Darya Kavitskaya (UC Berkeley): Dialects of Crimean Tatar: Fieldwork and Its Challenges

Please join us once more in Cobb Hall 115 on Friday, October 27 at 3:30 PM, where Dr. Darya Kavitskaya of the University of California, Berkeley, will present on the historical developments of vowel harmony in Crimean Tatar.

Dialects of Crimean Tatar: Fieldwork and Its Challenges

Crimean Tatar is an understudied Turkic language, spoken mainly in the Crimean peninsula, Ukraine (currently annexed by Russia) and in Uzbekistan. The dialectal data from Crimean Tatar help to resolve an argument about the nature of the loss of vowel harmony in the languages of the world in general and in Turkic languages in particular. It has been proposed that vowel harmony arises through the phonologization of vowel-to-vowel coarticulation (e.g. Hyman 2002; Przezdziecki 2005; Barnes 2006). Given this claim, the null hypothesis is that the loss of phonological harmony would affect the domain of harmony, such as the word, as a whole. However, drawing on 19th century texts and my fieldwork on the dialects of Crimean Tatar, I argue that this is not the case, and the decay of rounding harmony crucially involves contraction of the harmonic domain.

The tragic history of Crimean Tatar needs to be taken into consideration by any study of the language. In 1944, the entire Crimean Tatar population was deported from Crimea by the Soviet government. Crimean Tatars were relocated to Central Asia and several locations in Russia and were only allowed to return to their homeland in the early 1990s. As a result, the speakers of the originally homogenous dialects were separated, mixed, and immersed into different language environments. Though it is still possible to locate speakers of distinct dialects, most of them are older than seventy, especially speakers of the non-literary northern and southern dialects. While standard Crimean Tatar is widely spoken in Crimea, the dialects are endangered, may disappear within a generation, and are in urgent need of documentation.

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