SOAS University of London

Department of Linguistics, School of Languages, Cultures and Linguistics

Discourse and prosody across language family boundaries

Two corpus-based case studies on contact-induced syntactic and prosodic convergence in the encoding of information structure

Candide Simard’s post-doctoral research is part of a project investigating the effect of extensive contact in the grammars of four endangered languages, particularly in the domain of information structure, i.e. the use of intonation, word order, and grammatical marking to indicate the status of referents in discourse (e.g. topicality, degrees of unexpectedness, prominence, and contrast). It has been claimed that languages in contact will exhibit more similarities in this domain than in other areas of grammar, especially in intonation patterns.

The research involves two pairs of languages from different language families: two northern Australian languages, one from the Non-Pama-Nyungan group (Jaminjung) and one from the Pama-Nyungan group (Ngarinyman), and two languages spoken in the Central Solomon Islands but belonging to the “Papuan” (Savosavo) and the Austronesian groups (Gela). All of these are endangered languages with few speakers, which have, however, been previously documented. This project uses annotated recordings archived by the researchers, which allows the researchers in the team to observe the use of grammatical structures in their discourse context. New materials are only collected utilizing specially designed elicitation stimuli.

Dr Simard is particularly interested in prosody, and will describe and compare the patterns found in the four languages.

Eva Schultze-Berndt (University of Manchester) and Claudia Wegener (University of Bielefeld) are the language specialists and co-investigators in the project, which runs from June 2011 to June 2014 and is funded by the VolkswagenStiftung (DoBeS Project 85598).