Category Archives: historical

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, March 3rd at 3:30 PM: Brian Joseph at LVC

LVC is very pleased to be hosting Brian Joseph of OSU this Friday, March 3rd. We hope you can join us for his talk at 3:30 PM in Rosenwald 301. As always, there will be a small reception following the talk.

Social and Semantic Factors in the Diffusion of Morpho-Syntactic Change — Evidence from the Infinitive in Greek and the Balkans”

Brian Joseph
Ohio State University

A key feature differentiating latter Greek from Classical Greek is the demise of the verbal category and set of verbal forms known as the infinitive.  Starting in Koine Greek of the Hellenistic period, we see a gradual erosion of the domain of the infinitive – both as to use and as to form – culminating in the modern form of the language with no infinitive at all.  Rather, there is only finite subordination with verbal forms marked for person, number, and aspect, and in some instances tense.  Moreover, this retreat of the infinitive and spread of finite subordination is found throughout all of the Balkan languages. I trace here the spread, i.e. the diffusion, of the loss of the infinitive within Greek, first examining the semantic factors that play a role in the progression of infinitive-loss and tying it to event structure.  I then shift gears and look at a seemingly anomalous late retention of the infinitive in Jewish Greek of Constantinople, and tie that to the social circumstances of Jewish languages in general.  In this way I provide some insight into both the semantic and the social side of the diffusion of a key morpho-syntactic change in Greek and other languages in the Balkans.

Poster with Event Details

9th June: Andrea Beltrama (UChicago)

Monday, June 9th @ 3:00 PM, Cobb 104

From semantic to social meaning. The case study of intensifiers.

The phenomenon of intensification is pervasive in natural language. Examples of such expressions, in English, include very, really, so, extremely. Linguists have addressed intensification with respect to two specific areas: intensifiers’ semantics, and intensifiers’ usage in the social landscape. Yet, an actual integration between these two approaches is currently missing. Exploring this relationship
represents the main goal of this talk.

The presence of a principled connection between semantic and sociolinguistic facts stems from the following observation. While the use of an intensifier with a gradable predicate comes across as fairly neutral (in (1)), the occurrences in (2) normally index a richer constellation of indexical information. First, these expressions are intuitively labeled as informal, colloquial, fit for spoken registers. Moreover, they normally suggest an association with readily identifiable and specific social and psychological traits, or even full-fledged social types (“Valley girl”, “Generation X”, and others)

(1a) The tank is totally full (Gradable. Source of the scale: scale of fullness)
(1b) The house is very big (Gradable. Source of the scale: scale of size)
(1c) The building is so tall that planes almost touch it (Gradable. Source: scale of height)

(2a) Your attitude is very UChicago. (Non-gradable. Source: stereotypical traits of Uchicago)
(2b) I totally left this at home (Non-gradable. Source: certainty about the proposition)
(2c) I’m so next in line! (Non-gradable. Source: eagerness/enthusiasm about being next)

My leading hypothesis is that speakers, when making use of intensifiers, are exploiting the semantic notion of gradability as a stylistic resource to construct social meaning and social evaluations. In particular, I suggest that intensifiers that semantically target non-lexical scales create a marked linguistic environment, which emerges as a suitable attachment site for social meaning and the related social evaluations.

14 April: Tony Woodbury (UT Austin)

Monday, April 18th @ 3:00 PM, Pick 016

The Emergence from Tone of Vowel Register and Graded Nasalization in the Eastern Chatino of San Miguel Panixtlahuaca

(based on joint work with John Kingston, University of Massachusetts, Amherst)

The Chatino languages (Otomanguean; Oaxaca, Mexico) generally retain the conservative Proto-Chatino vowel inventory: */a, e, i, o, u/, with nasalized counterparts */ą, ę, į, ǫ/. Pride & Pride’s 2004 dictionary of San Miguel Panixtlahuaca Eastern Chatino (PAN) indicates the same for that variety. But work by our group (Cruz et al. 2012) tells a quite different story. We find that PAN departed from the system by developing a more elaborate vowel system: /a, ɛ, e, i, ɔ, o, u/ (Cruz et al. 2012), as well as a contrast between ‘light’ and ‘heavy’ nasalized vowel sets: /ą, ę, ǫ/ vs.  /ąŋ, ęŋ, įŋ, ǫŋ/.

We argue that the main triggers for the expansion of this inventory was tonal: A mora-linked low or falling tone followed by a floating tone *L-(T) in Proto Eastern Chatino (pEC). In its (etymological) presence, the historical vowel system was rendered as /a, ɛ, e, ɔ, o/ and /ą, ę, ę, ǫ/ (merging *ę with *į); while in its absence the system was rendered as /ɔ, e, i, o u/ and /ąŋ, ęŋ, įŋ, ǫŋ/. We call the two renditions the low (and light-nasal) register vs. the high (and heavy-nasal) register, where ‘low’ and ‘high’ refer to the overall effect on Proto-EC vowel quality.


After giving general background on the Chatino languages, we describe the development from pEC of the PAN vowel system, justifying the claim that it is an innovation; we then use comparative evidence from other Eastern Chatino varieties to reconstruct the likely phonological and phonetic content of the *L-(T) tonal trigger (based on Campbell & Woodbury 2010). We then show that the tonal reflexes of the tonal trigger in the modern PAN tonal are virtually merged with non-*L-(T) tones for some speakers, and entirely merged for others, leaving a system in which the expanded vowel system has phonemic status while the tonal distinctions, if present, are residual.


This set of changes is significant as: (a) a relatively rare case of  relationship between vowel height and tone that is not mediated by voice quality (as discussed by Denning 1989; but cf. Becker & Jurgec 2008, who demonstrate a relationship between vowel height and tone in Slovenian); (b) an (unprecedented?) case of a relationship between nasal grading and tone); (c) a case involving tone where the crucial conditioning factor in a series of historical changes is synchronically barely detectable or undetectable, leaving room for alternative synchronic analyses; and (d) a demonstration of the value of comparative and historically-informed field work as a method for discovery and description, and as a source of insight for phonological and phonetic investigation.

10 February: William Cotter (University of Essex) and Uri Horesh (Northwestern University)

Monday, February 10th @ 4:30 PM, Harper 150

Language variation and change in two Palestinian Arabic varieties: Gaza and Jaffa

While research in Arabic sociolinguistics has been on the rise in recent years, a number of regions are still under-investigated. Most varieties of Palestinian Arabic, though described by dialectologists in the traditional sense over the years, have not received much attention from a variationist perspective. This presentation will shed light on two urban varieties of Palestinian Arabic and discuss future directions in the research of the region as a whole, concentrating on the shared history between Gaza and Jaffa, the two cities in which we have done our fieldwork.

Our presentation will focus on two variables, one from each of these Palestinian cities:

1. The phonological variable (ʕ) in Jaffa
2. The morphophonological variable (ah) in Gaza

Each of these speech communities has its unique characteristics: Jaffa speakers tend to be bilingual—their L2 being Modern Hebrew—and the variation observed is assumed to be contact-induced. This hypothesis is tested, and for the most part confirmed, through quantitative analysis. The community in Gaza has been living under military occupation an physical siege, which has isolated them from the rest of the Palestinian population for quite some time, rendering their dialect quite distinct from most other varieties of Arabic in the region, in addition to its predisposition as a sort of bridge dialect between the Levant and Egypt, given its geographical location. Many speakers in Gaza are in fact refugees from Jaffa, and we will discuss the significance of this fact both in the context of work already carried out and for work in progress for future publication.

4 November: Jeff Good (University at Buffalo)

Monday, November 4th @ 3 PM, Harper 140

Magical ideologies of language change: Connecting micro-level variation to macro-areal diversification

In many respects, historical investigation of the Bantu language family serves as a model application of the Comparative Method to a genealogical unit outside of Indo-European. The close relationship of hundreds of languages occupying the greater part of southern sub-Saharan Africa is beyond question, and there is  consensus on many important features of the proto-language. At the same time, despite more than a century and a half of scholarship, significant issues regarding the development of the family remain unresolved almost to the point of seeming intractable. No shared innovation has been found that uniquely delineates Bantu from its closest relatives, no family-wide subgrouping has become accepted, and no fully convincing explanation has been offered for Bantu’s incredibly successful spread throughout southern Africa.

This talk reconsiders these issues through the examination of the comparative linguistics of a small, linguistically diverse region of Cameroon known as Lower Fungom, which is located within the putative Proto-Bantu homeland. By treating Lower Fungom as a microcosm for Bantu, it becomes possible to explore how a local ideology that links languages to relatively ephemeral political entities results in patterns of language change which are neither tree-like nor wave-like but, rather, “magnetic”, with varieties in contact constantly converging and diverging from each other to reflect shifting patterns of solidarity and antagonism. This ideological stance is further associated with a system of beliefs wherein code choice is perceived as a means to access the magical protection associated with a given community. This fosters multilingualism and frequent language shift as strategies through which individuals can attempt to increase their spiritual security.

Through the examination of specific structural features of the languages of Lower Fungom, it will be argued that the presence of these ideological patterns can take us far in understanding why there was never a clean linguistic “break” between Bantu and its closest relatives, why clear-cut subgroups never formed, and why the family spread so successfully. More generally, it will be suggested that detailed investigation of the ways that local language ideologies relate codes to communities has a significant role to play in addressing the actuation problem in language change.

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.

11 March: Ashwini Deo, (Yale University)

Monday, March 11th @ 12:30 PM, Social Sciences 302

The particular–characterizing contrast in Indo-Aryan copulas and the diachronic emergence of overt tense marking

Several Indo-Aryan languages  are characterized by (at least) two distinct  copular expressions in both the present and the past tenses  (e.g. hai and hota hai in Hindi or ahe/asato in  Marathi). The distribution  of these copulas in non-verbal predicational  clauses (e.g. John is hungry/intelligent/on Mars/a war veteran/a collie) is constrained by   two factors: (a) whether the predicate is stage-level or individual-level; and (b) whether the argument is interpreted as individual-denoting or kind-denoting.  I propose that the two-copula systems of Indo-Aryan  allow for the morphosyntactic realization  of the semantic contrast  between particular and characterizing sentences (in the sense of Krifka et al 1995).
In this talk, I will investigate  non-verbal predications in Late Middle Indo-Aryan (Apabhramsa) and Early New Indo-Aryan (Old Marathi and Old Gujarati) in order to understand the evolution  of this morphosyntactically realized contrast  in Indo-Aryan diachrony.   Specifically, I  explore the idea that although there is some evidence  of a grammaticalized  particular-characterizing contrast   in the older systems   (e.g. Epic Sanskrit and Early Prakrit),  it is only  firmly established  concomitant with the emergence of overtly marked tense distinctions  in the Proto New Indo-Aryan system.

25 February: Tasos Chatzikonstantinou (UChicago)

Monday, February 25h @ 2:00 PM, Location TBA

Verbal acts in the songs of the old Greek underworld

In this talk I discuss the discourse patterns that emerge in the lyrics of Rebetiko, an urban folk music genre that flourished in the port of Athens in the early 20th century. In the 1920s, a ghetto sub-culture was formulated around that part of the city that included people who were living on the margins of the Athenian society as well as thousands of Greek immigrants who arrived from Asia Minor (Emery, 2000). I will show that as a particular conceptualization of authenticity was established within this community (Damianakos, 1985; Tragaki, 2007), this social reality was reflected in the lyrics of Rebetiko.

I focus on cases that I consider to be instances similar to dissing, a verbal expression of disrespect towards deviations from a specific conceptualization of authenticity. This discourse pattern is also employed by other music genres (e.g. Hip Hop) where authenticity is central to their ethos (Androutsopoulos & Scholz, 2002). Another indication of authenticity is suggested to be the particular slang that was developed within the community under discussion (Petropoulos, 1967) and which was extensively used by Rebetiko artists in order to give an authentic “street” flavor to their songs (Holst, 1990).  I will argue that the moment Rebetiko became commercialized the extensive use of slang was, in part, a strategy to retain alive the Rebetiko conceptualization of authenticity though its genuine connection with the authentic sub-culture had been weakened.

27 November: Andrea Beltrama (UChicago)

Tuesday, November 27th @3:30 PM, Harper 130

From “tall-issimo” to “game-issimo”: Subjectification and intensification in diachrony


Intensifiers are universally considered to be a productive field for investigating semantic change. However, diachronic work on such expressions mostly focuses on shifts from lexical words to functional ones (e.g., really/very) and treats intensification as a final stage of grammaticalization (Partington 1993, Lorenz 2002). Little has been said, however, on diachronic trajectories within the category of intensifiers, especially those involving words/morphemes that have never had an independent lexical meaning. We propose to fill this gap by discussing the diachrony of the suffixal intensifier  –issimo in Italian. In contemporary Italian -issimo has three distinct functions: (1) degree-modification, (2) slack-regulation, and (3) nominal intensification. Relying on evidence from written diachronic corpora, we show that Antique Latin only has the degree-modification usage, while Old Italian innovated the slack-regulation usage, and nominal intensification is exclusive to contemporary Italian. We argue that this diachronic pathway reflects a loss of truth-conditional meaning and a shift from the propositional content to speaker’s content. While it would be tempting to analyze this trajectory as a case of subjectification in Traugott’s (2003) sense, we suggest that the emergence of the new meanings of –issimo are better charaterized as the result of an independent re-analysis process. We follow Eckardt (2009) in proposing that such a process is triggered by the need to obviate the pragmatic disruption that is generated whenever the suffix is used in an innovative way.  Within this view, subjectification is no longer seen as a driving force of linguistic change, but as a consequence of the new, less constrained meanings recruited via re-analysis.


(1) In altissimam turrem ascendit animo (100a.D.,LatinLibraryText)

He climbed the tall-issimo (extremely tall) tower courageously.


(2) Nella apoplessía arrivare alla sanità è cosa impossibilissima (1300,

In apoplexy, healing is impossible-issimo (truly/absolutely impossible)


(3) E’la partitissima,la sfida cruciale come nel settimo incontro del baseball (1987, LaRepubblica)

It’s the game-issimo (huge/important/crucial/rivalry/exciting/…game), like the World

Series’ game 7.