The Salish Language Family: Reconstructing Syntax

The Salish Language Family: Reconstructing Syntax

The Salish Language Family: Reconstructing Syntax

The Salish Language Family: Reconstructing Syntax

Synopsis

In this pioneering study Paul D. Kroeber examines the history of an array of important syntactic constructions in the Salish language family. This group of some twenty-three languages, centrally located in the Northwest Coast and Plateau Regions, is noted for its intriguing differences from European languages, including the possible irrelevance of a noun/verb distinction to grammatical structure and the existence of distinctive systems of articles, which also often function as marks of subordination. Kroeber draws on and analyzes data from a wide range of textual and other sources. Centering his detailed investigation on patterns of subordination and focusing, he situates these against the broader background of Salish syntax, examines their interrelationships, and reconstructs their historical development. The result is a study that significantly enhances understanding of the structure and history of Salish. As important, Kroeber's critical command of sources and well-considered historical proposals are exemplary, setting a methodological standard for Americanist scholarship.

Excerpt

The Salish languages constitute the largest universally accepted linguistic family in the Pacific Northwest. This group of languages, readily recognizable as related on the basis of inflectional morphology, was taken to be such already in the nineteenth century, figuring in Powell’s (1891) well-known classification of North American languages. No other Powellian stock in the Northwest has anything like this number of languages (except Athabaskan, which is not confined to the Northwest). in geographical and cultural terms, too, Salish has a considerable spread: it is well represented both in the central Northwest Coast culture area and across the Coast Range and Cascades in the Plateau culture area.

The Salish family is thus important to the linguistic history of the Northwest. There are enough Salish languages that it should be possible to reconstruct in detail a protolanguage of fairly considerable time depth —while Swadesh’s (1950) glottochronological estimate of 6000 years as the age of the family is certainly too great, 3000 years at the very least would be a reasonable guess on the basis of the morphological diversity displayed by the present-day Salish languages. in addition, the geographical spread of the family has brought it into contact with diverse other languages. Salish is thus potentially a source of information on the diffusion of linguistic properties within a large portion of the famous Northwest linguistic area; when a feature is shared by a non-Salish language and a Salish language, there is a relatively good chance of being able to determine whether the feature was found in Proto-Salish—a valuable clue as to whether the feature diffused into or out of Salish. the study of Salish comparative grammar thus has implications beyond the family itself.

The present work, building on the descriptive and comparative understanding of Salish languages that has been accumulating over the last decades, surveys a cluster of topics within Salish comparative syntax: the form and functioning of subordinate clauses, and the types of focusing constructions used to place constituents before the predicate in these . . .

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