Friday, July 25, 2014

Invited Speakers

Professor Enoch Abohaboh

Enoch Oladé Aboh is a researcher at the University of Amsterdam (UvA) with appointments in the Department of Linguistics and the Amsterdam Center for Language and Communication. His research interests include theoretical syntax, comparative syntax, discourse-syntax interface, and language creation & language change.

Before joining the research faculty at the University of Amsterdam in 2000, Aboh taught courses in syntax, African linguistics, Creole, and English at the University of Geneva, where he also received his Ph.D. in 1998. At the University of Amsterdam, from 2000-2003, he played a leading role in a joint research project with the University of Leiden entitled “A trans-Atlantic sprachbund? The structural relationship between the Gbe-languages of West Africa and the Suriname Creole languages," which aimed to identify and account for potential structural relationships between the Surinamese Creoles and the Gbe languages (Kwa). From 2003 to 2005, Aboh led an NWO (The Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research) Vidi-project entitled "The typology of focus and topic: A new approach to the discourse-syntax interface." Through the creation of a typological database of focus and topic constructions for crosslinguistic comparison, this program investigates the nature of the interface between discourse pragmatics and syntax by studying how focus and topic interact with clause structure and how syntactic rules that drive clause structure and discourse/pragmatic properties interact in conversation. The project also looks at the potential role of intonation in tonal languages within topic and focus constructions. Besides teaching, Aboh is currently involved in a joint research project with the University of Leiden that focuses on comparing Kwa languages and Sinitic languages in order to better understand the intricate interactions between analycity and functional sequences and what such interactions tell us about the morphology-syntax interface and about human language capacity in general. Another research that he is actively involved in at the UvA is how hybrid grammars emerge from language contact and what such grammars tell us about language acquisition.

Aboh’s publications include The Morphosyntax of Complement-head Sequences: Clause Structure and Word Order Patterns in Kwa. (Oxford University Press, 2004); numerous co-authors books and co-edited volumes such as Topics in Kwa Syntax (Springer, 2010, with James Essegbey) and Complex Processes in New Languages (Benjamins, 2009, with Norval Smith); Focus strategies in Niger Congo and Afro-Asiatic: On the Interaction between Focus and Grammar in some African Languages (Mouton, 2007, with Katharina Hartmann, and Malte Zimmermann), and over 30 peer-reviewed articles and book chapters. Aboh is also co-organizer of and lecturer for the African Linguistics School (ALS)—first held in Lebone, Ghana in 2009 and scheduled to be held in Porto-Novo, Benin in July 2011.

Lexical and functional categories in Gbe and beyond

It is traditionally assumed in linguistics that languages involve parts of speech (i.e., noun, verb, adjective, adverb), i.e., lexical items that can be formally distinguished from functional elements (i.e., grammatical items) both in terms of their distribution and their semantic properties. Lexical items belong to an open class, are contentful and can usually occur in isolation. Functional elements on the other hand form a closed class and can only occur in very well-defined syntactic contexts. Because of this general practice, the study of a new language often begins with the question of which elements belong to which class. This is not an inconsequential task, however, as it bears on descriptive and pedagogical work, (e.g., reference grammars, dictionaries), and formal analysis.

Given this state of affairs, one wonders to what extent the clear-cut partition in terms of lexical versus functional item is helpful in the context of these languages. In this paper, I address this issue based on Gungbe and show that this language mainly distinguishes between two categories: nominal and verbal from which most other categories derive. This view has far-reaching consequences for the formal syntactic analysis of certain grammatical constructions in Gungbe (e.g., locative expressions, inherent complement verbs, serial verb constructions, auxiliation, adjectival modification), and how such analyses could translate into pedagogical materials for L1 and L2 acquisition.

Read longer abstract here.

back to top


Professor Vicki Carstens

carstonsVicki Carstens is Associate Professor and Chair of the Linguistics Program at University of Missouri.  She received her BA in 1979 from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in African Languages and Literature, and her PhD in linguistics from UCLA in 1991. Her research area is generative syntax, within Noam Chomsky’s Minimalist framework. Much of her work explores the theoretical implications of grammatical agreement and word order phenomena in Eastern Bantu languages including Swahili, Chichewa, Shona, Luyia, and Kilega. Her articles have appeared in the journals Linguistic Inquiry, Natural Language and Linguistic Theory, Syntax, The Linguistic Review, Lingua, and Language.



Left/right asymmetries and the design of grammar

In this paper, I will present case studies from several Niger‐Congo languages bearing on a central issue in current syntactic theory: Do hierarchical relations have a strict mapping into linear order? Influential works including Kayne (1994) and Cinque (2005) argue that (1a,b) are licit but (2a) is not. Hence a surface ordering like (2b) can result only from movements applying to (1a).
carstens abstract img
My talk will describe and analyze several sources of evidence bearing on this question: (i) flexible order of post‐nominal modifiers within Shona DPs; (ii) high scope readings for a right-edge negator in Tiriki; and on the other hand (iii) invariance in the relative ordering of verbs and their objects in serial constructions (SVCs) of head‐final and head‐initial languages. I argue from (i) and (ii) that many kinds of items can be base-­‐generated high and on the right, but from (iii) that thematic material alone is subject to a strict mapping between hierarchy and linear order. These findings illustrate the illuminating role that research in African languages can play in the construction and evaluation of linguistic theories.


back to top

Professor Samuel Gyasi Obeng

obengDr. Samuel Gyasi Obeng is Professor of Linguistics and Director of the African Studies Program at Indiana University. He obtained his PhD in Language and Linguistic Science from the University of York, United Kingdom, in 1988. Professor Obeng taught at the University of Ghana in Legon and did a Post-Doctoral Fellowship in the Department of Linguistics and the James S. Coleman African Studies Center at the University of California, Los Angeles before joining Indiana University’s Linguistics Department in 1994. He was promoted to Associate Professor in 2000 and Full Professor in 2006.

Dr. Obeng’s research interests encompass political and juridical discourse, socio-phonetics, ethnopragmatics, multilingualism, language contact, language and ethnicity, and the general documentation and description of African languages. He has studied and written in detail about various African languages and has published 21 books and edited volumes and over 80 articles in refereed journals.

Dr. Obeng’s most recent publications include Efutu Structure (2008), Akan Newspaper Reader (2008), Language in African Social Interaction: Indirectness in Akan Communication (2003), and edited volumes on Intercultural Communication Handbook (2010), African Linguistics across the Discipline (2009, with Anderson and Green), Topics in Descriptive and African Linguistics (2009), Africa Meets Europe: Language Contact in West Africa (2004, with George Echu), Surviving through Obliqueness: Language and Politics in Emerging Democracies (2002, with Beverly Hartford), and Political Independence with Linguistic Servitude: The Politics about Languages in the Developing World (2002, with Beverly Hartford).

Dr. Obeng serves as Editor-In-Chief for Africa Today and Issues in Political Discourse Analysis, and he is Co-Editor of Issues in Intercultural Communication. He also writes political satire and poetry.

Image courtesy of Indiana University.

Intertextuality in African (Ghanaian) political text and talk

Political actors position their utterances in relation to other texts or text-types. Working within the frameworks of intertextuality (Allen, 2000; Bakhtin, 1981) and indirectness (Searle, 1969; Obeng, 1994), and carefully scrutinizing twenty-five political texts, we discovered that by appropriating biblical texts and other forms of literary genres and giving them a new life in their own texts, the political actors managed to change their positions from dissenters/dividers and inattention to the law and social norms to being uniters, law abiding, and moralizers. Also, through intertextuality the political actors acquired ‘immunity,’ making it inappropriate for anyone to blame them for some of their statements because of the authenticity and strong religious and moral connotations and truisms associated with the source(s) of their texts. The allusions embedded in their appropriated texts are used as cognitive devices to implant specific meanings and connotations in the minds of their audience in order to make the audience view the world from the political actors’ standpoint. By making reference to authentic and credible texts, the political actors engaged in co-opting (Mey, 1993). The intertextual nature of political texts made them accessible to the public. It is recommended that any theory on political communication pays due diligence to the dialogic voices that populate political text and talk.

back to top

Professor David Odden

oddenDavid Odden is Professor of Linguistics at Ohio State University. Dr. Odden received his BA from the University of Washington in 1975 and his PhD from University of Illinois in 1981, writing on the tone system of Karanga Shona. He has also taught at Washington State University, Yale, Michigan State University, University of Tromsø and Durham University. He served as editor of Studies in African Linguistics from 2003-2009 and associate editor of Phonology during the period 1998-2008. Recent publications include Introducing Phonology (Cambridge), “Tachoni Verbal Tonology” (Language Sciences), “Ordering” (Rules, constraints, and phonological phenomena), and “Rules v. Constraints” (Handbook of phonological theory II). His areas of research specialization include phonological theory and language description, especially tone and the structure of African languages, with a focus on Bantu. He has published numerous descriptive works on Shona and Kimatuumbi, as well as reporting the essentials of the tone systems of Shambaa, Kuria, Yao, Tachoni, Kotoko, and multiple dialects of Makonde and Taita. Current research projects include a descriptive grammar of Kerewe, the prosodic system of North Saami, the tone system of Temne, and the structure of Mushunguli, a dialect of Zigua spoken in Somalia.

Aspects of Llogoori Tone

This presentation describes the verbal tone-melody system of the Bantu language Llogoori, which is striking in it numerous melodic patterns. Verb tenses fall into 6 tonal patterns, which involve addition of stem H tones whose location and extent may be sensitive or insensitive to the underlying tone of the root, presence or absence of object prefixes, phrasal-final vs. medial position, as well as properties of the stem – number of syllables, presence of long vowels in certain syllables. Rather atypically within Bantu, an object prefix can cause a wholesale change in tone melody in H tone verbs – the melodic H is essentially eliminated in case the first two syllables of the macrostem are H toned. A recurring theoretical issue is the nature of the tone bearing unit – do syllables bear tones, or do morae? A second important theoretical question is whether downstep is an automatic process arising when H tones are concatenated, or is a floating L required. Finally, evidence is given for distinguishing lowering of H tone via direct tonal change to L, versus deletion of H.

Although the surface data seem quite complex, the tone system can be described in terms of a familiar set of phonological rules and conditions, involving the docking of floating H tones at the left or right edges of the stem, subject to OCP-type conditions on the syllable preceding the target of tone docking, and modified by both unbounded leftward tone spreading and rightwards tone doubling.


back to top