Filozofická Fakulta

Kolokvium LP 2016

Malé poměry, velké změny: Language variation and change in North Saami

Laura A. Janda (in collaboration with Lene Antonsen, Berit Anne Bals Baal, and Jussi Ylikoski at UiT the Arctic University of Norway)

North Saami is a Uralic language spoken by approximately 20K people spread across a large area in northern parts of Norway, Sweden, and Finland. North Saami is in a unique situation as the only minority language in Europe under intense pressure from majority languages from two different language families, namely Finnish (Uralic) in the east and Norwegian and Swedish (Indo-European Germanic) in the west.

Language variation and change are evident in a number of linguistic features of North Saami:

  1. Adpositions that can function as both prepositions and postpositions tend to be distributed in accordance with the prevailing trend of the majority language (favoring prepositions in the west but postpositions in the east), but position is also influenced by semantics.
  2. North Saami is replacing the use of possessive suffixes on nouns with a morphologically simpler analytic construction. Our data track this change through three generations and parameters of semantics, syntax, and geography.
  3. The one environment where the possessive suffix is most strongly retained even in the youngest generation is in the Nominative singular case, and here we find evidence that the possessive suffix is being reinterpreted as a Vocative case marker.
  4. The noun ráigge ‘hole’ is in the process of being reinterpreted as a prolative case ending (with the meaning ‘through, following a path’)
  5. The numeral guovttos ‘two’ is developing into a dual marker.

This paper will discuss the types of evidence that we have for these and related phenomena, how the data can be interpreted, and what these changes might mean in the bigger picture of diachronic processes.