User:Pá mamūnám ontā́ bán/Describing Morphosyntax

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Payne, Thomas E., Describing morphosyntax: A guide for field linguists (Cambridge University Press, 1997)


Current estimates are that around 3,000 of the 6,000 languages now spoken may become extinct during the next century. Some 4,000 of these existing languages have never been described, or described only inadequately. This book is a guide for linguistic fieldworkers who wish to write a description of the morphology and syntax of one of these many under-documented languages. It uses examples from many languages both well known and virtually unknown; it offers readers who work through it one possible outline for a grammatical description, with many questions designed to help them address the key topics; and appendices offer guidance on text and elicited data, and on sample reference grammars which readers might wish to consult. The product of fourteen years of teaching and research, this will be a valuable resource to anyone engaged in linguistic fieldwork.


1. Demographic and ethnographic information

  • [T]he word e’ñapa in Panare (a Carib language of Venezuela) means “person” when used in opposition to the term në’na “wild animal” or “evil spirit.” The same term means “indigenous person” when used in opposition to the term tato “outsider”/“white person.” Finally, the term can also refer strictly to Panares, when used in opposition to terms referring to neighboring groups. Only context can disambiguate. (p.13)


1. Demographic and ethnographic information

  • What is the language known as to outsiders?
  • What term do the people use to distinguish themselves from other language groups?
  • What is the origin of these terms (if known)?
  • What is the dominant economic activity of the people?
  • Briefly describe the ecosystem, material culture, and cosmology (these will be intimately related).
  • Where is the language spoken, and how are the people distributed in this area?
  • Are there other language groups inhabiting the same area?
  • What is the nature of the interaction with these language groups? Economic? Social? Friendly? Belligerent?
  • In social/economic interactions with other groups, which groups are dominant and which are marginalized? How so?
  • What language family does this language belong to?
  • What are its closest relatives?
  • What published and unpublished linguistic work has been done in this language and/or its close relatives?
  • What percentage of the people are monolingual? (Treat men and women separately.)
  • In what contexts are multilingual individuals likely to use the language described in this sketch? When do they use other languages?