Category Archives: language documentation

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.

12 May: Rachel Lehr (UChicago)

Monday, May 12th @ 3:00 PM, Cobb 104

Linguistics in a Challenging Environment

Linguists choose to work on languages and in environments for a variety of reasons.   Choices may be determined by locations of interest, funding, mentors, prior experience, and urgent need. The choice to work in a conflict zone poses unique challenges. When attention is focused on a minority language community in a high conflict area, the stakes are raised for all involved.  Both linguistic and extra-linguistic factors influence the success and safety of the researcher, as well as the speech community. Because of the difficulty of working in Afghanistan over the past 30 years, little work has been done on minority regional languages.

This talk will focus on my work with Pashai speakers in Afghanistan and the diaspora.  My non-linguistic work with Pashai women led to linguistic work in their community.  I will discuss the ways in which long-term participant-observation provided access and insights into women’s language practices and how gender and geography play an increasingly significant role in language transmission and vitality. I will illustrate these practices with examples from the use of digital media and the different ways that men and women use the Pashai vigesimal counting system.

NGOs, individuals, and the Afghan government have recently undertaken efforts to provide an orthography, texts and teaching materials for Pashai. This discussion looks at how these efforts are met in the community, at the regional and national levels. Data from the pronominal system and verbal morphology illustrating the dialectal differences between three close villages will be used to show some of the challenges to native linguists developing curriculum and a standardized orthography.

Minority language promotion raises a community’s awareness of their own identity and prestige. In an attempt to sort out ‘ethno’ from ‘linguistic’ I will detail the association between language and ethnicity for Pashai speakers whose claim to ethno-linguistic identity reflects more outsider than insider influence. Afghanistan has been embroiled in a multi-ethnic identity crisis for more than thirty years. As policies evolve with each successive government Pashai speakers express a range of opinions on how Pashai they are, as the relationship between language and identity is continually contested.

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.

25 November: Workshop on Language Documentation

Monday, November 25th @ 2 PM, Harper 140 (NOTE TIME CHANGE)

The Workshop on Language Variation and Change is pleased to offer a special workshop on language documentation taught by postdoctoral researcher Dorothea Hoffmann.  The workshop will take place from 2-3:45 PM in HM 140 (note time change)

Dr. Hoffmann has been conducting fieldwork on endangered languages of Australia since 2010 and brings a wealth of experience in modern techniques for language documentation, as well as a deep understanding for the complex role of the researcher in documenting sacred linguistic registers.  More about her work can be found on her website:

As preparatory reading for the workshop, we are distributing the following papers, two by Tony Woodbury and one by Nikolaus Himmelmann.

woodbury defining documentary linguistics 


himmelmann documentary and descriptive linguistics

Additionally, tools and resources from the following websites will be discussed: