Friday, April 20: Ashwini Deo (OSU)

LVC is pleased to be hosting Ashwini Deo of the Ohio State University this week. (You can learn more about her work at her website:

Her talk will take place this Friday, April 20th at 3:30 pm in Rosenwald 301. Please see below for more information.

I hope you can make it!

“Case syncretism patterns in Indo-Aryan diachrony: Evidence from the Bhili dialect continuum”

Ashwini Deo (Ohio State University)

Indo-Aryan ergativity is aspectually conditioned: the transitive subject, if marked, is marked only in perfective clauses, and verb agreement in most (but not all) such cases, is not with the subject but rather determined by case-marking on the direct object. Existing research has amply noted language-specific variability in overt marking of ergative case on the subject, overt marking of accusative case on the object (differential object marking (DOM)), and concomitant effects on verbal agreement. While Hindi-Urdu presents the best studied system, the systems obtaining in Marathi, Punjabi, Gujarati, Kutchi Gujarati, Nepali, and several dialects of Marathi have also been analyzed (Mahajan 1990, Mohanan 1994, Mistry 1997, Patel-Grosz 2012, a.o. for individual systems, with a comparative treatment in Deo & Sharma 2006).

In this talk, I examine the patterns found in several case-marking systems in the Bhili dialect continuum. Three properties of the relevant paradigms are worth considering:

a. In several systems, there is syncretism between ergative and oblique marking in much of the pronominal and nominal inflectional paradigms (1pl, 2pl, 3sg, 3pl).

b. In some systems, the bare oblique is further used to mark possessors in lieu of a dedicated genitive case (with num-gen-case features) seen in standard languages like Hindi and Gujarati.

c. In other systems, the bare oblique is additionally used to mark direct objects (DOM) in parts of the pronominal paradigm.

One diachronic implication of the observed synchronic patterns is that the Middle Indo-Aryan (MIA) ancestor system must have transitioned to across-the-board contrastive postpositional marking for ergative and accusative (DOM) cases via a stage in which such a contrast failed to exist for the majority of the nominal paradigm. The hypothesis is that the oblique form was recruited for marking agents in perfective, transitive clauses as well as patients with high animacy/referentiality properties for those cells in the paradigm that lacked distinct inflectional ergative and accusative marking. The Bhili languages reflect strong traces of this archaic system as dedicated accusative and genitive markers are gradually rendering the correspondence between abstract case functions and morphosyntactic cases more more transparent.

I take the first steps towards explaining these synchronic/diachronic patterns by appealing to a constrained interface between abstract and morphosyntactic case of the sort assumed in Kiparsky (2001). On this approach, abstract case features function as constraints on morphosyntactic case and the assignment of morphosyntactic case marking to abstract structural roles is determined by optimizing featural correspondence between the two.

Friday, April 13: Emily Smith (UChicago)

LVC will have another talk this Friday, April 13th at 3:30 pm in Rosenwald 301 (back in the usual room). Our speaker will be Emily Smith. Please see below for her abstract. Hope to see you there!

“Reflexivity and Middle Voice in Old and New Hittite”
Emily Smith (UChicago)

The Hittite middle voice and the reflexive particle –za have both been linked to active/middle distinctions, transitive/intransitive alternations, and reflexivity. While previous studies have compared their use in Hittite to other Indo-European languages, an analysis of their diachronic distribution within Hittite is still needed.

In this talk I will show that in Old Hittite /Old Script texts (ca. 1650–1450 BCE) the reflexive and the middle voice are separate phenomena. The use of middle voice morphology seems to correlate to stative and change-of-state predicates, while the use of –za is associated with various valency-changing operations. This is in sharp contrast to New Hittite (ca. 1350–1190 BCE), where the reflexive and middle voice can overlap, and middle voice is at times used interchangeably with active voice. A full account of this development will require a more detailed description of the intermediate Middle Hittite stage.

Friday, April 6: Alan Yu (UChicago)

There will be a meeting of the Language Variation and Change workshop this Friday, April 6 at 3:30 pm in Cobb 119. Please note the unusual location.

Our speaker will be Alan Yu. Please see below for details about his talk.

“Investigating South Asian Cantonese in Hong Kong from a phonological perspective
Alan Yu (University of Chicago)

More than 6% of the population of Hong Kong are ethnic minorities, speaking a variety of languages. This focus on the South Asian subpopulation in Hong Kong. While Cantonese is the dominant language of Hong Kong, only around 30% of the South Asian inhabitants reported Cantonese as the language of choice. Little is known about the variety of Cantonese spoken by this community of speakers. This talk reports the progress of a joint project that focuses on the phonetics and phonology of Hong Kong South Asian Cantonese. I show that South Asian Cantonese is not monolithic and the variation, particularly the tonal variation, depends on the sociolinguistic background of the speakers.

Friday, March 30: Savithry Namboodiripad (UMich)

This week we will be hosting Savithry Namboodiripad of the University of Michigan. Her work focuses on how language contact affects linguistic variation, in particular constituent order in the world’s languages. Her dissertation examined this question in Malayalam via psycholinguistic experimental methodology (you can read more here:

Please see below for information about her talk this Friday, March 30th at 3:30 pm. We will meet in RO 301.

“Contact, variation, and change in constituent order: integrating social and cognitive approaches”

Savithry Namboodiripad (University of Michigan)

Languages vary as to how flexible the order of the major sentential constituents are, and both basic (canonical) constituent order and flexibility are empirical domains which have been described as being particularly susceptible to contact-induced change (e.g., Heine 2008, Friedman 2003, Bickel et al. 2017). However, less is known about the processes by which language contact leads to change in constituent order, and what the role of flexibility might be, if any. Here, I address these topics using an approach to contact-induced change which integrates social and cognitive explanations, and I argue that systematicity in the outcomes of contact-induced change can be at least partially explained by the dynamics of language learning and use in multilingual contexts.
The talk has two main parts: first, I propose and motivate a cross-linguistically valid operational measure of flexibility in constituent order using formal acceptability judgment experiments. I present experiments in English, Malayalam, and Korean which show that this measure yields gradient results that align with what is known about the structure of each language. In addition, I show that speakers of Malayalam and Korean who have more experience with English differ quantitatively but not qualitatively from those who have less experience with English: more experience with English corresponds to a greater preference for canonical SOV order in both Korean and Malayalam.
In the second part of the talk, I discuss the details of the contact situation for both groups of speakers. The high-contact Malayalam speakers are young people who grew up in post-colonial India where English is an inextricable part of daily life, and English has led to change in Malayalam as spoken in India at all levels of linguistic analysis. The high-contact Korean speakers are English-dominant individuals who grew up in the United States, were schooled in English, and, in some cases, have limited fluency in speaking Korean. Based on the properties of these acceptability judgment experiments, I argue that the similarities between these two contact situations could explain the similar outcomes of contact. On analogy with “frontier conditions” (Nichols 2017), I discuss the potential for common contact outcomes under “post-colonial conditions” and “immigrant conditions” more broadly speaking, and posit that future investigation of these types of speech communities can shed light on other cases of contact-induced phenomena like creoles and mixed languages.
Under this approach, factors like literacy, language attitudes, and language policy are treated as causal variables which shape the contexts in which the languages and varieties in an individual’s repertoire are used and processed. Individuals inherit the social contexts in which they learn and use language (cf. ontogenetic niche). Thus, links between social structure and language structure are derivable from systematic investigation into how languages are differentially processed in multilingual contexts across the lifespan.

Spring 2018 Workshop Schedule

Please find the schedule for this quarter’s Language Variation & Change meetings below. All meetings will take place at 3:30 pm in Rosenwald 301.

Week 1, 3/30: Savithry Namboodiripad (University of Michigan)

Week 2, 4/6: Alan Yu (Linguistics, UChicago)

Week 3, 4/13: Emily Smith (NELC, UChicago)

Week 4, 4/20: Ashwini Deo (OSU)

Week 7, 5/11: Robert Lewis (Linguistics, UChicago)

Week 8, 5/18: Andrew Ollett (NELC, UChicago)

Friday, March 9th: Tran Truong (UChicago)

Please join us for the last LVC meeting of the quarter, to take place this Friday, March 9th at 3:30 pm in Rosenwald 301. Our speaker will be Tran Truong. Details about his talk are below.

Hope to see you there!

Containment, suppletion, & interspeaker variation in Japanese honorifics
Tran Truong (UChicago)

Containment effects have been proposed by Bobaljik (2012) in the analysis of a number of pervasive patterns in comparative suppletion. For a non-suppletive adjective, such as dumb-dumber-dumbest, the root remains constant, instantiating an AAA pattern. For a suppletive adjective, such as bad-worse-worst, the comparative and superlative forms share a suppletive root, instantiating an ABB pattern. It emerges from extensive crosslinguistic analysis that *ABA patterns such as *good-better-goodest are either extremely rare or outright unattested, a generalisation explained by Bobaljik to result from a universal, abstract representation in which the comparative is contained by the superlative: [ [ [ A ] CMPR ] SPRL ].

*ABA patterns should be observable in other domains, and indeed recent work has found evidence of such in pronouns (Smith et al. 2016) and case (Caha 2008, inter multa alia). The proposed investigation shall analyse honorific suppletion in Japanese as also exhibiting the *ABA effect. Japanese verbs have a socially-neutral form as well as honorific (expressing the higher status of the referent) and humilific (expressing the lower status of the speaker) forms. In the regular case, they instantiate the AAA pattern: kiku/o-kiki-ni-naru/o-kiki-suru ‘to listen/to deign to listen/to humbly listen’. High-frequency verbs have suppletive honorific and humilific forms, instantiating ABC patterns (iku/irrassharu/mairu ‘to go/to deign to go/to humbly go’) as well as ABB patterns (shiru/go-zonji de aru/zonjiru ‘to know/to deign to know/to humbly know’). A primary goal of the study shall be to characterise (the highly complex and irregular) patterns of suppletion and syncretism in Japanese honorifics as in fact exhibiting surface *ABA, as well as describe ongoing linguistic change in which these suppletive forms are undergoing regularising reanalysis.

A secondary but no less major goal shall be to compare the merits of a Bobaljikian analysis of the *ABA effect in terms of universal, abstract structure (e.g., ‘the structure of the humilific contains the structure of the honorific’) to a system-external account in which historical considerations give rise to the suppletion facts. That is, a language can only grammaticalise humilific forms once it has already grammaticalised honorific forms–indeed, this appears to be a fairly robust implicational universal. This accretive grammaticalisation ‘naturally’ produces ‘parasitic suppletion’, without appealing to universal cartographic structure. In short, the study explores the possible heterogeneity of *ABA effects (a road that has been well trodden by, e.g., Caha 2017), and whether in fact all surface *ABA patterning by necessity predicts underlying containment.

Friday, February 23rd: Jack Martin (College of William and Mary)

This week the Language Variation & Change workshop is pleased to host Jack Martin from the College of William and Mary. He specializes in the documentation of numerous native languages of the American south. You can learn more about his work here.

His talk will take place on Friday, February 23rd at 3:30 pm in RO 301. (See below for details.)

I hope you can make it, especially if you have any interest in fieldwork or documentation!

“Oral History as a Tool in Studying Language Change: The Muskogee (Creek)/Seminole Project”

Jack B. Martin (College of William and Mary)

Collaboration between linguists and endangered language communities often requires a delicate balance between projects that the community wants and research that linguists want to conduct. Dictionaries are one promising area where linguistic research is seen as having a beneficial impact on the community. This paper reports on another type of project: an oral history project requested by the Seminole Nation that informs us of ongoing variation and change in language (see

The first part of this paper discusses the mechanics of our oral history project: working with the Seminole Nation and listening to their needs, obtaining funding, scheduling interviews, transcribing and translating files, and file management. The second part of the paper discusses some of the discoveries we are finding about modern spoken Muskogee (and language obsolescence): a) the emergence of a new conjunction ton; b) the surprisingly widespread use of what Haas called “women’s speech”; c) apparent decline in control of numbers; d) use of English hesitation words; and, e) previously undescribed contractions. We will also discuss the ways that oral history projects can be used in linguistics and other fields.

Friday, February 16: E-Ching Ng (UChicago)

Please join us for a meeting of the Language Variation & Change workshop this Friday, February 16th at 3:30 pm in Rosenwald 301. Our speaker will be E-Ching Ng, who is doing her postdoc in the Linguistics Department. Please see below for details about her talk.

“Word-final vowel epenthesis: An L2 sound change?”
E-Ching Ng (UChicago)
Word-final vowel epenthesis (e.g. English bike > Japanese [baiku]) is common in many types of language contact: pidgins, creoles, loanwords, and second language (L2) acquisition. However, this sound change is reportedly much less common in ‘normal’ L1 language transmission. A database of 50 cases tends to confirm this asymmetry. I suggest that this sound change arises from the phonetics of L2 speech, and even appears to be disfavoured in contact situations where L2 speakers become relatively fluent. As such it may be useful as an indicator of L2 acquisition in a language’s past.

Friday, February 2nd: Britta Ingebretson (UChicago)

There will be a meeting of the Language Variation & Change workshop this Friday, February 2nd at 3:30 pm in Rosenwald 301. Our speaker will be Britta Ingebretson. See below for details. We hope you can make it!

“Rhotic coda usage as stance-taking in Southern China”

Britta Ingebretson (UChicago)

Mandarin Chinese has two standard variations, Northern Mandarin, centered around Beijing, and Southern Mandarin, centered around Taiwan. Among other features, Northern Mandarin is known for widespread rhotacization of codas and rhotic suffixes on certain terms, a process known as erhuayin. Rhotacized codas and suffixes are completely lacking in Southern Mandarin. In this presentation, I will examine the strategic deployment of rhotacization in Huangshan, Anhui Province. Huangshanese speak Southern Mandarin and do not use rhotic codas or suffixes in daily speech, so such usage is rare and highly marked. In this presentation, I will show that speakers use rhotic codas to index particular stances towards national official discourses and policies or to index certain types of social personae.

Friday, January 26th: Rebecca Hasselbach-Andee

This Friday, January 26th, LVC will host a talk by Rebecca Hasselbach-Andee of the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations. We will meet at the usual time, 3:30 pm in Rosenwald 301. Information about her talk is below. Hope you can make it!

“Dative or no dative: The function of the morpheme -iš in Akkadian and other Semitic languages”

Rebecca Hasselbach-Andee (UChicago)

An issue that has long been debated in the reconstruction of Semitic languages is the original function of a morpheme suffixed to nouns that can be reconstructed as *-is to Proto Semitic.

This morpheme primarily functions as directional marker indicating the connotation ‘to, toward’ and to mark adverbs. It is further important to note that the morpheme *–is, or at least its consonantal segment /s/, is commonly assumed to underlie the dative pronouns, both independent pronouns and pronominal suffixes, that are attested in several Semitic languages.The fact that the directional or, as it is commonly called, “terminative” morpheme *–is and the marker of the dative in pronouns /s/ clearly seem to be related has led scholars to the conclusion that the morpheme *-is should be considered an original case, more specifically, an original dative case.

The idea that *–is represents a case marker, however, has also been challenged. Alternatively, it has been suggested that *-is represents an adverbial marker, not a case. In this talk, I will consider arguments in favor and against the interpretation of *-is as case or adverbial marker. Methodologically, the talk will draw from Historical Linguistics, Typology, and comparative evidence in order to determine criteria that can help us determine whether we are dealing with a suffixial or clitic morpheme in the case of Semitic *-is.