Date of Award

Spring 5-28-2014

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Linguistics

First Advisor

Zygmunt Frajzyngier

Second Advisor

Andrew Cowell

Third Advisor

Esther Brown

Abstract

Sakun (Sukur) is a Chadic language from the Biu-Mandara branch spoken by approximately 20,000 people in and around the UNESCO Sukur World Heritage site in Adamawa State, Nigeria. Previous work on Sakun is limited to wordlists collected by ethnographers and archaeologists working in the region. This dissertation represents the first systematic description of the grammar of the language. The categories and functions discussed for the grammar are defined through language internal evidence rather than reliance on a priori categories imposed on the data. The description is based on more than a year of participant observation in the Sakun community, work with Sakun consultants and the analysis of a corpus of 24 hours of time-aligned, transcribed and translated videos.

The phonemic inventory of Sakun includes 39 consonants and 3 vowels. The consonantal inventory includes prenasalized segments, glottalized segments and a single labialized segment. Sakun distinguishes high and low tones, and exhibits polar tone phenomena. Tone functions both lexically and grammatically in Sakun.

Derivational and inflectional morphology is very limited in Sakun for all words classes and there is no obligatory inflectional coding. Morphological processes include suffixation, reduplication, tone alternation and cliticization.

In pragmatically neutral clauses, Sakun exhibits VOS word order although constructions with SVO orders are also frequent. Future clauses and negated clauses both exhibit distinct patterns of coding in relative clauses.

Discourse structure plays an important role in the grammar. Domains of the grammar distinguish between general reference and reference restricted to discourse topics as well as between both general reference and reference to particular events. Complex sentences play an important role in building and maintaining discourse structure in Sakun and the grammar includes particles for coding comment clauses, backgrounding clauses, sequential clauses and temporal subordination.

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