Category Archives: student talks

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.


Friday, December 2 @ 3:30 PM: Jacob Phillips (UChicago)

Please join LVC this Friday, December 2 at 3:30 PM in Rosenwald 301. It will be our last meeting of the quarter and our speaker is our own Jacob Phillips. Hope you can make it!

Retraction in Action: Examining phonological and prosodic effects on /s/-retraction in the laboratory”
Jacob Phillips
University of Chicago

An ongoing sound change in American English is /s/-retraction, the process by which /s/ is articulated approaching /ʃ/ in the context of /r/. Speakers vary significantly in the degree of retraction observed, with all individuals exhibiting coarticulatory effects of /r/ in /sCr/ clusters and some individuals displaying an apparent sound change, with /s/ reanalyzed as /ʃ/ in /str/ clusters (Mielke et al., 2010; Baker et al., 2011). The present study uses experimental methods seeks to better understand the actuation of this sound change through a phonological and prosodic lens. College-aged students from across the United States read a series of sentences manipulating the phonological and prosodic environments of these sibilant. The results of this study demonstrate a retracted /s/ in the context of /r/ and phrase-intitially. While there was not a significant group-level effect for the interaction of prosodic position and phonological environment, the inclusion of by-subject random slopes for that interaction, which significantly improves model likelihood, suggests that individuals vary with respect to the effects of prosodic conditioning of /s/-retraction in different phonological contexts. These findings suggest a possible role of prosodic position in the actuation of sound change, both in production and possible effects in perception.


Thursday, November 3 at 4:30 PM: Semiotics Workshop (Perry Wong, UChicago)

LVC is cosponsoring a meeting of the Semiotics Workshop, on November 3 at 4:30 PM in Haskell 101, which will touch upon language contact in Mesoamerica.

“Notes on Mesoamerican ‘fashions of speaking’”
Perry Wong

with a brief addendum by Chris Bloechl


For a copy of the paper, please email Perry Wong at or Briel Kobak at
For the full schedule and other information, visit our website at: with disabilities who believe they may need assistance, please contact Perry Wong at or Briel Kobak at

Thursday, October 27 @ 12:00 PM: Fieldwork Recap Session Part 2

Please join us for the second part of this year’s Fieldwork Recap Session, which will take place in the Landahl Center on Thursday Oct 27 at 12 noon. We will be hearing from Betsy Pillion (discussing her planned fieldwork in Africa), Natalia Pavlou (Cypriot Maronite Arabic), Robert Lewis (Potawatomi), and Hannah McElgunn (Hopi).

As always some light refreshments will be served. Hope to see you there!

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.)

Britta Ingebretson @ LVC on Friday, March 11th!

Friday, March 1st @ 3:00PM in Rosenwald 015

Shepu or Mandarin? Attention and second order indexicality in a Chinese yoga studio

Britta Ingebretson
University of Chicago

In this talk, I will examine how the phonetic qualities of language become mobilized in processes of second-order indexicality in a yoga studio in Huangshan, China. Shepu, a portmanteau of Shexianhua (She county dialect) and Mandarin, is the local term for the dialect of Mandarin spoken in She county, a nonstandard dialect which incorporates many phonetic, prosodic, and tonal qualities from Shexianhua. Second-order indexicality is the process through which indexical relationship between ways of speaking and certain types of speakers becomes naturalized, such that ways of speaking become seen as iconic of, rather than indexing, certain types of speakers, and thus linking linguistic traits to other socially meaningful non-linguistic traits. While much literature has been devoted to showing how listener judgments allow the listener to classify speakers as belonging to certain social categories, in this talk I will show how the process also works in reverse. If listeners have already classified individuals as a certain social type, they are more likely to be attentive to and pick out the qualities of speech which conform to their preconceived perceptions than they are with other speakers, regardless of actual speaker variation. I show how this process works with three speakers of Shepu

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.

Ross Burkholder @ LVC & LCC on Friday, November 13th

Friday, November 13th @ 3:00 PM in Rosenwald 301

Language use in MOBA Gaming Communities

Ross Burkholder
University of Chicago

In this talk I discuss a recent project investigating language use in Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA) games, focusing in particular on language use in the community surrounding the game DOTA 2. During the course of this talk I hope to describe, compare, and highlight specific areas of language use in MOBAs.

Describe: What kind of language is being used in-game?
– How do variables effect individuals language use?
– How has language use changed over time?

Compare: How does the register used in MOBA games compare to…
– Other MOBAs?
– Other online gaming communities?
– Other computer mediated language?

Highlight: How does the multilingual nature of the community effect language use?
– What strategies are used when no mutual language is available?
– How are responses to multilingualism framed and formed?

In order to answer these questions, this study makes use of a small (but growing) corpus of game replay files, looking at various frequencies, concordances, and collocations. As this project is in the beginning phases, there will be more emphasis during the talk on the formulation of research questions, and the methodologies used in order to answer them, than on the presentation of results. Discussion of all aspects of this project is strongly encouraged.

Kathryn Franich @ LVC on Friday, November 6th!

Friday, November 6th @ 3:00PM in Rosenwald 301

Intrinsic and Contextual Cues to Tone Perception In Medʉmba
(or: A How-To Guide for Doing Phonetics Experiments in the Field)

Kathryn Franich
University of Chicago

In this talk, I discuss results of experimental work on tone perception in Medʉmba, a Grassfields Bantu language spoken in Cameroon. The following research questions were investigated:

1) What kinds of acoustic cues are relevant to the perception of tones in this language?
2) Is tone perception sensitive to pitch information from the surrounding context? And if so, is perception sensitive to contextual information from non-speech sounds as well as speech sounds?

Results indicate that both F0 and duration are important cues to tone perception, but that the influence of duration was strongest where target F0 values were low. This finding is in-line with previous cross-linguistic work showing interactions between duration perception and tone and is thought to arise through a compensatory mechanism on the part of speakers to normalize for F0-related perceptual or articulatory biases (Yu 2011, Gussenhoven & Zhou 2013).

Results also indicate that perception of tones on target syllables was influenced by the tone of the syllable in the previous trial within the experimental block. Interestingly, preceding non-speech tones did not influence perception, suggesting that the observed contextual effect was specific to linguistic stimuli, rather than attributable to domain-general auditory processing effects, as has been suggested by Huang & Holt (2009; 2011).

In describing the experiment, I provide a play-by-play of its design and execution to highlight ways in which typical laboratory setups can be adapted for a fieldwork setting. In particular, I focus on subject recruitment, stimuli creation and presentation, pilot-testing, and the use of computers for data collection in contexts where subjects are not accustomed to them.

9th June: Andrea Beltrama (UChicago)

Monday, June 9th @ 3:00 PM, Cobb 104

From semantic to social meaning. The case study of intensifiers.

The phenomenon of intensification is pervasive in natural language. Examples of such expressions, in English, include very, really, so, extremely. Linguists have addressed intensification with respect to two specific areas: intensifiers’ semantics, and intensifiers’ usage in the social landscape. Yet, an actual integration between these two approaches is currently missing. Exploring this relationship
represents the main goal of this talk.

The presence of a principled connection between semantic and sociolinguistic facts stems from the following observation. While the use of an intensifier with a gradable predicate comes across as fairly neutral (in (1)), the occurrences in (2) normally index a richer constellation of indexical information. First, these expressions are intuitively labeled as informal, colloquial, fit for spoken registers. Moreover, they normally suggest an association with readily identifiable and specific social and psychological traits, or even full-fledged social types (“Valley girl”, “Generation X”, and others)

(1a) The tank is totally full (Gradable. Source of the scale: scale of fullness)
(1b) The house is very big (Gradable. Source of the scale: scale of size)
(1c) The building is so tall that planes almost touch it (Gradable. Source: scale of height)

(2a) Your attitude is very UChicago. (Non-gradable. Source: stereotypical traits of Uchicago)
(2b) I totally left this at home (Non-gradable. Source: certainty about the proposition)
(2c) I’m so next in line! (Non-gradable. Source: eagerness/enthusiasm about being next)

My leading hypothesis is that speakers, when making use of intensifiers, are exploiting the semantic notion of gradability as a stylistic resource to construct social meaning and social evaluations. In particular, I suggest that intensifiers that semantically target non-lexical scales create a marked linguistic environment, which emerges as a suitable attachment site for social meaning and the related social evaluations.