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).

Friday, April 19: Sali Tagliamonte (Toronto)

Please join us for a meeting of the Language Variation & Change workshop, this Friday, April 19 at 3:30pm, in Rosenwald 301.

Up north there eh?: Fieldwork, variation and explaining (socio)linguistic patterns
Sali A. Tagliamonte, University of Toronto

In this talk, I will offer insights from the Ontario Dialects Project, which has been documenting ways of speaking in Ontario, Canada for over nearly 20 years from the largest city, Toronto, to many different types of communities the wilds of the Near North (e.g., Tagliamonte, 2013; 2014a). In addition to the intrinsic contribution of dialect preservation and documentation, this research provides explicit evidence for language innovation and obsolescence, contact, koinéization, dialect levelling and even has significance outside of linguistics (history, cultural studies, contemporary literature). By reviewing the practicalities, procedures and products of sociolinguistic fieldwork (Tagliamonte, 2007), I hope to show how community-based research can lead to new insights into social and linguistic patterns and thereby more integrated explanations. It can also lead to rich and accessible linguistic materials that are not only of use to linguists but also to the broader population, where there is an abiding interest in language puzzles, whether ancient codes or modern innovations.

Tagliamonte, Sali A. (2007). Representing real language: Consistency, trade-offs and thinking ahead! In Beal, J., Corrigan, K. & Moisl, H. (eds.), Using unconventional digital language corpora: Volume 1 Synchronic corpora. Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan. 205-240.
Tagliamonte, Sali A. (2013). Roots of English: Exploring the history of dialects. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Tagliamonte, Sali A. (2014a). System and society in the evolution of change: The view from Canada. In Green, E. & Meyer, C. (eds.), Variability in Current World Englishes. Berlin and New York: Mouton de Gruyter.

Friday, April 12: Saeed Ahmed Lehri (University of Balochistan)

Please join us for a meeting of the Language Variation & Change workshop, next Friday, April 12 at 3:30pm, in Rosenwald 301. Please see below for our other talks this quarter.

Minor languages of Balochistan & Sindh, with special reference to the Brahui language and its phonetics and phonology
Saeed Ahmed Lehri, University of Balochistan

In this presentation, I will introduce the minor languages of Balochistan and Sindh provinces of Pakistan. However, I will mainly discuss my mother tongue: Brahui, which is an endangered non-Indo-European language. I will give an overview of the characteristics of Brahui (vocabulary, orthography, sounds and sound change, inflection, word order, dialects). My main focus is sounds and sound change. I will also talk briefly about inflection, the plural morpheme, morphophonemic changes, and the formation of adjectives from nouns. Additionally, I will discuss word order, question formation, articles, and postpositions. In connection with sound change, I will describe elision and assimilation. I will also talk about weak and strong forms of pronunciation. Further, I will discuss stress and intonation patterns and rhythm (loudness, length, speeding up, slowing down and silence). I will also discuss how Brahui speakers are themselves contributing to the endangerment of their native language and what can be done to reverse this.

Week 3 (4/19): Sali Tagliamonte (Toronto)
Week 4 (4/26): Marlyse Baptista (Michigan)
Week 5 (5/3): Hannah McElgunn (UChicago)
Week 6 (5/10): no meeting
Week 7 (5/17): CLS 55
Week 8 (5/24): Daniel Lam (UChicago)

Thursday, April 11: Perry Wong (UChicago)

Please join us for a meeting of the Language Variation & Change workshop, next Thursday, April 11 at 4:30pm, in Haskell 101. A reception will follow.

Introducing Mayan from Cunén: Constructing an ethnography from the inside out
Perry Wong, UChicago

Summary: I provide an introduction to the focal site for this study: Cunén, El Quiché, Guatemala. The lead question I develop in this chapter is: If distinct “Mayan languages” and “ethnolinguistic communities” are ideas only recently brought in from the outside, what are the methods and topics for a more realistic project of “language” documentation and description? Borrowing a critical device from a recent Americanist historiographic ethnography (Palmié 2013), I differentially build my own authorial position through a series of illustrated considerations of how not to study “Mayan in Cunén.” The purpose of this critical stance is heuristic and constructive. By revising more familiar “outside in” research perspectives as I introduce them, I begin to chart a complementary movement, from the discursive “inside out.” I offer and exemplify five such framings:

A. While not about “a language” and its diachrony, this study is about changing ideas about “language;”
B. While not a history of a distinct local population, this study is about discursive horizons of societal transformation;
C. While not about distinct “ethnolinguistic communities,” this study is about ongoing dynamics of aggregate migration, settlement, and segregation;
D. While not about synchronic “languages in contact,” this study is about real histories of encounter and (diplomatic) negotiation between people in contact.
E. While not about “a local (language) community,” this study is about the political issues and more general circumstances that have motivated particular people to organize and present themselves as collectivities (or not);

In the process of setting the critical narrative scene for later thematically-organized chapters, I model the ethnographic approach to reporting on the real social life of local discourse that I have adopted. I end with a brief description of logistics and planning in the periodic travel to Cunén that informs this study.

This is a joint meeting with the Semiotics: Culture in Context workshop. For a copy of the paper, please e-mail Rachel Howard (rhoward3@uchicago) or Grigory Gorbun (ggorbun@uchicago).

Friday, March 8: Maria Polinsky (Maryland)

Please join us for our last Language Variation & Change workshop meeting of the quarter, this Friday, March 8th at 3:30 PM in Rosenwald 301. Our speaker will be Maria Polinsky ( Please see below for information about her talk.

The Landscape of Exceptives
Maria Polinsky (University of Maryland, College Park)

Exceptives are constructions that express exclusion, e.g. The New York Times subscription includes daily access to all online content, except the crossword puzzles. The main components of exceptives include a restricted quantifier phrase (all online content in the example above) and the exceptive phrase (except the crossword puzzles in the example above). Researchers recognize two kinds of exceptives: connected and free. In connected exceptives, the exceptive phrase is a nominal modifier attached to the restricted quantifier phrase, as in the example above. In free exceptives, the exceptive phrase is a clause-peripheral clausal modifier expressing an exception to the generalization stated in the main clause (Except (for) the crossword puzzles, the New York Times subscription includes daily access to all online content). I will compare data from English and Russian and use that comparison to argue that free exceptives are not a cross-linguistically uniform syntactic phenomenon. In English, free exceptives (formed with except XP) are derived by clausal ellipsis; the same analysis applies to Russian free exceptives with a conjunction (krome kak). Meanwhile, Russian prepositional exceptives are derived in a different manner, namely as phrasal adjuncts. Given the different possible derivations of free exceptives, it is critical to understand whether the choice between the phrasal and clausal strategies is determined by independent properties of a given language. I present several hypotheses concerning the cross-linguistic distribution of clausal and phrasal free exceptives. I also discuss the relation between exceptive constructions and ellipsis, especially in connection to island violation repairs.

Friday, March 1: Sharese King (UChicago)

Please join us for a meeting of the Language Variation & Change workshop, this Friday, March 1 at 3:30pm, in Rosenwald 301. This workshop coincides with our prospective student visit. A reception will follow.

Who owns the local sound change?
Sharese King, UChicago

Recent work has illustrated considerable regional variation across and within African Americans’ speech communities (Yaeger Dror & Thomas 2010; Wolfram 2007, 2015; Wolfram & Kohn 2015). Observations of regional diversity have come by way of analyses assessing African Americans’ participation in regional sound changes, but these analyses have tended to focus on southern and northern communities. Studies of vocalic variation in western African American communities, especially non-urban areas, remain relatively scant.

This paper examines the vocalic behavior of African Americans in Bakersfield, California, an inland community located south of the state, outside of Los Angeles. The African American community in Bakersfield is much less dense and centralized than the communities found in larger urban areas, with African American Bakersfieldians being dispersed throughout a wider community that is predominantly White. Given that these individuals are situated in a regional context in which the California Vowel Shift (CVS) is exhibited (D’Onofrio 2015; Eckert 2008; Hagiwara 1997; Kennedy & Grama 2012; Podesva et al. 2015), this study investigates the effects of the CVS on the regional variety of African American English (AAE) by focusing on the production vowels with distinct patterns in the CVS and the African American Vowel Shift (Thomas 2007): BAT lowering and retraction, BOOT-, TOO-, and POOL-fronting; and the overlap of LOTTHOUGHT.

The data come from sociolinguistic interviews with 12 Black Bakersfieldians (6 men, 6 women), and 18 White Bakersfieldians (9 women, 9 men). Interviews were transcribed and force-aligned using FAVE aligner, and formant measurements for each vowel token were extracted via Praat script. The results show that while African Americans have taken up some regional patterns (BAT lowering & retraction; BOOT-, TOO-, POOL-fronting), they have rejected others (LOTTHOUGHT merger). Taken together, this suggests that African American Bakersfieldians’ construction of identities can draw on locally-available linguistic resources, prompting us to reconsider the ways in which we define who are users of local sound changes and how the local context gives rise to particular patterns of production among this community of speakers.

Friday, February 15: Ella Karev (UChicago)

Please join us for a meeting of the Language Variation & Change Workshop, this Friday, February 15 at 3:30pm, in Rosenwald 301. A light reception will follow.

Patterns and parallels in Greek orthography of Egyptian names in Late Antiquity
Ella Karev, UChicago

The fifty-two Greek texts in the corpus of papyri from Elephantine are an invaluable source of information for the Late Antique community of the 3rd to the 7th centuries CE. In the publication of the Greek texts by Joel Farber in Bezalel Porten’s comprehensive The Elephantine Papyri in English (1996), the texts are accompanied by a prosopography containing 152 unique names. Of these, 81 (53%) are of discernibly Egyptian origin. Some of these names have known Egyptian antecedents from bilingual documents. However, for those names which do not appear in bilingual documents no reconstruction has been attempted. Despite extensive discussion regarding Greek orthography in general in papyri, Greek orthography of specifically Egyptian names, though touched upon in the 1970s, has since been largely laid by the wayside. Our understanding of Greek orthography of Egyptian names is in desperate need of updating, especially with the advent of databases such as trismegistos, which allow for more accurate analysis of existing documents. This paper employs names with known antecedents in order to set forth the patterns and parallels used in Greek orthography of Egyptian names in the Elephantine corpus. This pattern-mapping will then be used to build a series of orthographical conventions relevant to the corpus. Finally, this paper will make use of those conventions to suggest antecedents for a number of Egyptian names in the corpus with no known antecedents.

Friday, February 8: Laura Horton (UChicago)

Please join us for a meeting of the Language Variation & Change Workshop, this Friday, February 8 at 3:30pm, in Rosenwald 301. Following the talk, please join us for the fieldworkers’ social at the Pub.

Social context and lexical structure in homesign systems
Laura Horton, UChicago

In this talk, I will present an analysis of the relationship between social context and structure in homesign systems. Homesign systems are gestural systems for communicating, created by deaf children and adults who do not have access to a standard sign language and are unable to access the spoken language in their communicative environment as sources of linguistic input. For my dissertation, I collected data from nine child homesigners, four adult homesigners, and some of their hearing friends and family members. All of the participants (N=19) in this study live in or near the town of Nebaj, Guatemala where there is no standard sign language in use.

I analyze signs produced in a lexical elicitation task using two computational measures: a jaccard similarity index – to evaluate formal/semantic overlap in signs produced by signers in contact and signers who have never interacted with each other – and a measure I call “lexical richness” – which captures the distribution of form/meanings in each homesigner’s lexicon. I find that certain patterns of interaction are associated with higher jaccard similarity scores and that homesigners with similar social networks have similar lexical richness scores.