Abstract - Gwendolyn Hyslop

Course: Tibeto-Burman languages in a typological perspective

Instructor: Gwendolyn Hyslop

The Tibeto-Burman language family covers much of Mainland Asia, reaching from Northern Pakistan in the west to China and Vietnam in the east. The typological diversity in this family is great. Languages of the Himalayas and western China, for example, tend to be highly agglutinative while languages such as Sinitic are more isolating. This course presents an overview of the Tibeto-Burman language family, in terms of (highly contentious) internal classification and typological profile(s). Students will leave this class with a sense of the diversity of the family, proposed ways in which the languages are related to each other, and some of the concepts which seem to unite the family in terms of typology. Amongst the latter are tonogenesis, mirativity, and egophoricity.

Schedule of topics

Prerequisites and expected knowledge: We expect attendees to have general linguistics knowledge, but nothing more than that is needed. Knowledge of another language or language structure is a bonus.

Monday November 27th: Classification of Tibeto-Burman languages

This session introduces the students to the hundreds of Tibeto-Burman languages and their geographic distribution. We go through some of the basic vocabulary of several sub-families, as a way to orient the students to the lexical diversity, and discuss the various classification schemes that have been proposed and why.

Tuesday November 28th: Phonology 

We survey a range of phonological systems in Tibeto-Burman languages, showing diversity in consonants (over 60 in some languages or as few 20 in others), vowel systems, and tone. We spend half the class going through the process of tonogenesis, or the birth of tone, which is reported widely in the family.

Thursday November 30th: Morphosyntax

While there are some isolating Tibeto-Burman languages, most of the family is more agglutinating. Within these languages, there are several morphosyntactic features which seem to be shared from language to language. This sessions presents a typological overview of the morphological type of languages and then goes into detail into two aspects of the languages which are particularly interesting: morphological ergativity and nominalization.

Friday December 1st: Evidentiality and related categories

This final session presents some of most interesting epistemological contrasts found throughout the family. More specifically, we overview the language family in terms of evidentiality (source of knowledge), mirativity (expectation of knowledge) and egophoricity (access to knowledge).

None of these sessions requires knowledge from a previous session and students are welcome to attend any they would like. However, classification of the family will not be discussed beyond the first day.

  • Australian Government
  • The University of Queensland
  • Australian National University
  • The University of Melbourne
  • Western Sydney University

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