Polysynthesis in the Arctic

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Among the most frequently cited typological characteristics of American languages is <i>polysynthesis</i>, a term coined in 1816 by Duponceau to describe words in American languages containing large numbers of morphemes. Major scholars since that time, including Boas, Sapir, and Greenberg, have also described certain American languages as polysynthetic, citing Eskimoan languages as prime examples. Recently however, Baker specifically excluded Eskimoan languages from the class of polysynthetic languages on the grounds that they lack one of his criterial structures: noun incorporation. Here it is shown that Eskaleut languages contain constructions diachronically and functionally equivalent to prototypical noun incorporation, like that of Iroquoian. They differ in certain other respects because of the distinct diachronic pathways by which their modern sentence structures have developed.


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