Category Archives: faculty talks

Friday, May 18: Andrew Ollett (UChicago)

There will be a meeting of the Language Variation and Change Workshop this Friday at the usual time and place (3:30 in RO 301). Our speaker is Andrew Ollett, a visiting professor in the SALC department. Please see below for details. Hope to see you there!

“The Disappearing iti: Clausal Complements in Middle Indic
Andrew Ollett (University of Chicago)

Clausal complements work differently in Sanskrit than they do in modern Indic languages like Hindi, Marathi, and Bengali. What happened in the thousands of years that separate these stages? Texts in Middle Indic languages, which represent a stage between Sanskrit and the modern languages, reveal a shift away from the direct construction with the complementizer iti. This talk will lay out the different strategies of complementation that are used in Sanskrit and Middle Indic, their distribution in and across texts, and how changing strategies of complementation interact with the changing role of the particle iti. I argue that the use of iti as a complementizer is well-established in early Middle Indic, but over time, it is used less often for clausal complements than it is for clausal modifiers, whether adnominal or adverbal. These tendencies only take us part of the way to the situation in modern languages, but they reveal important patterns of syntactic change that operated across the Indic languages.

Friday, April 6: Alan Yu (UChicago)

There will be a meeting of the Language Variation and Change workshop this Friday, April 6 at 3:30 pm in Cobb 119. Please note the unusual location.

Our speaker will be Alan Yu. Please see below for details about his talk.

“Investigating South Asian Cantonese in Hong Kong from a phonological perspective
Alan Yu (University of Chicago)

More than 6% of the population of Hong Kong are ethnic minorities, speaking a variety of languages. This focus on the South Asian subpopulation in Hong Kong. While Cantonese is the dominant language of Hong Kong, only around 30% of the South Asian inhabitants reported Cantonese as the language of choice. Little is known about the variety of Cantonese spoken by this community of speakers. This talk reports the progress of a joint project that focuses on the phonetics and phonology of Hong Kong South Asian Cantonese. I show that South Asian Cantonese is not monolithic and the variation, particularly the tonal variation, depends on the sociolinguistic background of the speakers.

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 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.

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.

13 May: Joshua Katz (Princeton)

Monday, May 13th @ 3 PM, Wieboldt 408

What are they?: Some Hidden Forms of the Copula in Old Irish

It is uncontroversial that Proto-Indo-European *-nti# regularly becomes -t /d/ in Old Irish, as in beraitberat ‘(they) carry’ (< *bheronti).  Nevertheless, my principal claim in this talk is that just in the copula, and under certain specifiable conditions, the same sequence results instead in -n.  In the course of using this new phonological rule to uncover a couple of hitherto unnoticed copular forms, I also comment on morpho-phonological curiosities in the paradigm of the Old Irish copula more generally.

29 April: Amanda Miller (Ohio State)

Monday, April 29th @ 3 PM, Wieboldt 408

What Can We Do with High Frame Rate Ultrasound: Investigating the Phonetic Basis of the Back Vowel Constraint in Mangetti Dune !Xung

Previously, the main articulatory field method used to investigate place of articulation was static palatography/ linguography. This method is invasive, and contact patterns are smeared over an entire syllable. Portable ultrasound can be used to find the place of articulation of consonants in field work settings, and it is safe and non-invasive. Standard ultrasound has made great gains in our understanding of sounds with relatively stable gestures: vowels, fricatives and liquids. High FR ultrasound allows us to view stop shutting and release gestures, the dynamics of diphthongs, clicks, labial-velars, and affricates, and C-V and V-V coarticulation.

I present a case study designed to investigate the phonetics basis of the Back Vowel Constraint (BVC), found in many non-Bantu and non-Cushitic click languages. The BVC is a C-V co-occurrence constraint found between alveolar and lateral clicks and the uvular fricative, with [i]. I present four experiments that investigate the phonetic basis of the BVC, by looking at the production of the four clicks, [k] and [ᵪ], in Mangetti Dune !Xung. The first two experiments investigate the production of the clicks using high FR ultrasound collected using the CHAUSA method (Miller and Finch 2011). TD and TR constriction locations prior to the anterior release are measured. The second experiment investigates the TD and TR locations over the first half of the vowel. The third experiment investigates F1 and F2 patterns in the vowel following the clicks. Regression analyses of the vowel data shows that the F2 patterns are statistically related to the TD/TR constriction locations in the alveolar and lateral clicks, while the F2 patterns in the dental and palatal clicks are best predicted by the TT constriction location. I attribute the TRR in the vowel to muscular constraints on click-vowel sequences that are similar to those found in English [r] variants.

28 January: Karlos Arregi and Joseba Zulaika (UChicago)

Monday, January 28th @ 12:30 PM, Social Sciences 302

Allocutive agreement and forms of address in Basque

As in many other languages, Basque has a T-V distinction in the second
person: ‘hi’ (and related pronominal and agreement forms) is used with
close relatives and friends, while ‘zu’ (and related morphemes) is the
neutral form. Although the distinction is a familiar one, several
peculiarities of this system set it apart from better-known ones in
European languages. For instance, ‘hi’ forms encode
(masculine/feminine) gender in a language that otherwise has no
grammatical gender marking, which goes against the universal tendency
for gender to be marked in the second person only if the language
marks this distinction in the third person. In addition, ‘hi’ forms
trigger ‘allocutive agreement’: when speaking to close relatives and
friends (i.e. people that would be addressed with ‘hi’ forms), finite
verbs must include a non-argumental second person agreement marker
that agrees with the addresee (even if the latter is not referred to
by any overt or covert nominal in the sentence). Thus, the verbal
forms used with close male relatives and friends can be quite
different from those used with close female relatives and friends, and
both sets are different from the set of forms used with other
addressees.  In this talk, we discuss these and other grammatical and
social aspects of the second person system in Basque.

3 December: Carmel O’Shannessy (University of Michigan)

Monday, December 3rd @ 3 PM, Harper 140

The role of multiple sources in the creation of novel formal categories in a new mixed language: Light Warlpiri as a case study

Light Warlpiri is a newly emerged mixed language spoken in northern Australia, which combines elements of Warlpiri (Pama-Nyungan) and varieties of English and Kriol (an English-lexified creole). Synchronic evidence suggests that it was formed through a two-part process. First, adults directed codeswitched speech to young children as part of a baby talk register. Next, the children analyzed the codeswitched speech as a single system, and added innovations. The structure of the code developed by the children closely resembles the structure of the codeswitched speech which was directed to them.

Mixed languages usually consist of a systematic combination of elements from each of two source languages, and the components of each source usually occur in the mixed system relatively unchanged. But Light Warlpiri shows dramatic innovation in tense-mood-aspect categories in the verbal auxiliary system. Light Warlpiri makes a future-nonfuture distinction in the auxiliary which is not made overtly in the input languages. The Light Warlpiri distinctions can be attributed to speakers having selectively drawn on elements from Warlpiri, and from different varieties and styles of English and Kriol. The innovations resemble those which have been seen in some instances of pidgin development, yet the contexts of language emergence differ. The commonality in contexts in which new formal categories emerge in a new code may be contact-induced change where there are multiple sources in the input.

19 November: Rebekah Baglini, Lenore Grenoble, and Martina Martinović (UChicago)

Monday, November 19th @ 3 PM, Harper 140

Wild Sounds in Wolof


In this paper we describe a group of sounds and articulations that stand outside of the basic phonemic and/or lexical inventory of Wolof (Niger-Congo) but are a core part of the language’s communicative system. We call these wild sounds and words following Pyle (2006. As noted by Harris (1951:71), they occur in exclamations, animal calls and borrowed words. In American English, such sounds would include the glottal stop in some pronunciations of uh-oh, the consonant cluster in tsk-tsk, or the use of tone in mhmmm. They are largely understudied, but are prevalent in the world’s languages; to the best of our knowledge, they have been only briefly described in Wolof by Dialo (1995). The inventory of wild sounds and words in Wolof as spoken in Senegal includes a number of clicks (velar, lateral, dental and dental bilabial), a hissing sound, and a whistle, which are not part of the language’s phonemic inventory (Ka 1994), but are included in its inventory of “expressive elements” (Dialo 1995).

At present we have identified eight wild sounds which have different pragmatic and discourse functions. Their use is conventionalized and readily recognizable outside of context (e.g. on isolated recordings). Their function can be divided into four basic categories: (1) agreement/disagreement; (2) evaluation, such as ‘like’ versus ‘dislike’; (3) discourse and pragmatic functions, including a backchannel, acknowledgement, turn-initiation; and (4) an attention-getting hiss. There is an iconic mapping of phonetic articulation and intensity of the expression: increased amplitude and/or lengthening signal a greater degree of positive (or negative) evaluation, for example. Some wild sounds substitute for regular lexical items: the dental/velar click replaces waaw ‘yes’; a double bilabial dental click replaces deedeet ‘no’; or an elongated whistle replaces waalis ‘I like’. These do not co-occur with lexical items but rather replace them. Others have what are more obviously discourse functions, such as the backchannel.

The data here were gathered during fieldwork in Ronkh, a Wolof-dominant village in the northeast part of Senegal, but casual observation has attested the use of wild sounds in all parts of Senegal, including urban centers such as Dakar and Saint Louis, and as far south as Kedogou. Our work suggests that such wild sounds, while outside the grammar, are nevertheless a crucial component of linguistic communication, warranting further documentation and study cross- linguistically.



Dialo, Amadou. 1985. Eléments expressifs du wolof contemporain: gestes, signaux oraux, unités significatives nasalisées, interjections, onomatopées, impressifs. Langues nationales au Sénégal; W. 27. [Dakar]: Centre de linguistique appliquée de Dakar.

Harris, Zellig S. 1951. Methods in Structural Linguistics. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Ka, Omar. 1994. Wolof phonology and morphology. Lanham, MD: University Press of America

Pyle, Charles. 2006. Wild language. Style 40/1-2.62-73.