Category Archives: historical

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.


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.