Category Archives: fieldwork

Friday, April 14th at 3:30 PM: Lev Michael (UC Berkeley)

Please join us for a talk by visiting speaker Lev Michael of the University of California Berkeley. The talk will be Friday, April 14th at 3:30 PM in Rosenwald 011. Refreshments will be provided. Hope to see you there!

“Lexical homology in computational phylogenetics: A comparative Tupí-Guaraní”

Lev Michael
UC Berkeley

Friday, February 24 at 1 PM: Adam Singerman (UChicago) – Joint with Morph&Syn

Please join us this Friday, February 24th at 1PM in Rosenwald 208 for a joint meeting of LVC and the Morphology & Syntax workshops. Our speaker will be Adam Singerman.

Finite embedding and quotation in Tuparí

Adam Roth Singerman
University of Chicago

Tuparí (Tupían; Brazil) has innovated a finite embedding construction that bears the structural hallmarks of an internal headed relative clause. What makes this construction typologically unusual is that it instantiates an apparent violation of the Final-over-Final Condition (a proposed universal discussed at length in recent work by Biberauer, Holmberg, Roberts, and Sheehan): the Tuparí configuration shows a left-branching syntactic projection dominating a right-branching one.

This talk will present the main descriptive and analytic generalizations concerning finite embedded clauses in Tuparí and will examine the implications for current theories of syntactic disharmony: Biberauer et al’s FOFC and Hawkins’s Performance-Grammar Correspondence Hypothesis. In particular, I will show that the Tuparí facts are more problematic for the PGCH than for FOFC (even if FOFC’s appeal to innate constraints in UG is not fully satisfactory as an explanatory mechanism). 

The talk concludes with an examination of the origins of finite embedded clauses in Tuparí. While such clauses transparently involve the grammaticization of a demonstrative third person pronoun as a clausal subordinator, there is evidence that the backwards syntactic dependencies visible in direct quotation have also played a role.


Monday, October 31 @ 12 PM: Denny Moore (Museu Paraense Emílio Goeldi)

NOTE: The location of this talk has changed! It will now take place in Foster 505.


LVC is very pleased to welcome Denny Moore, who is here for a CLAS workshop, Linguistic and Other Cultural Exchanges across Brazilian History, and has graciously agreed to talk to us about his extensive fieldwork in Brazil.

Denny Moore’s talk will take place in Foster 505 on Monday, October 31st at 12 PM. Lunch will be provided.

“The situation of the indigenous languages of Brazil and their documentation: overview, tales of infamy, rays of hope, projects”

This talk will be about the situation of the indigenous languages of Brazil, their study and their documentation.  These matters will be considered in the context of Brazilian scientific politics, which influence research and practical measures to benefit native groups.  (It is useful for graduate students to understand the political aspects of research.)  One current documentation project, supported by the Endangered Languages Documentation Project, will be described, “Encyclopedia digital of the traditional language and culture of the Gavião and Suruí of Rondônia, Brazil”.

Thursday, October 27 @ 12:00 PM: Fieldwork Recap Session Part 2

Please join us for the second part of this year’s Fieldwork Recap Session, which will take place in the Landahl Center on Thursday Oct 27 at 12 noon. We will be hearing from Betsy Pillion (discussing her planned fieldwork in Africa), Natalia Pavlou (Cypriot Maronite Arabic), Robert Lewis (Potawatomi), and Hannah McElgunn (Hopi).

As always some light refreshments will be served. 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

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.

Kathryn Franich @ LVC on Friday, November 6th!

Friday, November 6th @ 3:00PM in Rosenwald 301

Intrinsic and Contextual Cues to Tone Perception In Medʉmba
(or: A How-To Guide for Doing Phonetics Experiments in the Field)

Kathryn Franich
University of Chicago

In this talk, I discuss results of experimental work on tone perception in Medʉmba, a Grassfields Bantu language spoken in Cameroon. The following research questions were investigated:

1) What kinds of acoustic cues are relevant to the perception of tones in this language?
2) Is tone perception sensitive to pitch information from the surrounding context? And if so, is perception sensitive to contextual information from non-speech sounds as well as speech sounds?

Results indicate that both F0 and duration are important cues to tone perception, but that the influence of duration was strongest where target F0 values were low. This finding is in-line with previous cross-linguistic work showing interactions between duration perception and tone and is thought to arise through a compensatory mechanism on the part of speakers to normalize for F0-related perceptual or articulatory biases (Yu 2011, Gussenhoven & Zhou 2013).

Results also indicate that perception of tones on target syllables was influenced by the tone of the syllable in the previous trial within the experimental block. Interestingly, preceding non-speech tones did not influence perception, suggesting that the observed contextual effect was specific to linguistic stimuli, rather than attributable to domain-general auditory processing effects, as has been suggested by Huang & Holt (2009; 2011).

In describing the experiment, I provide a play-by-play of its design and execution to highlight ways in which typical laboratory setups can be adapted for a fieldwork setting. In particular, I focus on subject recruitment, stimuli creation and presentation, pilot-testing, and the use of computers for data collection in contexts where subjects are not accustomed to them.