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Some aspects of verb morphology and syntax in Modern Aramaic

Synopsis TBA


Aramaic, a language belonging to the Semitic family, was one of the major languages of the Ancient Near East and has survived as a spoken language down to modern times in various dialect groups. The largest and most diverse group of these modern dialects is the North Eastern group, which is generally known as North Eastern Neo-Aramaic (NENA). This consists of dialects spoken by Christian and Jewish communities across a wide area encompassing northern Iraq, north-west Iran, south-eastern Turkey, Armenia and Georgia. The Christian dialects in all cases differ from the Jewish dialects, even where the Christians and Jews lived in the same town or region. In this dialect group radical changes have taken place in the verbal system in comparison with earlier forms of Aramaic.

One of the most conspicuous changes is the acquisition of ergative inflection in the past perfective forms of the verb. This feature developed through contact with Iranian languages, especially the Kurdish dialects, which have, or have had at some stage in their history, ergative syntax in the past forms of verbs. In many respects, however, the ergative construction has developed with a life of its own in NENA in a way that differs from its development in the modern Iranian dialects. There is, furthermore, considerable diversity across the dialect group regarding the way the ergative has developed. Three stages of development are discernible: (1) dialects in which the ergative inflection occurs on past perfective verbs that are high in transitivity due to their having an agent or agent-like argument and punctual–dynamic actionality by virtue of their lexical meaning. (2) dialects in which ergative inflection is generalized to the expression of all actions that are presented by the speaker with past perfective dynamic aspect irrespective of the existence of agent properties in one of the arguments. (3) dialects in which the ergative inflection has been generalized to the expression of all actions that are presented with past perfective aspect irrespective of dynamicity.

The verbal system of the dialect group has also acquired numerous clitic particles, which have evolved from finite auxiliary verbal forms. The function of these particles has undergone considerable diachronic change. Particles that now express the habitual aspect, for example, have developed either from particles that originally expressed the progressive or from those that originally expressed the future.


Speaker(s):

Professor Geoffrey Khan | talks

 

Date and Time:

25 January 2007 at 5:00 pm

Duration:

1 hour 30 minutes

 

Venue:

Room GR 06-07, English Faculty Building
9 West Road
Cambridge
CB3 9DP


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Organised by:

Cambridge University Linguistic Society, University of Cambridge
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Cambridge University Linguistic Society aims to bring together people with an interest in language. We meet three times a term on average, attracting speakers from a variety of departments and institutions both inside and outside Cambridge. The meetings are held on Thursday afternoons in the Faculty of English, 9 West Road. Tea and biscuits are served from 4.30pm and the paper begins at 5pm. The talks last about an hour with time afterwards for questions from the audience. The Society's officers then take the speaker out for dinner at a nearby restaurant, along with any members of the audience who wish to join us. These dinners are very popular and offer the opportunity to talk to the speaker and other members of the society in an informal atmosphere. Membership is £6 a year (or £5 for students). This money goes towards paying speakers' travel costs and accommodation. You can send your subscriptions to the Treasurer, or pay at one of the meetings.

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