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Open Access Publications from the University of California


Himalayan Linguistics is a free peer-reviewed web journal and archive devoted to the study of the languages of the Himalayas. It includes the series Languages and Peoples of the Eastern Himalayan Region, which incorporates the North East Indian Linguistics (NEIL) volumes.

Himalayan Linguistics

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Notes on verb agreement prefixes in Tibeto-Burman

Research on comparative Tibeto-Burman verbal morphology has achieved preliminary reconstructions of the hierchical patterns and position classes of the agreement system. The status of the prefixes which are part of the system in some branches remains problematic. Only one true personal agreement prefix, 2nd person #te-, appears to be as ancient as the suffixal agreement series. Others are language-specific innovations more recent than PTB. One clue to the origin of these secondary prefixes, as David Watters and Sun Hongkai have suggested, is their resemblance to possessive pronominal prefixes. The 2nd person k- prefix which several scholars reconstruct is a secondary intrusion of a 2nd person possessive prefix into the verb paradigm. The “marked scenario” prefix found in some Nung and Kiranti languages is likewise a secondary innovation in which original #te- was replaced by 2nd person #na- or #i-, the latter originally a 1pl Inclusive index.

Tibeto-Burman subgroups and historical grammar

Several distinct strains of thought on subgrouping, presented in memory of David Watters and Michael Noonan, are united by a golden thread. Tamangic consists of Tamangish and maybe something else, just as Shafer would have wanted it. Tamangic may represent a wave of peopling which washed over the Himalayas after Magaric and Kiranti but before Bodish. There is no such language family as Sino-Tibetan. The term ‘trans-Himalayan’ for the phylum merits consideration. A residue of Tibeto-Burman conjugational morphology shared between Kiranti and Tibetan does not go unnoticed, at least twice. Black Mountain Mönpa is not an East Bodish language, and this too does not go unnoticed.

Language use among the Bantawa: Homogeneity, education, access, and relative prestige

The focus of this article is patterns of language use within the Bantawa community, with attention to how these patterns are influenced by the relative homogeneity of each dialect area, access to education, access to the area, and its perceived prestige.

Bantawa is the largest language spoken among the Kirat Rai peoples of eastern Nepal. Gerd Hansson’s work with the Linguistic Survey of Nepal (1991) gave a broad overview of Bantawa within the context of describing the “bewildering variety” of languages spoken by the Kirat Rai. This included a hypothesis of four major dialects of Bantawa spoken in and near Bhojpur district. My research builds on Hansson’s work, interviewing mother-tongue speakers of Bantawa within Bhojpur district and adjacent areas.

Informal interviews with Bantawa people in each dialect area showed that intergenerational transfer patterns are not the same throughout the language area. Several key factors interrelate in different ways in each dialect area, allowing greater opportunity for vitality in some areas than in others. This study adds to the literature concerning Bantawa by contributing descriptions of the primary dialect areas and nomenclature from an emic perspective, as well as investigating patterns of language use within each dialect area.

Direct speech reports and the cline of prosodic integration in Dolakha Newar

Direct speech reporting is a rhetorical strategy used frequently in the production of Dolakha Newar narrative. Direct speech reports are syntactically uniform in constituting center-embedded objects of ditransitive verbs. Prosodically, they show a wide range of behaviors. They may be set off from the surrounding quotative frame by intonation-unit boundaries, variations in pitch or loudness, and/or the production of contours typical of conversational speech. They may also be produced across multiple intonation units and may show patterns of macro-level prosodic structuring indicative of internal prosodic coherence and embedding within higher-level structures. On the other hand, they may exhibit none of these prosodic characteristics and be prosodically integrated with respect to the quotative frame. This variable behavior results from competition among a variety of pressures, including speakers’ performative goals, the syntax of complementation, the rhetorical impact of the quoted speech, performance factors, and inter-speaker variation in style, among others. While statistical analyses might fruitfully be applied to objectively quantifiable factors, a purely statistical model will never fully predict prosodic behavior, due to the meaningful nature of prosody and intangible features of individuals in the production of discourse.

Another look at storyline marking in Sherpa narrative

The storyline clauses of a narrative push a story forward through time while supportive clauses slow down or stop the temporal movement of a story. This distinction between the functions of event clauses and non-event clauses in narrative discourse has been studied in various languages around the world.

This paper applies a textlinguistics approach to discourse to describe the morpho-syntactic and lexico-semanic features that distinguish types of storyline clauses from types of supportive material in five Sherpa personal experience narratives. Once the storyline markers are described, I then compare my results with Schöttelndreyer’s (1978) study of storyline in Sherpa. Based on this comparison, I suggest a reevaluation of Schöttelndreyer’s classification of personal experience narratives. While Schöttelndreyer suggests that there are four personal experience narrative genres each normally characterized by one storyline marker, the analysis presented in this paper leads to the conclusion that the norm is for personal experience narratives to exhibit multiple storyline markers with each marker performing a different evidential or attitudinal function rather than representing a primary indicator of genre.

Adjectives and adjectivals in Magar

This paper analyses the forms and distribution of terms which describe property concepts in Magar, a Himalayish language of Nepal. In many languages, such terms comprise a dedicated category referred to as adjectives, however in some languages, for example Magar, words that describe property concepts are derived from other categories. In this paper, these derived terms are referred to as adjectivals. In Magar, all native terms describing property concepts are derived from verbs (i.e. nominalizations which function adnominally and as copular complements), or are verbs (in intransitive verb constructions). Underived ‘true’ adjectives do exist in Magar, but these are entirely borrowings from the lingua franca, Nepali. The morphosyntactic behaviour of these two lexical classes, native adjectivals and borrowed adjectives, differs from each other and across the Magar dialects. The paper describes two dialects: Syangja and Tanahu. It is apparent that there is considerable and significant divergence with respect to the morphosyntax of both native adjectivals and borrowed adjectives. Moreover, data, especially from the more conservative dialect, Syangja, suggests that historically Magar may not have had an independent natural class of adjective. Rather property concepts were expressed by nouns or by verbs depending upon their time-stability – more constant properties are expressed with nominal(ization)s and non time-stable properties with verbs.

The modalities of Newār mal

This paper examines the interaction between the Newār versatile verb mal ‘search, need’ and the range of epistemic, deontic, and dynamic modalities outlined in Palmer 1986. According to Givón 2001, modality codes the speaker’s attitude toward a proposition.

The attitudinal thread running through the modal uses of mal is that of necessity. With epistemic judgments, mal marks an inference as necessary, given the evidence at hand. In deontic directives, mal amounts to a command – a certain action or response on the part of the hearer is necessary. In deontic commissives the speaker finds it necessary to commit himself to a task. In volitives, the speaker’s need is to express a wish, a blessing, or a curse. In the dynamic modalities the necessity stems either from within the speaker (subject-oriented) or from external pressures that impinge upon him (circumstantial).

The evidential basis of a statement, whether eye witness or hearsay, is the modality that has the least to do with necessity, and the one to which mal has the least contribution to make. Thus mal is shown to have a wide range of interaction within the epistemic, deontic, and dynamic modalities, but in each interaction the contribution of mal highlights necessity as part of the speaker’s attitude to the proposition.

Extending corpus annotation of Nepali: advances in tokenisation and lemmatisation

The Nepali National Corpus (NNC) was, in the process of its creation, annotated with part-of-speech (POS) tags. This paper describes the extension of automated text and corpus annotation in Nepali from POS tags to lemmatisation, enabling a more complex set of corpus-based searches and analyses. This work also addresses certain practical compromises embodied in the initial tagging of the NNC. First, some particular aspects of Nepali morphology – in particular the complexity of the agglutinative verbal inflection system – necessitated improvements to the underlying tokenisation of the text before lemmatisation could be satisfactorily implemented. In practical terms, both the tokenisation and lemmatisation procedures require linguistic knowledge resources to operate successfully: a set of rules describing the default case, and a lexicon containing a list of individual exceptions: words whose form suggests a particular rule should apply to them, but where that rule in fact does not apply. These resources, particularly the lexicons of irregularities, were created by a strongly data-driven process working from analyses of the NNC itself. This approach to tokenisation and lemmatisation, and associated linguistic knowledge resources, may be illustrative and of use to researchers looking at other languages of the Himalayan region, most especially those that have similar morphological behaviour to Nepali.

Preliminary notes on Gyalsumdo, an undocumented Tibetan variety in Manang District, Nepal.

This report contains preliminary descriptive and comparative information on Gyalsumdo, a variety of Tibetan that is spoken in the lower Manang District of Nepal. Based on select lexico-phonetic data recorded from one speaker in 2009 and 2010, and on data available from other languages of Manang and nearby Gorkhā District, we hypothesize its location within Tibetic (Central Tibetan). Gyalsumdo shares more features with Nubri, but we also note additional similarities to Kyirong Tibetan, and to Tamangic languages with which Gyalsumdo has had regular contact over several generations.

A sociolinguistic study of the Baram language

This paper reports on a sociolinguistic study of the Baram language undertaken as a part of the Linguistic and Ethnographic Documentation of the Baram Language (LEDBL) project funded by the Hans Rausing Endangered Languages Documentation Programme (HRELDP) and hosted by the Central Department of Linguistics at Tribhuvan University in Nepal. This study, carried out in different Baram-speaking areas in the Gorkha District (Western Nepal), is based on the analysis of data collected by the LEDBL team between May 2007 and April 2010, employing tools such as sociolinguistic questionnaires and Swadesh Wordlist, as well as interpersonal interactions and conversations with members of the Baram community and Baram language consultants.

The main objectives of this sociolinguistic study were to:

Identify the areas of Baram settlement; Gather information about Baram speakers; Collect details about various sociolinguistic aspects of the language such as the language name, language variation, knowledge and use of the language, language attitudes, vitality and maintenance, and the level of language endangerment.

Issues in Bahing orthography development

Section 1 of this paper summarizes the community-based process of Bahing orthography development. Section 2 introduces the criteria used by the Bahing community members in deciding how Bahing sounds should be represented in the proposed Bahing orthography with Devanagari used as the script. This is followed by several sub-sections which present some of the issues involved in decision-making, the decisions made, and the rationale for these decisions for the proposed Bahing Devanagari orthography: Section 2.1 mentions the deletion of redundant Nepali Devanagari letters for the Bahing orthography; Section 2.2 discusses the introduction of new letters to represent Bahing sounds that do not exist in Nepali or are not distinctively represented in the Nepali Alphabet; Section 2.3 discusses the omission of certain dialectal Bahing sounds in the proposed Bahing orthography; and Section 2.4 discusses various length related issues.

A note on Tilung and its position within Kiranti

This paper discusses the existence of phonological and lexical isoglosses in Tilung (Rai) and other Kiranti groups on the basis of the scanty materials available, which are some 140 words and other morphemes extracted from one article written by Sueyoshi Toba (2004) and a book written by Lal Rapaca (2006). The Tilung data were compared with language data from various other Kiranti languages and reconstructed Proto-Kiranti etyma. More than half of the collected Tilung words and other morphemes could be assigned to particular cognate groups. These groups illustrate the various phonological developments that have taken place in Tilung and mark important lexical isoglosses in Kiranti. It is shown that, with respect to development of initial obstruents, Tilung is remarkably similar to the Western Kiranti language Thulung. The shared phonological developments may perhaps have taken place at a time when pre-Tilung and pre-Thulung were spoken in a contiguous area. From a lexical view point, though, Tilung shares more etyma with Central and Eastern Kiranti languages than it does with Western Kiranti. The data presented support Hanßon’s (1991) claim that Tilung may well be a marginal member of Western Kiranti, since it shares a unique phonological isogloss with Thulung, but also confirms Toba’s (2004) report that Tilung is lexically more close to Central and Eastern Kiranti.

Observations on the phonology of Gamāle Khām

The aim of this study is to present preliminary findings from ongoing research of the Gamāle Khām language. The Gamāle variants presented here are spoken in the Gām, Kuipādhārā and Tamāli villages in north-eastern Rolpā of mid-western Nepal. I concentrate on the vowel and consonant contrasts of words elicited in isolation. Observations concerning phonotaxis are also considered. Phonation, tone and stress are only treated cursorily at present since their patterns are yet to be determined with any certainty. Where necessary, certain aspects of Gamāle phonology are compared with related Tibeto-Burman languages.