Spring quarter at LVC

In light of recent epidemiological circumstances, the organizers of LVC will be suspending all workshop activities for the spring quarter. We had had a wonderful lineup of speakers planned, and we are truly disappointed to have to do this. We hope that you will join us in Fall 2020.

Friday, March 6: Perry Wong (UChicago)

Please join us the final meeting of the Language Variation & Change workshop for the winter quarter, this Friday, March 6, from 3:30-5pm in Rosenwald 301. A light reception will follow.

Time perspective in phonology and morphology, studies in descriptive paradox
Perry Wong, University of Chicago

The purpose of this paper is to locate the methods and findings of descriptive and comparative linguistics within a general science of history and historical process. I synthesize the results of a systematic elicitation of principal parts of lexemic roots for a little-described K’iche’an (Mayan) variety, Cunenteco, with a special interest in the morphophonology of an innovated suprasegmental contrast, a left word edge-aligned privative high tone. An otherwise not closely related K’iche’an language, Uspanteko, displays a tone aligned with the right edge of the word. (“Relatedness” is in terms of Stammbaum or family-tree inheritance of phonological shapes of lemmata.) Considered in terms of synchronic phonology, the overall patternments of tone in Cunenteco and Uspanteko appear to be minor variations of each other (see Table A). Yet, considered in terms of diachronic morphophonology, the particular lexicogrammatical classes associated with a privative high tone are different across Cunenteco and Uspanteko (see Table B), as revealed by a systematic comparison of the tonally-differentiated principal parts of a sampling of nominal roots (400+). In my linguistic analysis, I draw on materials for Cunenteco which I gathered with the assistance of a friend and colleague in Cunén, as well as materials produced by indigenous linguists for K’iche’, Uspanteko, and Sakapulteko. I locate the joined synchronic and diachronic view of tone in Cunenteco and Uspanteko within local history under a general anthropological perspective on sociohistorical process. Cunén and Uspantán, which constitute centers for the communities of speakers of Cunenteco and Uspanteko, respectively, are two adjacent towns in highland Guatemala, created through imperial Spain’s project of congregación or coerced resettlement for civic administration and religious indoctrination during the colonial period. In order to concretely illustrate a continuous historical panorama, I bring the linguistic materials into relation with interviews about local history conducted in K’iche’ and Cunenteco, visits to, and lore about, regional Late Postclassic archaeological sites (ca. 1250-1521 CE), archival records of various kinds—in particular, a late colonial-era land dispute from the area between Cunén and Uspantán, called Utza’m Siwaan or San Siguán, that is the common patrimony to the populations of both Post-Hispanic towns (ca. 1521-current)—as well as current locally-produced works about local history, by both indigenous and non-indigenous writers resident in the region. Overall, across this paper, I seek to demonstrate the essential vitality of a Boasian cosmographic perspective on historical phenomena as emerge from and bear on our present.

Friday, February 28: Tracy Conner (UCSB)

Please join us this week for a meeting of the Language Variation & Change workshop, this Friday, February 28, from 3:30-5pm in Rosenwald 301.

Eliciting silence: Ellipsis as a constraint on morphosyntactic variation in African American English
Tracy Conner, University of California, Santa Barbara

Labov’s (1969) research documented that African American English (AAE) allows two realizations of the copula, an overt form, and a null or zero-marked form (ø), which are often interchangeable (1). This optionality plays a prominent role in understanding morphosyntactic variation in AAE. Often overlooked, however, is Labov’s important observational claim that zero-marking of the copula, unlike use of full forms (2a), is extremely rare in “absolute” position, i.e. in the environment of ellipsis as in (2b) below.

(1) Kayla is/’ø kind and brilliant.
(2) a. We also know that Andrea is kind and brilliant.
b. *We also know that Andrea ø kind and brilliant.

This observation elucidates the nature of morphosyntactic variation in this variety. Yet a major problem exists: no empirical investigations have been conducted to specifically evaluate Labov’s claim as these constructions are rarely produced in spontaneous speech, and thus cannot be examined in corpora or recorded spontaneous speech samples in the frequency necessary to make clear generalizations.

In this talk I present a novel experimental method that overcomes previous limitations, and whose results confirm Labov’s observational claim that the copula in AAE must be overt in the environment of ellipsis. Utilizing an elicitation experiment from psychology, i.e. a sentence repetition task adapted from Potter and Lombardi (1990), I collected production data from 33 AAE speakers from the Mississippi Delta. This task avoids the pitfalls usually associated with collecting data from speakers of socially stigmatized dialects, while also eliciting copula productions in rare environments. Analysis of 556 tokens revealed that zero-marking of the copula was virtually unattested phrase-finally, and results of a logistic mixed effects regression confirmed this preference for overt marking in that environment (p<.01). A follow-up experiment shows that this constraint on optionality also extends to possessive marking which is usually optional in AAE (Sam’ø book or Sam’s book), but is shown to be required in the environment of ellipsis (I like Claire’ø book, but you like Sam’s). These finding help better reveal the constraints on copula and possessive variation in AAE. Furthermore, this unique methodology is useful to those pursuing research on morphosyntactic variation or research with bi-dialectal communities. I ultimately make the case that the distribution of zero-copula and zero possessives is constrained due to requirements for ellipsis licensing. Namely, I assert that functional heads that license ellipsis must be morphosyntactically overt and provide evidence that this requirement holds cross-linguistically for verb phrase and noun phrase ellipsis.

Friday, February 21: Elena Bashir (UChicago)

Please join us this week for a meeting of the Language Variation & Change workshop, this Friday, February 21, from 3:30-5pm in Rosenwald 301. A light reception will follow.

Stative participles in Hazara Hindko
Elena Bashir, University of Chicago

I will discuss a stative participle construction in the Hindko spoken in Hazara Division in Pakistan. Hindko is the westernmost language cluster in the dialect continuum which also includes Panjabi and Saraiki. These participles were recently, serendipitously, identified in Abbottabad Hindko, and subsequent research has revealed that they are attested in several other locations in Hazara Division as well as numerous places in the western foothills of the Himalayas in India. The paper presents examples of the functions and structures in which they appear, and attempts an analysis of their origin and synchronic status. Possible grammaticization paths will also be discussed.

Friday, February 14: Jonathan Rosa (Stanford)

Please join us this week for a joint meeting of the Semiotics: Culture in Context and Language Variation & Change workshops, this Friday, February 14, from 3:30-5pm in Rosenwald 301. A light reception will follow.

Raciolinguistic ideologies: Theory/method/politics
Jonathan Rosa, Stanford University

In scholarly and popular discourse alike, racial categories and linguistic forms are often understood as self-evident phenomena. In contrast, a raciolinguistic perspective interrogates historical and contemporary co-naturalizations of language and race. Centering on a raciolinguistic perspective, this workshop presentation examines how interrelations among race and language are recognized, as well as what is at stake analytically and politically in these recognitions. The argument is that a reconsideration of assumptions about identifications and classifications of race and language can enable emergent contestations of endemic societal power structures anchored in and reproduced by these phenomena.

Friday, February 7: Constantine Nakassis (UChicago)

Please join us for a meeting of the Language Variation & Change workshop on Friday, February 7, at 3:30-5pm in Rosenwald 301. A light reception will follow.

Deixis and the linguistic anthropology of cinema
Constantine Nakassis, University of Chicago

As a contribution to what I am calling “a linguistic anthropology of cinema,” in this paper I explore the question of deixis in linguistic and cinematic discourse, exploring some of the semiotic functions and processes that are common to both. In particular, I focus on what Silverstein calls metapragmatic calibration types (reflexive, reportive, nomic) and the particular, but not unique, insight of how they intersect and play off of each other in south Indian fictional film. Through an analysis of a particular scene in the 1997 Tamil film, Arunachalam (dir. Sundar C.), its uptake among fans of the film’s hero (Rajinikanth), and the televisual narration by one of the main actresses of the film’s shooting and its subsequent uptake, I show how one and the same deictic form may be simultaneously calibrated in multiple ways to performative effect. While film semiotics has long taken linguistic models to think about filmic form (viz. “film language”), this analysis suggests the way in which an ethnographic analysis of cinematic discourse, on and off the screen, contributes to a more encompassing semiotic (to wit, linguistic anthropological) analysis of language and its indexical functions.

Friday, January 24: Robert Lewis (UChicago)

Please join us this week for a meeting of the Language Variation & Change workshop, this Friday, January 24, at 3:30-5pm in Rosenwald 301. A light reception will follow.

The evidential system of Potawatomi
Robert Lewis, University of Chicago

This talk provides an overview of the evidential system in Potawatomi. I show that the evidential system of Potawatomi is scattered across three pieces of the grammar “rather than existing in paradigmatic opposition to one another” (Brugman & Macaulay 2015:224). These three pieces are two enclitics, the dubitative mode inflection and a set of particles.

Potawatomi has a hearsay evidential enclitic =me which marks that the evidence for the statement is hearsay. =me can also be used in questions and narratives. In questions, it can be used to mark that the speaker assumes that the listener is not able to (fully) answer the question. In narratives, it can be used with backgrounded sentences for setting or explanation to achieve a narrative evidential.

Potawatomi also has a variety of ways to mark the extent of speaker certainty or epistemic assessment. The enclitic =ma is used to correct misunderstandings, mark mirativity and mark strong assertions. =ma is in a paradigmatic relationship with the hearsay evidential =me.

The dubitative mode has been claimed to have an evidential function in the past tense and an epistemic function in the present tense (Buszard 2003:25). Lockwood suggests that the dubitative mode only “appear[s] to be an evidential” (2017:114). However, my research finds that the dubitative mode exhibits both evidential and epistemic functions. Tense is not the deciding factor, though. Lockwood finds that the dubitative mode is scarcely used in Potawatomi. Evidentiality is now more often expressed with the particle yédek ‘maybe, I wonder, must be’ or nmej ‘I do not know, I wonder’ (Lockwood 2017:113-4). My research supports a shift of the dubitative mode from verbal inflection to independent particles; however, my research finds that nmej exhibits only epistemic functions while yédek exhibits both evidential and epistemic functions.

In the final part of this talk, I explore the contributions of =na to particles which express doubt, dubbed doubt particles by Fairbanks (2016). Doubt particles include nmej ‘I do not know, I wonder’, yédek ‘maybe, I wonder’, édgwén ‘I do not know’, gnebetth ‘maybe’, wégwéndek ‘I do not know’, mthi ’supposedly’ and danak ‘maybe’.

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.