Quantification of Verbal Events: A New Perspective for Studying Convergence and Divergence Across Altaic languages

Sami Honkasalo, Pui Yiu Szeto & Chingduang Yurayong

Quantification of Verbal Events:
A New Perspective for Studying Convergence and Divergence Across Altaic languages

(65th Meeting Astana, 2023)

The present study investigates the distribution and realization of strategies for quantifying verbal events in Altaic. The term refers to constructions in which the occurrence of an event is counted in an exact and adjustable way, as in (1)–(2).

  1. Astana-da bir/eki/üsh ret bol-dy-m.
    Astana-loc [one/two/three time] be-pst-1sg
  2. Astana-d neg/hoër/gurvan udaa oč-son.
    Khalkha Mongol
    Astana-loc [one/two/three time] go-pst
    ‘I have been to Astana one/two/three time(s).’

With a sample containing ca. 40 Altaic languages compared with ca. 400 other languages of Eastern Eurasia, we show that Altaic languages employ three strategies for the purpose: verbal classifiers, counted nouns, and iteratives.Two parameters are applied for typological classification. The first distinguishes whether a language has a classifier system for counting entities (noun classifiers) and occurrences (verbal classifiers). Classifier systems are generally not common across Altaic languages, but they have been secondarily developed, e.g., in Bashkir, Uzbek, Salar, and Xibe. While the function of classifiers across Altaic languages is primarily dedicated to counting entities, verbal classifiers occur in Western Yugur, Mangghuer and Mongghul due to language contact with Sinitic. The second parameter concerns the morphosyntactic realization of the remaining two event counting strategies: counted nouns and iteratives. Among these, counted nouns ‘n time(s)’ are morphosyntactically more basic and widespread in Eastern Eurasia. Meanwhile, iterative affixes are more complex constructions derived from an underlying numeral, such as Yakut ikki-te, Dagur xoir/e-ntaa, and Negidal ʒuu-jaa ‘twice’. In languages with multiple possible strategies, speakers tend to prefer counted nouns for higher numbers, such as ‘ten/two hundred times’, which imposes some limits to the adjustability of iteratives. Finally, language contact with Russian is now influencing the realization of the strategies for counting verbal events. The Russian counted noun raz ‘time’ has become a frequent alternative alongside iteratives in some Altaic languages spoken in Russia.