Showing posts from November, 2014

You know what I love more than grammars? Speakers/signers and field workers!!

More than grammars and other descriptive material I love speakers, signers and field workers. Experts of the languages that devote their valuable time to talking to me. They area amazing, brilliant, awesome and wonderful people. I cannot express enough what I feel. I think this sloth is the best I can do:

Every work in linguistics typology, or almost every, is based on the hard work of field workers and the knowledge of speakers/signers. 
Why don't you, for example, read the sections with contributors of the typological surveys WALSAPiCS and SSLW, and just say/sign "thanks" out loud. 
Next time you read a good descriptive work, be sure to let the creator know. A friendly little email with a personal touch is easy to send and amazing to receive. And be properly grateful to any speaker or signer who chooses to spend their time explaining their language to you.
Thank you all speakers, signers and experts who have devoted your time to enriching all ours understanding of hu…

Ling Space - educational videos on linguistics

There's a website with educational videos about linguistics called  the Ling Space. There's also twitter, tumblr, discussion boards, google+ and of course also a page in the book of faces.

I really like the one on allophones.
Id you're a person interested in linguistics and curious about it all, you should really go watch this. There's lots of similar initiatives like this, but this one is really good in that it's good bite sized bits of information and clearly presented. I've often thought of doing something very, very similar in future, but just not had the time, resources, energy etc. I'm very glad this exists.
This is a great thing, go go.

Seeking truth in myth, looking for the polynesian homeland

In this paper I shall attempt something so outdated as to be novel: to attribute historical truth to a myth.
Geraghty, Paul (1993) 
I just find that sentence very beautiful and satisfying. This is from a paper on the polynesian homeland, sometimes we don't just read grammars, but articles in historical linguistics too. You can find that paper here.

Here's a picture of polynesia and settlement patterns proposed by Emory (1963), article here.

Wanna read more recent stuff on settlement in the pacific? Here you are (free PDF online of Dunn et al 2008).

Full reference
Dunn, M., Levinson, S. C., Lindström, E., Reesink, G., & Terrill, A. (2008). Structural phylogeny in historical linguistics: Methodological explorations applied in Island Melanesia. Language, 84(4), 710-759. doi:10.1353/lan.0.0069.

Emory, Kenneth P. (1963) East Polynesian relationships. Settlement Pattern and Time Involved as Indicated by Vocabulary Agreements. Journal of the Polynesian Society, volume 72, No. 2. p…

Word classes, Oceanic and "I'm afraid of the language"

I'm was recently at a workshop on Lexical Flexability in Oceanic languages at Univeristy of Amsterdam (programme and abstracts here). Got some thoughts and and interesting glossed example for ya.

The workshop was about word classes/parts-of-speech and their nature in Oceanic languages, turns out it's very complex. For most comparativists and field workers these are very familiar problems, but it might surprise the others to learn that concepts such as "noun" and "verb" can be extremely complicated and often very hard to compare across different languages. For more on these kinds of discussions I recommend this blog post exchange: 1 and 2 (do read the comments and original paper).

Oceanic languages is a language grouping within the family of austronesian. It contains over 500 languages. The urheimat of the Austronesian language family is Taiwan, if you're interested in how it spread there's tons of reading (wiki intro, antrophological and genetic li…

Grammar Rules - David Crystal

The Linguistics and English Language Society (LAEL) of Lancaster University are today visited by the renowned linguist David Crystal. He is to give a talk with the title "Grammar Rules". I learned about this on the book of faces through my friend Daniel Ezra Johnson. I said I assumed that the second word in the title was a verb and not a noun, and then he made this image here below. I thought it was very sweet and that I should share it with all of you. Nota bene, we do now yet know if it is a noun or a verb, as it stands now it's rather ambiguous. I'm rooting for verb though.

David Crystal has written a lot, a lot of great books, both for linguists and for the public. If you're interested in linguistics but maybe don't always want to read heavy academic prose, he's books are a good place to start. Learn more here on his website.

Can language be effected by non-linguistic factors such as economics and gender equality?

More interesting new things a-coming! Ladd, Roberts and Dediu have just published a review article on potential spurious correlations between features of language and non-linguistic features of where and by whom the language is spoken. These are, among others: climate, gender equality, economics and sexuality. It's a review article so they summarize a lot of previous research which gives you a good overview. They also point out some very important issues when controlling for language relatedness and contact. I really recommend it. There's been to say the least a lot of studies like this recently, and a lot of debate too. I can really recommend reading the posts on spurious correlations on the blog Replicated Typo . It's a great blog that deals cultural evolution and related topics. One of the authors of the article, Seán Roberts, is also an author there.
Full reference Ladd, D. R., Roberts, S. G., & Dediu, D. (2014). Correlational studies in typological and historical …

Let's get weird!

Let's get weird!! (Not Western Educated Industrialized Rich and Democratic, we need to get less WEIRD remember?) "Normal weird" if you get what I mean, i.e. if we take a sample of something, find a normal distribution and then outliers that differ a lot from that said distribution.
Ivan Derzhanski has recently revisitedTyler Schnoebelen's experiment on finding the most typologically unusual language, but with some different conditions. You can read more about the experiment and the results here. (Thanks Natasja for the tip!!) Using WALS-data he's calculated that from that data, that sample of languages (WALS 200 set) and from those conditions: the weirdest language is Iraqw and the blandest Koyraboro Senni and Yaqui.

Always, always keep in mind that:
when linguists talk about weirdness and complexity we're not passing value judgements ("good", "bad")linguistics is often euro-centric, if not in sampling then in the kinds of topics we describe…

Phonology Eyes Problems

I've made up something new, it's "Phonology Eyes" and "Phonology Eyes Problems". It's when you have problems with spelling due to being to focused on the sound of the word. It's a problem mainly for linguists, small children and others who are just learning how to write. The reason I bring it up is because I just spontaneously spelled "appreciate" correctly and was a bit happy about that. It's by far not the hardest word in terms of Phonology Eyes Problems, but I'm still quite pleased. (On Monday mornings, you gotta grab all chances to be satisfied, eigh?)

It causes more problems in languages that have a writing system convention that is more opaque, such as English, Chinese or French, and less problems with languages with more transparent writing systems, such as Turkish or Finnish. A transparent system means that spelling is more predictable and there is often a one grapheme = phoneme relationship.

There's a great deal of c…

Pāṇini Award 2015 - Best Grammar of 2014!

Hello all grammar lovers out there!

(Yes, this is a serious blog about linguistic research where we also use animated gifs to illustrate points/emotions and imagine that the Beatles are grammar lovers. It is possible to combine the two.)

Next year there will be a big conference for researchers who work on comparing languages, i.e. linguistic typologists. It's the Biennial Conference of the Association for Linguistic Typology (ALT). In connection with that there will be a prize awarded for the best dissertation grammar of 2014. Isn't that exciting :)?! Yes, yes it is exciting! I'm excited.

Why then is it called the "Pāṇini Award"? Well, Pāṇini was a linguist from Gandhāra who live a very long time ago, probably 4th century before Christ. He wrote a grammar of Sanskrit that was very good and is often regarded as the first whole grammar ever written. There existed a Sanskrit grammar tradition around before Pāṇini, see Yāska's work on Sanskrit probably at least …


In relation to the recent post on "a language is a dialect with an navy and an army/missionary and a dictionary", I thought this meme needed to come into existence. Now, here it is! Hurray!

A dialect is a sub-variety of a language, often defined by geographical borders, but not necessarily. We all speak dialects, most often more than two. No-one speaks "just a language", or at least I have a very hard time understanding what that would even mean. Perhaps if one was the only ever known speaker of one language..

Feel free to talk to us about that down in the comments or here ^^!

We mainly talk about dialects when referring to less standard varieties, most often rural areas or informal language. But, they're all dialects. The language of the capital, of the television and of the written press are also dialect(s). We all speak dialects. 

Just as with other kinds of norms it's hard to realise that they exist at all if one is part of the most accepted, frequent,…

Sometimes I can't help thinking that grammar is just another feeling

It is 00.46 AM here in the Netherlands. Perhaps I should get some sleep. But.. sometimes I can't help thinking that grammar is just another feeling, you know?

That is, a conscious subjective experience of emotion. Granted, a learned feeling in a sense but hey - still.. sort of comparable to the experience of the emotion disgust. Sorting "bad" from "good" on partially learned basis from cultural norms (some are more disgusted by feet than others for example).

This become particularly evident when considering the Swedish expression "det skär i öronen" ("it's like knife cuts in the ears"), an expression often used for unpleasant music or noise but also sometimes in context of grammaticality judgements, that is when one asks a speaker if something is grammatical. The reaction to the ungrammatical expression is not only rational ("this is wrong, I understand you less good now"), but a similarity is drawn to the experience of actual…

When I'm trying to find out what different authors in the typological literature mean by "dominant order", "pragmatically unmarked order", "frequent order" and just plain "order" with no specifications, and also how these relate to each other.

When I'm trying to find out what different authors in the typological literature mean by
"dominant order" "pragmatically unmarked order" "most frequent order" plain "order" with no specifications  and also how these relate to each other.

Yes, I understand the value of each of these different phrasings and I do believe I understand what the authors meant.. but it wouldn't hurt to be a little more explicit at times.. if for no-one else, then for us poor humans reading grammars.

Food for thought: "a language is a dialect with a missionary and a dictionary"

We were at a workshop again (forth one in four weeks). This time it was at the Max Planck Institute of Psycholinguistics in Nijmegen, the workshop is a part of the Language In Interaction Consortium and it's on language evolution and diversity (from their "work package 5").

One of the presentation was on multilingualism in Southern Senegal, along the Casamance river. It was Friederike Lüpke of SOAS who talked, the title was "The necessity of small differences. Multilingualism as a social strategy in a shared cultural space". She presented their project (that we've mentioned here before): Crossroads - Investigating the unexplored side of multilingualism.

In her talk she rephrased a famous quote that is often attributed to Max Weinreich':

a language is a dialect with a navy and and army
Rephrased: a language is a dialect with a missionary and a dictionary
(see also Lüpke and Storch 2013, page 143 and Blommaert 2008, page 291)
This rephrasing made m…

Gender only in 2nd person

My current favorite data-point in the database South American Indigenous Language Structures is the one where Cholón has gender distinctions in pronouns, but only for 2nd person. It's by Olga Krasnoukhova (2014), citing Alexander-Bakkerus (2005).

Feature:  NP8 Is there a gender distinction in independent personal pronouns?
Language: Cholón (ethnologue, glottolog)

It just makes me happy.

Have a nice Halloween everyone!

Alexander-Bakkerus, Astrid. 2005. Eighteenth-Century Cholón. Universiteit Leiden. 120. (Also partly published in Inca I:690-750, Lima, 1923.)

Krasnoukhova, Olga. 2014. Noun Phrase (NP). In Muysken, Pieter et al. (eds.) South American Indian Language Structures (SAILS) Online. Leipzig: Online Max Planck Institute of Evolutionary Anthropology. (Available at