Iquito is an endangered indigenous language in South America. In Marcus Berger's QRP, Overt Movement as a Marker of (Ir)realis in Iquito, he looks at the realis/irrealis distinction in Iquito. He chose this focus because it is the only known language that marks reality status purely syntactically, not morphologically, with word order being the only distinction.
This summer, Marcus will begin collecting data on the Bora language, also located in the Northern Peruvian area of the Amazon. Marcus focuses on under described languages as it creates a fuller picture of how language does or could work, “I started out as a formal syntactition and a lot of people who do formal theory work tend to work with English or other well known Indo-European languages, or there is a lot of work on Chinese and Japanese. I don’t think that captures the full picture of what language is and what it can be. I think it is important to have data from these lesser described languages, especially genealogically unrelated languages, or even from language isolates.” Bora currently has roughly two thousand speakers, related to Iquito’s 25, making it a better long-term choice to reach his research goals and as the subject of his dissertation.
Going beyond the specific research topics, Marcus’ goal as a researcher is to fit linguistic fieldwork into formal linguistic theory. He explains, “This is something that not a lot of people do. In the past they have been very separate camps and I’m trying to bring the two together.” Marcus returned to UM, where he earned his undergraduate degree, after completing the Master of Arts in Linguistics degree program at the University of Georgia. “When I did my masters, I was planning on being a historical linguist. I got to Georgia and took classes and figured out it wasn’t for me, and then I became a syntactition. As I was applying for programs, I was emailing Acrisio Pires and the research I was doing really jelled with work he had done. He has been very accommodating and encouraging with the research I have been doing. I also became interested in nouns and how nouns are represented during my masters. Turns out the main dissertation written about that was written by Steve Abney, who is also at UM, which was another draw,” he explains.
In this paper I investigate the formal syntactic properties underlying the syntactic structure differences related to Reality Status (RS) in the Iquito language, a Zaparoan language spoken in northwest Amazonian Peru. Very little syntactic analysis has been done on this language, though it seems to show many relatively uncommon syntactic phenomena that provide relevant data regarding different ways in which human language can be structured. I will first provide a syntactic analysis of word order in the language, especially concerning phenomena related to the distinction in RS between realis and irrealis, which appears to be marked purely syntactically in Iquito (i.e. not marked by overt morphology, unlike all other described languages with this distinction). The purely syntactic realization of RS is unusual, since RS distinctions (and in fact, inflectional grammatical categories more broadly) tend to be overtly marked morphologically (Palmer 2001), though there are a number of other strategies that languages employ to mark RS (see Mauri & Sansó 2014 for an extensive typology of these strategies). The purely syntactic marking of RS in Iquito indicates that RS does not need to be marked morphologically, but that the features which result in differences regarding RS can be realized morphologically or syntactically (or both). In addition to exploring why and how RS is syntactically marked, I also take into account a specific kind of embedded clause structure in which an embedded clause verb can be inflected in an irrealis context, indicating one possible exception to pure syntactic marking.
To learn more about Marcus and his work, head to his homepage!