Sunday, December 27, 2015

Toasts in a grammar

I'm reading Holisky & Gagua (1994), a grammar sketch of Batsbi. I just came across this sentence, "the words said by him remained toast". I like it, a lot.

I take it that despite some sort of condition or expectation, the words he said remained to best be described as speeches or hot white bread. Like some sort of uncle at a wedding who never stops talking once he's got the space. There is no more context, so all we can do is speculate.

Batsbi [bbl, bats1242] is spoken at the dot on this map below and transitivising affixes, inclusive pronouns and aorist.

Holisky, Dee Ann and Rusudan Gagua. 1994. Tsova-Tush (Batsbi). In Rieks Smeets (ed.), North East Caucasian Languages Part 2, 147-212. Delmar, New York: Caravan Books.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Glossing, how I miss you!

I'm currently reading some older grammars that are written in a quite different style from most modern grammars. They're very ambitious, meticulous and good in many ways, but most crucial is the fact that they lack glossing. I miss glossing so!

Glossing is a way for linguists to divide up utterances and translate more fine-grained units so that other linguists can have a better understanding of what's going on. When reading a grammar and trying to understand how the language works, glossing is immensely useful and practical. You as a reader might be interested in different things from the author, and glossing makes their analysis more transparent and makes more information available to the reader. You can read more about it, and conventions for it, here.

Let's make ourselves happier by looking at some of my favourite glossing ever, the texts of the project on Typology of Negation in the Ob-Ugric and Samoyedic languages. I'm not even kidding, looking at these texts is a joy for the mind. Down below is an utterance in Northern Khanty (Sherkaly) from there. Look at it. It's got two levels of sound representation (one more phonetic and one phonological). It's got glossing and translation into both English and German (and sometimes Russian if I'm not mistaken). It also gives the word class/part of speech per unit, aaand as a plus, each example is clearly annotated for where it's from and given a unique ID. They're all up online, either in HTML or PDF, freely and openly. Go enjoy!

Would you look at that, isn't that pretty :)!

(Yes, there's lots of other well annotated corpora out there (hosted at ELAR, TLA, PARADISEC etc), but not that many that are easily available like this and with these many levels.. that I know of.)

Ok, bye.

P.S. NOS uses "3" for null.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Go play some language games!

There are more and more exciting new tools cropping up for scientist to gather data, and in linguistics one new tool such is gaming! We just had a talk here at CoEDL at ANU from a researcher working on mutual intelligibility of closely related european languages - Charlotte Gooskens - where they've been using games to investigate this question. Apropos that, I thought I'd let you all know about some games you can play that can further our understanding of language!

Go play games, for science!

Mutual understanding between closely related languages-game
As a speaker of a major european language, how good are you at understanding your neighbours? Really... :)?
Link to game.
Link to science behind (don't look before playing!)

LingQuest! How good are you at correctly identifying which language you're hearing?
Test yourself on over 30 European languages and other languages from all over the world. Included are many languages currently under study in the DOBES-program.
Link to newer expanded game (currently only iOS)
Link to original game (all platforms)
Link to science behind (don't look before playing!)

Which English?
Let the Games With Words-people guess what dialect of English you speak, or what your first language is, by answering some quite simple questions
Link to game
Link to science behind (don't look before playing)

Help build an alien language
The people at Language Evolution and Computation (LEC) in Edinburgh are interested in how you can create a communication system, pass it on and how it's changed through repeating this process. Go play!
Link to game
Link to science behind (don't look before playing)

Another recognising languages-game - but this time you can adjust the sample yourself and train yourself!
The people at Maryland Language Science Center are also interested in learning about how well you can recognise languages, and also allow you to train and improve.
Link to game

Want more?
If you want more, check out the other games by the Language in Interaction-Consotirum, Games With Words-lab, explore the LECs website and read posts about games at Replicated Typo!

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Generative and non-generative ideas of the current questions and aims of linguistics

This is a blogpost about the way that different linguists see the great challenges and aims of linguistics, it's full of quotes that I hope will prove illustrative. The quotes are taken mainly from here  and here, you can also go there to read more. As usual, you're more than free to skim and scroll, there's quite a few quotes this time.

On this blog we're interested in discussing what the "Big Research Questions" in linguistics are, and also we've been interested in getting past the functional-fenerative divide that often is very destructive. Two of our readers even commented that the inflammatory "debates" of the Great War are "profoundly unattractive" and that they had left that part of linguistics intentionally because of it's unproductive nature. Here's Haspelmath describing the situation:

It is not hard to see that linguists who work on linguistic diversity tend to fall into two very rough sociological groups: Those who are more likely to attend conferences like the Association for Linguistic Typology and publish in journals like Linguistic Discovery, and those who are more likely to attend West Coast Conference on Formal Linguistics and publish in NLLT. But what kind of intellectual difference, if any, corresponds to this grouping?

My feeling is that the intellectual difference between the two sociological groups is not well understood in our field, and that many linguists who tend to hang out in one of the groups more than in the other are perhaps not committed to a particular intellectual orientation. (free PDF of entire paper here) 

So, in light of this I'd like to make this post about grand challenges in linguistics, as formulated by generativist, but also non-generativists. I call to your attention a conference that took place earlier this year in Greece titled "Generative Syntax in the Twenty-first Century: The Road Ahead" and a similar event that took place in Poznan 2014 labeled Quo vadis linguistics in the 21st century where less/not at all generative researchers discussed similar issues. Both events are very interesting and aim to incite a high/level discussion of foundational issues and identifying major outstanding research questions.

Generative Syntax in the Twenty-first Century: The Road Ahead (Athens, Greece)

Picture from a travel blog about Greece
At the conference in Greece there was a round-table discussions with representatives from many different parts of the generative school and our world. Prior to these discussions, the participants were asked to write up a short statement elaborating on the following questions, questions quite frankly that I wish were discussed more generally as well:
  • Strengths and Weaknesses 
    • What have been the main strengths of generative-syntactic research, with particular emphasis on the early 21st century, and what do you think is wrong with the field of generative syntax today? 
    •  How do you think the field could/should go about addressing the current problems? 
  • Central unresolved theoretical issues
    •  What are the major open questions in the field of generative syntax today? 
    •  What is or ought (not) to be in the field’s theoretical core? 
  • Syntax in relation to other fields of inquiry 
    •  What are the main success stories and bottlenecks in the interaction between syntax and the other core-theoretical subdisciplines (semantics, phonology, morphology)? 
    •  What are the main success stories and bottlenecks in the interaction between syntax and the experimental subdisciplines (language acquisition, sentence processing, neurolinguistics), and how can syntax be more useful to those? 
  • The road ahead
    • What do you see as the biggest challenges for generative-syntactic research in the coming years/decades? 
    • In which direction(s) would you like to see the field proceed, and where would you like the field to be in ten or twenty years’ time? 
These statements, and other material from the conference, can be found freely here. I highly-highly-highly recommend going there and having a read. Here are some quotes from these statements:

there remains an Indo-European bias in the field, which privileges certain data sets as being inherently more theoretically interesting than others.  
it [developing long-term interdisciplinary collaborative research teams that leverage the insights of formal syntactic theorizing] needs to be integrated into graduate training programs so that junior scholars are socialized at the outset to take a broader view of the field. 

Syntacticians are often highly selective in the way they read and cite, and they adopt main stream proposals without questioning their basic assumptions. At the same time, interesting theoretical work is ignored if it is not fashionable or produced at the right places. This imbalance does not encourage free thinking. Success measures are often one-sided and the pressure for increased productivity does not always outweigh the cost of decrease in depth 
Research on the interfaces requires formal knowledge of more subdisciplines than just syntax. Undergraduate and PhD programs that take this into account are more successful than those that don’t.

I think the field is generally in a good shape, better than it has ever been before. There has been substiantial progress in all relevent domains: More data from many more languages have been investigated, and there have been spectacular theoretical developments over the last few decades, mostly triggered by the move to come up with minimalist accounts. In addition, I take it to be fairly obvious that there is simply no viable alternative to generative grammar (where the concept is understood in a broad sense, as a formal approach that systematically predicts the wellformedness or illformedness of linguistic expressions and is prepared to envisage abstract concepts in doing so); it would seem to me to be the case, for instance, that any potential challenge from pure usage-based construction grammar approaches has by now all but disappeared, due to an absence of well-defined theoretical concepts (e.g., no ontology of theoretical primitives) and an almost complete lack of interesting results. 

It helps to start by asking what the subject matter of linguistics is. There are two related enterprises; descriptions of native speaker’s particular Gs [Language-specific Grammars] and descriptions of human capacity to acquire Gs. The latter aims, in effect, to describe FL [Faculty of Language, i..e Universal Grammar]. 
Moreover, I don’t believe that using route-1 [Inferring properties of FL from G’s up ] is sufficient to get a decent account of FL, as there is an inherent limitation to scaling up from Gs to FL. The problem is akin to confusing Chomsky and Greenberg universals. A design feature of FL need not leave overt footprints in every G (e.g. island effects will be absent in Gs without movement) so the idea that one can determine the basic properties of FL by taking the intersection of features present in every G likely is a failing strategy. 

Poster from the movie "Quo Vadis"
from 1951 (Amazon).

Quo vadis linguistics in the 21st century (Poznań, Poland )

Now to the other event that has been going on, the round the table discussions iPoznań, and some quotes from their statements:
Some forty years ago the commonly held belief was that the relevant mental representations are propositional or linguaform in character. Hence, studying linguistic structures was vital for our understanding of the human mind. This is, however, no longer the prevailing view. 
Another reason why linguistics has lost some of its credibility in its scientific Umwelt is due to disagreement about the methodological standards that one should adhere to.

The first trend is that  linguistics is getting more quantitative, and the second trend is that the world is getting flatter. I expect these trends to become even stronger in the future. The first hope is that linguists will find a balance between uniqueness of individual languages and shared featuresof languages around the world. The second hope is that linguists will make better use of contemporary technology to connect people and ideas.

Linguists need to employ their language-related expertise to answer bigger scale questions about the nature of language systems in connection with other systems of meaning involved in communicative sense making. Neuroimaging research shows that language processing is not computed in a mental and neurophysiological vacuum. 

The field of grammaticalization studies has turned up a massive amount of data on the regularities of change that result in grammatical structures. It has also turned up counterexamples and rarer types of change that can result in grammatical structures. Of course, cross-linguistic study and research on historical change in languages with real documented historical corpora can help us to evaluate the hypotheses of grammaticalization research, but I would like to point to another avenue of research that bridges disciplinary boundaries, forging a link between the work of ‘unhyphenated’ linguists and experimentalists.

Martin Hilper who also participated in this discussion didn't write a text but made a video instead:

In conclusion
People have quite different understandings of what the underlying questions of linguistics as a field are, though the questions for different subfields are often more clear. These seems to be more agreement on the problems: too little is known of the great diversity of languages out there and more interdisciplinary work (both bridges between generativists and non-generativists and linguists and non-linguists) is needed.

Much more can be said, I will however stop now. Do go and read more of what these round-tables discussions contained, I think you'll find it most rewarding.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Tips when looking for PhD positions or other jobs in linguistics

A few quick tips to people looking for jobs in linguistics, especially as students. I've recently been trying to help out some friends of mine who are looking for positions, and thought I'd perhaps share some quick tips that have helped me. Not that I'm an expert or anything, I'm just a tiny little PhD student who overthinks things a lot, but all the same. These might seem quite obvious, but I think they might actually be helpful still. Lemme know if you found them useful.

1) Talk to the professors, colleagues and bosses you like and let them know you're looking and would appreciate advice and support. Seriously, they might not have realised this and could be very helpful. Pre-warn them that you might need them to write recommendations letters.

2) Subscribe to mailing lists, and filter them(!!). Go to Linguist List and set yourself up to a few lists that look interesting. The large one LINGUIST has a tag for jobs, it's "Jobs", and I also highly recommend LINGTYP. Don't just look for job postings, check out other research project descriptions to learn more about how they can look.

3) Check out some of the places where you'd like to be and if possible subscribe to their mailing lists or RSS feeds. Here are some examples: the Centre of Excellence for Language Dynamics in Australia have their vacancies here, linguistics at Uni of Zurich is here and positions at the new department at the MPI in Jena are here.

4) Ask around among peers and friendly superiors if they'd be happy to read through and comment on applications you write.  Seriously, progress is made through doing and doing again and failing and improving. There's no need to let pride/shame and other such silly ideas restrict you from getting feedback and becoming better. Science is not about knowing everything and being brilliant from the start. Learning and improving is what this is all about, critique is meant to build you up, not pull you down. If people aren't able to frame their critique constructively, ignore them. Also, try yourself to separate self worth and pride from your production. Of course, don't exhaust your friends either - use them sparingly - but if they have said they will help - do send them stuff!!

5) Write many applications, apply to things you're not even sure you want.

6) If possible, ask to read other people's applications and project descriptions (if they don't send you them, go look for them in public repositories)

7) Don't buy the pessimistic and depressing things said about PhDs and academic life in general. This is your life, you should be happy in your life and you don't need to accept that your job makes you miserable most of the time. You should do this if it makes you happy. Don't just continue because it was the path you set out upon years ago.

8) This one is obvious, but if possible, talk to people at the place you want to be at. Just hang around, go to talks, introduce yourself etc. You know what I mean.

9) Linguistics is a really big field, with not always a lot of funding. This means that a lot of the positions out there might not be tailored to what you're interested in. Don't force yourself into a niche that you're not actually into.

10) Consider what options there are for doing what you're interested in, but not in a linguistics department. There are other people besides linguists who are interested in languages you know. Perhaps a language-specific, philosophy, computer science, psychology, or literature department might have something interesting to offer you?

11) Consider what kind of support and work environment you think you fit best in. Are you a lone wolf or more of a community oriented person? Try and find out things about prospective supervisors skills at supporting you and how you can handle/improve that situation if necessary. This is really important, this is your workplace and life - it needs to be able to function well with you.

I hope that was at least vaguely useful to some of you.

Smelling underarms in Apali

We've had a new submission for Goodies from Grammar Reading - a series of blog posts with interesting, fun or in other ways noteworthy utterances found while reading linguistic description (blogger posts here, old posts on tumblr here).

This one was noted by Siva Kalyan during Don Daniels' talk at the annual meeting of the Australian Linguistic Society (ALS 2015 in Western Sydney University). The example is taken from a collection of texts in Apalɨ by Martha Wade (Wade n.d.) and serves to illustrate the way this language encodes imperatives. The codes for this language are: ena and apal1256.

Original text: Vac-ɨna huji hisi sɨmɨl-ɨlɨŋ u-avɨ-la-lɨ.
Glossing: move.aside-2sg.ds underarm rotten smell-1sg.imp say-pl-hab-3
Translation: ‘“Move aside and let me smell your underarm,” they say.’                 

As utterances out of context goes, this is a most humour one. I was not present at the talk, nor at the occasion when this was said but I'd like to imagine it's a parent trying to check if their child has washed ^^. And as always, remember that the more spontaneous data in your grammar the more realistic your analysis will be, utterances like these are a sign of naturalistic data gathering!

In his talk Daniels discussed the notion of parallel drift (also known as parallel innovation) whereby related languages undergo similar/the same changes independently of each other. This is also related to correlated evolution, which can be used as a cover term for related or unrelated languages going through similar changes independently of each other. Daniels illustrated this with data from languages of the Sogeram language family in Papua New Guinea.

The Sogeram language group is classified under the (Nuclear-) Trans New Guinea language family and are spoken in the Madang province of Papua New Guinea. Here is a map from Ethnologue, the languages are found in the square marked "6",

And here's a blowup of area 6, Apali is language number 287.

Daniels, Don (2015) Explaining drift by reconstructing pragmatic variation. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Australian Linguistic Society. Western Sydney Univeristy, Sydney (abstract here)

Wade, Martha. (n.d.) Apalɨ texts. Electronic files, Pioneer Bible Translators 

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Ethnologue institutes pay-wall after 7 pages

The Ethnologue, the most widely used catalogue of the world's languages, has instituted a restriction on how much content is available for free on their site. After 7 data pages per month (excluding "navigation pages, indexes, and other "administrative" pages that you may need to access to get to the data you want to see") you will need to be a subscriber in order to access more. The cost is 9.95 USD per month, or 60 USD per year.  

This is quite simply due to lack of funding (cf Linguist Lists funding drives), you can read more about this in their official blog.

Already before this there was certain content that had to be purchased ("country reports" for example)
and a physical version. There are also rumours that the glossaries of linguistic terms (the monolingual English one and the bilingual French-English one) might be restricted in some way, so that the paper versions will sell more. However, those are only rumours <insert non-first hand knowledge evidentiality marker>.
Image from the 16th edition of the Ethnologue, each dot is one language. © 2009 SIL International 

There's more posts on this blog about Ethnologue (a few quite informative ones), you can explore them here.

I noticed a thread on twitter about this topic after having made this post and just to clarify SIL International maintain both the Ethnologue and the ISO 639-3 standard for language names, this decision on subscription however only affects the Ethnologue website and does not apply to all SIL Internationals resources. You can access information about the ISO-coders here at their official site and you can also search language names and the glottocodes and ISO 639-3 on Glottolog (which often contains more alternative names than Ethnologue anyway). There are other ISO-standards for language, and they are all open, and there are also Glottocodes. Always, always remember that the ISO 639-3 is technically for language naming and that ISO works for proprietary, industrial and commercial standards, they are not necessarily always useful in all research and can and should be critiqued when necessary. The ISO 639-3 is linked in such a way to Ethnologue that is also aligns with SIL Internationals language classification - judgements of what is and what is not a language. For more on standardisation of language classification, go here and also other posts tagged for Glottolog and/or Ethnologue.

There was also a statement in this twitter thread that this pay wall most likely will only effect 5% of Ethnologue's users. I do agree with Simon Greenhill that the 5% who do pass the 7 page limit are most likely doing very interesting stuff  (cough cough like yours truly) and there should be another way to fund Ethnologue, much like the DFG funding Open Access enterprises in academic publishing. Also, I'm sceptical that the money generated by these 5% will really be significant in the running of Ethnologue.

As far as I know, Ethnologue doesn't as far as I know get regular academic funding through research councils and the likes for running Ethnologue, but more from churches and bodies involved in the christian mission. Again, I don't know this certainly because I haven't seen their books.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Check out this phylogenetics blog!

Hi peeps.

If you're interested in historical linguistics and phylogenetic networks, and these topics interaction with biology and anthropology, you should check out this blog The Genealogical World of Phylogenetic Networks!

The most recent post is on the history, problems and current uses of lexicostatistics by Mattis List

You might also want to check out some of these post:

Just a friendly tip.

Btw, if you got any fun candidates for Goodies from Grammar Reading, let us know.