Author Archives: jkantarovich

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.

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.