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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.

Special Issue on Aspects of Brokpa Grammar

Issue cover
This issue includes several papers on aspects of the Brokpa language, as well as other articles based on original research.

Introduction to Special Issue 19.1

Introduction to Aspects of Brokpa Grammar

The Brokpa language, spoken in the two villages Merak and Sakteng in eastern Bhutan and adjacent parts of Arunachal Pradesh, is a hitherto undescribed Tibetic language (Trans-Himalayan). This special issue of Himalayan Linguistics presents the first account on several aspects of the phonology and grammar of the language. This introduction gives some general information about the Brokpa language, its phylogeny and linguistic profile and about the Brokpa Documentation and Description Project (BDDP). Additionally, the individual contributions of this special issue are shortly introduced and some formal conventions followed throughout this issue are laid out.


A preliminary phonology of Brokpa

A preliminary synchronic analysis of Brokpa phonology finds eleven vowel phonemes, including two degrees of vowel length; 35 consonant phonemes; and three tonal values (level low, level high, and contour falling). Based on a sample of 134 words, the phonological description is supported by a phonetic analysis investigating the acoustic correlates of phonemic distinctions: formant values for vowel quality, length measurements for vowel length, pitch measurements for tone, and voice onset time for aspiration in plosives and affricates. A presentation of the basic phonotactic patterns of the language concludes the sketch. Some noteworthy features of Brokpa phonology include its developing tonal system; the relative lack of open vowels, front rounded vowels, and voiced fricatives; the presence of five series of plosives; and some archaic consonant clusters.

Diachronic and areal aspects of Brokpa phonology

The Tibetic language Brokpa exhibits a number of archaic properties regarding its phonology. However, one also finds some shared Tibetic innovations and features which likely arose due to contact with non-Tibetic languages. This article discusses selected features belonging to the three above-mentioned categories such as the retention of initial clusters of bilabial plosives and /r/, the reflexes of other selected initial clusters, correspondences of syllable-final Written Tibetan <b>, <d>, <g> and <s>, the lack of a voiced dental fricative /dz/ as well as the loss of voicing distinction of the syllable onsets as a starting point of tonogenesis.

A short overview of the word classes in Brokpa

This paper presents a first overview of the word classes in Brokpa and how they differ structurally from each other. Brokpa distinguishes eleven word classes: nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, copulas, relator nouns, pronouns, numerals, quantifiers, conjunctions and particles. Semantic, morphological and syntactic aspects of these word classes will be presented and set in relation to each other.

The Brokpa lexicon: Notes on selected semantic fields

A selection of semantic fields of the Brokpa lexicon are examined in some detail, focusing on both cross-linguistically salient as well as locally distinct concepts. Kinship terminology reflects traditional marriage customs through conflating in-laws with paternal aunts, maternal uncles and male cross-cousins. Different kinds of livestock such as yaks and cows are crossbred, giving rise to a wide variety of distinctly named hybrid offspring. Domestic animals receive characteristic onomatopoeic renderings of their vocalizations, and specialized summoning calls. A number of body parts are lexically not differentiated, such as hand and arm, foot and leg, finger and toe, while others like hair distinguish numerous types. Honorifics are found for body parts and kinship terms, among others. Finally, numerals mix a decimal with a more archaic vigesimal system.

Brokpa nominal morphology

The Brokpa language marks noun phrases for plurality and for case. While the five case markers of the language are relatively conservative in form and function compared to other Tibetic languages, the plural marker has been completely innovated. This paper discusses form and function of these markers and will make some relevant comparative observations.

Verbal categories in Brokpa

This paper presents the verbal categories tense, aspect, modality and evidentiality of Brokpa, both from a functional and diachronic perspective. Additionally, verb stem alternations in Brokpa are briefly presented and compared with those of Classical Tibetan. Verbal categories in Brokpa are formed both morphologically through suffixes and analytically through syntactically complex constructions. The past tense marker -pi is treated in some detail, since it evinces a complex allomorphy which is no longer transparent and only explicable with reference to Classical Tibetan.

Copulas in Brokpa

Like many Tibetic languages, Brokpa boasts an intricate system of copulas. Six present tense copulas, one past tense copula, and two modal copulas are identified, including a distinction between sets of equative and existential copulas and a three-way epistemic contrast akin to Lhasa Tibetan, and more elaborated than that found in Brokpa’s Bhutanese relatives Dzongkha or Chocha-ngachakha. In particular, Brokpa features an egophoric category next to a contrast between, in DeLancey (2018)’s terms, evidential and non- evidential factual which is reminiscent of the opposition between acquired and assimilated knowledge proposed for Dzongkha by van Driem (1998). The discussion of the sophisticated epistemic semantics of Brokpa copulas is complemented by some suggestions as to its diachronic origins.

Deverbal nominalization in Brokpa

This paper aims to provide a first description of deverbal nominalizers in Brokpa and the range of functions they carry. Brokpa exhibits four productive deverbal nominalizers as well as an unproductive one. They all form clausal nominalizations which can function as complement clauses or as modifiers of other nominals in the form of relative clauses. I argue that Brokpa allows three different types of relative clauses: pre-headed, post-headed and internally headed relative clauses. This paper furthermore shows that two nominalizers developed temporal reference and can now also function as finite tense markers.

Brokpa texts, glossary and verb stems: Appendices to Aspects of Brokpa Grammar

The appendices to Himalayan Linguistics 19.1: Aspects of Brokpa Grammar consist of three parts, namely the text collection compiled by the Brokpa Documentation and Description Project (BDDP) at the Department of Linguistics of Bern University (Appendix A), a commented Brokpa glossary with etymologies (Appendix B) as well as the list of verb stems attested so far, indicating stem alternations (Appendix C).

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Old Tibetan verb morphology and semantics: An attempt at a reconstruction

The paper presents the first complete reconstruction of the Old Tibetan (OT) verb morphology and semantics. Old Tibetan had a productive verb inflection with meaningful inflectional affixes b-, g-, ɣ-, d-, -d, and -s. The distribution of the prefixes was asymmetric and closely related to transitivity of a verb. Verbs of highest transitivity formed four distinct stems, whereas intransitive verbs inflected for one or two stems only. Grammatical voice is the only category that can explain the disproportion in the markings of transitive and intransitive verbs. Because the basic opposition was that between active and passive voice, intransitive verbs could only form active forms, whereas both active and passive forms were available for the majority of transitive verbs. In addition, both groups of verbs inflected for aspect, distinguishing between perfective and imperfective aspect. The OT inflectional system seems to have been a local innovation, only marginally related to verb morphology of other Tibeto-Burman languages.

The asymmetrical categories of negation in Bumthang

Less inflectional categories are found in negated clauses than are found in affirmative clauses in Bumthang, a Tibeto-Burman language of Bhutan. It is common cross-linguistically for languages to make fewer contrasts in negative clauses than in affirmative ones. In this paper we focus on the less expected appearance of the ergative case in certain negated irrealis clauses, where the use of this case would be ungrammatical in the corresponding affirmative clauses. We sketch the aspectual and case-marking systems of the language, and then present data exemplifying the interaction of case, aspect and polarity, including the use of the ergative with arguments of monovalent verbs in negated irrealis clauses. We conclude by offering an account for the behaviour observed in terms of the pragmatics of implicature.


A geolinguistic study of directional prefixes in the Qiangic language area

This study examines directional prefixes in Qiangic languages from a geolinguistic perspective. Among Qiangic languages, the northern languages tend to have more directional prefixes. This fact suggests the areal development of directional prefixes. The present paper discusses the following four groups of directional prefixes: (i) “upward”; (ii) “downward”; (iii) “inward,” “upriver,” “eastward,” and related movements; and (iv) “outward,” “downriver,” “westward,” and related movements. First, I show the geographical distribution of the forms of prefixes for each directional category. Then, I examine the relative time depth of each form using a geolinguistic method and make hypotheses on the historical development of directional prefixes. This study reached the following conclusion: In Qiangic, the basic directional prefixes among these four groups are “upward,” “downward,” “inward,” and “outward.” The other categories involved in (iii) and (iv) were developed later, since the “upriver” and “downriver” prefixes show variety of forms among local areas, whereas the “eastward” and “westward” prefixes are found in limited areas. The following are the oldest types of initial of each directional prefix: dental plosive for the “upriver” prefixes; dental nasal for the “downward” prefixes; voiceless velar plosive for the “inward” prefixes; and voiced velar plosive for the “outward” prefixes.

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Segmental and suprasegmental features of Brokpa

This paper analyzes segmental and suprasegmental features of Brokpa, a Trans-Himalayan (Tibeto-Burman) language belonging to the Central Bodish (Tibetic) subgroup. Segmental phonology includes segments of speech including consonants and vowels and how they make up syllables. Suprasegmental features include register tone system and stress. We examine how syllable weight or moraicity plays a determining role in the placement of stress, a major criterion for phonological word in Brokpa; we also look at some other evidence for phonological words in this language. We argue that synchronic segmental and suprasegmental features of Brokpa provide evidence in favour of a number of innovative processes in this archaic Bodish language. We conclude that Brokpa, a language historically rich in consonant clusters with a simple vowel system and a relatively simple prosodic system, is losing its consonant clusters and developing additional complexities including lexical tones.