Friday, January 15, 2016

How will we talk in the future? Repost

During the National Youth Science Forum here in Canberra I was asked a couple of times about "the language of the future", usually connected to questions about language death/endangerment, globalisation and what lots of non-native speakers and language contact will "do" to English.

Actually, we've discussed these issues before - but in video format - go have a look. I believe I need to revisit those points again, there are things I'd like to add and modify, but until such a time, enjoy them videos! And as usual, the feedback box is here.

If you, like me, are a fan of dystopian sci-fi that deals with human nature and future as s species and global society, and features as a language as a way of illustration these themes, I doubt I will need to recommend these two:

A Clockwork Orange (1971)

Blade Runner (1982)

But! Have you also checked out these two?

Firefly (2002-2003) 

The Expanse (2015- ongoing)

To read more about Belter talk in the Expanse, go here.

There's more to recommend in line of sci-fi shows, but these are exceptional in how they use language as a subtle cue to create the world for the viewer.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Ways to stay updated with research news in linguistics

We've talked about this before, but I think it needs to be said again - get on mailing lists for linguistics if you want to be kept in the loop about things. Announcements of workshops, positions, conferences, edited volumes etc - they main information distribution channel for such news in linguistics is mailing lists. There are some other useful RSS-feeds and twitter personas that are good to keep track of as well, but do get on mailing lists first if you're keen to stay updated.

You don't have to stay updated you know, but I know that many readers of this blog are young researchers looking to start a career and for them this is useful.

Lingust List lists a lot of useful mailing lists(!), go pick things out there. If you're curious what's actually going on in the lists, go check the archives. Linguist List doesn't archive all lists they list, but a majority.
There's the overall lists LINGUIST and LINGLITE that are sort of the highway of information with a broad range, and then there's the more nisched small lists. 

And for the love of Greenberg, filter 'em. Don't come back complaining about being flooded unless you've tried filtering ^^! Basically what you want to do is throw everything in the "not important", "read" or "trash" by default and then pick out emails containing certain key words for your "important", "unread" or "non-trash" folder. You don't want to filter out those not to read, you want to filter in those you do want to read. 

Here are the ways of setting up filters for some of the major email clients:
You might also want to turn them off when you're on vacation or something.

One of the most useful for those interested in language diversity is LINGTYP. However, it is restricted to only members of the Association for Linguistic Typology (ALT) . You can, however, still read the archives freely you just can't submit to the list as a non-member.

If you're interested, you could for example follow the recent discussions over Ethnologue's pay-wall that yours truly have been an active participant in.. :).

Mailing lists for descriptive linguistics and fieldwork
On this blog we're interested in cross-linguistic comparison and language-specific description. For the latter, there's a number of mailing lists for linguists and anthropologists devoted to specific families or areas. Unfortunately, there aren't any larger more general and popular mailing list for language description - at least not that we know of. If you hear of any good mailing lists like that, let us know :)!

There's the Resource Network for Linguistic Diversity's channels, but they're more focussed on language maintenance, teaching and revitalization. It's a great place, I think most linguistic fieldworkers should become members (especially if they're working on an endangered language).

Good ol' blogs, still a great way to spread content. There's lots of linguistics blogs out there (we made a longer list here) but here are some that are more devoted to current research:
Twitter for research news? Isn't that where celebs and journalists go to shout at each other? Actually, there are research news - muddled in with the shouting. In a study in the journal Nature they found, based on quite few informants, that more scientists use twitter to share content than other social media platforms. Here are some that I follow and that post about research:
If you liked this post..

Monday, January 11, 2016

Linguistics at Down Under National Youth Science Forum

Representing linguistics at science forum, some links and photos. Material to inspire those interesting in linguistics and perhaps also useful things to other linguists thinking of doing the same thing.

Colleagues and I at the Centre (of Excellence) for Language Dynamics, and from linguistics at the College of Asia-Pacific and College of Arts and Social Sciences at Australian National University have recently been involved in representing linguistics at the Down Under National Youth Science Forum. It's organised by Rotary Down Under (Australia, Solomons, Papua New Guinea, Tonga, Samoa, New Caledonia, Fiji, Vanuatu, Nauru, Norfolk, American Samoa and New Zealand) and is taking place here in Canberra where I live.

Lots of high school students attended, mainly from Australia and New Zealand, and they were very enthusiastic, to say the least :)! We got lots of clever questions and reflections, we were much impressed with the students. This was the first time linguistics was covered in this Science Forum, and we think it went very well and hope that the students enjoyed it too!

We did a lab visit - a series of short introductory talks - and participated in a "speed date a scientist" event.
Yours truly talking with hands. Photographer: Evana Ho

Lab visit

Speed Dating a Scientist
Alexandra Marley and Hedvig Skirgårdat the speed date a scientist event.
(The students had not arrived on the lower one.) Photos from my insta.

At the speed dating event we were four linguist attending The most common question was of course "how many languages do you speak?" which is an issue we've covered earlier in more detail here and that I should perhaps take up again.

They also asked about the future of language on the planet, hardest language to learn, linguistic relativism and other interesting topics. If you want to know more, ask us :)!

We got other questions as well, and the students were very sweet and interested. It was an unusual, but fun event. We only got 10 minutes with each group of students, but in that time you do get to cover a lot of stuff if you're keen!

If you're interested in linguistics or looking to do something similar, might I recommend these posts?

Also check out the tag "Current Linguistic Research" and the slides from the lab visit.

If you're a secondary school student anywhere in the world, do check out the International Linguistics Olympiad and see if you can compete!

P.S. My native language is not English and I'm not very comfortable with the "science" = "natural sciences" idea that seems prevalent in anglophone societies. If you want to have a longer discussion of why linguistics is a science, we could, but basically just consider that if you apply the scientific method to a study object you are doing science regardless of what the study object is. 

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Illustrating language history

This image illustrates the situation that any researchers trying to understand and reconstruct the past of a current situation with related tokens faces - be it in biology, linguistics or another field. Only a sliver, a slice of time is available to us and from that we try to go back and reconstruct relationships.

What's nice about this picture is the branches reaching across (C), thus appearing close to others (B) in that slice of time, but actually it's genealogically related to another further away token (F). It does not really illustrate horizontal influence, i.e languages (in our case) becoming similar due to contact - unless you consider the closeness across the x & z-axis', like with C & B.

Also, notice the branches that don't make it all the way up, the extinct species/languages/etc.

I saw this image for the first time in a presentation by Fiona Jordan and liked it a lot. It's originally from Strickberger (1990), who adapted the illustration from Levin (1979). Thanks @spliceovlyf on twitter for the detective work in tracking that down!

I hope you also find it illustrative and inspirational.

Levin, D.A. (1979) Hybridization: An evolutionary perspective. Stroudsburg, PN: Dowden, Hutchinson & Ross

Strickberger, M.W. (1990): Evolution. Jones and Bartlett, Boston.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

A list of free online tutorials and manuals - Praat, ELAN, R, and FLEx

This post has been made into a "page" available at the top menu. Updates will be made there for your convenience.

As per a request for a list of free online introductory tutorials and manuals for several linguistic oriented software programs, I here by present, from the frozen depths of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada, a list of free introductory tutorials and manuals for Praat, ELAN, R, and a bit on FLEx. I haven’t read them all, but I’ve found some to be very useful over the years. I’ve also shamelessly plugged a few of my own. Please feel free to add to/ remove and/ or modify the listings!

Using Praat for linguistic research – good tutorial by Will Styler
Praat short tutorial by: Pascal van Lieshout
Yes, that's a mouth and an ear
Praat Tutorial and Resources – Jean-Philippe Goldman
Speech analysis using PRAAT – Pranav Jawale
Praat scripting basics – Florian Jaeger
Praat scripting – Antje Schweitzer
PRAAT a tutorial – Ally Esteban

The official ELAN manual – Maddalena Tacchetti
ELAN linguistic annotator – Birgit Hellwig et al
Basic ELAN tutorial for MAC users – Mischa Park-Doob
Aligning Text to Audio and Video Using ELAN – Andrea Berez and Joye Kiester
ELAN 1 course from COLANG 2014 – Nicole Rosen and Jesse Stewart
ELAN 2 course from COLANG 2014 – Jesse Stewart and Nicole Rosen

R for linguistic applications

Mixed effects model statistics
The not so beginner’s manual to lme4: Mixed-effects modeling with R – Douglas Bates


Vowel charts in R – Jesse Stewart
Tutorial: ggplot2 – Ramon Saccilotto
Cookbook for R – O’Reilly

FLEx 1 course from COLANG 2014 - Nathan Eversole and Juliet Morgan

The LaTeX for Linguists Home Page - Doug Arnold

Regular Expressions
egerp for linguists (Unix based) - Nikolaj Lindberg

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Slides on top-8 languages with most native speakers and foundational research questions in linguistics

I'm making slides for a introductory linguistics presentation for secondary school students, thought you guys might like these three.

This first one is a bit complicated. In the square to the left you see the ranking of languages and macrolanguages by native speakers, according to Ethnologue 2015. To the right you see what happens if we ignore macrolanguages entirely. 

The numbers are in millions of speakers. They're from here.  (Since English is so prevalent, the name of that language is in IPA to be more fun.)

It's really easy to get your hands on these kinds of numbers, and for more well-known languages Ethnologue stats are more reliable than for lesser known. Yes, I do complain about Ethnologue but for purposes like this I think it's alright to use their data.

"Macrolanguage" is a term to help different language code standards map to each other. For example in one of the standards "Chinese" is counted as 1 language whereas in another it's divided up into multiple smaller languages. (This is mainly about ISO 639-2 and ISO 639-3.) It sometimes reflects what people think of as a larger cultural sphere, but not always. Here's the list.

Infographics of this kind of data are really popular, why not explore the set yourself and make some on your own?

More posts on population statistics and language classification

Other posts about deep research questions of linguistics

I am not in charge of how Ethnologue divides upp varieties into languages. To complain about the population stats, go here. To complain about the segmentation of varieties into languages, go here.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Feeling bummed about the Ethnologue pay-wall? Cheer yourself up with these freely accessible resources

Lists, lists, lists & posts 
- we've  got lists and posts to make you happy!!
The Ethnologue might be instituting restrictions, but many other parts of linguistics - especially documentation and descriptive, is getting more and more open!
Also; why not indulge yourself in some of the other resources SIL has produced and that are accessible freely? Such as:

  • Online Dictionaries of the World - Webonary
  • Linguistics Glossaries (English only & French/English), 
  • All of their fieldworks programs and support (including FLEx which has basically replaced toolbox)
  • Doulos SIL  - IPA font 

  • You can read more about the resources of SIL International here.

    Now, doesn't that feel a lot better now? Better about SIL, better about linguistics. Just better. Dancing is permitted.

    P.S. For those who wondered, the lady with the big bow is Kyary Pamyu Pamyu and she's a J-Pop star and very good. Want to know more about the usage of reaction gifs (them moving images there), go look what fellow linguist Gretchen McCulloch says on AllThingsLinguistic (here and here).

    Saturday, January 2, 2016

    Immigrant languages in Ethnologue

    More Ethnologue-facts, it seemed relevant.

    Ethnologue makes a distinction between languages spoken indigenously in a country and immigrant languages. They define immigrant languages in the following manner:

    Immigrant languages. Immigrant languages are categorized as such if they are spoken by relatively recently arrived or transient populations which do not have a well-established, multi-generational community of language users in the country. Population estimates, if known, are shown in parentheses immediately following the language name. These languages do not have a separate language entry in the language listings for the country and are not included in the language counts for the country. Given the transitory nature of these populations and the difficulty in obtaining up-to-date information, this listing may be incomplete. Updated information on immigrant languages is welcomed.

    It is not clear to me that any other resource that exists or might come to exist on speaker/signer populations would use this distinction, it seems hard to apply. I'm to go and read Ulrich Ammon's work on statistics of the languages of the world soon, I'll let you know how he deals with the matter. (I'm more keen on how he draws the line between native and non-native speakers (see related post here), but then heritage and immigrant status usually plays in there.)

    When you view the list of languages for a country page on Ethnologue, you only see those classified as "indigenous". Same goes for when you go to a language page and see where it's spoken, again only "indigenous". To see the counts of immigrant languages you have to look under the label "immigrant languages" on the front page of the country, or subtract the sum of the populations in countries listed for the language from the total population.

    Example: Samoan in New Zealand is classified as an immigrant language. It is not visible in the list of languages for New Zealand, nor in the countries where Samoan is spoken at the language's page. It is however listed at the front page of the New Zealand country page. If we subtract the populations in Samoa + American Samoa from the total speaker population, we find out that the "diaspora" is 157,557. If we look at the front page of New Zealand, we see a count of  86,400 Samoan speakers in the country.

    Find any of these classifications problematic? For example: should German, Norwegian and Dutch be indigenous to USA just like Plautdietsch? To complain, go here.

    For your entertainment and enlightenment, here is the top-10 countries with most languages spoken as "immigrant".

    United States216206
    United Kingdom1343
    Russian Federation10535

    And now I've run out of free views for the month, oh well. Copied and saved down the countries statistics, so I'm good for a while.

    Friday, January 1, 2016

    Clarifying points on Ethnologue pay-wall and language codes

    As many of our readers know, the great catalogue of the worlds languages Ethnologue has instituted a paywall. In the wake of this, there's been a lot of discussion at various venues about what this means, about SIL International and languages codes in general. I've been following and participating in these discussions, and I thought I'd share some points that might clarify things a bit and improve discussions and general understanding of these issues. Please have a read through these points and the statements Ethnologue and SIL International has done themselves if you want to get into the discussions.

    Jump the basics if you know them.

    First some basics
    Ethnologue is a product from SIL International. It started in 1951 and is now on its 18th edition. A new edition will from now on be coming out every year in North American Spring, i.e. relatively soon. Ethnologue features information on languages, in particular population stats, alternative names, genealogies and endangerment level. You can also access statistics on countries.

    Ethnologue is often used by the academic community for basic information on languages and access to the ISO 639-3 code. It is also used by the non-academic community, such as governments and commercial industry. For a statement by Ethnologue on how it should not be used in these settings, see their post here.

    SIL International is a faith-based organisation dedicated to language development, in particular of threatened languages. They're the published of Ethnologue and many more resources, and registration authority for ISO 639-3 for language names. The aim of SIL is (from this financial statement): 
    • To train linguists.
    • To sponsor such linguists in their study of languages, especially less known and unwritten languages. 
    • To make available the data gathered by linguists through publication or other means.
    • To publish resource materials for persons engaged in linguistic research.
    • To prepare literature, both by original composition and by translation into the languages studied.
    • To promote literacy among the people who speak the languages studied
    • To train people to promote literacy, and prepare literature in their own languages. 
    Despite being faith-based they are not missionary and state that they limit [their] focus of service to language development work. SIL does not engage in proselytism, establish churches or publish Scriptures. Their partner and main funder though, Wycliffe, is missionary and publishes scripture.

    According to their financial statements, SIL International revenue mainly comes from Wycliffe Global Alliance which is an openly Christian missionary organisation who wants to spread the word of God around the world. Unless I am poor at reading financial statements (which I very well could be) there is virtually no funding from academic funding schemes like research councils or private research funding enterprises (like how Volkswagen sponsors DOBES for example). On their site, SIL states that:

    Resources for the work of SIL are provided primarily by individuals and organizations interested in their work. In addition, for many of its larger projects, SIL seeks grants from a variety of other sources, both public and private. Less than one percent of its income derives from any sort of government source.

    SIL International and Wycliffe also collaborate and share resources.

    SIL’s work is carried out primarily by over 4,000 individuals, many of whom are recruited and supported by organizations which participate in Wycliffe Bible Translators International, Inc.  (from this financial statement)

    Ethnologue and Wycliffe are interesting enterprises in that they seek to carry out what they deem is
    the best actions as dictated by their religion in an at least partially non-religious academic context.

    *Post-published addition*
    Just to be clear, no other organisation or university has contributed as much to language description as SIL International. As an illustration: 2,694 references in Glottolog have "SIL" in the publishers's field. Descriptive and diversity linguistics is greatly indebted to the work of SIL International. That does not mean they are above critique, but that credit should be placed where credit is due.

    You can read more about the history of SIL on Wikipedia and on their website (historyabout & financial statements).

    Clarifying points

    About the pay-wall
    About ISO 639-3
    Beyond Ethnologue - where else can we go?
    Personally, several of the functions that Ethnologue provides I can get elsewhere. The main use I have of Ethnologue is looking up population stats, but that can also be done elsewhere (census etc) - it's just a bit more cumbersome. As for other the other functions...
    What I will miss is some calculations and summaries that Ethnologue or a resource that is Glottolog + population stats could provide, like the Greenberg Diversity Index. Ethnologue also lists populations in different countries and classifies the communities as either "indigenous" or "immigrant", which can be informative sometimes.

    More reading
    I'd like to recommend a few posts from here and elsewhere discussing these issues that I think will prove most enlightening. If you're curious about these topics, definitely go look at this. You can also check out the tag for posts about Ethnologue here.
    All the best now,
    Power User of Ethnologue
    John Oliver of Typology

    P.S. Just to be clear, I'm not employed by SIL International and never have been. Just like how I like to keep track of things going on in generative research despite not being a generativst myself, I also like to understand SIL:s work despite not being Christian or working at SIL.