Mismatch between theory and practice: Problem of determining base forms for Miyako verbs

Nakayama, Toshihide
Ono, Tsuyoshi
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In thinking about the relationships between linguistic practice, theory, and application, we typically assume that our theoretical understanding of grammatical structure matches the reality of linguistic practice (and speakers' intuition) and can be directly applicable to teaching and revitalization of the language. Unfortunately, this does not seem necessarily the case. In this presentation we will discuss the difficulty we encountered when we try to determine 'the base form' of a word in our work with Miyako, an endangered Ryukyuan language spoken in Okinawa, Japan. Verbs in Miyako exhibit multiple inflected forms (in the same way English verbs do, e.g. jump, jumped, jumping, etc.). When a word has variant forms, linguists identify the base form on the basis of the inflectional pattern and use it as the representative or reference form, e.g. as a dictionary headword. This notion of a representative form also seems to be very much in speakers' minds as they tend to talk about verbs using a single form rather than using different forms at different times. However, the problem is that the forms that linguists and speakers choose as representative are different in Miyako. Linguists working on Miyako typically represent verbs with the non-past form (e.g., fau 'eat'), but in contrast, native speakers consistently cite the verb in the converb form (e.g., fai ‘eating’), and in fact, word lists compiled by them list verbs in this form. Linguists' choice of the non-past form as the representative is most likely something that has been carried over from the research tradition of the more socially dominant language, Japanese. Native speaker intuition, on the other hand, likely stems from the fact that the converb form is the most frequently used in natural discourse. No matter what the sources are, this discrepancy raises a question about the identity and validity of the 'base form' of Miyako verbs. Although this may seem like a small problem, it nonetheless reveals a serious clash between the grammatical organization linguists would see and the way speakers would understand and use the grammar. We will explore in our presentation factors that contributed to this difference. It is important to be aware of such mismatches when we think about ways to relate theory, practice, and application.
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