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.

Friday, February 1: Betsy Pillion (UChicago)

Please join us for a meeting of the Language Variation & Change Workshop, this Friday, February 1 at 3:30pm, in Rosenwald 301. A light reception will follow.

Properties of para-phonemic sounds: Clicks in American English
Betsy Pillion, UChicago

Clicks in English are known to occur in transitional periods of talk, during word searches and as indicators of speaker affect. Less well established are the phonetic properties of these clicks, phonetic variation with respect to the click’s discourse role, and phonetic variation between speakers. This study contributes to understandings of click acoustics by examining clicks used within the Buckeye Corpus (Pitt et al. 2007) of American English.

Percussive clicks varied significantly in intensity from those with a discourse role such as conveying affect or turn-management. Speakers also varied in the extent to which clicks of all discourse types were employed: male speakers clicked percussively at a significantly higher rate than female speakers, whereas female speakers were more likely to use turn-management and affect-conveying clicks. This research helps illuminate an understudied aspect of sound systems, and gives insight into the extent of intra- and inter-speaker variation in non-phonemic sounds.

Friday, January 25: Cherry Meyer (UChicago)

Please join us for a meeting of the Language Variation & Change Workshop, this Friday, January 25 at 3:30pm, in Rosenwald 301. A light reception will follow.

Motivating ‘exceptional’ animates in Ojibwe: the link between gender and classifiers
Cherry Meyer, UChicago

The Algonquian language of Ojibwe has both a gender system and a classifier system. The gender system has semantic, rather than formal, assignment of nouns to gender values. With two values of ANIMATE and INANIMATE, semantic assignment is rather straightforward. Nouns denoting humans and animals are ANIMATE, while most nouns denoting inanimates are INANIMATE. However, some nouns denoting inanimates are ANIMATE, e.g. asin ‘a stone’ or miskomin ‘raspberry’. I propose an analysis of gender assignment in Ojibwe that draws on the semantics of the sortal classifier system to motivate these apparently ‘exceptional’ nouns. I also discuss some complicating factors, such as the use of the gender values to effect a functional contrast.

Friday, January 18: Michelle Yuan (UChicago)

Please join us for this quarter’s first meeting of the Language Variation & Change Workshop, this Friday, January 18 at 3:30pm, in Rosenwald 301. A light reception will follow.

On object shift, ergativity, and microvariation in Inuit
Michelle Yuan, UChicago

This talk investigates variation in the ergative system of the Inuit dialect continuum, for which the ergative pattern has been observed to be weaker in certain dialects than in others. I argue that the status of ergativity is systematically connected to another, seemingly independent point of variation: variation in object shift, i.e. whether the object raising to a structurally high position is a full DP or a pronoun (cf. Woolford 2017).

Evidence for this approach comes from novel fieldwork on the Eastern Canadian dialect group of Inuktitut—which, as I show, displays a number of previously unnoticed properties that make this correlation especially clear. From this, I present a novel analysis of ergativity across Inuit that reduces this correlation to variation in case competition for dependent ERG case assignment (Marantz 1991, Baker 2015). This captures the generalization that ergativity is intrinsically tied to the properties of the object, but more strikingly posits that ergativity need not directly reference any structural properties of the ERG case-bearing subject. More broadly, this talk offers a case study on how microvariation may be used as a lens into syntactic theory, and vice versa, by treating the Inuit languages as minimally-differing points along an otherwise gradient system.

Please also feel free to join us for any of our other talks this quarter.

Week 3 (1/25): Cherry Meyer (UChicago)
Week 4 (2/1): Elizabeth Pillion (UChicago)
Week 5 (2/8): Laura Horton (UChicago) + fieldworkers’ social at the Pub
Week 6 (2/15): Ella Karev (UChicago)
Week 8 (3/1): Sharese King (UChicago)
Week 9 (3/8): Maria Polinsky (Maryland)

Friday, December 7: Sofia Torallas-Tovar (UChicago)

Please join us for this quarter’s final meeting of the Language Variation & Change Workshop, this Friday, December 7 at 3:30pm, in Rosenwald 301. A light reception will follow.

In search for Greek-Egyptian lexicon: methodologies of analysis
Sofia Torallas-Tovar, UChicago

The sources we have for the Egyptian variant of post-classical Greek spoken and written in Egypt are fragmentary and problematic. This variant was spoken and written from the Hellenistic period down to the eighth century CE, in contact with the Egyptian language among others. Recent studies have tackled different linguistic aspects. I will present in this paper the methodologies to deal with the complexities and interpretation of these sources, followed by some lexicographical case studies.

Friday, November 30: Natalia Bermúdez (UChicago)

Please join us for a meeting of the Language Variation & Change Workshop, this Friday, November 16 at 3:30pm, in Rosenwald 301. A light reception will follow.

Ideophones…beyond expressiveness
Natalia Bermúdez, UChicago

In this talk, I look at the humorous use of ideophones in Naso (Chibchan, Panama) through a social lens, and show what it bears on theory of ideophony in relation to evidentiality (Dingemanse 2012, Michael 2008), intimacy/alignment (Nuckolls 2010, Webster 2015), and expressiveness.

Recent typological literature on ideophones takes an a priori approach to measuring expressiveness in terms of how closely an ideophone deviates from grammatical context (Dingemanse & Akita 2017). However, this approach cannot account for speakers’ naturally occurring humorous expressive productions and interpretations. I show how a social approach, where expressiveness is empirically qualified in terms of speaker intuitions, reactions, and choices, teaches us that speaker competence of expressivity is more complex than physical correlates; ideophones function in ways beyond a scale (“less expressive” to “more expressive”) of expressiveness. In particular, Naso data shows that ideophones are productively and commonly used humorously, and that they index social identifications.

Why are ideophones so effective at deriving humor? I argue that ideophone humor is an effect of first-person perspective alignment with another entity, which creates experiential intimacy and induces humor through contrast with another competing identification (e.g. Naso [vs. Latino]; woman [vs. man]; and proper woman [vs. improper woman]), based on contextual use of the following ideophone data produced by two Naso women in conversation:

[kʰjuk kʰjuk] ‘the controlled sound of a fish biting at a line’
[ʃwap] ‘the sound of pulling a fish out of the water to land’
[pak] ‘the sound of a man kissing his wife, to her misfortune’; ‘the sound of a cow defecating’
[tʃas tʃas] ‘washing clothes in a controlled manner’
[pʰaw pʰaw] ‘washing clothes in a loud, obscene manner’

I analyze that the experiential value that ideophones encode derives from their depiction of sensory information. This perspective, when coupled with the sound symbolic connotations of ideophones, as well as their saliency as a unique lexical resource, creates a strong candidate for social indexicality. Speakers exploit and use ideophones to portray their own social identifications. This analysis predicts it is cross-linguistically common for speakers to use ideophones in socially indexical and humorous ways.

Friday, November 16: Jacob Phillips (UChicago)

Please join us for a meeting of the Language Variation & Change Workshop, this Friday, November 16 at 3:30pm, in Rosenwald 301. A light reception will follow.

Masculinity and coarticulation influence sibilant categorization in nonce words
Jacob Phillips, UChicago

Previous research has found that listeners shift category boundaries in response to both coarticulatory context and speakers’ social attributes. The present study integrates these questions, exploring sibilant categorization in a nonce word lexical decision task. The target words contained a potentially ambiguous sibilant onset in /sCr/ clusters, for example ‘sprimble’ or ‘shprimble’. The stimuli were paired with faces determined to be more or less masculine than average. The results of this study suggest a high degree of individual variability, both with respect to compensation for coarticulation in these clusters and in sensitivity to social attributes, with responses mediated by listeners relative endorsements of traditional masculine stereotypes.

Friday, October 19: Joanne Vera Stolk (University of Oslo)

On Friday, October 19, at 11:30am in Harper 141, LVC will be holding a joint meeting with the Morphology & Syntax workshop (please note the special time and place!). Joanne Vera Stolk (University of Oslo) will be presenting on non-standard spelling and morphology in Greek. Please find the abstract below:

Hearing Greek, writing Coptic? Explaining non-standard spelling and morphology in a historical language contact situation
Egyptian monks living in monasteries of Western Thebes during the seventh century CE left behind a substantial corpus of liturgical hymns written in Greek, containing a considerable amount of non-standard orthography and morphology. This provides us with an interesting corpus for linguistic study of the cognitive processes involved in the production of spelling and morphology by non-native writers. I apply an interactive dual-route model for spelling in order to explain how these non-standard forms could have been generated. By analyzing these innovative forms we can get more information about the scribe’s orthographic lexicon and their knowledge and use of orthographic and morphological patterns in their first and second language.

Friday, October 12: Fieldwork Recap

As has been tradition for the last few years, we’re kicking off the workshop this year with a recap of students’ fieldwork from the last year. Our presenters this time will be Ksenia Ershova, Hannah McElgunn, Kat Montemurro, Adam Singerman, and Jessica Kantarovich.
The meeting will be held on Friday, October 12th at 3:30 in Rosenwald 301. (That’s the usual time and place!) We’ll have some tasty snacks and interesting stories, so if you have any interest in fieldwork or just want to see what some of us have been up to this summer, we’d love to see you there!

Fall 2018 Schedule

Welcome back to another year of the Language Variation and Change Workshop!

This quarter’s schedule is below. All meetings will take place at 3:30 pm in Rosenwald 301, unless otherwise noted.

Week 2 (10/12): Fieldwork Recap

Week 3 (10/19): Joanne Vera Stolk (University of Oslo) — Joint with the Morph&Syn workshop (1:00pm in RO 208)

Week 7 (11/16): Jacob Phillips (UChicago)

Week 9 (11/30): Natalia Bermudez (UChicago)

Week 10 (12/7): Sofia Torallas-Tovar (UChicago)