Beckman Fellow 2021-22

Aida Talic


Talic imageThe Syntax and Tone of Dholuo

As humans, we have a unique ability to acquire and use language. This complex cognitive system all of us have raises questions of how it arises in all humans; why a child exposed to a language necessarily acquires that language, while a baby animal exposed to the same language never does; why languages share some universal properties and why they differ in systematic ways. Addressing these questions, generative linguists posit that human knowledge of language has two parts: (i) the innate part (Universal Grammar), which is invariant and shared by all humans; and (ii) the acquired part, the development of which is guided by the innate knowledge. A major question that is still subject to ongoing research is what the innate part of our knowledge looks like—what is it that is the same for all humans and what leads to cross-linguistic differences.

One of the arguments for Universal Grammar comes from similarities across languages—language universals. However, given that some similarities may result merely from languages belonging to the same language family and sharing a common ancestor language, in our quest for universal properties that all languages share, it is crucial to investigate and analyze languages from unrelated families. Thus, in this project, Professor Talic plans to investigate several areas within the grammar of Dholuo from the Nilo-Saharan family, and compare the findings with results from previous work on unrelated languages from Slavic, Germanic, and Romance families. While there is some descriptive work on Dholuo, full descriptions of many phenomena are yet to be provided and there are very few papers in the generative literature where data from Dholuo is considered. She will investigate the structure of phrases projected by nouns and adjectives, as well as how syntax (the way we put words together) affects tonal contours in Dholuo.