Putting PPs into order - Understanding prepositionality in the predominantly postpositional language Lule Sami

Change log
Ajer, Hanna Danbolt 

This thesis investigates PP-internal word-order variation in an endangered Uralic language, Lule Sami, which is indigenous to parts of Northern Norway and Sweden. The study focuses on the factors underlying prepositional occurrences in this predominantly postpositional language. It is mainly based on spoken data containing more than 4,000 occurrences of adpositions, elicited from eleven native speakers of Lule Sami in Divtasvuodna/Tysfjord, the Lule Sami heartland in Norway.

The study aims to contribute to our knowledge of Lule Sami, which is severely understudied. I argue that prepositionality in this language can mark that (part of) the PP is either contrastive or belongs to a system of conventionalised alternatives, which I term a PREDEFINED ALTERNATIVE SET. The findings from Lule Sami may be relevant to the study of related languages as well, as there appear to be many similarities with other Sami languages and Finnic languages. Furthermore, in identifying factors related to semantics and information structure which may influence word order in the PP, and in seeking to account for the variation formally, it is hoped that the study might more generally add to our understanding of AMBIPOSITIONS – adpositions with variable word order (Libert 2006). Lastly, the study highlights the importance of studying variation in endangered languages on its own terms, as the systematic nature of the PP-internal word-order variation in Lule Sami and the similarities with related languages suggest that the prepositional usages cannot simply be attributed to influence from prepositional contact languages.

Chapter 1 provides background information about Lule Sami language and history, whereafter chapter 2 outlines the theoretical background of this study. This pertains to Lule Sami grammar, adpositions in related languages, potentially relevant syntactic, semantic, and information-structural factors, and language contact and change. My methodology is laid out in chapter 3. The data and findings from the study are presented in chapter 4, drawing on the distinctions introduced in chapter 2. Chapter 5 puts the findings about PP-internal word-order variation in Lule Sami into a wider context, comparing them to what we know about prepositional usages in other Sami languages and in Finnic languages, and looking at how they may be formally accounted for within Minimalist syntax. I propose that prepositional order in Lule Sami arises through fronting to a Grounding projection in the style of Wiltschko (2021), and that this movement is triggered by definiteness and/or salience features. I argue that the fronting’s original function was to reinforce the relation expressed by the PP, yielding contrastive readings, but that it has also gained an extended function of marking membership in a predefined alternative set. Lastly, I discuss how my findings about prepositionality in Lule Sami relate to theories of language contact and change, drawing on the discussed parallels with related languages and the predictions made by the formal approach chosen. Chapter 6 concludes the thesis.

Biberauer, Mary Theresa
Adpositions, Ambipositions, Contrastive focus, Contrastiveness, Definiteness, Endangered languages, Fieldwork, Linguistics, Lule Sami, Minimalist syntax, Postpositions, Predefined alternative sets, Prepositions, Syntax, Universal Spine Hypothesis, Word-order variation
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Awarding Institution
University of Cambridge
Gates Cambridge Trust