Archive for the ‘Athabascan’ Category

Dene-Caucasian Kinship and Dene-Caucasian Kinship Terms

Friday, June 26th, 2015

John Bengtson and George Starostin have posted a synopsis of the current status of the Dene-Caucasian, or Dene-Sino-Caucasian hypothesis. While any long-range linguistic proposal faces considerable challenges gaining acceptance among mainstream historical linguists who specialize in the reconstruction of first-order language families, Dene-Caucasian, according to Bengtson & Starostin, is a hypothesis that “offers the most logical, simple, and systemic explanation to a set of stunning similarities that manifest themselves as exclusive links between a number of linguistic taxa.” Kinship terms rarely furnish good material to test long-range linguistic connections but Dene-Caucasian is somewhat special in this regard because there is a number of intriguing similarities not only between the grammatical and lexical properties of Dene-Caucasian kinship terms from Na-Dene all the way west to Basque but also between the developmental trajectories inferred for Dene-Caucasian grammatical and kinship terminological structures. Bengtson & Starostin observe that

“the original stage [in the linguistic evolution of Dene-Caucasian.-G.D.] was characterized by significant complexity of phonology and a system of noun classification that permeated the whole morphological structure.”

And this is the precisely the conclusion I reached when comparing Dene-Caucasian sibling terminologies (The Genius of Kinship, 324-5). Yeniseian and North Caucasian sibling terms sets are radically simplified compared to Proto-Na-Dene sets, while Sino-Tibetan, Burushaski and Basque sets are intermediate (with a couple of Sino-Tibetan languages showing apparent structural archaisms placing them closer to Proto-Na-Dene systems). All sibling terminologies progressively undergo simplification but the dramatic drop in the internal diversification of the sibling set between Na-Dene, on the one hand, and Yeniseian and North Caucasian, on the other, is remarkable. Similarly, grandparental terminological complexity reconstructible for Proto-Na-Dene must have undergone simplification in the other Dene-Caucasian branches. Both diachronic tendencies fit the above description by Bengtson & Starostin of the grammatical changes affecting the putative Dene-Caucasian phylum.

Bengtson & Starostin go on to write:

“As the Na-Dene family developed separately in what is now Alaska, the overt class marking of nouns diminished, while the marking of verbs remained fully developed and, perhaps, even extended. The level of phonetic complexity in Na-Dene remained relatively high, probably because most of the non-DSC Native American languages, with whom speakers of Na-Dene had to have areal interaction, were fairly complex in that regard themselves.”

This assessment of Na-Dene grammatical and phonological conservatism again finds confirmation in Na-Dene kinship terminologies. Although kinship terminologies in all Na-Dene branches underwent noticeable changes, our best perspective on the original Dene-Caucasian kinship terminological system comes from Proto-Na-Dene.

Of special interest to the students of comparative kinship terms in Eurasia is the proposed reconstruction of Dene-noun prefixes (see below, Table 7).

KinshipStudies-DeneCaucasianNounPrefixes copyThe origin of Basque osaba ‘uncle’ and iseba ‘aunt’ is clarified by comparing the initial formants o– and i– to the pervasive and productive North Caucasian noun prefixes such as Avar was ‘son’ vs. yas ‘daughter’, wac ‘brother’ vs. yac ‘sister’. Notably, in Na-Dene the potential cognate (e.g., y– in Eyak yahs ‘woman’s child’ or in Birket-Smith & De Laguna’s [The Eyak Indians of the Copper River Delta, Alaska, 1938, 566] notation siac, with a possessive prefix s-) indexes Ego-Gender and not Alter-Gender. Harry Hoijer (“Athabascan Kinship Systems,” 1956, 330, no. 50) reconstructs –yaze ‘woman’s son’ for Proto-Athabascan but a number of other forms for children (nos. 48-52) show a similar prefix (see below).

KinshipStudies-AthabascanHoijer copy

 

This is very much in agreement with the presence of Ego-Gender in Proto-Na-Dene sibling terminologies – precisely the feature that gives the only New World branch of Dene-Caucasian its archaic complexity, which is barely found in the Sino-Caucasian languages of the Old World (see above).

Note also how Alter-Gender is neutralized in both Eyak yahs, Avar –as ‘child’ and Basque –saba ‘parent’s sibling’ (without the noun prefixes), a semantic development that likely reflects an archaic emphasis on Ego-Gender vs. Alter-Gender.

Basque –saba ‘parent’s sibling’ (with fossilized possessive s-?) is intriguing in the light of Navaho shibizhi ‘father’s sibling; step-father’. Navaho and Western Apache are unique among Na-Dene languages in neutralizing Alter-Gender in the terms for ‘parent’s sibling’ (see Opler, “The Kinship Systems of the Southern Athabaskan-Speaking Tribes,” 1936) and this is precisely the development observed in Basque. Nav shibizhi was extended to ‘father’s brother’ from the original concept ‘father’s sister’ (Proto-Athabascan *ma-, *me-, *metce ‘father’s sister’ in Hoijer 1956 (see below, although in the light of Basque –seba one may need to reconstruct *ba-, *be-, *betce).

KinshipStudies-AthabascanHoijerFZ copy

It’s likely that the Proto-Na-Dene term for ‘father’s sister’ also covered its reciprocal, namely ‘woman’s brother’s children’ (as in Navaho and Western Apache) – an ancient semantic pattern altogethaer missing from Basque. Bengtson & Starostin lament that Na-Dene internal reconstruction is still work-in-progress and this fully applies to Proto-Na-Dene kinship systems. This is what Kroeber (“Athabascan Kin Term Systems,” 1937) had to say about the cognates of Nav shibizhi:

KinshipStudies-AthabascanKroeber

Finally, a note on the possible connection between Dene-Caucasian and Kartvelian sibling sets. I have already pointed out (also The Genius of Kinship, 325-6) that the structural similarity between Basque, Burushaski and Svan (the most divergent of Kartvelian languages) sibling sets is remarkable, while nothing even remotely reminiscent of the Svan sibling set is found among the so-called “Nostratic” languages. One of Svan sibling terms, udil, widil ‘woman’s sister’ (< *udild, *widild) is composed of a fossilized possessive prefix u-, root –d– and a diminutive –ild. The possessive prefix can be compared with the Dene-Caucasian noun prefix u-. It’s quite likely that a generalized possessive prefix evolved from a more specific Ego-Gender marker (‘my, the woman’s, sister’).

 

 

Victor Golla on Proto-Athabascan Grandparental Terminology and Apachean Conservatism

Monday, November 4th, 2013

In The Genius of Kinship (2007), I hypothesized that proto-Athabascan kinship terminology had 4 self-reciprocal grandparental terms. The western (Apachean) branch of Southern Athabascan preserved the original 4-term pattern better than any Northern Athabascan language. Southern Athabascan languages demonstrate all the stages of the transformation of the original complexly differentiated pattern, with Kiowa-Apache sporting the most transformed and simplified model (see below, Table 34).

KinshipStudies-AthabascanKinshipWhat my analysis was missing at that time was the formal phonomorphological and etymological proof that Proto-Athabascan kinship terminology indeed had 4 self-reciprocal grandparental terms, that this ancestral pattern underwent simplification and dereciprocalization in Northern and Pacific Athabascan branches and that Apachean preserves the Proto-Athabascan grandparental set better than any other branch.

Recently, Victor Golla sent me an e-mail (cc-ing Jack Ives, Michael Krauss, Johanna Nichols and James Kari) in which he attached a short unpublished manuscript “Where Does Navajo náli Come From?” providing the necessary formal support for my original typological inference. In it, he demonstrates that, in addition to Apachean, Eyak, too, featured a 4-term self-reciprocal pattern in Gen +/-2.

KinshipStudies-EyakGolla

The Apachean reconstruction by Golla largely repeats the Eyak kinterm set.

KinshipStudies.SouthernAthabascanGollaTo quote from Golla, the Eyak

“MoMo/wmDaCh root is clearly cognate with Athabaskan *-chu — no surprise — but believe it or not the FaMo/wmSoCh root *-k’i?h just as regularly corresponds to Athabaskan *-ch’?ne, and the FaFa/maSoCh root –?uh is a plausible cognate of Wailaki and Kato –?a?e ~ –?ah.”

Proto-California Athabascan (PCA) retained the 4-term pattern in Gen +/-2 but it lost self-reciprocity between the grandparent and grandchild forms. At the same time, one of Eyak grandparental terms, namely –?uh FF, mSC, is cognate with PCA *-’a?. This means that the Apachean-PCA isogloss *-nyale is a formal but not semantic innovation.

KinshipStudies.PCAGolla

Northern Athabascan grandparental set (see below) consisting of just 2 terms for grandfather and grandmother appears to be the most derived.

KinshipStudies-NorthernAthabascanGollaTwo Northern Athabascan languages have retained forms pointing in the direction of the ancestral 4-term system:  1) Wets’uwet’en (Babine-Carrier) distinguishes MM (tso’) from FM (ts’inï’) — using terms cognate with those of PCA, Apachean and Eyak; 2) Tahltan similarly attests a *chu vs.*ch’?ne contrast in the grandmother terms.

Golla concludes that the diversity of grandparental kinterms in Athabascan languages

“misleadingly suggests that the simple kin terminology found in most Alaskan and Canadian languages represents the Proto-Athabaskan situation, and that PCA and Apachean constitute an innovating ‘Southern Athabaskan’ clade of the sort that Matson and Magne posit… the Proto-Athabaskan-Eyak language must be assumed to have had a 4-term lineage-distinguishing grandparental terminology, which ‘survived intact’ in PCA and Apachean instead of being innovated there.”

The drastic simplification from 4 terms to 1 term in Kiowa-Apache stems from Plains influence.

Jubilating over these conclusions, the following is essentially what I wrote back to Golla.

There are three more areas of research where my broader typological inferences could be tested against actual phonological and lexical data.

1. Typologically the self-reciprocal equations found in some Southern Athabascan languages between “father’s brother” and “man’s brother’s son,” “mother’s sister” and “woman’s sister’s daughter,” “father’s sister” and “woman’s brother’s daughter,” and “mother’s brother” and “man’s sister’s son” could go back to Proto-Eyak-Athabascan (PEA) times as well. They would complete the self-reciprocal picture contained in the 4 grandparental terms that Golla reconstructed. There are kin terminologies in North America and beyond that have 4 self-reciprocal grandparental terms plus all aunt and uncle terms are self-reciprocal, too. Interestingly, one old unpublished Russian source on Ket lists one of those equations (koj or qo.j MoBr =MoSi = SiSo). Ives, Rice and Vajda only give MoBr =MoSi for qo.j, plus other secondary meanings, but not the self-reciprocal one.
2. Southern Athabascan sibling terminologies lexicalize Ego-Sex and Relative Sex in addition to Relative Age. Again, this is something that Northern Athabascan sibling terminologies must have lost as they only have terms marked for Relative Age. Eyak and Tlingit has Ego-Sex/Relative-Sex in addition to Relative Age, which again supports the archaism of Southern Athabascan compared to Northern Athabascan. But I’m not aware of any formal reconstructions that would test the hypothesis of progressive reduction of sibling set complexity in Athabascan languages. There are several studies of Austronesian languages that seem to support this diachronic universal.
3. Going back to the PAE grandparental terminology, it’s now time to compare it with Yeniseian. One hypothesis I have is that Ket qip ‘grandpather’ and qi.ma ‘grandmother’ are based on the same root morpheme and this morpheme is cognate with Eyak k’i?h/Athabaskan *-ch’?ne FaMo = wSoChi. In general, I noticed that Ket takes the reduction tendency observed in Northern Athabascan languages to the extreme (e.g., Ket has one single term for siblings bisep with no terms reflecting Relative Age, Relative Sex/Ego Sex; one single root morpheme for nephew/niece and, then, only one for son/daughter), so it wouldn’t be surprising if the loss of linear distinctions that Golla observed in the treatment of grandparental terms in many Athabascan languages (Connector Sex is neutralized) is continued in Ket in the form of a neutralization of the Referent Sex distinction in the root morpheme. This is exactly what happened with grandparent terms in Kiowa-Apache.
Golla’s reconstruction of 4 self-reciprocal terms for grandparents in PEA changes the nature of the conversation among kinship theorists around the earliest form of Athabascan kin terminologies from the “Dravidian” to the “Kariera” model. It also makes PEA look clearly “Amerindian” and not “Northeast Asian” as 4 self-reciprocal terms for grandparents is not an East Asian trait. It brings up a question of EA phylogeny as Southern Athabascan looks like a conservative branch now (at least in this one dimension, potentially complemented by others in the kinship domain, as I outlined above as well as in my book). At least from a kinship systems perspective, SA doesn’t look like a recent offshoot of a Subarctic population but more of a proto-Athabascan relic that drifted southward along the western slopes of the Rockies from British Columbia to Plateau through Great Basin and into the Southwest.