Clause Structure and Word-order Variation in Naxi

Project: Research

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The project has a two-fold objective. First, it seeks to verify empirically certain syntactic principles of Universal Grammar for clause structure and word-order variation as applied to Naxi, a minority language spoken in Yunnan province, China. Second, it aims to enrich the empirical data base for this less well-studied language.The project investigates a range of issues relating to constituency, clause structure, the subject/object asymmetry, the syntactic constraint on word-order variation and its semantic correlates in Naxi, in comparison with Japanese, Korean, Chinese and English. It draws some general, cross-linguistically valid conclusions for the syntax of natural language, thereby deepening the understanding of syntactic principles.The choice of Naxi is motivated by several considerations. Syntactic theory is mostly built on the basis of well-studied languages like English, Chinese, Japanese and Korean. It is thus natural to test it in a less well-studied language like Naxi. Naxi is one of the few languages that offer the advantage of being similar to both an OV language like Japanese or Korean and a VO language like Chinese, and yet also different from both. A comparative analysis of Naxi, Japanese/Korean and Chinese promises to pose some challenges to current syntactic theory, for it is not a priori obvious how the account for the differences between Japanese/Korean and Chinese may apply to Naxi, a language that shares some features of both. Moreover, thanks to the partial difference from Japanese and Korean, Naxi may turn out to provide some crucial structures that are lacking in these languages on the basis of which certain unsettled issues in the Japanese and Korean syntax can be resolved.The empirical work of the project consists of extensive fieldwork eliciting data from native speakers and training some native speakers to transcribe the oral narratives of their language. The first part is guided by linguistic theory in that the data are specifically constructed to verify the empirical predictions of the theory, and the second part is to ensure that other facts of the language unforeseen by the theory are not overlooked. The data collected will be systematized and published with a publisher that has a wide distribution network. It will most likely be the first reference guide to the syntax of Naxi in English.The significance of the project is that it contributes to the development of theoretical syntax and enriches the documentation of the less studied language Naxi.


Project number9041603
Grant typeGRF
Effective start/end date1/01/1123/06/15