Yuni Kim

Research interests

About Huave and Amuzgo

Huave is a language isolate spoken by about 15,000 people in southeastern Oaxaca State, Mexico, on the Pacific lagoons of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. Since 2004 I have studied the most divergent of the four varieties, that of San Francisco del Mar, which has about 50 fluent speakers remaining. Only a handful are under the age of 70, since language loss started with government prohibitions from the 1930s onward.

Amuzgo belongs to the Oto-Manguean language family and is spoken in the hills of the Costa Chica region in western Oaxaca State and eastern Guerrero. I am studying the language as spoken in San Pedro Amuzgos in the district of Putla, Oaxaca, by perhaps 5000 people (most of the town's population, including children).

San Francisco del Mar: San Pedro Amuzgos:

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Some ongoing projects; most recent/active listed first

Prefix-stem asymmetries and prosodic domains in Huave

Huave phonology treats the stem-plus-suffixes as a domain, to the exclusion of prefixes. This creates a bracketing paradox wrt morphological structure, which rather uniquely can be diagnosed from the ordering patterns of mobile affixes, as opposed to semantic scope; see my 2010 paper in Morphology). Based on these facts, in my 2014 NELS talk (handout here) I argue that Prosodic Word formation in Huave is based fundamentally on linear rather than hierarchical aspects of word structure. The theoretical reflection of this is that a Match Theory analysis runs into issues; the data support an edge-based theory of the mapping from morphosyntactic to prosodic domains.

Non-concatenative morphology in Amuzgo

Amuzgo morphological operations often involve several changes to the stem, as is typical for Oto-Manguean languages: in tone, vowel height, initial consonants, and glottalization. My research so far has focused on tonal and glottal morphology, each of which has an array of distinct inflectional classes. An interesting aspect of tonal inflection is that it both overwrites lexical tone, and reuses a limited set of exponents in different paradigmatic configurations in different inflectional classes. Thus at first glance, the inflectional tones obscure both lexical identity as well as their own inflectional function, i.e. most of the information the word is supposed to convey. When viewed in relation to other inflectional exponents, though, the system makes sense. With inflectional glottalization alternations, I have proposed a rethinking of which glottal elements are lexical vs. which ones are morphological, and shown how the attested range of inflectional classes can then be derived from a small set of parameters.

Huave property concept words and lexical classes

As part of an AHRC-funded project on "The Grammar of Multifunctionality," Andrew Koontz-Garboden and I are investigating the use of possessive morphology on property concept words in Huave. In Huave, property concepts (those translated into English as adjectives) appear to be split across three lexical classes: adjectives, verbs, and nouns. Each lexical class displays distinct morphosyntactic behavior in predication, attribution, and comparison, and we are exploring connections between the semantics of the three root types and their morphosyntactic requirements. Click the link for a handout from our WSCLA 17 talk, "Possession and property concept predication in Huave."

The representation of derived contrasts

The San Francisco del Mar variety of Huave has some vocalic allophones that are interesting because they can be opaque - they remain even where a late phonological process removes their conditioning environment. Despite not being lexically contrastive, they must have some distinct representation at an abstract level of the phonology. In this work (presented most recently at the 2013 LAGB) I ask whether top-down considerations from the phonological system, on one end, and phonetic detail from the other, converge on a non-arbitrary featural representation for these allophones, even absent the usual sources of evidence for features such as lexical contrast and phonological trigger- or targethood. In the Huave case, I find that patterns of phonetic underspecification point to exactly the feature set predicted by the Contrastivist Hypothesis, and speculate on reasons why this may not be a coincidence.

Mesoamerican coastal ethnobotany

As part of my research in the Huave region, I have collected indigenous nomenclature for local flora and recorded monologues on traditional plant usage. During periods of logistical difficulty in linguistic fieldwork, I photographed about 60-70 different plants and got preliminary identifications to genus for many of them. I am developing some collaborations in this area.

Amuzgo tone

In 2010 I started working on the Oto-Manguean language Amuzgo, inspired by a close friend who is a native speaker. A sketch of the 8-tone system can be found in a paper I presented at CILLA V, "Algunas evidencias sobre representaciones tonales en amuzgo de San Pedro Amuzgos." The main observation of the paper is that purported "controlled" and "ballistic" realizations of some tones behave differently with respect to previously unreported tone sandhi processes, casting doubt on the idea that they manifest a single underlying tonal category, and also perhaps suggesting that "ballisticity" is not a representational primitive of the prosodic system.

Huave diphthongs

The plain vs. palatalized consonant contrast in Huave gives rise to a complex system of diphthongization alternations. These are the topic of chapter 3 of my PhD thesis, as well as a handout from OCP 7. Ongoing phonetic studies seem to show that diphthongs have two distinct vocalic targets and that diphthongization is a categorical, phonologically conditioned process that cannot be attributed to coarticulation. I presented some preliminary results in a Cambridge LingSoc talk; here is the abstract.

Huave vowel harmony

Huave vowel harmony is sensitive both to the quality of the preceding vowel, and to the plain vs. palatalized status of the intervening consonant (see chapter 4 of my PhD thesis, and some related material from a talk given in Tromsø on "Infix harmony in Huave: feature realization and bidirectionality"). Huave instantiates a "sour grapes" pattern of vowel harmony where a single incompatible feature value blocks copy of all vowel features, a phenomenon that as far as I know has been predicted in the phonological literature not to exist. However, both Agreement by Correspondence (Hansson 2001, Rose & Walker 2004) and Search-and-Copy (Nevins 2010) can handle the pattern. Please contact me for the most recent version of this work.

Passive morphology in Huave

Brief English summary of 2013 Amerindia paper: in the San Francisco del Mar variety of Huave, up to six types of passives can be identified. Three passive morphemes are unproductive and lexicalized, with no semantic differences that are obvious to me so far (but maybe you can help...). In contrast, three other "passivization" strategies, all productive, are instances of more general valence-reducing devices - although I argue that morphosyntactic properties warrant the inclusion of e.g. impersonals and third-person plurals in the construction family. I discuss some internal evidence for the diachronic origin of this diverse system, including the development of passives from causatives.

Role of lexical semantics in Huave causative formation

Brief English summary of CILLA IV paper, "Alternancias causativas y estructura de eventos en el huave de San Francisco del Mar": Intransitive verbs in Huave fall into two distinct morphological classes, which I argue are best characterized as externally caused change-of-state verbs, versus all the rest. The former category subdivides further into verbs which causativize simply by adding a transitive theme vowel, and those which additionally require a causative suffix. I propose that the causative suffix reflects the addition of a subevent to the event structure of the intransitive verb. On Levin & Rappaport Hovav's idea that externally caused change of state verbs are bievental in their lexical representation, and that other intransitives contain only one event, this analysis seems to provide a natural explanation for why intransitives in the "other" class always require the causative suffix. I would be particularly happy to receive feedback and criticism on these ideas.

Huave and the Mesoamerican linguistic area

Here is a handout from SSILA 2010 on Comparing Mesoamerican areal features in two varieties of Huave. It surveys the two endpoints of the Huave dialect continuum for the features in Campbell, Kaufman, and Smith-Stark's classic 1986 paper, where Huave could not be fully included due to lack of available data. Some features are present in one dialect but not the other (and this cannot always be attributed to endangerment-related change), which highlights the need for comprehensiveness when doing areal linguistics.