Supervisors: dr Liina Lindström; dr Kadri Muischnek
Opponent: dr Maria Vilkuna (Kodumaiste keelte
This dissertation examines compound verb constructions comprising of finite and non-finite verb forms (e.g. hakkas astuma 'started to go', tahtis kuulata 'wanted to listen'), with an emphasis on their grammatical meanings and variation in the Estonian dialects. The data are obtained from the Estonian Dialect Corpus developed at the Institute of Estonian and General Linguistics at the University of Tartu. The present work is the first study in Estonian dialectology which incorporates both corpus linguistic and statistical methods to investigate syntactic variation. The combination of these methods has not been extensively applied in previous studies. This approach enables us to systematically compare the usage patterns of verb constructions across dialects. The results of this large-scale analysis reveal that on the syntactic level, the Estonian dialects, surprisingly, split along an east-west divide in contrast to the traditional analysis of a northern and southern group.
Dialectological research has traditionally concentrated on phonological, morphological and lexical variation. There are several reasons for this, but probably the most important is the fact that syntactic variation is considerably harder to capture. Lexical variation is more salient in usage (e.g. õun vs ubin 'an apple') compared to syntactic variation. In syntax, dialectal variation emerges through differences in frequency patterns. For instance, the expression mul sai töö tehtud, lit. 'I got the job done', is much more frequent in the western dialects as opposed to the synonymous mul oli töö tehtud, lit. 'I had the job done' which is more frequent in the eastern dialects. Importantly, syntactic variation differs from lexical variation in two ways. First, both constructions are fully acceptable in standard Estonian and cannot be reduced to categorical judgments (some phenomenon exists / does not exist in this area). Secondly, syntactic features do not explicitly mark dialects but arise from distributional differences and are rarely constrained to some small geographical area; this is also confirmed in previous studies.
The current study contributes an overview of verb constructions, their functions and meanings in Estonian dialects. It also contributes to the young field of dialect syntax by identifying certain critical issues that emerge from the study of syntactic variation and providing some solutions.
The results of this study show that on the syntactic level, substantial differences emerge between the eastern and western dialects rather than traditional northern and southern dialect groups. This thesis shows that the compound verbs appear more frequently in the western dialects. Moreover, the functions of these verb compounds vary considerably across geographical areas. In sum, this study provides new information that can be used to explain the development of syntactic constructions in standard Estonian. The results can also be applied in the field of language contacts and diachronic research. Finally, they illustrate how including syntactic information as part of the dialect research programme provides completely new and unexpected information about dialects and language variation.