Home More about the Anaphora Project

Project Director: Ken Safir, Rutgers University

The main goal of the African Anaphora Project, the eldest of the Afranaph Sisters, is to develop rich descriptions of a wide range of African languages in order to serve the interests of linguistic research into the nature and distribution of anaphoric effects. Anaphoric readings, in the sense intended here, are those readings where one linguistic form, such as a pronoun, reflexive or reciprocal, refers back to a previously mentioned form in the sentence or in the discourse. It appears that every human language has at least some specialized forms that achieve such effects. This website explores those forms and effects for every African language that native speaker linguist consultants are willing to help us with. Although this project is informed specifically by the research goals of generative grammar, it is our intention to make the data we collect as accessible as possible to any linguist with an interest in these languages or more general issues in crosslinguistic comparison.
Within the history of generative grammar, the current state of understanding at any given time about the distribution of anaphoric effects has played an important role in stimulating theoretical innovations that have often not been confined to the empirical domain of anaphora. As early as the 1960s, it was observed that a significant range of anaphoric effects and interpretations are configurationally conditioned, and in that sense, are important clues and boundary conditions as to what version of syntactic theory and interpretation is most likely to be the correct one. Since the 1980s, variation in the patterns of anaphora found across the world’s languages has become a preoccupation for those interested in sifting universals and principled typologies from the welter of empirical patterns and this project is designed to explore fine details of patterns that have been undetected before, as well as patterns new to theoretical research.

More about the Anaphora Project

A basic premise of the research described in Safir (2004) and Safir (to appear) (= Technical Report #1 on this site) and now Safir (2012) (=Technical Report #4 on this site), is that the distributions of anaphoric forms in any given language are in competition to represent the range of possible anaphoric readings, so only by understanding the complete pattern in any given language can the interactions that determine the pattern be predicted. An earlier anaphora questionnaire that inspired the one used here was developed by Martin Everaert and Alexis Dimitriadis of the University of Utrecht in the early 2000s (with input from the PI), aimed at finding as many patterns as could be made to bear on issues in the theory of anaphora that were current at that time. The Anaphora Questionnaire (AQ) used in this Afranaph Sister Project is a revision and an extension of the Utrecht questionnaire designed to enhance the elicitation of exhaustive accounts of the distributions of anaphoric effects internal to each language that theories based on a variety of premises could use as a testing ground for both typological and universals-oriented theorizing.

The Afranaph Project began with an exploration of anaphoric patterns in the non-colonial languages of Africa in 2003. The empirical work of this project, while always its raison d’etre, frequently was delayed and backgrounded over the years as the technology, mode of operation, network and infrastructure that supports the modern Afranaph Project was being developed. The empirical and theoretical work of the Anaphora Project has gone on robustly in the shadows and the project director hopes that more analytic and theoretical work that has resulted from it will be reported on in the next few years.

What is currently visible of the anaphora research is mostly contained in the work published on our site. In addition to technical reports #1, #2 (Reauland and Schadler, 2011) and #4 and the abstracts to be found on the Afranaph Workshop page, several Anaphora Sketches have been completed, and though the early ones are indeed ‘sketchy’ (see the sketches for Yoruba, Urhobo, and Cinsenga, all from 2005), the later ones are somewhat more fleshed out (see the sketches for Ikalanga and Kinande from 2007). The most recent one is extensive and fine-grained (see the Lubukusu Anaphora Sketch from 2011). Much more work, both general essays and nascent anaphora sketches, remains in either extensive notes or incomplete manuscripts, and much more data in the form of incomplete AQRs, has yet to see the light of day. The PI hopes to provide a partial inventory of this work sometime in late 2012 or early 2013.

Afranaph Questionnaire in English [pdf] [doc] | et en Français [pdf] [doc]