Theoretical and experimental approaches to dialectal variation and contact-induced change: a case study of Tundra Nenets

The project Theoretical and experimental approaches to dialectal variation and contact-induced change: a case study of Tundra Nenets is a 4-year linguistic research started in 2018. The research is funded by the National Research, Development and Innovation Office of Hungary (Project ID: FK_129235), and undertaken at the Department of Theoretical Linguistics of the MTA Research Institute for Linguistics.

The general aim of our project is twofold. First, we seek traces of a contact-induced typological restructuring (i.e. a syntactic change from an Object-Verb dominant word order to a Verb-Object one) in two Tundra Nenets (Northern Samoyedic, Uralic) dialect(al group)s having different sociolinguistic backgrounds. Second, we document, describe, and analyse the syntax and prosody of various types of questions in the two Tundra Nenets dialect(al group)s. In our research, we integrate theoretical approaches and experimental methods.

The central question of our research concerns the comparative examination of two dialectal variations of the Tundra Nenets language spoken in two administrative districts of the Russian Federation: in the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug and in the Taymyrsky Dolgano-Nenetsky District (see the Map below). We focus on two speech communities in these districts: one is spoken on the Yamal Peninsula by traditional reindeer herders, while the other is spoken in the capital of the Taymyr Peninsula in Dudinka by people who settled down in the city and live a more or less urban life. The two varieties used in these communities are exposed to different external and internal influences.

Due to an intense Russian contact of languages spoken in Northern Siberia an ongoing Subject-Object-Verb (SOV) > Subject-Verb-Object (SVO) - or rather a Subject-Verb-X phrase(*) (SVX(*)) - syntactic change is reported (i.e. the phrases change from head-final to head-initial syntactic configurations). We examine the syntax of genuine questions that serves as a good basis of investigating contact-induced language change, since various marking strategies of interrogative clauses employed by languages show correlations – to a certain extent – with the basic/dominant word order of the languages.

In addition, Tundra Nenets is an interesting example with respect to syntactic and prosodic headedness (that are not necessarily interdependent in languages). We will test whether the hypothesized syntactic right-headedness goes along with a parallel prosodic structure. Another question is how prosodic headedness on the sentence level (in terms of pitch accent prominence) is connected to word-level prosody in terms of lexical stress (if present in the language).

By undertaking this research, we provide the following outcomes:


Nikolett Mus

Nikolett Mus is the principal investigator of the project currently working at the Department of Theoretical Linguistics, MTA Research Institute for Linguistics in Hungary. Besides the coordination of the project, she works on the syntax of interrogative clauses in Tundra Nenets. She is the main contact person of the project.


Katalin Mády

Katalin Mády is a researcher at the Department of Phonetics, MTA Research Institute for Linguistics in Hungary. As part of her work in the project, she investigates the prosody of interrogative clauses in Tundra Nenets.


Réka Metzger

Réka Metzger is working as a computational linguist in the project. She contributes to the Tundra Nenets corpus, database and linguistic analysis tools in the project.


Péter Rebrus

Péter Rebrus works at the Department of Theoretical Linguistics, MTA Research Institute for Linguistics in Hungary. He works on phonological and morphological aspects of Tundra Nenets.


Uwe Reichel

Uwe Reichel will train and apply grapheme-phoneme conversion and forced signal-text alignment of the recorded and text-transcribed data. Further he will extract a large set of prosodic features in order to address intonation and speech rhythm aspects

Further Contributors

  • Ferenc Gulyás: web design
  • Zoltán Gulyás: map design, cartography


  • 2020
    • Mus, N. Elements at the right periphery in an OV language: a syntactic orphan in Tundra Nenets, Potsdam Linguistics Syntax and Semantics Colloquium, 14 July 2020 (pdf)
  • 2019
    • Mus, N., & Däbritz, C. L. Posztverbális összetevők észak-szibériai SOV/SVX nyelvek-ben [Postverbal constituents in SOV/SVX languages of North Siberia], Nyelvelmélet és diakrónia 4. PPKE, Budapest, 21–22 November 2019 (pdf)
    • Mus, N. On the syntax of Tundra Nenets content questions, New results in the syntax of Uralic languages, Budapest, 22 October 2019 (pdf)
    • Mus, N. The role of information structure in Tundra Nenets content questions, The Uralic and Altaic Languages, Tomsk, 12–13 October 2019 (pdf)
    • Däbritz, C. L., & Mus, N. The discourse function of the postverbal constituentsin SOV/SVO languages of Northern Siberia, 13th Conference of the Association for Linguistic Typology, Pavia, 4–6 September 2019 (pdf)
    • Mus, N. The correlation of syntactic position and semantic function of wh-phrases in Tundra Nenets multiple questions. 3rd Budapest Linguistics Conference, Budapest, 6–8 June 2019 (pdf)
    • Mus, N. Szórendi megszorítások a tundrai nyenyec kiegészítendő kérdésben [Word order constraints in the Tundra Nenets content question]. Diskurzus ünnepi konfigurációban. Műhelykonferencia É. Kiss Katalin köszöntésére, Budapest, 28 May 2019 (pdf)
    • Mády, K., Metzger, R., Mus, N., Rebrus, P., & Reichel, U. The syntax and prosody of Tundra Nenets interrogatives. Workshop on Uralic Prosody, Helsinki, 21 March 2019 (pdf)
  • 2018
    • Mus, N. Kérdő ige az északi szamojéd nyelvekben [The interrogative verb in the Northern Samoyedic languages]. Magyar Nyelvtudományi Társaság, Budapest, 13 November 2018 (pdf)
    • Mus, N. The Northern Samoyedic interrogative verbs. 7th International Conference on Samoyed Studies, Tartu, 26–27 October 2018 (pdf)
    • Mus, N. Theoretical and experimental approaches to dialectal variation and contact-induced change: a case study of Tundra Nenets. Linguistic diversity, minority languages and digital research infrastructures, Hamburg, 20–21 September 2018 (pdf)


  • Mus, N. (2018) The interrogative verb in Tundra Nenets. Finnisch-Ugrische Mitteilungen: 137–150
  • Mus, N. (2018) A tundrai nyenyec `mit mond' jelentésű kérdő ige [The Tundra Nenets interrogative verb meaning `say what']. In: Kenesei István, & Bakró-Nagy Marianne (szerk.) Általános Nyelvészeti Tanulmányok XXX.: Uralisztikai tanulmányok, Budapest: Akadémiai Kiadó, 191–205.



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