Pattie Epps @ LVC on Monday, November 10th (Pick 022, 3PM)!

Linguistic diversity and language contact in Amazonia: tracing multilingual interaction in prehistory

While efforts to understand global patterns of linguistic diversity have explored a wide range of nonlinguistic correlates, associations with sociocultural patterns have generally tended to assume a correspondence between linguistic diversity and a lack of contact among groups. In this talk, I develop the hypothesis that the maintenance of extensive linguistic diversity in the Amazon basin has in fact been widely grounded in the dynamics of interaction among groups, as opposed to being simply a factor of isolation. I focus here on linguistic evidence for contact, drawing on an extensive survey of lexical and grammatical features across northern Amazonian languages. An evaluation of patterns of lexical borrowing, Wanderwörter, and grammatical diffusion suggests that multilingual interaction has been widespread in native Amazonia, facilitated by particular activities such as trade, intermarriage, and participation in networks of ritual practice, even while linguistic diversity has been maintained.

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Full lineup of fall 2014 LVC talks

Here’s the full list of fall quarter talks for the Language Variation and Change workshop. We’ll be in Pick 022 for each meeting (held on Mondays at 3 PM).

October 20th: Zachary O’Hagan (UC Berkeley)
“A Computational-phylogenetic Classification of Tupí-Guaraní and its Geographical Spread”

October 27th: Chiara Cappellaro (Oxford)
“Morphological variation in Romance third person pronouns”

November 10th: Pattie Epps (UT Austin)
TBA

November 24th: fieldwork recap session (members of the Chicago department)

December 1st: Dorothea Hoffmann (Chicago)
TBA

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Spring 2014 Talks!

Date Time Speaker Title Room
14 April 3:00 PM Tony Woodbury
UT Austin

The emergence from tone of vowel register and graded nasalization in the Eastern Chatino of San Miguel Panixtlahuaca

Pick 016
28 April 3:00 PM Laura Staum Casasanto
UChicago
Processing Difficulty and the Envelope of Variation Cobb 104
12 May 3:00 PM Rachel Lehr
Stony Brook
Linguistics in a Challenging Environment Cobb 104
2 June 3:00 PM Claire Halpert
U Minnesota
Nominal Licensing and vP Cobb 104
9 June 3:00 PM Andrea Beltrama
UChicago
From semantic to social meaning. The case study of intensifiers. Cobb 104
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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.

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2nd June: Claire Halpert (UMinnesota)

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).

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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.

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