A visit to the Royal Museum for Central Africa

Two weeks ago I went to visit the Royal Museum for Central Africa in Tervuren, Belgium. The reason was straightforward: in the ongoing endeavour to study Bantu gender systems, there are at least 10 north-west Bantu languages on which the only information easily available is located there. Since that is not an insignificant number as the total sample is about 250 languages, of which 50 or so with no information available anywhere, it seemed worthwhile to go there and collect as much data as possible.

The museum itself has been closed since 2013 and, bad timing on my part, is supposed to re-open late this year. The main building is spectacular, surrounded by a beautiful park, and the immense collections make the RMCA one of the worlds' centers for the study of Central Africa. Once the museum opens again, there will be a permanent exhibition on the languages and linguistics of Central Africa, so if you have a chance to go there you should totally do that.

Unfortunately, I did not set…

Testing Grammarly's Grammaticality Judgements

I was looking back fondly over my past rejected job applications, when I came across a cover letter that I wrote to Grammarly in 2017, a grammar-checking app that came to prominence due to their aggressive YouTube advertising campaigns.   They were advertising for a job for linguists, aimed in particular at people working on natural language processing.  I used Grammarly for a few days, and had some fun devising tortuous variants of ungrammatical sentences to test what it could do.  It does many things well, but it also makes bizarre mistakes that reveal that the app is not attempting to parse the sentences, or was doing so very superficially, and on which it is out-performed by existing parsers such as the Google Natural Language API or the Stanford Parser.  I wrote these points up in a cover letter and sent it to them, which got me invited to an uninformative Skype interview and a polite rejection some time later.  What follows is a brief summary of these points.

Grammarly corrects ‘…

Thoughts and results from the generative side of linguistics

Hello everyone,

This posts serves to show non-generativist readers of this blog things going on in the generative sphere that they might like to know about. Mainly:

grand challenges, the future of the fieldcomparisons between genetic research into human history and historical linguisticslarge cross-linguistic databases
Sometime ago, we wrote about the conference that was held in Athens in 2015 titled:

Generative Syntax in the Twenty-First Century: The Road Ahead

It was a conference that gathered many people and were very important matters were discussed, matters that are relevant both to those who describe themselves as "generativists" and those of us who don't.

They had a round-table discussion, and the discussants also submitted written statements prior to the event. These can still be accessed and read, and provide insights into what people consider as crucial issues. Some of the links to these files had since broken, I contacted one of the organisers - Peter Svenonius…

New positions in Jena and general about looking for jobs as a linguist

The Max Planck Insitute for the Sciences of Human History in Jena has just announced 2 PhD positions and 1 postdoc, and the Friedrich-Schiller-Universität Jena has also announced 1 PhD position. Follow the links for more info.

In light of that, I wanted to highlight some other relevant resources for those of us who are looking for a PhD position, or considering what to do after having finished the PhD or masters degree.

Linguists Outside of Academia
There's a mailing list for linguists who are working outside of academia, or who want to work outside of academia. 

Welcome along to Linguists Outside Academia! We are a motley crew of self-identifying linguists with tenuous connections to the groves of academe. This includes trained linguists who are currently out of work, as well as people on shaky fixed-term academic contracts, and others who have 'linguistic' type jobs in non-academic settings. We're here to share ideas about professional life, rejoice in success, commise…

A week of Bantu grammar reading: The good, the bad, and the ugly


Linguistic map making: Drawing polygons

Hedvig has written on how Ethnologue has become even more restricted than it already was, and what resources are out there that could be used instead. One of the things I miss from Ethnologue are its maps - although at least recently it was still possible to access most of these, by downloading them instead of viewing them on your browser. In her post, Hedvig points out that Langscape can be used instead, and that's all great.

But what if you wanted to draw a map yourself? Especially one which you intend to publish? Some institutions may have access to the World Language Mapping System (WLMS), which lies at the core of Ethnologue's (and Langscape's) maps, and was made by Global Mapping International (which recently was closed, and now the WLMS is back formally with SIL). I'm not sure about the details (and the user agreement parts of the WLMS website are down), but paying a lot of money for the WLMS must enable users to draw their own maps and publish them, as long as…