Category Archives: fieldwork

Friday, May 11: Robert Lewis (UChicago)

There will be a meeting of LVC this Friday, May 11th at 3:30 pm, in Rosenwald 301. Please see below for details.

“Additivity in Potawatomi”

Robert Lewis (UChicago)

Potawatomi has a relatively rich inventory of additive particles — six in total. This inventory is sensitive to three distinctions: (i) a distinction between simple and scalar additivity, (ii) a distinction between upward and downward entailing environments, (iii) a distinction within downward entailing environments based on polarity which separates a negative downward entailing environment from a non-negative downward entailing environment. These three distinctions have been shown to be cross-linguistically common (Köing, 1991; Giannakidou, 2007; Gast & van der Aurwera 2011, 2013) and had been postulated to be reducible to the following semantic entailment relation: simple additive < upward entailing < negative downward entailing < non-negative downward entailing. However, Potawatomi’s additive particle seems to contradict this entailment relation (Gast & van der Aurwera, 2013). While may be used for simple additivity, in upward entailing environments, and in downward entailing environments, it only appears as a scalar additive particle in non-negative downward entailing environments. In negative downward entailing environments, it’s a concessive. Beyond additivity, an additive particle can also achieve a variety of other functions as has been shown throughout the literature. Of these functions, recent typological findings suggest that the contrastive topic and topic sift functions of additive particles are more prevalent cross-linguistically than previously thought (Forker, 2016). Potawatomi adds credence to this claim, as well as displaying a topic continuation function.

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 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.

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.

Friday, November 3 at 1 PM: Adam Singerman (UChicago) — joint with Morph&Syn

Please join us for a talk by Adam Singerman at a joint meeting with the Morphology & Syntax workshop, on Friday, November 3rd at 1 PM in Cobb 119. Details in the attached abstract.

Evidentiality, grammatical number, and physical position in Tuparí

Adam Singerman (University of Chicago)

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!