A grammar of Kunbarlang
AffiliationSchool of Languages and Linguistics
Document TypePhD thesis
Access StatusOpen Access
© 2019 Dr. Ivan Kapitonov
This thesis is a comprehensive description of Kunbarlang, an Aboriginal language from northern Australia. The description and analysis are based on my original field work, as well as build on the preceding body of work by other scholars. Between 2015 and 2018 I have done field work in Warruwi (South Goulburn Island), Maningrida, and Darwin. The data elicited in those trips and the recordings of narratives and semi- spontaneous conversation constitute the foundation of the present grammar. However, I was fortunate in that I was not working from scratch. Carolin Coleman did foundational work on Kunbarlang in central-western Arnhem Land from 1981, which resulted in the first grammar of the language (Coleman 1982). In her subsequent work in the area in the 1990’s, she carried on with lexicographic research in Kunbarlang, Mawng and Maningrida languages. More recently, Dr. Aung Si (Universität zu Köln), Dr. Isabel O’Keeffe (University of Sydney), and Dr. Ruth Singer (University of Melbourne / Australian National University) made a number of recordings of Kunbarlang speakers at Maningrida, Warruwi, Minjilang and Darwin. These recordings provided an invaluable extension to the empirical basis of this grammar. Kunbarlang is a nominative-accusative language with secundative indexing of objects. It belongs to the non-Pama-Nyungan Gunwinyguan language family, and like all Gunwinyguan languages is highly polysynthetic. This means that it has very rich verbal morphology: the morphosyntax of the verbal word is at the heart of the Kunbarlang structure. In fact, the verbs are so self-sufficient that any well-formed verb can be a full utterance in Kunbarlang. In the nominal domain, on the other hand, morphology is very economical — probably more so than in any other Gunwinyguan language. However, there is much more to the Kunbarlang grammar than its polysynthetic nature and the contrasts in the morphosyntax of the verbal and the nominal domain. Kunbarlang is nowhere short of interesting properties, both from the Australianist perspective and from the broader typological point of view. In the sound system there is — unusually for an Australian language — retention of retroflexion in heterorganic clusters. Kunbarlang is agglutinating with little morphophonology, yet one finds interaction in nasal–nasal clusters that stands out against what is known as the norm of harmonic cluster resolution across Australian languages. In the area of nominal morphosyntax, Kunbarlang has a system of four noun classes (grammatical genders), which on par with Kunwinjku is the largest retained noun class system in the Gunwinyguan family (inherited from the proto-Gunwinyguan five-class system). Kunbarlang also has a system of three cases. Although nouns do not have any case morphology of their own, there is an unusual construction with case-marked pronouns that allows nouns to be case-marked analytically. In the course of my work I took care to investigate certain topics that do not traditionally receive close attention in grammar writing, such as the quantificational expressions. The verb, and more broadly, verbal constructions in Kunbarlang offer a wealth of interesting topics both in inflection and in derivation. Polypersonal agreement morphology of the verb presents exuberant paradigmatic complexity, at the same time standing out within the Gunwinyguan family in terms of its agglutinating separability of the subject and object prefixes. This inflectional system appears to be in a transitioning phase, perhaps starting to fuse certain prefix combinations into portmanteaux, but currently individual morphemes are still divisible with barely any exceptions. This complexity is further increased by the fact that subject prefixes coordinate with verbal stems in so-called composite tense and mood encoding. Valency-changing derivations and their interaction is an area of interesting micro-variation in a single morphosyntactic domain within a genetic group of languages. Another aspect of predicate formation that distinguishes Kunbarlang from the other Gunwinyguan languages is the coverb construction: a particular bipartite verbal structure that is clearly related to other predicate formation options found within the family, yet is formally distinct from constructions in those other languages. Interestingly, the Kunbarlang coverb construction is formally very similar to the one found in Mawng, an Iwaidjan language which has been in especially close contact with Kunbarlang for the last hundred years. One more Kunbarlang construction that has a close correspondence in Mawng is the typologically rare analytical reciprocal construction with contrastive pronouns, probably developed from a biclausal structure. Word order in Kunbarlang is constrained by information structure, rather than grammatical function of the constituents in the clause. It shows similarity to other Australian languages where there are particular prominent positions in the clause, viz. its edges. Moreover, Kunbarlang shows a strong tendency for the subject–verb–object order. There are no infinitives in Kunbarlang, but it has a small array of subordinate structures of various types: complement, relative, and adverbial clauses. Since morpho- logical (or lexical) marking of these subordinate constructions is sparce, it is interesting to investigate the formal means signalling subordination and diagnostics that can be used for it. The grammar concludes with a selection of three texts in different genres: a narrative, a procedural text, and a fragment of a dialogue.
KeywordsGunwinyguan; language documentation; field work; grammatical description; Australian Aboriginal languages; endangered languages; polysynthesis
- Click on "Export Reference in RIS Format" and choose "open with... Endnote".
- Click on "Export Reference in RIS Format". Login to Refworks, go to References => Import References