Category Archives: invited talks

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

Friday, November 11 @ 3:30 PM: Nicole Rosen (UManitoba)

Please join the Language Variation and Change Workshop this Friday, November 11th at 3:30 PM in Cobb 116, for a talk from our invited speaker, Nicole Rosen. Details below.

“Nominal Contact in the Michif Language”

Nicole Rosen
University of Manitoba

Michif is an endangered Metis language with its roots in the Fur Trade in Canada, where it arose through the intermarriage of Cree and French people in Canada’s Red River Valley. It is considered a contact language, mixing Plains Cree and French. Michif has received considerable attention in the language contact literature due to its seemingly unusual syntactic and phonological patterns arising from the French-Plains Cree contact situation in which it was created. Bakker (1997) described the language as being formed through a process called language intertwining, resulting in a mixed language posited to have an NP/VP split, where French lexical items pattern like French and Cree lexical items pattern like Plains Cree. Since this time, the accepted view of the language is that the French-source DPs behave like French, while the Cree-source VPs behave like Plains Cree. In this talk I will argue against this received view, showing that this analysis of Michif holds only at a very superficial level. Once we examine the constituency of the DP and investigate the underlying structure in a more rigorous manner, the picture becomes quite different. Using evidence from gender, number and DP constituency, I show that the Michif DP in fact shows very little structural similarity to its parent French DP. As a result, with the one domain said to be French no longer looking French-like, we are left with a language which follows regular Algonquian-type syntax and semantics, with some particularities to allow for the introduction of French elements and some resulting Michif-specific innovations. Although it may be useful to historical linguists to describe its creation as V-N language mixing, I argue that this designation holds little insight into synchronic patterning of the Michif grammar, and that there is little motivation for this exoticization of the language, which patterns according to structures already available cross-linguistically.

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”.

Barbra Meek (University of Michigan) @ LVC on Wednesday, May 4th!

“Linguistic Manifestations in Encounters of Loss”

Barbra Meek
University of Michigan

The prediction for most aboriginal languages has been extinction and a scholarly orientation toward “loss.” However, many of these languages are still with us today, including those presumed lost. This means that someone somewhere has imagined a future for these languages, for current language users, and in relation to some potential audience. But, as with ideas of “success” (Hinton 2016), not all aboriginal language futures are unfolding in identical ways and not all paths lead to the same end or even to their own intended end. This talk is a reflection on “loss” in relation to the various efforts that have been imagined and implemented in order to project a future for one aboriginal case, the Kaska (Dene/Athabaskan) language, and some of the unexpected possible futures that have emerged along the way.

Wednesday, May 4th at 4:30 PM in Rosenwald 015

Daniel Chen (Toulouse School of Economics) @ LVC on Friday, April 29th!

“Covering: Mutable Characteristics and Perceptions of (Masculine) Voice in the U.S. Supreme Court”

Daniel Chen
Institute for Advanced Study, Toulouse School of Economics

Using data on all 1,901 U.S. Supreme Court oral arguments between 1999 and 2013, we document that voice-based snap judgments based solely on the introductory sentences of lawyers predict Justices votes. The connection between vocal characteristics and court outcomes is specific to perceived masculinity even when judgment of masculinity is based only on less than three seconds of exposure to a lawyer’s speech sample. Although previous studies suggest a significant role for vocal characteristics on real world behavior, prior to our work none has identified a definitive connection using identical phrases. Roughly 30% of the association between voice-based masculinity and court outcomes comes from within-male lawyer variation, whereas 70% comes from between-male lawyer variation. Moreover, voice-based first impressions predict both male and female lawyers’ court outcomes: less masculine males and more feminine females are more likely to win. A de-biasing experiment separately identifies statistical discrimination and prejudice by showing that information reduces 40% of the correlation between perceived masculinity and perceived win and incentives reduces another 20% of the correlation. The negative correlations between perceived masculinity and win rates were stronger in private firms and in petitioner classes with more masculine voices. Perceived masculinity explains an additional 10% of variance relative to best existing prediction models of Supreme Court justice votes. Sincere and strategic voting considerations may explain why liberal justices were more likely to vote against male lawyers perceived as more masculine and conservative justices were more likely to vote for female lawyers perceived as more feminine.

Friday, April 29th at 3:00 PM in Rosenwald 015