Category Archives: linguistic variation

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 6: Alan Yu (UChicago)

There will be a meeting of the Language Variation and Change workshop this Friday, April 6 at 3:30 pm in Cobb 119. Please note the unusual location.

Our speaker will be Alan Yu. Please see below for details about his talk.

“Investigating South Asian Cantonese in Hong Kong from a phonological perspective
Alan Yu (University of Chicago)

More than 6% of the population of Hong Kong are ethnic minorities, speaking a variety of languages. This focus on the South Asian subpopulation in Hong Kong. While Cantonese is the dominant language of Hong Kong, only around 30% of the South Asian inhabitants reported Cantonese as the language of choice. Little is known about the variety of Cantonese spoken by this community of speakers. This talk reports the progress of a joint project that focuses on the phonetics and phonology of Hong Kong South Asian Cantonese. I show that South Asian Cantonese is not monolithic and the variation, particularly the tonal variation, depends on the sociolinguistic background of the speakers.

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.