Please join us for the second of three talks in connection with the LING/DISE search in Indigenous Languages.

Speaker: Dr. James Crippen (UBC)

Coordinates: November 26th, 3:00–4:30 in EDUC 624 (to be followed by a reception)

Title: Theoretical analysis of Tlingit’s verbs and consequences for language documentation and learning


The Tlingit language is a First Nations language of Alaska, British Columbia, and the Yukon. It is a member of the Na-Dene family and is distantly related to the Dene languages like Navajo, Kaska, and Dene Sųłiné. Linguistic research has traditionally presented Tlingit’s verbs as large strings of interwoven morphology which require complex and opaque lexical entries. This traditional approach is extremely difficult to internalize and generations of Tlingit language learners have been daunted by its complexity. Crippen’s dissertation work counters the traditional approach, arguing instead that Tlingit’s verbs are more like whole sentences and hence that they can be straightforwardly analyzed with conventional syntactic theory. The system described by this analysis is simple and transparent, and it concentrates most arbitrary phenomena in a single place: the verb root.

Eight previously unexplicated properties of roots are documented and analyzed in Crippen’s dissertation: (i) valency (√, v, Voice) restricts the number of arguments required by default, (ii) qualia structure (√, N) restricts the meaning of patients, (iii) durativity (√, Asp) restricts the temporal structure of the eventuality denoted by the verb, (iv) stativity (√, Ɛ, Asp) determines the dynamicity of eventualities, (v) stem variation (√, V) is the predictable tone (L/H)
and length (μ/μμ) of verb stems, (vi) conjugation class (√, Asp) reflects spatial organization and determines many apparently unrelated morphological patterns, (vii) motion status (√, Asp, PP) regulates the location or path argument, and (viii) irrealis status (√, Asp) reflects whether the eventuality denotes a world that is like or unlike the actual world. This presentation will illustrate valency (property i) and a few of the other root properties to show how Tlingit’s verbs are built from roots and other pieces. The aim is to demonstrate that on the one hand that this system is theoretically tractable and on the other that it is  straightforward to internalize for language learners and so can radically transform efforts to document and revitalize the Tlingit language.