call “original texts”, that is texts that resemble indigenous literature and have been recorded in their respective cultural settings during months- or years-long fieldwork. We demonstrate the viability of applying unified system of morpho- syntactic text annotation to texts from diverse languages, thus enabling quantitative research in the Chafe-Givón tradition in much more systematic ways, and on a much broader text data base that reflects more reliably the actual use of diverse languages by their speakers. We demonstrate the impact of our approach through examples of studies that are published in high-quality journals and other publications; time permitting, we will also illustrate further on-going research. Our paper shows that spoken texts from language documentation are not only a viable resource for language maintenance, and serving as a basis for grammars and dictionaries, but that also, assuming certain conditions of technical implementation and annotation are observed, bear unique potentials as direct input for language typology and theoretical linguistics. References: BERMAN, RUTH & DAN SLOBIN (eds.) 1994. (eds), Relating events in narrative: a crosslinguistic developmental study. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum. BICKEL, BALTHASAR. 2003. Referential density in discourse and syntactic typology. Language 79.708–36. DOI: 10.1353/lan.2003.0205. CYSOUW, MICHAEL, and BERNHARD WÄLCHLI. 2007. Parallel texts: Using translational esquivalents in linguistic typology. STUF - Sprachtypologie und Universalienforschung 60.2.95–99. DOI: 10.1524/ stuf.2007.60.2.95. DU BOIS, JOHN W. 1987. The discourse basis of ergativity. Language 63.4, 805-855. AUTHORS. 2011. Comparing corpora from endangered languages: Explorations in language typology based on original texts. In AUTHORS (eds.), 55-86. AUTHORS (eds.) 2011. Documenting endangered languages: Achievements and perspectives. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter DRYER, MATHEW & MARTIN HASPELMATH (eds.). 2013. The World Atlas of Language Structures Online. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. (Available online at, Accessed on 2016-09-01.) WÄLCHLI, BERNHARD. 2006. Descriptive typology, or, the typologist’s expanded toolkit. Konstanz: University of Konstanz, MS. WÄLCHLI, BERNHARD. 2009. Motion events in parallel texts: A study in primary data typology. Bern: Uni-versity of Bern Habilitation thesis.
Appears in Collections:5th International Conference on Language Documentation and Conservation (ICLDC)

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