Category Archives: invited talks

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.

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, March 30: Savithry Namboodiripad (UMich)

This week we will be hosting Savithry Namboodiripad of the University of Michigan. Her work focuses on how language contact affects linguistic variation, in particular constituent order in the world’s languages. Her dissertation examined this question in Malayalam via psycholinguistic experimental methodology (you can read more here:

Please see below for information about her talk this Friday, March 30th at 3:30 pm. We will meet in RO 301.

“Contact, variation, and change in constituent order: integrating social and cognitive approaches”

Savithry Namboodiripad (University of Michigan)

Languages vary as to how flexible the order of the major sentential constituents are, and both basic (canonical) constituent order and flexibility are empirical domains which have been described as being particularly susceptible to contact-induced change (e.g., Heine 2008, Friedman 2003, Bickel et al. 2017). However, less is known about the processes by which language contact leads to change in constituent order, and what the role of flexibility might be, if any. Here, I address these topics using an approach to contact-induced change which integrates social and cognitive explanations, and I argue that systematicity in the outcomes of contact-induced change can be at least partially explained by the dynamics of language learning and use in multilingual contexts.
The talk has two main parts: first, I propose and motivate a cross-linguistically valid operational measure of flexibility in constituent order using formal acceptability judgment experiments. I present experiments in English, Malayalam, and Korean which show that this measure yields gradient results that align with what is known about the structure of each language. In addition, I show that speakers of Malayalam and Korean who have more experience with English differ quantitatively but not qualitatively from those who have less experience with English: more experience with English corresponds to a greater preference for canonical SOV order in both Korean and Malayalam.
In the second part of the talk, I discuss the details of the contact situation for both groups of speakers. The high-contact Malayalam speakers are young people who grew up in post-colonial India where English is an inextricable part of daily life, and English has led to change in Malayalam as spoken in India at all levels of linguistic analysis. The high-contact Korean speakers are English-dominant individuals who grew up in the United States, were schooled in English, and, in some cases, have limited fluency in speaking Korean. Based on the properties of these acceptability judgment experiments, I argue that the similarities between these two contact situations could explain the similar outcomes of contact. On analogy with “frontier conditions” (Nichols 2017), I discuss the potential for common contact outcomes under “post-colonial conditions” and “immigrant conditions” more broadly speaking, and posit that future investigation of these types of speech communities can shed light on other cases of contact-induced phenomena like creoles and mixed languages.
Under this approach, factors like literacy, language attitudes, and language policy are treated as causal variables which shape the contexts in which the languages and varieties in an individual’s repertoire are used and processed. Individuals inherit the social contexts in which they learn and use language (cf. ontogenetic niche). Thus, links between social structure and language structure are derivable from systematic investigation into how languages are differentially processed in multilingual contexts across the lifespan.

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 19th at 12:30: Isaac Bleaman

This week the Language Variation and Change workshop is co-sponsoring an event with Comparative Literature, who is hosting Isaac Bleaman of NYU ( Isaac will give a talk on “Hasidic Yiddish Syntax on the Internet: Competing Trends in Language Change” this Friday 1/19 at 12:30 PM in Classics 110. (Note the unusual meeting time for LVC!)
More information on his talk, as well as other events this week, can be found in the flyer below.

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, 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