Dr Irina Monich

Research Fellow


Research interests

My primary specializations are phonology and morphology. I also have a keen interest in historical linguistics and micro-variation between languages.

In the recent years much of my research is centered on tonal languages. I have worked particularly extensively with Niger-Congo and Nilotic language families, where tone is used not only to make lexical distinctions but also to signal various grammatical contrasts. My Ph.D. disseration (University of Connecticut, 2015), titled “Tonology and Morphosyntax of Sotho languages” explored the relationship between tonal melody and morphosyntactic structure in Setswana (spoken in Botswana) and related languages.

Currently I am a Research Fellow at Surrey Morphology Group, working full-time on AHRC-funded project titled “Morphological Complexity in Nuer” (Principal Investigator: Matthew Baerman). Nuer language (mainly spoken in South Sudan) is an understudied and poorly documented Nilotic language with a complex phonology and a notoriously unpredictable morphology. The main goal of the project is to determine whether the morphological system is as chaotic as it appears based on previous descriptions of the language. To this purpose I collect Nuer data during weekly field sessions and work towards a comprehensive phonological and morphological analysis of the language.

At the intersection of my interests in tonal languages and historical linguistics lies my interest in the study of tonogenesis. I am particularly interested in the relationship between morphology and tone: languages becoming tonal and moving from synthetic to analytic morphology (Sino-Tibetan, Nilotic) and vice versa, losing tone and moving from analytic to synthetic morphology (Bantu, Indo-European).

My page at Academia.edu can be found here: https://surrey.academia.edu/IrinaMonich

Publication highlights


2015 "Comparative Morphological Analysis of Sesotho and Isizulu Perfects," Natural Language and Linguistic Theory (NLLT), 10.1007/s11049-014-9280-6

2014 "Tonal Processes in the Setswana verb," Journal of African Languages and Linguistics (JALL), Volume 35, Issue 2, Pages 141-204


MATTHEW BAERMAN, IRINA MONICH (2021)Paradigmatic saturation in Nuer, In: Language Linguistic Society of America

Nouns in Nuer (Western Nilotic) nouns have been presented as an extreme example of inflectional complexity, where a ‘chaotic’ distribution of suffixes combines with dozens of different stem modifications to yield dozens of inflection classes, (Frank 1999, Baerman 2012). We show that all of the apparent surface variety can be reduced a handful of operations. The proliferation of inflection classes is due to a property we call PARADIGMATIC SATURATION: practically every combination of inflectional operations is attested, yielding the maximum variety with the minimum of means.

Matthew Baerman, Irina Monich, Tatiana Reid (2019)Nominal inflection classes in verbal paradigms, In: Morphology Springer Nature

It is not uncommon for inflected nominal forms to be incorporated into verbal paradigms, as in Imonda progressive construction tōbtō soh-ia ale-f ‘he is looking for fish (lit. fish search-loc stay-prs)’, where the verbal noun ‘search’ is in the locative case. Equally, nominal inflection classes are not uncommon. But the two rarely cooccur. We present two case studies (the only examples we are aware of) as a contribution to the typology of inflection class systems: the Western Nilotic language Nuer, and Old Irish. In these languages nominal inflection class distinctions in case marking have become part of the verbal paradigm through the incorporation of constructions involving deverbal nouns. This provides a unique context for observing the properties of inflection classes. In Nuer, case inflection of the verbal noun can be deduced through a cascading series of implicatures, laying bare processes which are entirely covert in the ordinary noun system. With Old Irish, its transition to the modern period was accompanied by a split in the behaviour of verbal nouns, whose inflection class system was simplified when used verbally, but left intact in other contexts, showing that incorporation into the verbal paradigm had real effects on the system.

I Monich (2014)Tonal processes in the setswana verb, In: Journal of African Languages and Linguistics35(2)pp. 141-204

© 2014 by De Gruyter Mouton 2014.The present article offers an account of how tonal contours of individual verbal forms are generated in Setswana. Its main proposal is that verbal forms have complex structure with internal boundaries that are relevant to tonal processes. The framework of the account, Distributed Morphology (DM), distinguishes between word-building operations that take place in Syntax, in Morphology, and in Phonology, and it is argued that constituency created in the course of these operations is reflected in the tonal melody of individual forms. The present analysis accounts for tonal contours of all forms that posed difficulty under previous treatments while presenting a number of significant theoretical advantages. Most importantly, it offers an insight into Setswana clause structure and defines in precise terms the role that tone plays in making morphosyntactic and prosodic structures phonologically explicit.