Project Details


The Afranaph Project focuses on the study of anaphora, the linguistic devices that are used to refer back to previously mentioned entities, the antecedents. Anaphoric dependents like pronouns and reflexives depend for their reference on antecedents in the same sentence or in discourse. The present research project seeks to understand how patterns of agreement between antecedents and dependents are expressed and organized in African languages and what principles underlie those patterns. The distribution of specialized dependent forms and the manner in which they agree with their antecedents vary considerably across languages, but seem to be variants of certain general patterns of locality and sensitivity to syntactic structure that provides clues about the nature of human cognition. The Afranaph Project supports the documentation of minority languages, some of them endangered, thereby contributing to the development of language professionals with stakes in the future of those languages. Afranaph enhances the training of junior scholars and the creation of new international partnerships. It brings together a diverse research community and has seeded collaborations in linguistic research as well as projects (like the Kinande/English Dictionary) designed for use by non-scholarly communities.How antecedents and dependents agree involves central topics in linguistic theory. Antecedency relations exist in every language and almost all languages show some agreement between antecedents and dependents (e.g., for person, number or gender). Antecedency relations and patterns of agreement are clues to how syntactic structure shapes human cognition. The research expertise developed in anaphora studies will be applied to many new research domains, including the meaning, morphology and syntax of tense and aspect, sentential embedding, noun classes, and agreement. This cross-linguistic investigation adds to the aggregate of information available for each language in the project. The new research is facilitated by the resources of the Afranaph Project, which has developed a research model and infrastructure that permits the discovery, documentation, analysis and explanation of new empirical patterns of interest to linguistic theory and typology. Afranaph employs the expertise of native speakers of African languages who are trained as linguists in order to generate data sets relevant to research questions in theoretical linguistics. Data is elicited with detailed, specially-designed questionnaires, analyzed in collaboration with consultants and then made freely available to any interested party in our online database and website. Newly elicited data on antecedent agreement will be pooled with data previously collected, enriching our database resource for future research on additional topics. A by-product of the funding is support for Afranaph Project infrastructure.This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.
Effective start/end date9/1/182/28/22


  • National Science Foundation (National Science Foundation (NSF))


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