Category Archives: historical

Friday, May 25: Guglielmo Inglese (Pavia/Bergamo)

The final Language Variation & Change workshop meeting of the year will take place this Friday, May 25th at 3:30 pm in RO 301. Our speaker will be Guglielmo Inglese, a visiting student from the University of Pavia and the University of Bergamo. Please see below for more information.

“The middle voice in Hittite: between synchronic description and diachronic explanations”
Guglielmo Inglese (University of Pavia & University of Bergamo)

Research middle voice in Hittite has mostly focused on morphological issues, such as the shape and the distribution of the middle endings, both from a synchronic and a diachronic perspective. Much less attention has been paid to the function of the middle voice. In this talk, I will present some preliminary results on an up-to-date description of the syntax and semantics of the Hittite middle voice.

Based on the exhaustive analysis of middle verbs occurring in original Old, Middle, and New Hittite texts, I will provide a thorough treatment of the various functions performed by this morphological marker. On the one hand, I will address the issue of media tantum, i.e. middle verbs lacking an active counterpart, including transitive deponent verbs, and suggest possible motivations for their idiosyncratic behavior. On the other hand, I will focus on verbs showing diathesis alternation, and investigate the meanings associated to oppositional middles. These are passive, reflexive, anticausative (decausative), and reciprocal. The description of each function will be framed in current trends in the typology of valency changing operations. As I will show, the middle voice behaves as a verb-sensitive valency reducing strategy, as the semantic interpretation of middle forms is partly constrained by the semantics of the individual predicates.

Finally, I discuss how synchronic approaches largely fail in providing a satisfactory description of the middle voice, and show that much of the attested synchronic variation can be better understood in diachronic terms. In doing so, I briefly illustrate how the various functions are diachronically related, and provide a tentative sketch of the development of the middle voice in the attested history of the language.

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.

Wednesday, May 2: Ricardo Etxepare (CNRS)

Our visiting syntax guru, Ricardo Etxepare, will be speaking at LVC this Wednesday, May 2nd at 12 pm in Foster 103. Lunch will be served.

Details about his talk can be found below, and you can learn more about his research at his website:

Hope you can make it!

“Economy governed microparameters: a view from Basque dialects”
Ricardo Etxepare (CNRS, IKER UMR 5478)

The general question:

The general question I would like to address in this talk is the following: what can we learn about mental properties, more particularly about language as a cognitive system, from the spatial distribution of linguistic variables? I would like to show that correlated variation (that is, correlative distribution patterns involving syntactic phenomena), can help us understand formal relations between pieces of I-language, and uncover certain basic aspects of the acquisition device that go beyond UG. The geolinguistic information used for this work is of the traditional sort, based on data gathered from elicitation methods, and mapped into cartographic resources.

More concretely:

The phenomenon: The presentation will be devoted to examine the syntactic distribution of auxiliaries in Basque, which is subject to significant variation along the west-east axis.

The microparameter: In eastern varieties, the auxiliary can behave as a semi-lexical or light verb, and then has the same distribution of so-called “synthetic verbs” in Basque, which possess a lexical root. In central dialects, the auxiliaries correspond to the lexicalization of purely functional material, probably of T/Agr (Arregi and Nevins, 2012). This microparameter has effects in other areas of the grammar, particularly in the left periphery of the clause.

The historical background: This variation has its diachronic source in the emergence or verbal periphrases from biclausal structures (Mounole, 2011), and their varying grammaticalization into monoclausal structures. Basically, the process can be seen as one going from lexical restructuring to functional restructuring (Wurmbrandt, 2014 amongmany others).

Beyond the microparameter: When looking beyond the auxiliary domain into the domain of finite copulas, however, we realize that issues other than lexicalization are at stake. The contrasting distribution of copulas and auxiliaries across the Basque varieties examined here points out to a principle of representational economy that governs the distribution of marked and unmarked values of a micro-parameter. This principle must be part of the learning algorithm (as in Roberts, 2007; Holmberg and Roberts, 2010; Biberauer and Roberts, 2012; Roberts, 2016; and Roberts and Roussou, 2003; also Van Gelderen, 2011).

Friday, April 20: Ashwini Deo (OSU)

LVC is pleased to be hosting Ashwini Deo of the Ohio State University this week. (You can learn more about her work at her website:

Her talk will take place this Friday, April 20th at 3:30 pm in Rosenwald 301. Please see below for more information.

I hope you can make it!

“Case syncretism patterns in Indo-Aryan diachrony: Evidence from the Bhili dialect continuum”

Ashwini Deo (Ohio State University)

Indo-Aryan ergativity is aspectually conditioned: the transitive subject, if marked, is marked only in perfective clauses, and verb agreement in most (but not all) such cases, is not with the subject but rather determined by case-marking on the direct object. Existing research has amply noted language-specific variability in overt marking of ergative case on the subject, overt marking of accusative case on the object (differential object marking (DOM)), and concomitant effects on verbal agreement. While Hindi-Urdu presents the best studied system, the systems obtaining in Marathi, Punjabi, Gujarati, Kutchi Gujarati, Nepali, and several dialects of Marathi have also been analyzed (Mahajan 1990, Mohanan 1994, Mistry 1997, Patel-Grosz 2012, a.o. for individual systems, with a comparative treatment in Deo & Sharma 2006).

In this talk, I examine the patterns found in several case-marking systems in the Bhili dialect continuum. Three properties of the relevant paradigms are worth considering:

a. In several systems, there is syncretism between ergative and oblique marking in much of the pronominal and nominal inflectional paradigms (1pl, 2pl, 3sg, 3pl).

b. In some systems, the bare oblique is further used to mark possessors in lieu of a dedicated genitive case (with num-gen-case features) seen in standard languages like Hindi and Gujarati.

c. In other systems, the bare oblique is additionally used to mark direct objects (DOM) in parts of the pronominal paradigm.

One diachronic implication of the observed synchronic patterns is that the Middle Indo-Aryan (MIA) ancestor system must have transitioned to across-the-board contrastive postpositional marking for ergative and accusative (DOM) cases via a stage in which such a contrast failed to exist for the majority of the nominal paradigm. The hypothesis is that the oblique form was recruited for marking agents in perfective, transitive clauses as well as patients with high animacy/referentiality properties for those cells in the paradigm that lacked distinct inflectional ergative and accusative marking. The Bhili languages reflect strong traces of this archaic system as dedicated accusative and genitive markers are gradually rendering the correspondence between abstract case functions and morphosyntactic cases more more transparent.

I take the first steps towards explaining these synchronic/diachronic patterns by appealing to a constrained interface between abstract and morphosyntactic case of the sort assumed in Kiparsky (2001). On this approach, abstract case features function as constraints on morphosyntactic case and the assignment of morphosyntactic case marking to abstract structural roles is determined by optimizing featural correspondence between the two.

Friday, April 13: Emily Smith (UChicago)

LVC will have another talk this Friday, April 13th at 3:30 pm in Rosenwald 301 (back in the usual room). Our speaker will be Emily Smith. Please see below for her abstract. Hope to see you there!

“Reflexivity and Middle Voice in Old and New Hittite”
Emily Smith (UChicago)

The Hittite middle voice and the reflexive particle –za have both been linked to active/middle distinctions, transitive/intransitive alternations, and reflexivity. While previous studies have compared their use in Hittite to other Indo-European languages, an analysis of their diachronic distribution within Hittite is still needed.

In this talk I will show that in Old Hittite /Old Script texts (ca. 1650–1450 BCE) the reflexive and the middle voice are separate phenomena. The use of middle voice morphology seems to correlate to stative and change-of-state predicates, while the use of –za is associated with various valency-changing operations. This is in sharp contrast to New Hittite (ca. 1350–1190 BCE), where the reflexive and middle voice can overlap, and middle voice is at times used interchangeably with active voice. A full account of this development will require a more detailed description of the intermediate Middle Hittite stage.

Friday, March 9th: Tran Truong (UChicago)

Please join us for the last LVC meeting of the quarter, to take place this Friday, March 9th at 3:30 pm in Rosenwald 301. Our speaker will be Tran Truong. Details about his talk are below.

Hope to see you there!

Containment, suppletion, & interspeaker variation in Japanese honorifics
Tran Truong (UChicago)

Containment effects have been proposed by Bobaljik (2012) in the analysis of a number of pervasive patterns in comparative suppletion. For a non-suppletive adjective, such as dumb-dumber-dumbest, the root remains constant, instantiating an AAA pattern. For a suppletive adjective, such as bad-worse-worst, the comparative and superlative forms share a suppletive root, instantiating an ABB pattern. It emerges from extensive crosslinguistic analysis that *ABA patterns such as *good-better-goodest are either extremely rare or outright unattested, a generalisation explained by Bobaljik to result from a universal, abstract representation in which the comparative is contained by the superlative: [ [ [ A ] CMPR ] SPRL ].

*ABA patterns should be observable in other domains, and indeed recent work has found evidence of such in pronouns (Smith et al. 2016) and case (Caha 2008, inter multa alia). The proposed investigation shall analyse honorific suppletion in Japanese as also exhibiting the *ABA effect. Japanese verbs have a socially-neutral form as well as honorific (expressing the higher status of the referent) and humilific (expressing the lower status of the speaker) forms. In the regular case, they instantiate the AAA pattern: kiku/o-kiki-ni-naru/o-kiki-suru ‘to listen/to deign to listen/to humbly listen’. High-frequency verbs have suppletive honorific and humilific forms, instantiating ABC patterns (iku/irrassharu/mairu ‘to go/to deign to go/to humbly go’) as well as ABB patterns (shiru/go-zonji de aru/zonjiru ‘to know/to deign to know/to humbly know’). A primary goal of the study shall be to characterise (the highly complex and irregular) patterns of suppletion and syncretism in Japanese honorifics as in fact exhibiting surface *ABA, as well as describe ongoing linguistic change in which these suppletive forms are undergoing regularising reanalysis.

A secondary but no less major goal shall be to compare the merits of a Bobaljikian analysis of the *ABA effect in terms of universal, abstract structure (e.g., ‘the structure of the humilific contains the structure of the honorific’) to a system-external account in which historical considerations give rise to the suppletion facts. That is, a language can only grammaticalise humilific forms once it has already grammaticalised honorific forms–indeed, this appears to be a fairly robust implicational universal. This accretive grammaticalisation ‘naturally’ produces ‘parasitic suppletion’, without appealing to universal cartographic structure. In short, the study explores the possible heterogeneity of *ABA effects (a road that has been well trodden by, e.g., Caha 2017), and whether in fact all surface *ABA patterning by necessity predicts underlying containment.

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, 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.

Friday, October 6th at 3:30 PM: Jessica Kantarovich (UChicago)

Please join us for a talk by yours truly at LVC on October 6th at 3:30 PM in Rosenwald 301. Details about the talk are below.

Alignment shift in Chukotkan: the case against contact-induced change

Jessica Kantarovich
University of Chicago

The Chukotkan branch of the Chukotko-Kamchatkan family displays an unusual kind of ergativity, with unambiguously ergative case marking on nouns but an “ergative split” in the verb. Based on Fortescue’s (1997, 2003) reconstructions and the accusative patterning of Kamchatkan, ergative case marking appears to be an innovation in Chukotkan. While Fortescue argues that this change arose due to substrate effects from Yupik, I argue that this is unlikely, based on other contact-driven changes in both language families and the nature of this contact. Instead, I propose that the change was internally-motivated, stemming from the reanalysis of a passive participial.