Finalized Fall Workshop Schedule

Here is the complete schedule of the remaining Language Variation & Change workshop meetings for the rest of this quarter:

October 27, 12 PM in the Landahl Center — Fieldwork Recap Session Part 2 (Betsy Pillion, Natalia Pavlou, Robert Lewis, Hannah McElgunn)

October 31, 12 PM location TBD — Denny Moore (Museu Paraense Emílio Goeldi)

November 11, 3:30 PM in Cobb 116 — Nicole Rosen (UManitoba)

December 2, 3:30 PM location TBD — Jacob Phillips (UChicago)

Locations will be updated soon. Hope to see you there!

Friday October 7th at 3:30 PM: Fieldwork Recap Session Part 1!

Please join us for the first part of this year’s Fieldwork Recap Session, where students will talk about where in the world they’re conducting their research and the challenges associated with working and establishing contacts in different places.

Our first group of presenters (along with the regions where they work) includes: Adam Singerman (the Amazon), Ksenia Ershova (the Caucasus), Perry Wong (Guatemala), and Jessica Kantarovich (Siberia).

See you Friday October 7th at 3:30 PM! (Location TBD: check back for an update in the next couple of days.)

Barbra Meek (University of Michigan) @ LVC on Wednesday, May 4th!

“Linguistic Manifestations in Encounters of Loss”

Barbra Meek
University of Michigan

The prediction for most aboriginal languages has been extinction and a scholarly orientation toward “loss.” However, many of these languages are still with us today, including those presumed lost. This means that someone somewhere has imagined a future for these languages, for current language users, and in relation to some potential audience. But, as with ideas of “success” (Hinton 2016), not all aboriginal language futures are unfolding in identical ways and not all paths lead to the same end or even to their own intended end. This talk is a reflection on “loss” in relation to the various efforts that have been imagined and implemented in order to project a future for one aboriginal case, the Kaska (Dene/Athabaskan) language, and some of the unexpected possible futures that have emerged along the way.

Wednesday, May 4th at 4:30 PM in Rosenwald 015

Daniel Chen (Toulouse School of Economics) @ LVC on Friday, April 29th!

“Covering: Mutable Characteristics and Perceptions of (Masculine) Voice in the U.S. Supreme Court”

Daniel Chen
Institute for Advanced Study, Toulouse School of Economics

Using data on all 1,901 U.S. Supreme Court oral arguments between 1999 and 2013, we document that voice-based snap judgments based solely on the introductory sentences of lawyers predict Justices votes. The connection between vocal characteristics and court outcomes is specific to perceived masculinity even when judgment of masculinity is based only on less than three seconds of exposure to a lawyer’s speech sample. Although previous studies suggest a significant role for vocal characteristics on real world behavior, prior to our work none has identified a definitive connection using identical phrases. Roughly 30% of the association between voice-based masculinity and court outcomes comes from within-male lawyer variation, whereas 70% comes from between-male lawyer variation. Moreover, voice-based first impressions predict both male and female lawyers’ court outcomes: less masculine males and more feminine females are more likely to win. A de-biasing experiment separately identifies statistical discrimination and prejudice by showing that information reduces 40% of the correlation between perceived masculinity and perceived win and incentives reduces another 20% of the correlation. The negative correlations between perceived masculinity and win rates were stronger in private firms and in petitioner classes with more masculine voices. Perceived masculinity explains an additional 10% of variance relative to best existing prediction models of Supreme Court justice votes. Sincere and strategic voting considerations may explain why liberal justices were more likely to vote against male lawyers perceived as more masculine and conservative justices were more likely to vote for female lawyers perceived as more feminine.

Friday, April 29th at 3:00 PM in Rosenwald 015

Spring 2016 Schedule

LVC is pleased to announce the following talks for the Spring quarter! All talks will be at 3:00-4:30, unless otherwise noted. Locations TBA!

April 12 – Adam Singerman – joint with Morphosyntax workshop
“Negation in Tupari”

April 21 (12:15 PM) – Hans Boas (UT Austin) – joint with CLS
“What can Texas German tell us about the role of internal vs. external factors in language change?””

April 29  – Daniel Chen (Institute for Advanced Study, Toulouse School of Economics)
“Covering: Mutable Characteristics and Perceptions of (Masculine) Voice in the U.S. Supreme Court”

May 4 (4:30 PM) – Barbra Meek (University of Michigan) – joint with Semiotics workshop
“Linguistic Manifestations and/in Encounters of Loss”

May 20 – Lindsay Whaley (Dartmouth)
Title TBA

June 3 – Julia Thomas Swan
Title TBA


Tatiana Nikitina @ LVC on Friday, April 1st!

Friday, April 1st at 3:00PM, location TBA

Frames of reference in discourse: Spatial descriptions in Bashkir (Turkic)

Tatiana Nikitina
CNRS, Paris

Cross-linguistic and individual variation in the use of spatial reference frames has been one of the central questions in the study of semantic typology (Pederson et al. 1998; Levinson 2003, inter alia). It is well-known that languages vary in the way locative expressions refer to asymmetries defining major spatial axes: front and back, for example, can be defined with respect to the Ground’s internal asymmetry (sitting in front of a TV) or with respect to the position of an external observer (the fork is in front of the plate). It is normal for speakers to use multiple frames of reference with the same spatial expression, sometimes switching from one frame to another within the same utterance (Bohnemeyer 2011). The nature of this variation, however, is understudied, and very little is known about factors that make individual speakers prefer one frame of reference over others.

In this talk, I will present an ongoing study of the use of reference frames by speakers of Bashkir, a Turkic language spoken in Russia. I explore the inventory of devices employed for describing spatial relations in an experimental task and discuss the role of factors such as education and bilingualism in the choice of reference frames. While variation in reference frame use in linguistic descriptions has been previously suggested to reflect the use of different cognitive strategies (Levinson 1996; Majid et al. 2004), I find no correlation between speakers’ performance in verbal and non-verbal tasks (cf. Li & Gleitman 2002). In verbal interaction, speakers show high levels of flexibility in the use of different frames of reference, and work together actively to converge on a common reference frame for individual spatial expressions.

The study is part of an international collaboration aimed at exploring cross-cultural variation in spatial cognition (NSF-BCS-1053123).

Bohnemeyer, Juergen. 2011. Spatial frames of reference in Yucatec: Referential promiscuity and task-specificity. Language Sciences 33(6): 892-914.
Levinson, Stephen C. 1996. Frames of reference and Molyneux’s question: Crosslinguistic evidence. Paul Bloom (ed.) Language and Space. MIT Press, 109-169.
Levinson, Stephen C. 2003. Space in Language and Cognition: Explorations in cognitive diversity. Cambridge University Press.
Li, Peggy & Lila Gleitman. 2002. Turning the tables: Language and spatial reasoning. Cognition 83(3): 265-294.
Majid, Asifa, et al. 2004. Can language restructure cognition? The case for space. Trends in Cognitive Sciences 8(3): 108-114.
Pederson, Eric, et al. 1998. Semantic typology and spatial conceptualization. Language 74(3): 557-589.

Britta Ingebretson @ LVC on Friday, March 11th!

Friday, March 1st @ 3:00PM in Rosenwald 015

Shepu or Mandarin? Attention and second order indexicality in a Chinese yoga studio

Britta Ingebretson
University of Chicago

In this talk, I will examine how the phonetic qualities of language become mobilized in processes of second-order indexicality in a yoga studio in Huangshan, China. Shepu, a portmanteau of Shexianhua (She county dialect) and Mandarin, is the local term for the dialect of Mandarin spoken in She county, a nonstandard dialect which incorporates many phonetic, prosodic, and tonal qualities from Shexianhua. Second-order indexicality is the process through which indexical relationship between ways of speaking and certain types of speakers becomes naturalized, such that ways of speaking become seen as iconic of, rather than indexing, certain types of speakers, and thus linking linguistic traits to other socially meaningful non-linguistic traits. While much literature has been devoted to showing how listener judgments allow the listener to classify speakers as belonging to certain social categories, in this talk I will show how the process also works in reverse. If listeners have already classified individuals as a certain social type, they are more likely to be attentive to and pick out the qualities of speech which conform to their preconceived perceptions than they are with other speakers, regardless of actual speaker variation. I show how this process works with three speakers of Shepu

Yukinori Takubo (Kyoto University) at LVC on Tuesday, March 1st!

“How to construct a digital museum with a large scale web-archive”

Yukinori Takubo 
Kyoto University

In this talk we will propose a new design of a digital museum for
endangered languages. Just like a real museum, the digital museum proposed here consists of (1) a storage space, where items are archived, and (2) an exhibition space, where a selection of items from the storage are exhibited. Currently, in language documentation and conservation, the archives and the web pages are treated separately. Language archives are created mainly for the purpose of storing language data permanently for future reference. The web spaces for language conservation or exhibition are usually constructed without direct reference to the archived data.

Our proposed system enables us to construct a digital space for endangered languages linked to a large-scale archive at an individual level and at a manageable price, thereby providing us with a powerful tool for language documentation and conservation.

Tuesday, March 1st – Rosenwald 301

Betsy Pillion, Sarah Kopper & Lenore Grenoble @ LVC on Friday, February 12th

Friday, February 12th @ 3:00PM in Rosenwald 015

“Is ‘huh’ really a universal word? Clicks, kisses & whistles in Cameroon”

Betsy Pillion, Sarah Kopper & Lenore Grenoble
University of Chicago, MSU, University of Chicago

Cameroon, a linguistically diverse country of more than 240 languages, is host to a set of cross- linguistic communicative signals that are ubiquitous in the common space.

In this work, we describe a system of extra-grammatical sounds in use in a variety of speech communities in southern Cameroon attested in four Bantu languages, with three Narrow Bantu varieties: Basaa (A40), closely related Bakoko (A40), and Bulu (A70), all spoken in the Littoral, Central and South regions, and one Grasslands language, Ngoshie, spoken in the Northwest (classification from Hammerstöm et al. 2015). Although not integrated into a morphosyntactic frame, these sounds are meaningful units with specific discourse functions. We identify these sounds as members of a larger class of what we call verbal gestures, defined by a set of functional and structural characteristics. Such sounds are often found in exclamations, animal calls and borrowed words; some may be considered as constituting a secondary phonemic system (Fries & Pike 1949; Harris 1951). Although they are extragrammatical, some have clear lexical meaning and serve as lexical substitutes, while others are more gesture-like in conveying pragmatic, but not lexico-semantic, meaning. Some are segmental and others extra-segmental.

Our data point to a complex system of these verbal gestures. In this paper we describe five that are highly salient across multiple languages:

Table 1: Verbal gestures

form function linguistic communities
(stop-)sibilant attention getting Bulu, Ngoshie, Bakoko, Basaa
whistle calling Bakoko, Basaa
bilabial-lateral click negative affect Bulu, Ngoshie, Bakoko, Basaa
lateral click back channel Ngoshie, Basaa
bilabial click dog call/“wolf whistle” Bulu, Ngoshie, Bakoko, Basaa

The clicks form a special subclass of verbal gestures referred to as tʃámlà in Basaa. In addition, a highly salient use of F0 contours occurs in gestures for calling across distances. These gestures have wide recognition across a large area of the country even though consultants self-identify as speaking different first languages. Thus they exhibit a high degree of salience across speech communities while simultaneously displaying variation, individual variation as well as across speakers and languages. For example, the attention-getting gesture, a hiss, is sometimes uttered with a consonantal onset (e.g. [kss], [dss], [pss]), or as an elongated [s:]. The extent to which this is due to differences in speech communities has not yet been determined.

The identification of the category of verbal gestures has cross-linguistic implications. Their use is universal and can account for claims such as Dingemanse et al. (2013) that ‘huh’ is a universal “word.” In our theory, it is a verbal gesture, with differences in phonetics and discourse functions attributable to language differences. Furthermore, our classification expands the study of non-phonemic clicks in the languages of Africa and provides more details about the actual use of the so-called paralinguistic clicks described by Gil (2011), with some (albeit tentative) support of his hypothesis that the extra- grammatical use of clicks may have spread from Africa.

Data for this study was collected from fieldwork conducted in Yaoundé, Édéa, and Buea, Cameroon in summer 2015.


Dingemanse, Mark, Francisco Torreira, N.J. Enfield. 2013. Is “huh” a universal word? Conver- sational infrastructure and the convergent evolution of linguistic items. PLoS ONE 8(11): e78273. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0078273

Fries, Charles C. & Kenneth L. Pike. 1949. Coexistent phonemic systems. Language 25: 29-50.

Gil, David. 2011. Para-linguistic usages of clicks. In: Dryer, Matthew S. & Martin Haspelmath (eds.), The world atlas of language structures online. Munich: Max Planck Digital Library, chapter 142. Available online at Accessed on 2015-11-09

Hammarström, Harald, Rober Forkel, Martin Haspelmath & Sebastian Bank. 2015. Glottolog 2.6. Jena: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History. (, Accessed on 2015-11-09.)

Harris, Zellig S. 1951. Methods in structural linguistics. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

McNeill, David. 1992. Hand and mind: What gestures reveal about thought. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Updated Schedule for Winter 2016

LVC is pleased to announce the following updated schedule for our remaining talks of the Winter quarter. All will be held on Fridays from 3:00-4:30 in Rosenwald 015.

February 12th: Betsy Pillion, Sarah Kopper & Lenore Grenoble (University of Chicago & MSU)
“Is ‘huh’ really a universal word? Clicks, kisses & whistles in Cameroon”

March 1st (TUES): Yukinori Takubo (Kyoto University) – alternate time & place, TBA
Title TBA

March 11th: Britta Ingebretson (University of Chicago)
Title TBA