Marianne Mithun

University of California, Santa Barbara
Talk Title: 
Replicating the Unknown
Event Type: 
Linguistics Lecture Series
Fall 2011
Friday, September 16, 2011, 3:30 pm - 5:00 pm

In a number of languages, interrogative and relative pronouns show the same forms: Who came? I know the man [who came]; Qui est venu? Je connais le type qui est venu. Such recurring similarities pique our curiosity about their relationship, perhaps rooted in some fundamental shared semantic feature such as indefiniteness. The pattern is not distributed randomly around the world, however: it is concentrated in Europe, among not just Indo-European languages, but also genetically unrelated languages in the area. Outside of Europe it is surprisingly rare. But it does occur in some distant pockets of the world, including the Iroquoian family of North America. Homophonous interrogative and relative pronouns occur in a number of Iroquoian languages, suggesting that the pattern might be traceable to their common parent, spoken thousands of years ago. A closer look at the individual languages shows more interesting lines of development. Here the focus is on Tuscarora, spoken at contact in the Southeast. Comparison of 19th and 20th century speech reveals that the pattern actually developed recently. The modern system is explained by proposals by Heine and Kuteva (2006) and others concerning the development of the European patterns. The Tuscarora developments coincide precisely with expanding Tuscarora/English bilingualism. Though the depth of documentation for Tuscarora does not begin to approach that available for some European languages, in some ways Tuscarora provides even stronger evidence of the Heine/Kuteva proposals than many European languages, and at the same time, raises issues for further investigation in other languages.