Friday, January 19th at 12:30: Isaac Bleaman

This week the Language Variation and Change workshop is co-sponsoring an event with Comparative Literature, who is hosting Isaac Bleaman of NYU ( Isaac will give a talk on “Hasidic Yiddish Syntax on the Internet: Competing Trends in Language Change” this Friday 1/19 at 12:30 PM in Classics 110. (Note the unusual meeting time for LVC!)
More information on his talk, as well as other events this week, can be found in the flyer below.

Friday, January 12 at 3:30 PM: Yaroslav Gorbachov (UChicago)

Please join us for the first LVC meeting of the quarter on Friday, January 12th at 3:30 PM in Rosenwald 301. Our speaker will be Yaroslav Gorbachov. Please see below for details about his talk.

Slavic ‘animacy’/’virility’ as a contact phenomenon?
Yaroslav Gorbachov (University of Chicago)
It appears to be commonplace in the literature to assume that the “animacy” category of Russian (which has evolved from an earlier “virility” category) is a contact phenomenon (thus, e.g., Andersen 1980, Thomason, Kaufman (1988:249)). In this paper I discuss the “animacy”/“virility” category in a broader context of differential object marking (DOM) and argue that it is unlikely to have arisen in Slavic as an areal feature due to contact with Uralic.

Winter 2018 LVC Schedule

Below is the schedule of talks for Winter 2018. All talks will be at 3:30 PM in Rosenwald 301, unless otherwise noted.

Week 2 (1/12): Yaroslav Gorbachov (UChicago), “Slavic ‘animacy’/’virility’ as a contact phenomenon?”

Week 3 (1/19 at 12:30 PM in Classics 110): Isaac Bleaman (NYU), “Hasidic Yiddish Syntax on the Internet: Competing Trends in Language Change” — Joint with Comparative Literature

Week 4 (1/26): Rebecca Hasselbach-Andee (UChicago), “Dative or no dative: The function of the morpheme -iš in Akkadian and other Semitic languages”

Week 5 (2/2): Britta Ingebretson (UChicago)

Week 7 (2/16): E-Ching Ng (UChicago)

Week 8 (2/23): Jack Martin (William and Mary)

Week 10 (3/9): Tran Truong (UChicago)

Monday, November 20 at 3:30 PM: Tatiana Nikitina (CNRS, Paris)

LVC will host Tatiana Nikitina of CNRS – Paris at an unconventional time: this Monday, November 20th at 3:30 PM in Cobb 202.  Information about her talk is below. As usual, there will be a reception after the talk and an opportunity to talk more with the speaker.

Discourse reporting in narrative performance: A case study from West Africa

Tatiana Nikitina
CNRS, Paris

Current approaches to language endangerment are firmly grounded in the Western ideology of language (Foley 2003). Language loss is commonly viewed as a result of speakers shifting to a new language, and criteria for vitality assessment are concerned with the way a particular language, in the sense of Saussurean langue, is being transmitted to next generations of speakers (Fishman 1991; UNESCO 2003; Krauss 2007, inter alia). This approach sometimes results in striking discrepancies between a professional linguist’s assessment and the views expressed by language users.

In this talk I discuss a case study of Wan, a Southeastern Mande language spoken in central Côte d’Ivoire. Wan is doing well by all established vitality measures, yet its speakers consistently claim to be “losing” their language. This apparent paradox is rooted in the special attitude to language displayed by the local community: language is understood as traditional ways of speaking, and those can only be fully realized in specific communicative practices which are currently at the point of extinction. The case of Wan presents a curious combination of an objectively “healthy” sociolinguistic situation and exceedingly pessimistic perceptions voiced by speakers.

Among the morphosyntactic strategies that are central to culturally valued language use are strategies of discourse reporting. Across West Africa, traditional narratives are performed interactively by a speaker who constantly switches between the role of narrator and those of the story’s characters (Nikitina 2012). A skillful performer employs a variety of linguistic means that facilitate such switching, including the use of invented language that serves to signal historical or ontological distance between the story’s characters and the current audience. I focus on one particular aspect of discourse reporting that is characteristic of West African story performance: the strategic use of logophoric reporting style.

Logophoric reporting attested in West African languages differs in important ways from the syntactic phenomenon that has been described as logophoricity in such languages as Japanese, Italian or Latin. I discuss different types of logophoric reporting and show how they function in traditional West African narrative performance. I also discuss the ways in which logophoric reporting is endangered by European discourse reporting strategies.

Friday, November 17 at 3:30 PM: Fieldwork Recap (Part 1)

The Language Variation and Change workshop will host its first fieldwork recap session this Friday, November 17th at 3:30 PM in Rosenwald 301. Come learn where students are doing their fieldwork, their methods, and the challenges they face. This week we’ll hear from Hilary McMahan, Cherry Meyer, Kat Montemurro, and Adam Singerman! A small reception will follow everyone’s presentations.

LVC Fall 2017 Schedule

Welcome to another year of the Language Variation and Change workshop! The current schedule for this quarter is given below; check back here for updates throughout the quarter and also look for individual announcements.

If you would like to be added to the LVC mailing list, please email

Friday, October 6th at 3:30 PM (Rosenwald 301): Jessica Kantarovich (UChicago)

Friday, November 3rd at 1:00 PM (Cobb 119): Adam Singerman (UChicago) — joint with the Morphology&Syntax workshop

Friday, November 17th at 3:30 PM (Rosenwald 301): Fieldwork Recap Part 1

Monday, November 20th at 3:30 PM (Cobb 202): Tatiana Nikitina (CNRS, Paris)

Friday, December 1st at 3:30 PM (Rosenwald 301): Fieldwork Recap Part 2


Friday, November 3 at 1 PM: Adam Singerman (UChicago) — joint with Morph&Syn

Please join us for a talk by Adam Singerman at a joint meeting with the Morphology & Syntax workshop, on Friday, November 3rd at 1 PM in Cobb 119. Details in the attached abstract.

Evidentiality, grammatical number, and physical position in Tuparí

Adam Singerman (University of Chicago)

Friday, October 6th at 3:30 PM: Jessica Kantarovich (UChicago)

Please join us for a talk by yours truly at LVC on October 6th at 3:30 PM in Rosenwald 301. Details about the talk are below.

Alignment shift in Chukotkan: the case against contact-induced change

Jessica Kantarovich
University of Chicago

The Chukotkan branch of the Chukotko-Kamchatkan family displays an unusual kind of ergativity, with unambiguously ergative case marking on nouns but an “ergative split” in the verb. Based on Fortescue’s (1997, 2003) reconstructions and the accusative patterning of Kamchatkan, ergative case marking appears to be an innovation in Chukotkan. While Fortescue argues that this change arose due to substrate effects from Yupik, I argue that this is unlikely, based on other contact-driven changes in both language families and the nature of this contact. Instead, I propose that the change was internally-motivated, stemming from the reanalysis of a passive participial.


Friday, April 14th at 3:30 PM: Lev Michael (UC Berkeley)

Please join us for a talk by visiting speaker Lev Michael of the University of California Berkeley. The talk will be Friday, April 14th at 3:30 PM in Rosenwald 011. Refreshments will be provided. Hope to see you there!

“Lexical homology in computational phylogenetics: A comparative Tupí-Guaraní”

Lev Michael
UC Berkeley