The emergence of grammatical diversity: Person indexation patterns in languages of Northeast India
There are approximately 6,000 distinct languages. Each language boasts an individual and unique grammatical make-up. How does this linguistic diversity arise? This talk provides a case study of person indexation patterns: verb forms that change as a factor of the person of the subject and/or the object, such as the difference between English 'I write' but 'he write-s'. This '-s' ending in English "indexes" a third person singular subject. The case study takes us to a particular group of languages in Northeast India where we can observe a "laboratory set-up" of the development of different types of person indexation patterns. In addition to subject indexation, numerous other types exist among languages that are closely related to one another. Because of their close relationship, the building blocks of the indexation patterns are the same and thus we can track how the patterns arise. Although the resulting patterns look exotic to us and their diversity is startling, the underlying sociolinguistic factors that motivate the patterns are actually quite familiar when we examine colloquial language use of languages such as English, German or Hebrew.