Chapter 3. Classifying clitics in Sm'algyax: Approaching theory from the field

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Mulder, Jean, Sellers, Holly
clitics, Sm'algyax, British Columbia, Alaska, Tsimshian
book chapter description
Sm’algyax (British Columbia and Alaska) is a highly ergative VAO/VS language with an uncommonly wide range of clitics. This chapter has the two-fold function of demonstrating how Anderson’s (2005) constraint-based analysis of clitics gives insight into the complex behavior of Sm’algyax clitics, and how the clitics themselves afford empirical means of testing such a theory. The Sm’algyax data are drawn from both field research and published texts, reflecting a community-based approach to language documentation that has evolved through a long-term, collaborative relationship with the Tsimshian (Sm’algyax) communities. Building on Stebbin’s (2003) definitions of intermediate word classes in Sm’algyax and Anderson’s Optimality Theoretical approach, we determine that in terms of their varying phonological dependence, Sm’algyax clitics include internal, phonological word, and affixal clitics. The existence of affixal clitics in Sm’algyax, however, calls into question the viability of the Strict Layer Hypothesis (Selkirk 1984) as inviolable rules when describing clitics. Furthermore, Sm’algyax provides strong evidence that the direction of clitic attachment is more clitic specific than language specific. In characterising the behaviour of Sm’algyax clitics, we find that not only does linguistic theory help sharpen our understanding of the fieldwork data, but also that field linguistics has consequences for linguistic theory.

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