Category Archives: language documentation

Friday, May 11: Robert Lewis (UChicago)

There will be a meeting of LVC this Friday, May 11th at 3:30 pm, in Rosenwald 301. Please see below for details.

“Additivity in Potawatomi”

Robert Lewis (UChicago)

Potawatomi has a relatively rich inventory of additive particles — six in total. This inventory is sensitive to three distinctions: (i) a distinction between simple and scalar additivity, (ii) a distinction between upward and downward entailing environments, (iii) a distinction within downward entailing environments based on polarity which separates a negative downward entailing environment from a non-negative downward entailing environment. These three distinctions have been shown to be cross-linguistically common (Köing, 1991; Giannakidou, 2007; Gast & van der Aurwera 2011, 2013) and had been postulated to be reducible to the following semantic entailment relation: simple additive < upward entailing < negative downward entailing < non-negative downward entailing. However, Potawatomi’s additive particle seems to contradict this entailment relation (Gast & van der Aurwera, 2013). While may be used for simple additivity, in upward entailing environments, and in downward entailing environments, it only appears as a scalar additive particle in non-negative downward entailing environments. In negative downward entailing environments, it’s a concessive. Beyond additivity, an additive particle can also achieve a variety of other functions as has been shown throughout the literature. Of these functions, recent typological findings suggest that the contrastive topic and topic sift functions of additive particles are more prevalent cross-linguistically than previously thought (Forker, 2016). Potawatomi adds credence to this claim, as well as displaying a topic continuation function.

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, November 17 at 3:30 PM: Fieldwork Recap (Part 1)

The Language Variation and Change workshop will host its first fieldwork recap session this Friday, November 17th at 3:30 PM in Rosenwald 301. Come learn where students are doing their fieldwork, their methods, and the challenges they face. This week we’ll hear from Hilary McMahan, Cherry Meyer, Kat Montemurro, and Adam Singerman! A small reception will follow everyone’s presentations.

Friday, November 3 at 1 PM: Adam Singerman (UChicago) — joint with Morph&Syn

Please join us for a talk by Adam Singerman at a joint meeting with the Morphology & Syntax workshop, on Friday, November 3rd at 1 PM in Cobb 119. Details in the attached abstract.

Evidentiality, grammatical number, and physical position in Tuparí

Adam Singerman (University of Chicago)

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, February 24 at 1 PM: Adam Singerman (UChicago) – Joint with Morph&Syn

Please join us this Friday, February 24th at 1PM in Rosenwald 208 for a joint meeting of LVC and the Morphology & Syntax workshops. Our speaker will be Adam Singerman.

Finite embedding and quotation in Tuparí

Adam Roth Singerman
University of Chicago

Tuparí (Tupían; Brazil) has innovated a finite embedding construction that bears the structural hallmarks of an internal headed relative clause. What makes this construction typologically unusual is that it instantiates an apparent violation of the Final-over-Final Condition (a proposed universal discussed at length in recent work by Biberauer, Holmberg, Roberts, and Sheehan): the Tuparí configuration shows a left-branching syntactic projection dominating a right-branching one.

This talk will present the main descriptive and analytic generalizations concerning finite embedded clauses in Tuparí and will examine the implications for current theories of syntactic disharmony: Biberauer et al’s FOFC and Hawkins’s Performance-Grammar Correspondence Hypothesis. In particular, I will show that the Tuparí facts are more problematic for the PGCH than for FOFC (even if FOFC’s appeal to innate constraints in UG is not fully satisfactory as an explanatory mechanism). 

The talk concludes with an examination of the origins of finite embedded clauses in Tuparí. While such clauses transparently involve the grammaticization of a demonstrative third person pronoun as a clausal subordinator, there is evidence that the backwards syntactic dependencies visible in direct quotation have also played a role.


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”.

Friday October 7th at 3:30 PM: Fieldwork Recap Session Part 1!

Please join us for the first part of this year’s Fieldwork Recap Session, where students will talk about where in the world they’re conducting their research and the challenges associated with working and establishing contacts in different places.

Our first group of presenters (along with the regions where they work) includes: Adam Singerman (the Amazon), Ksenia Ershova (the Caucasus), Perry Wong (Guatemala), and Jessica Kantarovich (Siberia).

See you Friday October 7th at 3:30 PM! (Location TBD: check back for an update in the next couple of days.)

Yukinori Takubo (Kyoto University) at LVC on Tuesday, March 1st!

“How to construct a digital museum with a large scale web-archive”

Yukinori Takubo 
Kyoto University

In this talk we will propose a new design of a digital museum for
endangered languages. Just like a real museum, the digital museum proposed here consists of (1) a storage space, where items are archived, and (2) an exhibition space, where a selection of items from the storage are exhibited. Currently, in language documentation and conservation, the archives and the web pages are treated separately. Language archives are created mainly for the purpose of storing language data permanently for future reference. The web spaces for language conservation or exhibition are usually constructed without direct reference to the archived data.

Our proposed system enables us to construct a digital space for endangered languages linked to a large-scale archive at an individual level and at a manageable price, thereby providing us with a powerful tool for language documentation and conservation.

Tuesday, March 1st – Rosenwald 301

Betsy Pillion, Sarah Kopper & Lenore Grenoble @ LVC on Friday, February 12th

Friday, February 12th @ 3:00PM in Rosenwald 015

“Is ‘huh’ really a universal word? Clicks, kisses & whistles in Cameroon”

Betsy Pillion, Sarah Kopper & Lenore Grenoble
University of Chicago, MSU, University of Chicago

Cameroon, a linguistically diverse country of more than 240 languages, is host to a set of cross- linguistic communicative signals that are ubiquitous in the common space.

In this work, we describe a system of extra-grammatical sounds in use in a variety of speech communities in southern Cameroon attested in four Bantu languages, with three Narrow Bantu varieties: Basaa (A40), closely related Bakoko (A40), and Bulu (A70), all spoken in the Littoral, Central and South regions, and one Grasslands language, Ngoshie, spoken in the Northwest (classification from Hammerstöm et al. 2015). Although not integrated into a morphosyntactic frame, these sounds are meaningful units with specific discourse functions. We identify these sounds as members of a larger class of what we call verbal gestures, defined by a set of functional and structural characteristics. Such sounds are often found in exclamations, animal calls and borrowed words; some may be considered as constituting a secondary phonemic system (Fries & Pike 1949; Harris 1951). Although they are extragrammatical, some have clear lexical meaning and serve as lexical substitutes, while others are more gesture-like in conveying pragmatic, but not lexico-semantic, meaning. Some are segmental and others extra-segmental.

Our data point to a complex system of these verbal gestures. In this paper we describe five that are highly salient across multiple languages:

Table 1: Verbal gestures

form function linguistic communities
(stop-)sibilant attention getting Bulu, Ngoshie, Bakoko, Basaa
whistle calling Bakoko, Basaa
bilabial-lateral click negative affect Bulu, Ngoshie, Bakoko, Basaa
lateral click back channel Ngoshie, Basaa
bilabial click dog call/“wolf whistle” Bulu, Ngoshie, Bakoko, Basaa

The clicks form a special subclass of verbal gestures referred to as tʃámlà in Basaa. In addition, a highly salient use of F0 contours occurs in gestures for calling across distances. These gestures have wide recognition across a large area of the country even though consultants self-identify as speaking different first languages. Thus they exhibit a high degree of salience across speech communities while simultaneously displaying variation, individual variation as well as across speakers and languages. For example, the attention-getting gesture, a hiss, is sometimes uttered with a consonantal onset (e.g. [kss], [dss], [pss]), or as an elongated [s:]. The extent to which this is due to differences in speech communities has not yet been determined.

The identification of the category of verbal gestures has cross-linguistic implications. Their use is universal and can account for claims such as Dingemanse et al. (2013) that ‘huh’ is a universal “word.” In our theory, it is a verbal gesture, with differences in phonetics and discourse functions attributable to language differences. Furthermore, our classification expands the study of non-phonemic clicks in the languages of Africa and provides more details about the actual use of the so-called paralinguistic clicks described by Gil (2011), with some (albeit tentative) support of his hypothesis that the extra- grammatical use of clicks may have spread from Africa.

Data for this study was collected from fieldwork conducted in Yaoundé, Édéa, and Buea, Cameroon in summer 2015.


Dingemanse, Mark, Francisco Torreira, N.J. Enfield. 2013. Is “huh” a universal word? Conver- sational infrastructure and the convergent evolution of linguistic items. PLoS ONE 8(11): e78273. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0078273

Fries, Charles C. & Kenneth L. Pike. 1949. Coexistent phonemic systems. Language 25: 29-50.

Gil, David. 2011. Para-linguistic usages of clicks. In: Dryer, Matthew S. & Martin Haspelmath (eds.), The world atlas of language structures online. Munich: Max Planck Digital Library, chapter 142. Available online at Accessed on 2015-11-09

Hammarström, Harald, Rober Forkel, Martin Haspelmath & Sebastian Bank. 2015. Glottolog 2.6. Jena: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History. (, Accessed on 2015-11-09.)

Harris, Zellig S. 1951. Methods in structural linguistics. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

McNeill, David. 1992. Hand and mind: What gestures reveal about thought. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.