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A Conversational Database of the Arapaho Language in Video Format


Language Arapaho
Depositor Andrew Cowell
Affiliation The University of Colorado
Location United States
Collection ID 0194
Grant ID MDP0189
Funding Body ELDP
Collection Status Collection online
Landing Page Handle


Summary of the collection

This project is a video database of Arapaho conversational interaction, with extensive linguistic and cultural annotation. The database is created using the ELAN platform, which is part of the DOBES project of the Max Planck Institute. A text-only version of the database is created in an XML format, displayed on the world wide web via XSL. The XML version is open access, while the video database is SOAS and available to interested researchers.


Special characteristics

Arapaho conversational data provides information on a number of linguistic questions: Arapaho verb stems have different abstract finals depending on whether they are syntactically transitive or intransitive. But recent work reveals that the concept of transitivity, as traditionally defined, is inadequate to deal with the way that transitive and intransitive stems are used in Arapaho. Because inflectional markers on the verb stem fully index subjects and objects, both intransitive and transitive stems can occur without an explicit noun phrase (NP). On the other hand, explicit, object-like NPs can occur with both transitive and intransitive stems. The difference between the two cases is that in the former, the object is indexed on the stem inflectionally, while in the latter, it is not. Arapaho actually can be analyzed as having three classes of verbs; one which is syntactically intransitive, and also cannot take an NP object (stative/descriptive verbs, for example); one which is syntactically intransitive, but semantically transitive, with an underlying object which may or may not be expressed explicitly as an NP; and one class which is syntactically transitive, again with an object which may or may not be expressed explicitly. In narratives, speakers alternate back and forth freely between the second and third type of verb stems, with the alternation controlled by pragmatic factors such as saliency, newness, definiteness, contrastiveness, and/or identifiability of the referent.

Word order is also largely controlled by pragmatic factors – the preverbal position is more marked for NPs than the post-verbal one. Additionally, Arapaho shows a large amount of incorporation of both nominal forms and also instruments and means into the verb stem, though both can also occur independently if pragmatically salient. Thus four different options co-occur in speech, all controlled by pragmatic factors: 1) incorporation of nominal elements (or not); 2) if element not incorporated, inflectional indexing of underlying referent on verb stem or not; 3) if not incorporated, explicit mention of referent in sentence or not; 4) if referent mentioned, placement before or after the verb. Arapaho also has complex raising constructions; using applicatives, possessors, recipients, subsidiary co-participants, and even locatives can be raised to object status and be indexed on the verb stem, once again depending on saliency.

Other areas of linguistic interest include deixis, and also the rich set of Arapaho presentational particles and pseudo verbs. There is a particle to introduce a new, additional actor performing an action already under discussion, and a different particle to introduce a new, additional action by an actor already under discussion, as well as a third particle to introduce a pragmatically unexpected actor or action, and several pseudo-verbal forms which promote new referents to the predicates of ‘to be’ clauses in order to give them special emphasis (‘here is this man’ etc.). Other particles indicate a contraindicative mode and a “superordinary” new referent, in phrases such as ‘and then on top of that…’ While the basic function of these particles is understood, thanks to examples in narrative texts, their manipulation in conversation is essentially undocumented. Finally, Arapaho shows a pervasive variation between standard complement and adverbial clauses and versions of these clauses which are embedded in a relative clause whose head is a demonstrative pronoun. The conditions governing this alternation, while probably pragmatic, are not well understood.


Collection history

Data was collected during the summer of 2009, in Wyoming, during the Tribal Business Council and General Tribal Council meeting in Arapaho. Some tribal leaders speak Arapaho, and elders who address these Councilssometimes speak in Arapaho. There is also an advisory Council of Elders which meets fairly regularly, and whose members virtually all speak Arapaho. We are hopeful his will approximate some of the features of ceremonial speech. There may be limited opportunities to record multi-generational speech, as there are a few uncle/nephew pairs and the like still alive, though few if any fully fluent parent/child pairs.


Acknowledgement and citation

To refer to any data from the collection, please cite as follows:

Cowell, Andrew. 2014. A Conversational Database of the Arapaho Language in Video Format. Endangered Languages Archive. Handle: Accessed on [insert date here].

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