The Emergence of Egophoricity: a diachronic investigation into the marking of the conscious self

Lead Research Organisation: School of Oriental & African Studies
Department Name: East Asian Languages and Cultures


This project looks at the way certain Tibetan and Newar varieties express the perspective of the speaker in the sentence. In Lhasa Tibetan, for example, the auxiliary verb 'yin' can be used in sentences where the speaker is the subject (nga em-chi yin '*I'm* a doctor'), if the speaker wants to identify their personal relation or possession ('di nga'i bu-mo yin 'This is *my* daughter') or if the speaker chooses to emphasise who performed an action ('di khyed-rang-gi gsol-ja yin 'This is your tea [that *I* have made for you]'). Other Tibetan varieties, such as Jirel or South Mustang Tibetan also exhibit egophoric markers like Lhasa Tibetan 'yin', but not always in the same contexts. In Newar varieties that are also spoken in Nepal, however, egophoric marking consists of long vowels in verbal endings rather than separate (auxiliary) verbs (ji Manaj napalan-aa 'I (the speaker) met Manoj as planned' vs. ji Manaj napalan-a 'I met Manoj by coincidence'). Finally, in older stages of both Tibetan and Newar varieties, this egophoric marking cannot be found. The central question that this project aims to answer is how and why specific grammatical markers to indicate the speaker's involvement emerge over time in ways that slightly differ, even in closely related languages. What subtle grammatical clues can be found in olders stages of these languages that in later stages result in egophoric marking?

In this project we first investigate how Present-Day Tibetan and Newar varieties grammatically express the speaker's involvement. For this purpose we will create annotated corpora: digital text collections enriched with linguistic information about the structure and meaning of each element in the sentence. Because there is no data available yet for the highly endangered Lalitpur Newar variety, we will conduct fieldwork in Nepal to document the language and collect texts for our corpora. We then add the same linguistic information to historical texts. Older archive texts in South Mustang Tibetan, for example, will be compared to 18-19th texts written in standard Classical Tibetan to investigate the development of the Present-Day Lhasa Tibetan egophoric marker 'byung', which indicates the speaker is the recipient of an action (khong gis ngar yige btang byung 'He sent *me* a letter.'). Present-Day South Mustang Tibetan also has a verb 'byung', which goes back to Old and Classical Tibetan 'byung' meaning 'receive, get'. But unlike Lhasa Tibetan, this verb in South Mustang Tibetan has not changed into an egophoric auxiliary verb. Because of the extensive and consistent linguistic annotation of our corpora, we will be able to systematically study subtle differences in use of verbs like 'byung'. Since our corpora will not only contain morphosyntactic annotation, but information about meaning and function in discourse context as well, we will be in a unique position to investigate complex grammatical phenomena like egophoricity. Investigating this in a historical context gives us the opportunity to test theories of languages change that make predictions about triggers and mechanisms of change in particular. Are language-internal factors (e.g. changes in phonology) responsible for the emergence of egophoric marking, can language-external factors (language contact) play a role and/or can we observe a combination of factors in these languages that have throughout history been spoken by people in close promixity in Nepal?

Finally, since even closely-related Tibetan and Newar varieties exhibit some significant differences, comparison with egophoric marking on other languages can provide further clues on this complex phenomenon. In the final year of the project, we will therefore put our findings from Tibetan and Newar in crosslinguistic perspective.


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