24.900 | Spring 2022 | Undergraduate

Introduction to Linguistics

Problem Set 3

Due: Session 15

In this problem set you will be gathering some data about the syntax of the language that you are  working on this semester. 

When you hand this problem set in, you can write the language you are studying either in IPA, or in a Roman alphabet that is standardly used for the language. Please do not present data in writing systems other than these (do not, for example, give us data written in a non-Roman writing system). 

You should present the data in three lines, as in this example: 

(1) vulqangan legh tlhIngan      
Vulcan sees Klingon      
‘The Klingon sees the Vulcan’ 

Each example should have a number, which you’ll be able to refer to in the text of your answer (“we can see in example (1) that the verb follows the object in Klingon”). The first line of the example should be in the language you are studying. On the second line, you should provide a gloss for each word, literally translating each word into English. And then the third line should be an English translation, marked with single quotation marks. 

Since you will need to gloss your examples, part of your job will be to find out translations for each word of the sentence (that is, if your speaker gave you the Klingon sentence in (1), you would next need to ask questions like “What does legh mean?”) 

Your writing sample should be a .pdf file, ideally created by a word processor. If entering the language in a keyboard is too cumbersome, then you can also write the data by hand and scan them separately. If you go with this option, please type all of the discussion, and give us the data as a separate sheet. 

Problem One: Verbs and Objects 

Get translations of two sentences with structures like those in (2-4): 

(2) The dog saw a rabbit.      
(3) The woman is reading a newspaper.      
(4) The students have eaten the pizza. 

You do not have to use any of the sentences in (2–4), but the sentences you use should contain verbs (like saw, reading, and eaten in the sentences above) that have objects (like a rabbit, a newspaper, and the pizza). If you are considering getting a translation of a sentence and are not sure whether it has an object, feel free to check in with any of us (this is true for anything in this assignment). 

Languages vary with respect to the order of their verbs and their objects. In English, verbs typically precede objects. What is the order in the language you are studying? Or is either order possible? 

Problem Two: Prepositions and Objects 

Get translations of two sentences with structures parallel to those in (5–7): 

(5) The professor is talking about linguistics.      
(6) The boy left without an umbrella.      
(7) The students fell asleep during the lecture. 

Again, you do not have to use any of these particular sentences, but your English sentences should have prepositions in them (like about, without, and during in the sentences above). 

There are several ways in which the data you get in this problem might be hard to interpret. The language may just not use prepositions in the same places English does; for example, if you use sentence (5), you may get a translation in which talking about is translated as a single verb (something more parallel to The professor is discussing linguistics). If this happens, don’t be alarmed; just report on the data you have. Discovering that the language you are studying doesn’t use prepositions in the same way that English does qualifies as a discovery. 

In some languages, it may be unclear whether there truly is a preposition, as opposed to some kind of case ending on the noun in question. Again, this would be an interesting result, which you should just report; we’re not expecting you to be able to figure out whether the preposition is a separate word or an affix on the noun (though it would be interesting to hear what your language consultant thinks about this question). 

In English, prepositions precede their objects. Is this true in the language you are studying? 

Problem Three: Adjectives and Nouns 

Get translations of two sentences with structures parallel to those in (8-10): 

(8) I bought a red book.      
(9) A hungry monkey has eaten our pizza.      
(10) We are making delicious sandwiches. 

Again, you may discover that the language you are studying has nothing exactly parallel to English adjectives like red, hungry, and delicious. Just tell us what you find. 

In English, adjectives fairly reliably precede the nouns that they modify. Is this true in the language you are studying? 

Problem Four: Questions 

Languages vary in the ways that they form questions. Some languages, like English, require certain kinds of questions to begin with words that express what the question is about: 

(11) What did Mary buy? 

Words like what in (11) are called “wh-words” in linguistics, because in English they mostly begin with the letters “wh” (the term is used for every language, not just for English). 

Some languages do not require wh-words to be at the beginning of the sentence: 

(12) Mary mai shenmo? [Mandarin]      
Mary buy what      
‘What did Mary buy?’ 

(13) Mary-wa nani-o katta? [Japanese]      
Mary what bought      
‘What did Mary buy?’ 

What does your language do with its wh-words? Do they go at the beginning of the sentence, or not? Or does the language have both options? Give us at least one example of a wh-question.

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Spring 2022
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