Dr Matthew Baerman Dr Bert Remijsen (University of Edinburgh) Dr Oliver Bond Dr Irina Monich Tatiana Reid
Period of award
June 2015 - May 2019
Arts and Humanities Research Council
Nuer, a Western Nilotic language spoken primarily in South Sudan, is remarkable for the wealth of devices that speakers employ in constructing words. For example, the verb forms kúuuɣì ‘you (singular) force something’ and kúɔɔhɛ̀ ‘you (plural) force something’ differ by their endings (-i versus -ɛ), by stem vowel (u versus the diphthong uɔ), by length (overlong versus long), tone (falling versus high) and the stem-final consonant (ɣ versus h). These devices are independent of each other, and – in the case of noun inflection – each falls into different inflection classes which freely combine with each other to produce several dozen inflectional patterns (at least!). The nouns below give something of a flavour of the way the system works, with different patterns of suffixation, vowel quality alternations, length alternations, tone and consonant alternations.
Studying Nuer morphology allows us to probe the limits of morphological complexity, and at the same time explore a system which also phonologically striking, with a typologically unusual three-way vowel length contrast interacting with tone and phonation type distinctions. This will expand our picture of the typological possibilities of morphological and phonological systems, and provide valuable material for theory building.