Showing posts from February, 2015

If only descriptions listed all allophones of each phoneme..

I'm at a workshop and made a little doodle that I thought y'all might like, it expresses my inner desirers if I was ever to move from grammatical typology to phonological typology.  Phonology is the study of which sounds in languages are used to distinguish meaning, phonemes are the sounds that make a difference in meaning. Phonemes don't have sounds, they are multiple sounds with distinctive boundaries to other phonemes - other sets of sounds. A phone is the individual instance of sound. Allophones are all the phones that together make up a phoneme. Phoneme typically have one phone that is the most frequent and is used as shorthand for the entire set. For example, in Swedish [s] and [z] are allophones of the same phoneme, but we usually represent this set by [s] because it is the most common one. However, when we compare to for example English where [s] and [z] are very different animals, in fact so different that a change in them creates a change in meaning - i

New map for Ethnologue and Internationella Modersmålsdagen!

The 21st of February is International Mothertoungue Day! Vilket betyder att resten av detta inlägg blir på svenska. Ethnologen har nyligen producerat en interaktiv karta över levande språk i deras katalog och de postade den igen idag på sin Facebooksida dagen till ära. G å och klicka runt på deras karta här!  Kom alltid ihåg att Ethnologue har en annorlunda klassifikation av hur hotat ett språk är än UNESCO, deras karta kan du hitta här. Copyright © 2015 SIL International Nu är det bara 10 minuter kvar av lördag här hos mig, så nu postar jag innan internationella modersmålsdagen är över.

On the topic of standardising linguistic terminology, pt 2

(Pt1 is a longer text guiding to different resources of linguistic terminology and some of the issues that I bring up here, you can read it here. I continuously update that text, please take care with dates.) This is a topic that comes up often when one talks to typologists, descriptivists and database-minded people (and frustrated linguistics students) so I thought I'd get back on it again and share some thoughts. Recently this topic has been popping up very often for me, I've for example been talking about it with Bettina Klimek of Agile Knowledge Engineering and Semantic Web (AKSW) in Leipzig, and now just recently with Asya Pereltsvaig of Standford and the excellent site Languages of the World . This is an interesting topic to me and very dear to my heart. Having read grammars and tried to fill in typological questionnaires all these issues become much more clear and concrete - it's even one of the reasons we started this blog in the first place. I'm thankful

Come join #lingwiki 2! Living in ACT? Even better!

Interested in improving articles on linguistics on wikipedia? Join in  a collaborative editing session sometime during 28-29th of March . It doesn't matter where you are, you can participate online or at one of the meet-ups that will be happening.  If you're a linguist living in the ACT area in Australia and want to edit together on Saturday the 28th, get in touch with Hedvig by filling in this form right here ! Don’t know how to edit Wikipedia, don’t know what to write? Don't worry, there will be instructional material provided and suggested topics. If you go to a meet-up you'll get even more help. Wikipedia is often the first go-to place for an overview of a topic, and as such it is what represents our field to the public, other researchers, other students and also potential future students. Wikipedia is a collaborative enterprise, it is what we make it. There are many surprisingly good articles on topics on linguistics on wikipedia, but many are also lacking

Illustrating current questions in research on linguistic diversity

In relation to the previous post about the grand challenges of current research in linguistics  I'd like to bring up four questions that are currently the focus of much contemporary research in linguistic diversity, and then illustrate them with maps. They are as follow: Why are there so many languages in some places and few in others? Why do some languages have more internal variation than others? Why are there so many language families and isolates in some places and not in others? Why are languages in certain areas so similar to each other despite not being related to each other, whereas other languages that are in contact are less similar?  What is the possible design space of language and why do languages cluster in that space the way they do?  To illustrate these questions I'd like to present you with a series of maps.  I really recommend you reading this post here about things to think about when you're reading maps of languages. First some pre

The Grand Challenges of Current Linguistics: what would you list?

At the SLE conference (Societas Linguistica Europaea) in Poznań 2014 there was a round table discussion on where current linguistics is heading and what the most important problems are that we as a file need to tackle. It was called "Quo vadis linguistics in the 21st century" and the participants were very interesting and experienced researchers.  I'd like to share some of my own thoughts and invite you to share yours with us. The brilliant blog Diversity Linguistics Comment made a longer post where you can read what the all participants presented, what they see as the most important issues right now . It is a very good read, and not that long. Anyone interested in linguistics should read and really take in what these people are saying. One of the participants didn't contribute a text to that compilation blog post, instead he contributed with a video. This is t he excellent linguist Martin Hilpert  of  University of Neuchâtel. He makes videos regularly on hi

Typology as a method - not an area of study

I feel like this Sunday deserves a good quote for some additional food-for-thought before the next week sets in. This time it's an quite old quote by Dahl, as he's talking about quirks of Standard Average European he first declares something that I find to be very true: I have regarded typology as a method rather than as an area of study in its own right: it is one of several ways to find out about the nature of human language  [ free PDF of paper here ] As we're prusuing knowledge about what human languages are, can be and what limitations there are of that design space, we can ask many questions that can be answered by different methods - one of them is systematic cross-linguistic comparison - typology. Other questions are more suitable to be dealt with by studying the acquisition of language, or the mapping of language use and the brain, or the history of languages etc. References Dahl, Östen (1990) Standard Average European as an exotic language. In Toward a ty

Are these linguistic features of languages really interesting to correlate, or are the similarities muddled by shared family history or contact?

Seán Roberts and James Winters have produced some nice illustrations on the so called Galton's problem in linguistics. T his problem, as it applies to linguistic can be formulated like so: How do we know that a set of features in languages are correlated independently from shared genealogy or contact? Some might ask: why is this even a problem? Well, if we are aiming to understand language as the human capacity that we've had for 100 000+ years and all over the world, and all the great diversity that we have and the possible design-space of language (what the limits are for what language can be) - and why the ones we have data on (the living ones today and a few dead ones) cluster the way they do in that design-space: then we'd like to know which variables and data points are dependent and independent, so that we can understand the reality and what is probable to effect it. Now, that being said: correlations that are dependent of family or contact are not uninteres

#lingwiki 2

There will a second collaborative editing session of linguistic related topics on wikipedia. You can read Gretchen's report on the last one here  and some info about #lingwiki on our blog here . It's once again being coordinated by brilliant Gretchen McCulloch from Allthingslinguistic . I'll spread some information form her onwards to you now: It will take place the last weekend in March, the 28th-29th. We'll have a peak 3-hour online window between 11pm-2am GMT (that's 7pm-10pm US-EST Saturday aka 7-10am Sunday Singapore time,  10am-1pm Australian EDT, 6pm-9pm US-CST, 4pm-7pm US-PST. To create a larger timespan for you personally to edit in, just start earlier, continue later, or a little bit of both, whatever's comfortable for your timezone and preferred sleeping habits! If the peak window doesn't work for you at all, also feel free to edit any time on the weekend of March 28-29. We'll be using and keeping track of the #lingwiki hashtag. Regardl

Exciting research on what happens when deaf people who use different sign languages have to communicate!

Kang-Suk Byun of MPI Nijmegen is currently in India researching cross-signing, it's super cool! Go check out this video here where he explains more. Sign language is the coolest, sign language typology and contact phenomena are even more the coolest.

When people talk about turn taking

It's been such seriousness here lately, it's time for some scientifically motivated gifs! Whenever people talk about turn taking (the switching of who's speaking in a conversation) and in particular the acquisition of this skill, I can't help but think of the talking twin babies of the you tubes . They are an excellent example of the fact that turn-taking is something that we as beginner humans do and practice on before learning "words". Go watch the video  and you'll see what I mean, those are some highly competent conversational partners. Or just try and make a sound or a sign to a baby and watch it evaluated the turns in the conversation and preform very well. How does turn-taking relate to diversity and description you might ask? Well, we know far to little about the acquisition of non WEIRD-languages  and this is a very, very important part of understanding language, both at the specific level and the comparative. Do languages have co

Are you a linguistics student who want to learn statistics?

I'm suspecting that there are students of linguistics reading this blog, as well as graduated linguistics and non-academic language enthusiastic. Well, if you are a linguist and want to learn statistics you might want to check out this book that is available for free online.  I love me some freely available good stuff, and even though this is an old work it's still a very good introduction. You should be reading newer literature too, but if you're just looking to get started this is an easy way to get moving. I actually used this book more than the literature I bought and payed for during my introduction to linguistics. It does not have the most recent and updated methods, but many things are still valid and relevant.

WEIRD and LOL-languages

We've heard before about WEIRD languages and communities, i.e W estern E ducated I ndustrialised R ich and D emocratic. The point of that label is to highlight the fact that much of the research that has been done in the study of human culture (psychology, linguistics, anthropology, sociology etc) is only representative for a small subset of all humans that live on this planet of ours. Most notably there is currently the " Making Science Less WEIRD"-initiative , you can read more about that and other related items  here . Now, prof. emeritus Östen Dahl has come up with a new useful abbreviation: LOL. It stands for L iterate, O ffcial and with L ots of users. I learned this from reading the abstracts of the last linguistics conference at the dept of linguistics at MPI-EVA . Here is an excerpt from that abstract that explains the motivation behind this term: I think, however, that we may also be led a bit astray by the catchy acronym WEIRD in that the adjectives it en

Goodbye to Linguistics at MPI-EVA and current research

In Leipzig there is the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology (MPI-EVA). There is a linguistics department there and their director is Bernard Comrie. He is now retiring and the department is closing down. This department has been very, very important in the research field of linguistic typology (systematic cross-linguistic comparison). I cannot begin list all their contributions, why don't you just have a look here ? Perhaps you've heard of WALS ? In honour of the department's history and also to discuss the future of research into linguistic diversity they are organising  a closing conference this spring: Diversity Linguistics: Retrospects and Prospects.  They're inviting former and current researchers of the department to come and present their work. If you are interested in linguistics and want to know more about current research in linguistic typology/diversity linguistics then go have a look at  the abstracts of this conference.  Looking at abstr

"Just Thinking..." #2: what if some isolates are old creoles?

I was just thinking.. What if some isolates are old creoles?  If there are really old creoles around, would we not first classify them as isolates? Or as "really weird and simplified members" of their main lexifier's genealogical group? How would we know that they are old creoles if we don't have the sociohistorical context? I was talking to my friend Abbie Hantgan the other day, she's worked on an isolate language called Bangime [ bang1363, dba ] and we got to thinking. What if Bangime is an old Dogon lexified creole? What if this is true of more isolates? Very often we know about the existence of contact languages because we know the socio-historical context of their creation. But that type of knowledge doesn't go back that far, and there is no reason to assume that there weren't contact languages before that. So how do we recognise languages that are old creoles? If we didn't know better perhaps we've been classifying them as isolates

Join the tribe of people making linguistics online better

The people behind Ethnologue recently did a blog post where they talk about the upcoming new edition*. They also write: We're really grateful for the Ethnologue staff here and for contributors and commenters all around the world who point out many things that need to be fixed--may their tribe increase! In case you didn't know, you can contribute with feedback to the Ethnologue that they will take into consideration for future editions. Other similar sites also have methods for you to contribute, so I thought I'd do a brief post about how you can contribute to making linguistics on the internets better. I'll cover four different resources that you can contribute to and make a difference. This is especially relevant if you are doing research on a specific language or set of languages that is not well described (i.e. practically most languages). You can contribute with your specialised in-depth knowledge about what sets your language apart form the neighbours, what