In this talk I single out typologically unique and unusual suites of properties special to the Yupik-Inuit language family that constitute what may fairly be called part of the special 'genius' of the family. In this case, this genius involves a grammar whose fully productive units include both whole words, and stem- and suffix-lexemes within words. My aim is to show that language variation and change in this family typically leads to replication and reproduction of the family's singular morphosyntactic genius. The persistence of typologically unusual features suggests that typological uniqueness or rarity can be either very stable or very unstable, calling into question any generic idea that some configurations should be more 'canonical' than others, or that a quest for universals should be the endpoint of typological investigation. Rather, it underscores the relevance of typological approaches that go beyond dealing in strict correlation among language properties and the explanation of such correlation in terms of grammar-engineering or universals of interaction or discourse; but also beyond 'merely' profiling or checklisting language properties. Instead, it points to the use of typology to help us understand and characterize adventitious properties of individual language histories, challenging us to understand such suites of properties in terms of the cognitive, expressive, and aesthetic sensibilities and practices that may characterize communities across generations, or that may change in them from time to time.
February 25, 2021 - 10:10am