Showing posts from September, 2014

South America in Linguistic Typology

Ergativity on tumblr just made a post with this quote:

“[South America] has been underrepresented in typological surveys and in the typological literature generally, and knowledge of the different kinds of typological features and their distribution in the world is significantly limited by this absence.” — Campbell Lyle & Grondona Verónica (Eds.). 2012. The Indigenous Languages of South America: A Comprehensive Guide,vol. 2. p.259 (via ergativity)

This is true and not ideal. In light of that, I'd just like to again bring up the free online linguistics databaseSAILS (South American Indigenous Language Structures). You can find out a lot of information about many languages of SA there. You find a helpful post about it here.

You can also have a look at SAPhon, South Ameircan Phonological Inventory Database.

There are over 380 million people living in South America and 458 living languages. There are grammars or grammar sketches of at least 350 of those. Let's do better.

What linguistic terminology bothers you?

So, we've talked before on this blog about linguistic terminology. It's well-known that linguistics has a lot of terms, many of them used differently in different contexts or restarted un unexpected ways. Right now I'd like you suggestions for linguistic terminology that stands out.
I'd like to know terminology that you find to be restricted in an unusual way to a certain group of linguists or language familyunusually polysemicrestricted in time in som way (archaic or very new for example) If you have any suggestions, feel free to submit them here! All you need to do is follow that link and edit the spreadsheet (anyone can edit, you don't even need a Google-ID), or leave a comment here on this blog post or tell us here. Don't worry about really clever or super new suggestions, all suggestions are good suggestions just lay them on me :)!
I also recommend readingthis text I wrote here about linguistic terminology and the dangers of standardisation/eurocentricism.

Get the best colors for your map!

If you are making maps, you need this new thing I've just been introduced to: Color brewer! Hurray!
It's a simply site that helps you select colors for your maps that are maximally contrastive and informative, but also safe for color blind people, printing etc. It might not solve problems with projectors (you know what I'm talking about), not sure about that yet.

Anyway, it's a great thing and I am very happy about it!

Linguists are humans too

Humans like to form groups, and linguists, and academics in general, are human too (despite popular beliefs that we're all lizards and/or AI). Within these groups there are certain shared conventions and expected shared knowledge and assumptions. Groups are established both by shared conventions, culture etc, but they are also a product of the exclusion (intentional or not, explicit or implicit) of others.

The rules that govern whether or not a statement is a viable member of a language is called grammar, it can vary with each group you are a part of and even over time and specific context within that group.

Sometimes the term "grammar" is used more broadly also outside of the study of language and is also applied to any set of rules that govern whether something is a member of a system or not, such as the grammar of Chinese ice-ray latices (see Stouffs & Wieringa 2006). FYI, this is a an ice-ray latice (image taken from here) --->

(This perspective leads us to b…

Free Online Linguistics Databases!

So, linguistic typology (the method/field of systematic cross-linguistic comparison) is sorta a combination of this

and this 
In order to share this joy/pain with the world we have a series of post on Free Online Linguists Databases where we try and recommend a few, provide some background to them and some advice on how to use them. We made a list of the ones done so far, and the ones we'd like to write about in the future, looki-looki!
If you need help with linguistic terminology, we've compiled a list of places you can turn and problems you might want to be aware of.

Do tell us if we're missing something or if there's a term you don't understand :)! 

Happy typologizing! 
And always remember: read their definitions carefully before questioning the coding of a feature in a specific language, if problem still remains or definition is non-existent: then email the editors.

WALS Sunburst Explorer!

There's a new kind of tool that lets you explore the data from the World Atlas of Language Structures (massive typological database): WALS Sunburst Explorer!

This new tool let's you investigate the WALS data and correlations between typological features and geographical areas and/or genealogical groupings in an easy way. It's very user-friendly, just go there and click around and you'll understand. You can manipulate the map and the "wheel" (the "sunburst") by clicking on segments.

It's based on the classical genealogical classification of WALS (i.e. not identical to Ethnologue or Glottolog, mind you) and more or less classical divisions of the world into countries and macro areas (Africa, South America, North America, Oceania, Eurasia and South East Asia). You can also define your own areas by selecting an area on the map.

The center of the wheel when you start is "all", the first level outside is macro areas, the second is top-level…

Inventories of the speech sounds of 1, 627 languages now online!

A new update of PHOIBLE (Phonetics Information Base and Lexicon) is up!! It now features 1, 627 languages! And it's freely available online with a user-friendly interface! A phonetic inventory is a description of the speech sounds in a language that are meaningful, i.e. if one changes on into the other it makes a change in meaning. [l] (<low>) and [ɻ] (<row>) are for example  both phonemes of English, but not in Korean or Mandarin.
We're gonna tell you lots more about it under the tag FreeOnlineLinguisticsDatabases,
but for now just enjoy that there's a new version up with lots more languages and other handy changes to the site!  Hurrah!

Linguistic relativism short

Today I'd like to share with you a short excerpt from an abstract of a talk by Asifa Majid that I just found very well put.
Some believe that language is a direct window onto concepts: Having a word ‘‘bird’’, ‘‘table’’ or ‘‘sour’’ presupposes the corresponding underlying concept, BIRD, TABLE, SOUR. Others disagree. Words are thought to be uninformative, or worse, misleading about our underlying conceptual representations; after all, our mental worlds are full of ideas that we struggle to express in language. How could this be so, argue sceptics, if language were a direct window on our inner life?
from Majid, A. (2012). Taste in twenty cultures [Abstract]. Abstracts from the XXIth Congress of European Chemoreception Research Organization, ECRO-2011. Publ. in Chemical Senses, 37(3), A10. (free PDF here) 

Also, I'd like to share an old sketch of mine where I tried to illustrate langue and parole in conversation. Please don't take it as underlying concepts = langue, tha…

More Open Access Publishing of Linguistic Descriptions!!

There's a new Open Access Publishing initiative in town: Endangered Languages Publishing!

There are now three (Platinum) Open Access publishing houses in linguistics: Language Science Press, Language Documentation & Conservation and Endangered Languages Publishing. There are others, the old houses are trying to keep up, but these three adopt a very radical version of Open Access: publications are free for both authors and readers ("Platinum OA").

Endangered languages publishing (EL publishing for short) was just recently founded by Peter Austin, David Nathan and Julia Sallabank​​. Their website has already had over 1900 visitors and among other things contains the latest volume of Language Documentation and Description (LDD 12 -- a special issue on documentation and archiving), an app dealing with Khoi-san languages, and the complete back catalog of LDD volumes 1 to 11.​

David Nathan wrote a very good post on the PARADISEC blog about the first month of EL publishing…

If political borders were redrawn to match "protection of speakers of major languages"

Apparently Putin has been arguing that one of the motives of going into Crimea is that Russia owes protection of Russian speakers everywhere. As you probably can tell this is a very strange argument and if it was true the world would look very different. The Economist decided to follow up on this and based on the CIA Factbook and the Ethnologue they produced the map you see below. They also added some fun commentary, go read!
© The Economist Newspaper Limited 2014  Besides being a fun joke on Putin's silly argument, this map is a very educational illustration of colonialism and in particular the so called "Scramble for Africa". If you missed that part of world history in school, do take a long good look at this map up above by going to the original article and zooming in.

The blog of the Ethnologue also joined in and added some much needed reflections on the state of diversity in the world today, it's a definite must-read for all interested in linguistic diversit…

What if there was a place where we didn't review results when approving publications?

I'm day dreaming about there existing a journal/book series of academic publications that encouraged improvements and innovation in methodology and data collection by letting reviewers review everything but the results when approving articles. This has actually already been done once (thanks Lilla for the tip): These proposals will be reviewed for their importance and soundness. Once provisionally accepted, if authors complete the study as proposed, the results will be published without regard to the outcome.

Academic scholars publish their results as articles in journals, as chapters in edited volumes, as monographs, as conference oral presentations and sometimes also as in conference proceedings etc. Practically all of the time the work get reviewed before hand by anonymous reviewers, often working for free, and they approve or reject  - most often with the condition that certain revisions are made.

Many academic publications have the structure of: 
introduction background hypothes…

Comedy skit in language description! Talking body parts!

Sorry we've haven't been posting for a while. Apologies offered, sent of into the blackness that is broadcasting into the internets - with hopes of acceptance and forgiveness.
Also, hello to new followers on twitter, tumblr, blog and the book of faces!! If you would like to ask us something, comment or just share whatever, don't hesitate to contact us.
This time I've got at goodie from grammar reading for ya! It's an excerpt from a corpus of Samoan, a language spoken on the pacific islands of Samoa. The excerpt is from this PhD dissertation: Mayer, John. F. (2001) Code-switching in Samoan: T-style and K-style. University of Hawai'i.
This is only the beginning, in this text the different actors play different body parts and they all complain at a government of the body meeting about 'stomach' (he smells, he makes noises, because of him the gums have to chew and she doesn't like that etc etc). Many motion for the removal of the stomach, but they late…