Linguistics ETDs

Publication Date

Fall 11-16-2020


Endangered languages are often assumed to undergo grammatical losses. Grammaticalization – which is concerned with how grammar evolves – has been largely overlooked in such contexts. In this dissertation, I address two questions: 1) Do grammaticalization processes in endangered languages look as they do in more robustly spoken languages, and 2) are there other changes that require explanations outside of grammaticalization?

The language that I consider is Tohono O'odham (Uto-Aztecan), spoken in Arizona (US) and Sonora (Mexico), which has become endangered over the last century due to coercive assimilationist policies. I conduct a comparative analysis of pre-existing oral data over approximately the last 100 years, focusing on progressive and demonstrative constructions.

The findings suggest that severe language shift has had little impact on the evolution of progressives and demonstratives. The structures change in predictable ways or remain stable. Changes that may be due to infrequent language use are within the lexical domain.




Tohono O'odham, language change, language endangerment, grammaticalization, progressive aspect, demonstratives

Document Type


Degree Name


Level of Degree


Department Name

Department of Linguistics

First Committee Member (Chair)

Rosa Vallejos

Second Committee Member

Melissa Axelrod

Third Committee Member

Melvatha Chee

Fourth Committee Member

Doris Payne

Fifth Committee Member

Ofelia Zepeda

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Linguistics Commons