Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2017

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

First Advisor

Zygmunt Frazjyngier

Second Advisor

Rebecca Scarborough

Third Advisor

David Rood

Fourth Advisor

Esther Brown

Fifth Advisor

Matthias Brenzinger


This dissertation presents the first systematic description of the grammar of a variety of Nyang’i, a previously undescribed moribund Kuliak language once spoken in Karamoja Region, Uganda. Because Nyang’i is only remembered by a single semi-speaker, it has undergone considerable contraction; the description captures a moment in the death of a language and is an empirical study of the dissolution of a grammatical system. The description is based on a corpus of procedural and narrative texts recorded, transcribed, and translated over the course of seven months of fieldwork in Karamoja, Uganda. Topics covered include basic phonological patterns, the formal and functional criteria used to distinguish major lexical categories, the morphological structure of nouns and verbs, a selection of the grammatical functions encoded by the grammar, and the formal means used to encode them. Features of particular interest include a large system of noun number-marking suffixes, a poly-functional focus-marking clitic, and a diverse selection of petrified affixes. Basic constituent order is VAO/VS.

The description provides a benchmark study of the contracted grammar of a language in the final stage of gradual death. Comparison with related languages (Ik and Soo) reveals that a number of grammatical features, such as ATR harmony, case marking, a contrast between lexically singular and lexically plural noun roots, most derivational morphology, subject marking on the verb, and much of the free and possessive pronoun paradigms have been lost. Comparison with neighboring unrelated languages (Karimojong/Turkana and Acholi/Lango) reveals that these losses are not likely to have occurred as a result of external pressure, and are therefore best explained as structural consequences of language death proper.