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Summer School of Linguistics at Makerere University, Uganda

Makerere University, August 2011

Makerere University

Course Descriptions

Functional Grammar

Thomas Bearth

My contribution intends to be (i) complementary, in terms of coverage of theory, to those proposed by other contributors to the teaching sessions; (ii) dealing with theory preferentially from the angle of research questions currently raised in the context of African languages, and more specifically in the regional context of Eastern African languages. Overview

1. From theory to empiry: Introduction to the summer school theme: 2h

2. The sentence in Eastern Bantu: constituency, relations and operations: 4h a. Functional grammar: a comprehensive heuristics. b. Relational grammar: a universal alignment hypothesis.

3. Tense-aspect paradigms as predicate and discourse operators: 2h

4. Grammar/Discourse interface: Information structure, focus, topic 2-4h.


The opening lecture (1st part) will give reasons why we need to know explicitly how languages work, although for all practical purposes of communication, there are native speakers around for whom this is part of their intuitive knowledge, while second language competence is based on semi-intuitive adjustments of this type of knowledge. Linguistic theory, depending on school of thought, claims (i) to represent, (ii) to predict intuitive knowledge of speakers, and (iii) to explain its use. Increasingly, theory also encompasses interlanguage competence, reflecting the fact that settings in which human communication takes place tend to be overwhelmingly multilingual, or at least to be perceived as such. One of its aims is to relate language-specific knowledge and behavior to general, crosslinguistically applicable principles. Today’s leading paradigms designed for these purposes are firstly indebted to diverse stances taken by their exponents over major issues (e.g.system-oriented vs. usage-driven), definitions (double articulation) and dichotomies (form vs.meaning, priority of function over form) which had shaped linguistic thought throughout the 20th century. But current theory owes as much, though this is less readily acknowledged, to the upsurge, partly driven by the theoretical quest, of descriptive work on the languages of the world during this same period. Given that the latter remains the great unfinished task inherited by our Century, particularly in Africa, special emphasis still needs to be laid on the theoretical and methodological underpinnings of primary language research in contexts typically characterized by oral communication. Attention will also be paid to the benefit of linguistic theory to applied disciplines in the fields of education and development. Beyond this, the overall goal of language theorizing will be kept in mind: (i) understand, describe and explain phenomena of language across the board, without upwards nor downwards discrimination; (ii) keep a discerning eye on the variety of its modes of representation, oral, written, and virtual (encompassing both); (iii) evaluate and revise theoretical approaches in the light of empirical data based on speakers’ intuitive knowledge and practice. The second part of the introductory session, entitled “What is a linguistic fact?”, purports to provide an introduction to an empirical, yet theory-driven or at least theory-conscientious approach to language in all fields in which language plays a role as an object of inquiry. What are basic ingredients to an adequate linguistic theory? What proof procedures are there to establish assumptions and hypotheses as facts? What procedures for determining units, classes of units, relations between units, and operations? In outlining answers to these questions I shall draw on both European and African languages for illustration.


The purpose of this 2x2 hours lecture series is to provide a general introduction to the sentence in Eastern Bantu, its constituency, relations and operations, with a view of providing useful background to more elaborate presentations of various theories on the summer school of linguistics / Zurich-Makerere/ August 2011 – tbearth abstract - 2 program, and to highlight a number of recurrent issues which have been on the agenda of specialists of African languages for some time.

  • Functional grammar

Although a number of theories hailing under this label are on the market (Martinet, Halliday,Dik), I will give priority to Dik’s theory. There are two main reasons for this choice:

(i) its heuristic value;

(ii) the fact that it provides a comprehensive framework integrating pragmatic with syntactic and semantic components of sentence constitution while keeping them methodologically apart. A third reason which may be adduced is that Dik has based his Semantic Function hierarchy on evidence from Bantu predicate-argument relations (Dik 1989:239ff.).

  • Relational grammar

Relational grammar offers one of the most formally explicit accounts of dynamic aspects of grammatical relations. Its Universal Alignment Hypothesis seems to predict to a remarkable extent facts observed e.g. in Kinyarwanda (Kimenyi 1988). It provides an entry point for discussing double object constructions and locative inversion and comparing their analysis with that proposed by other theories (to be presented elsewhere in the program).


The need for at least one lecture on TAM arises from its interaction with lexical verb semantics on the one hand, and with derivational verb morphology on the other. A quasiuniversal paradigm recognizes time, aspect, mood (TAM) as major categorIes, with some fuzzyness maintained between the first two (aspect also relating to time), and straightforward overlap between the first and the third (viz. future tense), But this purportedly universal core paradigm fans off into an array of indeterminates variously called persistive, evidential,delayed action, frustrative etc., or mingles with categories of focalization. The usual way of simply describing the verbal paradigm as it appears in the verb morphology misses the broad range of expression types associated with the TAM paradigm (verbal periphrasis, auxiliaries, particles etc.). Also, by limiting its impact to the verb with which it tends to be morphologically associated, one misses the potentially extended scope which qualifies TAM markers as sentential and discourse operators that play a key role in establishing discourse cohesion. In Bantu and other African languages, this function is independently grammaticalized, witness sequential markers e.g. Swahili -ka-. Classical tense logic, notwithstanding its inherent limitations, helps in the first place understand the relational (rather than denotative) nature of TAM categorizations, and thereby account for the bewildering variety and apparent unpredictability of occurrences. Recent work on Aspect in a variety of languages from various corners of the earth (cf. Ebert & Zúñiga 2001, Univ. of Zurich) has led to redefine it as the resultant of the semantic class of lexical verb (Aktionsart) and what Johanson calls “situation types” (Johanson 2001). We will look at “aspect logic” (Dik, Johanson), and follow through with subjective parameters among which viewpoint has been most clearly identified and, in a language such as Swahili, has its morphosyntactic correlate through a separate but interdependent TAM paradigm construed with kuwa ‘to be’ (Bearth 2001).


Information structure (IS: focus, topic, theme, rheme) relies, in the languages of the world, on word order variation, prosody, or explicit focus morphology, or – an African specialty – constitutes a subcategory of the TAM paradigm. The association of focus and topic with new vs. known information, even when additionally cross-referenced for contrastivity, falls short of accounting for the richness of observable occurrences and uses of IS in human interaction. We shall propose an account of focus as an operator ranging over (i) referential values of variable scope and expressed by terms of varying status (including e.g. verbs), (ii) other operators e.g. polarity, and finally (iii) implicature. The latter variable explains, among other things, the predominance of focalized expression in argumentative discourse.

Lexical Functional Grammar

Dorothee Beermann


I. LFG – the background

The development of LFG, some of the main contributions and the main actors in the field. Why LFG?

II. The main representational structures

LFG is a modular theory, the main modules to be represented are c-structure, f-structure and a-structure which will cover morph-syntax and argument structure.

III. LFG for Bantu languages We will look at some of the most important LFG articles written about Bantu languages.

IV. LFG meets Ugandan languages

We will go through a basic derivation for one of the Ugandan languages.

Major concepts of morphological and syntactic typology

Alena Witzlack-Makarevich

The purpose of this course is to introduce some major concepts of linguistic typology. We start with considering various types of theories and theoretical background of language description and analysis. Then an outline of linguisitc typology today will be given. The major concepts of morphological typology to be presented include word, fusion, exponence, synthesis, flexivity, position, and head/dependent marking. The focus of the syntactic typology lecture lies in discussing the major problems of the traditional concepts of subject and object and introducing the concept of alignment (transitive and ditransitive).

Day-to-day program

Session 1

Introduction: what is a theory? What is typology? Morphological typology, major concepts: fusion, flexivity, synthesis, exponence.

Download slides of Session 1

Relevant publications available online

Discussed WALS maps:

Session 2

Morphological typology, cont. Defferent words: orthographic, phonological, and grammatical words. Position. Locus (head vs. dependent marking).

Download slides of Session 2

Discussed WALS maps:

Session 3

Traditional grammatical relations (subject and object). Construction-specific and language-specific nature of grammaticalrelations. Basic alignment types. Ditransitive alignment. Alignment vs. markedness.

Download slides of Session 3

Relevant publications available online:

Discussed WALS maps:


Tobias Weber

The study of sound patterns in language constitutes a fundamental part of any solid description and documentation of a language that is not yet (or not enough) accessible to the linguistic community. This course will provide an overview on the most influential theoretical approaches to phonology and give an update on current theories. We will start out with some basic principles of phonology rooted in structuralism and generative grammar. Then we will proceed to more recent approaches such as Optimality Theory and Evolutionary Phonology. A later part of the course will be devoted to the study of nonlinear phonology with a strong focus on tone systems: although the study of tone is often neglected, it justifiably features more prominently in African linguistics, as African tone systems show some especially interesting properties in this respect. Overall, the course aims at providing the participants with the necessary theoretical phonological equipment for the study of lesser-known African (but, of course, also non-African) languages.


Session 1

Introduction to phonology, theoretical foundations and concepts (2 hours)

Content: basic principles of phonology and its relation to phonetics; structure and complexity of phoneme inventories; syllable structure and complexity

Theories to be illustrated: structuralism, (more traditional) generative phonology, complexity theory

Readings: Goldsmith (1996), Odden (2005: ch. 1-4), WALS (ch. 1-3 and 12-14)

Download the slides of Session 1

Session 2

Phonological processes in synchrony and diachrony (2 hours)

Content: synchronic approaches to phonological processes; change of sound patterns

Theories to be illustrated: Derivational Phonology and Optimality Theory; Evolutionary Phonology

Readings: Blevins (2006), Kager (2004: ch. 1)

Download the slides of Session 2

Session 3

Nonlinear phonology (with a focus on tone) (2 hours)

Content: principles of nonlinear phonology, nature and analysis of tone systems

Theory to be illustrated: Autosegmental Phonology

Readings: Hyman (2007), Hyman (2008)

Download the slides of Session 3

Session 4

Interactive discussion session (2 hours)

Course participants are invited to bring their own phonological data for discussion and analysis


Blevins, Juliette. 2006. A theoretical synopsis of Evolutionary Phonology. Theoretical Linguistics 32: 117-165.

Goldsmith, John A. 1995. Phonological theory. In John A. Goldsmith (ed.), The Handbook of Phonological Theory. Oxford: Blackwell, 1-23.

Hyman, Larry M. 2007. Tone: is it different? UC Berkeley Phonology Lab Annual Report (2007): 483-528.

Hyman, Larry M. 2008. Issues in African language phonology. UC Berkeley Phonology Lab Annual Report (2008): 90-109.

Kager, René. 2004. Optimality Theory. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Odden, David. 2005. Introducing Phonology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

WALS: Haspelmath, Martin, Matthew S. Dryer, David Gil and Bernard Comrie (eds.). 2011. The World Atlas of Language Structures Online. Munich: Max Planck Digital Library.

Introduction to Linguistic Text Annotation

Dorothee Beermann

Download the class-presentation


I. Interlinear Glossed Text – Why do linguists gloss?

We will discuss the history, the form and the function of linguistic glossing. We will introduce the notion of re-usable linguistic data, and discuss linguistic glossing as part of linguistic methodology.

II. Linguistic Features and Concepts in Text annotation

We will introduce the notion of linguistic features and concepts illustrating with, e.g., work by Bickel[1] and Corbett[2].

III. Learning by Doing

We will work with the on-line text-annotation tool TypeCraft and texts from the participants' native languages to discuss annotations and annotation principles.

  1. B. Bickel and J. Nichols. 2002. Autotypologizing databases and their use in fieldwork. In Proc. LREC 2002 Workshop on Resources and Tools in Field Linguistics, Las Palmas, Spain.
  2. G. Corbett. 2006. Agreement. Cambridge textbooks in linguistics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Corbett

Introduction to Construction Grammar and Frame Semantics

Per Baumann

Since the early 1980's, a number of grammatical theories have emerged which center around the notion of construction. Common to all of these theories is the proposition that lexicon and syntax form a continuous, language-specific inventory of form-meaning pairs (= constructions). It is argued that schematic syntactic patterns such as [ __ACTOR __BEHAVIOR __RECIPIENT __THEME] are not essentially different from lexical items like [cat] or [wash], since the meaning associated with the structure ('ditransitive action') must be learnt just like that of a lexeme in order for communication in the respective language to be successful. Perhaps the most pronounced representative of this family of theories is Radical Construction Grammar, which will receive special attention in the course due to its focus on the use of the construction-grammatical approach in cross-linguistic typology. Contemporary varieties of Construction Grammar base their concept of meaning on the theory of Frame Semantics, which proposes that a linguistic expression can only be understood and used correctly if the language user has access to the encyclopedic knowledge that lies behind the expression. Originally confined to the meaning of words and their connotations, Frame Semantics has been extended to more abstract constructions, demonstrating that even schematic patterns such as the Ditransitive Action Construction mentioned above require encyclopedic knowledge in order for the interlocutor to use and interpret them felicitously. The construction-grammatical and frame-semantic approaches presented in this course are hoped to contribute to the future development of user-oriented dictionaries and grammars.


  • Session 1 (2 hours): Introduction to the theory of Construction Grammar
  • Session 2 (2 hours): A closer look at Radical Construction Grammar
  • Session 3 (2 hours): Frame Semantics; Summary and conclusions


Croft, William. (2001). Radical Construction Grammar. Syntactic theory in typological perspective. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Fillmore, Charles J. 1977. The need for a frame semantics in linguistics. In: Karlgren, Hans (ed.). Statistical Methods in Linguistics 12: 5-29.

Goldberg, Adele. 1995. Constructions: a Construction Grammar approach to argument structure. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Östman, Jan-Ola / Fried, Mirjam. 2005. Construction grammars: cognitive grounding and theoretical extensions. Amsterdam: Benjamins.

Sambre, Paul / Wermuth, Cornelia (eds.). 2010. Framing: from grammar to application. Belgian Journal of Linguistics, vol. 24.

Applied frame semantics: [1]