Friday, January 17: Hannah Sande (Georgetown)

Please join us for a meeting of the Language Variation & Change workshop, Friday, January 17, at 3:30-5pm in Rosenwald 301.

Cross-word nasal harmony in Ebrié
Hannah Sande, Georgetown University

I present data collected with three speakers of Ebrié (Kwa) in Côte d’Ivoire in Summer 2019 showing a cross-word nasal harmony process that affects both consonants and vowels: [àká ɓà lé ɓá], ‘Aka will not come’; [à̃ mà̃ né̃ má̃], ‘She will not come’. I demonstrate that 1) only certain morphemes containing nasal features can trigger cross-word harmony, and 2) nasal spreading can be blocked by phonological obstacles as well as syntactic or prosodic ones. I also present a series of unanswered questions regarding the Ebrié data. Lexical models of phonology evaluate words or sub-word units, with only exceptionless ‘post-lexical’ phonology applying after words have been concatenated. Such models struggle to account for phrasal phonology, or phonological alternations that cross word boundaries, in particular when such phenomena are sensitive to the identity of morphemes present. There have been many phrasal tone processes of this type reported (see Sande et al. 2019 for an overview and analysis), though very few cross-word segmental processes are attested. Word-based models cannot account for the Ebrié type of morpheme-specific cross-word phonology, so I propose that a prosodic or phase-based spell-out approach be adopted instead.

Friday, December 6: Jessica Kantarovich (UChicago)

Please join us for a meeting of the Language Variation & Change workshop this Friday, December 6, at 3:30-5pm in Rosenwald 301. A light reception will follow.

Argument structural variation in a shifting linguistic community: Findings from a controlled production study of Chukchi
Jessica Kantarovich, University of Chicago

Speakers in endangered language communities often evidence considerable variation, but how should we best analyze linguistic differences among speakers with highly diverse experiences acquiring and using their language? What are the potential sources of this variation, and is it possible to attribute different linguistic features to these different sources and trace their propagation throughout the community? This study explores these issues among speakers of Chukchi (Chukotko-Kamchatkan) living in two regions in northeastern Siberia. Speakers of varying backgrounds and proficiency–including fluent speakers, attriting speakers, L2 learners, and speakers with interrupted acquisition–were asked to participate in a controlled production study that targeted their argument structural flexibility in constructing different types of sentences. Participants were shown pictures with predetermined words (in citation form) and asked to produce appropriate sentences. (The task was relatively free and participants were allowed to produce as many different sentences as they saw fit, provided the same or similar words were used.) The stimuli differed according to the following conditions: verbal valency (intransitive, transitive, ditransitive), semantic roles of the arguments (agent, patient, beneficiary, instrument, location), and argument animacy (animate vs. inanimate). I will report on preliminary findings from the study, focusing on differences in semantic role assignment, voice (and use of valency-changing operations), and verbal/nominal inflection. Feedback from attendees will be greatly appreciated!

Week 2 (17 Jan): Hannah Sande, Georgetown University
Week 3 (24 Jan): Robert Lewis, UChicago
Week 5 (7 Feb): Constantine Nakassis, UChicago
Week 6 (14 Feb): Jonathan Rosa, Stanford (joint meeting with Semiotics: Culture in Context)
Week 7 (21 Feb): Elena Bashir, UChicago
Week 8 (28 Feb): Tracy Conner, UC Santa Barbara
Week 9 (6 Mar): Betsy Pillion, UChicago

Friday, November 15: Christopher Bloechl (UChicago)

Please join us for a meeting of the Language Variation & Change workshop this Friday, November 8, at 3:30-5pm in Rosenwald 301. A light reception will follow.

How de-Castilianized is this Maya? Bilingualism and the emerging Yucatec Maya standard
Christopher Bloechl, University of Chicago

This talk describes a feature of standardized Yucatec Maya that would appear to be at odds with the linguistic prescriptions of the register’s users. Yucatec Maya educators, authors, and media professionals typically avoid using Spanish loans that are in common usage among vernacular speakers. And yet, I explain, the de-Castilianized register is shaped extensively by conventions of Spanish grammar and discourse. Standardized Yucatec Maya employs a variety of syntactic and pragmatic calques of Spanish constructions that are motivated not simply by linguistic purism, but rather by the Spanish-Maya bilingualism of the register’s architects and users. While the calques facilitate Yucatec Maya’s entrance into discursive domains historically dominated by Spanish, they also reveal a noteworthy (and less noticeable) process of Castilianization at work amid the ongoing de-Castilianization of the language. Charting the process helps us account for formal differences between the standardized and vernacular registers, and the social differences with which they are linked.

Friday, November 8: Christopher Ball (University of Notre Dame)

Please join us for a meeting of the Language Variation & Change workshop this Friday, November 8, at 3:30-5pm in Rosenwald 301. A light reception will follow.

The past is upriver: Documenting Wauja (Xingu Arawak) ecologies of language in Brazil
Christopher Ball, University of Notre Dame

This talk describes the aims and methods of an ongoing multiyear collaborative language documentation project in the Xingu Indigenous Park, Brazil. The project is focused on audiovisual documentation of place names and narratives that speakers of Wauja, an Arawak language, associate with specific places in the riverscape that they inhabit. One goal of the project is to create an interactive digital map of Wauja territory to archive Wauja linguistic narrative data about Wauja places. Another goal is to ethnographically locate discursive acts of naming and narration in their cosmopolitical and historical contexts. Wauja people’s historical movement along the Tamitatoala River is generally upstream (South) and runs in the opposite direction of the narrated flow of mythic protagonists downstream (North) along the same river. Recently, Wauja have made forays upriver and founded a new village near their mythical origin site. Wauja are actively involved in demarcating this site that sits outside of the park and that is unprotected by the state. By emphasizing the ritual and performative aspects of language documentation as a political project, I analyze movement upriver as Wauja movement back in time, in service of Wauja territorial futures.

Friday, October 21: Fieldwork Recap (Ömer Eren, Corinne Kasper, & Jessica Kantarovich)

Please join us for our yearly Fieldwork Recap, hosted by the Language Variation & Change workshop, Friday, October 25 at 3:30pm, in Rosenwald 301. A light Halloween-themed reception will follow.

Ömer Eren, Corinne Kasper, and Jessica Kantarovich will talk about their ongoing fieldwork on Laz, Potawatomi, and Chukchi. Fieldwork recaps provide members of the department an opportunity to share best practices, parse logistics and ethics, and discuss the triumphs and struggles of working in the field. We welcome attendance from students interested in starting a field project of their own, or from anyone interested in seeing the range of work pursued within the department.

Friday, October 15: Michał Paradowski (University of Warsaw)

Please join us for a meeting of the Language Variation & Change workshop, this Friday, October 18 at 3:30pm, in Rosenwald 301. Light refreshments will be served.

Language is complex, not complicated…and what it shares in common with seemingly unrelated phenomena
Michał B. Paradowski, University of Warsaw

A growing body of 21st-century research has sought to integrate methods and techniques from disparate fields of science. Knowledge from different disciplines has been harnessed to address both long-standing and novel questions stemming from more recent topics of study. Inter- and transdisciplinary perspectives have been on the rise, given their potential for mutual inspiration and innovative cross-fertilisation of ideas. The talk will draw on several diverse phenomena from the biological world that can find parallels in language, and thus successfully inspire both entirely novel and extension studies. In the process I will also bring forth the results of our own research projects whose starting point has been a complex systems perspective on language phenomena.

Saturday, October 12: Hilaria Cruz (University of Louisville)

Please join us for the first meeting of the Language Variation & Change workshop of the 2019-20 academic year. We ask you to note the exceptional time and location: Saturday, October 12 at 3:30pm, on the third floor of Ida Noyes (1212 E 59th St, Chicago, IL 60637).

Professor Cruz’s lecture is the last event in a wonderful weekend of programming observing the United Nations’ proclamation of 2019 as the International Year of Indigenous Languages. Please feel free to join us on Friday from 9:30am onwards for a celebration of indigenous language, food, dance, poetry, and activism.

Native & Non-Native Indigenous Languages in Chicago: Plenary
Hilaria Cruz, University of Louisville

A language with printed books and materials is empowered with an additional dimension in which the language can exist, be promoted, and shared beyond the oral language. Printed materials for early reading enhances self-esteem, promotes intellectual growth, builds one’s reading level, and elevates the status of the language in the eye of dominant language speakers. In my talk, I will share my experiences working with university students to create and publish children’s books in indigenous languages, with no translation into a dominant language. Books have been published in the Chatino language spoken in Mexico, Ojibwe spoken in the Great Lakes, and Hupa spoken in California. In addition to adding in a rapid manner much-needed materials for reading in endangered languages, these books also open opportunities for community dialogue about language loss. Likewise, it offers non-speakers of the endangered language first-hand experience and appreciation of endangered languages.

Week 3 (Oct 18): Michał Paradowski, University of Warsaw
Week 4 (Oct 25): Fieldwork Recap ft. Ömer Eren, Corinne Kasper, & Jessica Kantarovich
Week 6 (Nov 8): Christopher Ball, University of Notre Dame
Week 7 (Nov 15): Christopher Bloechl, University of Chicago
Week 10 (Dec 6): Jessica Kantarovich, University of Chicago

Friday, May 24: Daniel Lam (UChicago)

Please join us for the final meeting of the Language Variation & Change workshop of the 2019-20 academic year. Daniel Lam will be presenting on his research this Friday, May 24 at 3:30pm, in Rosenwald 301.

Determiner-noun fusion in Haitian Creole: A statistical learning perspective
Daniel Lam, UChicago

Since its inception, creole linguistics has been divided by a question central to the field: Does the emergence of creole languages follows the same path as so-called “full-fledged” languages? Hoping to contribute to answering this question, I examine a phenomenon found in most French-based creoles: determiner-noun fusion (DNF). DNF is defined as the instance whereby a combination of a determiner (or part of it) and a noun in the lexifier language, most commonly French, is analyzed in the Creole language as a noun of identical or similar meaning as its nominal etymon. DNF has been historically explained principally as reflecting the influence of the Bantu substrate (Baker, 1984; Strandquist 2005). However, Bonami and Henri (2015) show that DNF in Mauritian Creole (MC) can be predicted by a combination of factors, some of which stretch beyond substrate influence, such as gross frequency of the etymon noun and collocational frequency of the etymon determiner-noun pairing. Here, I show that the pattern of DNF in Haitian Creole (HC) supports their finding and furthermore, is consistent with the literature on statistical learning in word segmentation. Specifically, backward transitional probabilities between French determiners and nouns are predictive of the DNF pattern in HC. As a result, DNF is a consequence of a general mechanism in word learning, although this does not exclude substrate influence as a contributing factor. Also, the facts do not support the claim that there was “a break of transmission” in creole emergence (McWhorter, 2018) or that only children played a key role in creole creation (Bickerton, 1981; Hudson Kam and Newport, 2005).

Friday, May 3: Hannah McElgunn (UChicago)

Please join us for a meeting of the Language Variation & Change workshop, this Friday, April 12 at 3:30pm, in Rosenwald 301.

Number, animacy, and inalienability in Hopi possessive constructions
Hannah McElgunn, UChicago

This talk is a first attempt to understand the interaction between number and animacy in Hopi possessive constructions in relation to Smith-Stark’s (1974) plurality split. According to the Hopi Dictionary, which documents the Third Mesa dialect, inanimate nouns are not marked for number, while animate nouns are. But number marking on possessed animate nouns appears to depend on their inalienability from the speaker. So, domestic animals tend to be marked for singular, dual, and plural, but kin relations tend to be marked only for singular or non-singular. I write “tend to”, because the neat picture in the dictionary is complicated by speakers of three other Hopi dialects. Although in some cases the speakers I have worked with appear to contradict the dictionary, the number marking they express on animate nouns is predictable from the way they mark inanimate nouns.

Friday, April 26: Marlyse Baptista (Michigan)

Please join us for a meeting of the Language Variation & Change workshop, this Friday, April 26 at 3:30pm, in Rosenwald 301.

Modeling dynamic processes of language emergence in creole genesis
Marlyse Baptista, Jinho Baik, Ken Kollman, and Alton Worthington
University of Michigan

This paper features an agent-based model of language creation and acquisition that may offer insights into dynamic processes, such as transfer, feature recombinations (Mufwene, 2001, 2008; Aboh, 2015) convergence and language shift, believed to be in part responsible for the emergence of creole languages. Our primary purpose is to provide a conceptual framework that allows us to examine hypothetical scenarios of creole genesis. Indeed, creolists agree that a creole’s lexicon originates from its superstrate but no consensus has emerged so far with respect to the source of creoles’ grammatical features. Competing theories of creole genesis are based on assumptions that they involve processes of second language acquisition (Chaudenson, 2001; Mufwene, 2001), or interlanguages (Plag, 2008), or relexification (Lefebvre, 1988) or language creation (Baker, 1996) or simply feature recombinations (Mufwene, 2001, 2008; Aboh, 2015). In response to these long-standing controversies, we attempt to simulate the kind of linguistic interactions that emerge in a multilingual setting when slaves and colonizers first come in contact by designing an agent-based model that is informed by data from 18th-century Haitian Creole (HC) diachronic texts. These texts which are believed to have been written by different scribes, including literate African slaves and native French speakers, reflect much variation. This variation results in part from the mixing of forms from non-standard varieties of French and possibly Fongbe, a Kwa language assumed to have contributed to the genesis of HC.

In our examination of these diachronic texts, we focused on three functional features of HC: the definite determiner la, negation pa, and plural marking yo. The rationale for selecting these specific features is that they reflect much variation and different degrees of stability, attesting to the various degrees of proficiency that the original scribes had in HC. In these texts, the determiner is highly unstable, occurring either in a pre-nominal (la+N) as in French, postnominal position (N+la) as in HC or preceding and following the noun (la+N+la). In contrast, both negation and plural marking are highly stable, appearing consistently pre-verbally for negation (pa+V) and consistently post-nominally for the plural unbound marker (N+yo), as it does in HC. Such unstable variation suggests that the original scribes, some of whom likely to have been African slaves were subject to pressures to shift or not to shift from their L1 to the L2 patterns.

History plays a crucial role in our agent-based model, in the sense that timing and sequence of events, especially importation of slaves in large numbers, affect the dynamics of language acquisition and creation (Singler, 1996). In a variety of simulations, we experimented with aspects of linguistic interactions between the Fongbe and French populations, altered the dynamics of population change, the pressures towards one language (French), and the degree to which agents in the model were willing or pressured to shift to a new set of linguistic features.

The results from the simulations suggest that unstable features emerge due to ambiguous and contradictory cues from the source languages whereas stable features emerge when no such contradiction is present. This supports aspects of Mufwene (2001, 2008), Aboh (2015), Lefebvre (1988), and Baker (1996).