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”
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.
Friday, December 4th @ 3:00PM in Rosenwald 301
Understanding Basque Differential Object Marking from Typological, Contact and Attitudinal perspectives
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Differential Object Marking (DOM) has enjoyed abundant scholarly interest insomuch as theoretical explanations of its key parameters (Aissen 2003; Malchukov and Swart 2008; Hoop and Swart 2007), language-specific constraints (Leonetti 2004; Seifart 2012; Sinnemaki 2014) and synchronic and diachronic accounts in various languages (Morimoto and Swart 2004; Robertson 2007). However, less attention has been paid to the role that language contact plays in the emergence of DOM or the processes that lead to its variable use in contact settings. Basque DOM has been characterized as the product of intense contact with Basque-Spanish leísmo (Austin 2006; Rodríguez-Ordóñez, 2015), but its variable use and the role that attitudes play in its use remain understudied.
Using spontaneous speech of 70 Basque-Spanish bilinguals and 19 Basque-French bilinguals in combination of experimental techniques on production and perception, I provide evidence to the argument that Basque DOM involves a process of replica grammaticalization (Heine and Kuteva 2010) in which contact features and typological constraints work interactively, particularly dependent upon the language dominance of the speaker. The low use among L2 speakers is explained through the attitudinal results; Basque DOM is considered ‘defective’ and ‘non-authentic’ in Standard Basque, the variety of L2 and early sequential bilinguals. It is proposed that these speakers do not use Basque DOM so that their ‘authentic Basque identity’ is not fully questioned.
The present study builds upon theoretical and methodological implications: first, it argues that a multi-disciplinary study of contact-phenomena advances our theory on the interplay of language as ‘human faculty’ and ‘social competence’ in which bilinguals engage in a linguistic task that involve cognitive processing mechanisms and the ability to implement societal norms (Matras 2010). Second, it advocates for the formal study of language attitudes as an integrated part of a theory of contact-linguistics.
Monday, June 2nd @ 3:00 PM, Cobb 104
Nominal Licensing and vP
In this talk, I discuss aspects of nominal distribution patterns in several Bantu languages. While Bantu languages have been claimed to lack case-licensing altogether (e.g. Harford 1985, Diercks 2012, a.o.), I outline a research path for investigating structural licensing of nominals in Bantu. Using Zulu as a starting point, I show that nominals lacking an augment morpheme (initial vowel) are restricted to certain structural positions within DP, PP, or vP. I argue that licensing at the vP-level is syntactic in nature, a form of case-licensing, connected to another morphosyntactic process that targets the vP domain: the conjoint/disjoint alternation. At the same time, there are secondary semantic/interpretive properties that correlate with this type of licensing in Zulu. I show that beyond Zulu, we find similar nominal distribution patterns in other Bantu languages. In Kinande and Luganda (e.g. Progovac 1993, Hyman and Katamba 1993), for example, augment vowel distribution seems to operate on related, but non-identical principles, to Zulu. In Otjiherero (Kavari et al 2012), augments do not seem to play a role in nominal distribution and licensing, but the tonal melodies with which nominals are marked follow the same syntactic patterns as augment distribution in languages like Zulu. The emerging picture, therefore, is one in which nominal case-licensing at the clause level seems to be closely tied to the vP domain in multiple Bantu languages. I suggest that we can find some similar profiles to the type of interaction between structural licensing and interpretive properties that we see in Bantu in languages with more robust systems of morphological case, including Russian genitive of negation, Finnish partitives, and certain uses of genitive in Japanese dialects (e.g. de Hoop 1996, Kiparsky 1998, Partee and Borschev 2004, Ochi and Saruwatari 2014).
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.
Monday, February 10th @ 4:30 PM, Harper 150
Language variation and change in two Palestinian Arabic varieties: Gaza and Jaffa
While research in Arabic sociolinguistics has been on the rise in recent years, a number of regions are still under-investigated. Most varieties of Palestinian Arabic, though described by dialectologists in the traditional sense over the years, have not received much attention from a variationist perspective. This presentation will shed light on two urban varieties of Palestinian Arabic and discuss future directions in the research of the region as a whole, concentrating on the shared history between Gaza and Jaffa, the two cities in which we have done our fieldwork.
Our presentation will focus on two variables, one from each of these Palestinian cities:
1. The phonological variable (ʕ) in Jaffa
2. The morphophonological variable (ah) in Gaza
Each of these speech communities has its unique characteristics: Jaffa speakers tend to be bilingual—their L2 being Modern Hebrew—and the variation observed is assumed to be contact-induced. This hypothesis is tested, and for the most part confirmed, through quantitative analysis. The community in Gaza has been living under military occupation an physical siege, which has isolated them from the rest of the Palestinian population for quite some time, rendering their dialect quite distinct from most other varieties of Arabic in the region, in addition to its predisposition as a sort of bridge dialect between the Levant and Egypt, given its geographical location. Many speakers in Gaza are in fact refugees from Jaffa, and we will discuss the significance of this fact both in the context of work already carried out and for work in progress for future publication.
Monday, November 4th @ 3 PM, Harper 140
Magical ideologies of language change: Connecting micro-level variation to macro-areal diversification
In many respects, historical investigation of the Bantu language family serves as a model application of the Comparative Method to a genealogical unit outside of Indo-European. The close relationship of hundreds of languages occupying the greater part of southern sub-Saharan Africa is beyond question, and there is consensus on many important features of the proto-language. At the same time, despite more than a century and a half of scholarship, significant issues regarding the development of the family remain unresolved almost to the point of seeming intractable. No shared innovation has been found that uniquely delineates Bantu from its closest relatives, no family-wide subgrouping has become accepted, and no fully convincing explanation has been offered for Bantu’s incredibly successful spread throughout southern Africa.
This talk reconsiders these issues through the examination of the comparative linguistics of a small, linguistically diverse region of Cameroon known as Lower Fungom, which is located within the putative Proto-Bantu homeland. By treating Lower Fungom as a microcosm for Bantu, it becomes possible to explore how a local ideology that links languages to relatively ephemeral political entities results in patterns of language change which are neither tree-like nor wave-like but, rather, “magnetic”, with varieties in contact constantly converging and diverging from each other to reflect shifting patterns of solidarity and antagonism. This ideological stance is further associated with a system of beliefs wherein code choice is perceived as a means to access the magical protection associated with a given community. This fosters multilingualism and frequent language shift as strategies through which individuals can attempt to increase their spiritual security.
Through the examination of specific structural features of the languages of Lower Fungom, it will be argued that the presence of these ideological patterns can take us far in understanding why there was never a clean linguistic “break” between Bantu and its closest relatives, why clear-cut subgroups never formed, and why the family spread so successfully. More generally, it will be suggested that detailed investigation of the ways that local language ideologies relate codes to communities has a significant role to play in addressing the actuation problem in language change.
Monday, May 13th @ 3 PM, Wieboldt 408
What are they?: Some Hidden Forms of the Copula in Old Irish
It is uncontroversial that Proto-Indo-European *-nti# regularly becomes -t /d/ in Old Irish, as in berait ‧berat ‘(they) carry’ (< *bheronti). Nevertheless, my principal claim in this talk is that just in the copula, and under certain specifiable conditions, the same sequence results instead in -n. In the course of using this new phonological rule to uncover a couple of hitherto unnoticed copular forms, I also comment on morpho-phonological curiosities in the paradigm of the Old Irish copula more generally.
Monday, January 28th @ 12:30 PM, Social Sciences 302
Allocutive agreement and forms of address in Basque
As in many other languages, Basque has a T-V distinction in the second
person: ‘hi’ (and related pronominal and agreement forms) is used with
close relatives and friends, while ‘zu’ (and related morphemes) is the
neutral form. Although the distinction is a familiar one, several
peculiarities of this system set it apart from better-known ones in
European languages. For instance, ‘hi’ forms encode
(masculine/feminine) gender in a language that otherwise has no
grammatical gender marking, which goes against the universal tendency
for gender to be marked in the second person only if the language
marks this distinction in the third person. In addition, ‘hi’ forms
trigger ‘allocutive agreement’: when speaking to close relatives and
friends (i.e. people that would be addressed with ‘hi’ forms), finite
verbs must include a non-argumental second person agreement marker
that agrees with the addresee (even if the latter is not referred to
by any overt or covert nominal in the sentence). Thus, the verbal
forms used with close male relatives and friends can be quite
different from those used with close female relatives and friends, and
both sets are different from the set of forms used with other
addressees. In this talk, we discuss these and other grammatical and
social aspects of the second person system in Basque.