Archive for the ‘talks’ Category

Nunberg Colloquium on November 3

Monday, October 31st, 2011

Geoffrey Nunberg (School of Information, UC Berkeley) will give a colloquium talk titled “On Having a Word for It” on Thursday, November 3, 3.30 pm at the Franke Institute for the Humanities.

Abstract: What does it signify that a language “has a word for” such-and-such a notion? For the general public, it sheds light on the way its speakers think, often with political or ideological consequences. For linguists and psychologists, lexicalization chiefly bears on individual perception or cognition. For historians and other students of culture, it means a society has come into the possession of a new concept. It turns out that these perspectives rest on very different understandings of “concept” and “language”—and for that matter “have.” I’ll spell some of these out and show how there are certain misconceptions inherent in each. I want to focus in particular on the way the individualism of modern linguistics can obscure the social consequences of lexicalization, some of which have played an important role in recent philosophy of language. In general, having a word is a bigger deal than linguists generally suppose, and for reasons that linguists don’t often pay much attention to.

This talk is sponsored by the Franke Institute for the Humanities and the Department of Linguistics.

Meet the visitors

Monday, October 31st, 2011

Several scholars are visiting the department this quarter. Please give them a warm Chicago welcome!

  • Elizaveta Bylinina (Lisa Bylinina) will spend this quarter in Chicago as a visiting student. She is  in a project on degree semantics in Utrecht Institute of Linguistics in Holland, but spend most of the time in Moscow with her family. She’s interested in semantics of vagueness, gradability and comparison, and all sorts of unrelated topics she sometimes find exciting, according to her, for no particular reason — distributivity, event semantics, reduplication (wh-reduplication!), sluicing etc. Right now she wants to know more about history and typology of comparative morphemes (especially in Turkic), low degree modifiers and negative evaluative adjectives, and interadjectival comparison. And things to do in Chicago with a 3yo, of course.
  • Anna Chernilovskaya, also from Utrecht, will also be working on semantics.
  • Cécile Evers is visiting for the Fall and Winter from the University of Pennsylvania’s program in Educational Linguistics. She works with North African dialects and Wolof, specifically in the context of her work in Marseille, France with second-generation youth who are of North and West African descent. She is interested in questions pertaining to heritage language speakers in this setting (i.e., mixed language use, slang registers, L1 phonological transfer) and also in the role of religious (Classical Arabic) activities and (Muslim) memberships in shaping language use. Please contact her at
  • Zoe Gavriilidou, Associate Professor at the Department of Greek of the Democritus University of Thrace, will be working with Anastasia Giannakidou.
  • Christina Kim is a doctoral student in Linguistics  Brain & Cognitive Sciences at the University of Rochester. She will be working with Chris Kennedy and Ming Xiang.
  • Masahiro Yamada and Sanae Tamura, both from Kyoto University, will be working with Chris Kennedy on evidentiality.

2010-11 colloquia

Thursday, October 7th, 2010

Another year, another colloquium series: today kicks off our fantastic 2010-2011 lineup. Join us for Annika Herrmann’s talk (link to abstract found below) at 3:30 p.m. in Cobb 201; all are invited to Tea immediately following in the department lounge.

Schedule for Autumn quarter

October 7: Annika Herrmann, University of Göttingen
The split nature of scalar focus particles in sign languages

November 11: Bart Geurts, University of Nijmegen

November 18: Silvina Montrul, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

December 2: William Idsardi, University of Maryland

Last LCC workshop of the year

Wednesday, June 9th, 2010

The Workshop on Language, Cognition and Computation (along with our other graduate workshops, Language Variation and Change and Semantics and Philosophy of Language) is wrapping up another academic year. Please join us this Friday at a special time for the final LCC talk of the year, presented by the U. of C.’s James Kirby. He will be speaking at noon in the Karen Landahl Center on “A phonetics-phonology mismatch in Vietnamese” (abstract below). Join us afterwards for our end-of-the-year barbecue at Midway Plaisance Park just south of the Classics building. See you there!

According to phonetically-based phonological frameworks, functional constraints such as perceptual distinctiveness play a central role in shaping phonological behaviors (Boersma, 1998; Hayes et. al, 2004). This view is challenged by evidence of phonetically unnatural patterns active in synchronic phonological grammars (Anderson, 1981; Hyman, 2001). I consider arguments for the phonetic grounding of phonological features in Vietnamese tone, where it has been argued that, despite dialectal differences in the phonetics of tone production, phonetically grounded tone features are shared across dialects (Pham, 2001, 2003). From the results of a cross-dialectal perception study, I argue that the features relevant for the perception of tones no longer correspond to their phonologically active counterparts in any straightforward way, either within or between dialects. This result is discussed in terms of its  implication for the notion of phonetically grounded phonological constraints, as well as for the relationship between subphonemic and categorical levels of linguistic structure.

Talk by McDonough on May 27

Tuesday, May 25th, 2010

Departmental Colloquium

Documentation of tone in the Mackenzie Basin Dene languages

Joyce McDonough
University of Rochester

Cobb 201

As part of a study of the phonetics of the Dene languages, this talk examines the realization of tone in several Athabaskan, or Dene (as speakers prefer) languages in the Mackenzie Basin area of Canada, an important group of language communities and dialects for which little instrumental phonetic documentation has been available. The Dene languages are polysynthetic; words are multisyllabic, and these languages are considered to be among the most morphologically complex known to us. Many of these languages have contrastive tone. Despite their enormous spread, the languages are phonetically and morphologically conservative, resisting ‘exotic influence’ (Sapir 1945), they share a surprisingly consistent phonemic inventory, phonetic realization patterns and morphological structure, thus providing a ground of stability in which to examine tonal variation.

There are several reasons why tone in this group is interesting. First, these inventories are heavily obstruent, the stop series include ejectives and glottal stops, the sonorant consonants are limited. Thus pitch contours are broken up by often robust (in duration and intensity) stops and fricatives; tonal contours are systematically disturbed in ways that they are not in other tone language groups. Second, tone is paradigmatic rather than lexical, broadly marking inflectional, morphological and lexical categories. Third, tonogenesis arguably resulted from the incorporation of glottal suffixes into the word-final stem, but produced both H and L marked tone language communities (Sapir, 1925; Li, 1930, 1933; Leer, 1979, 1999; de Ruse, 2005; Krauss, 2005; Kingston 2005). Thus the documentation of this type tone reversal within a closely related group with near identical tonongenesis patterns is important to theories of tone and language change. Fourth, despite the diachronic consistency in their grammars and lexicons, a great deal of prosodic variation has been observed across the group. Typologies include metrical stress, pitch accent and non-tone systems. This has not been instrumentally documented, which is essential to the understanding and description of prosodic variation and discourse related intonation patterns across these language communities and theoretical constructions based on this data.

In this talk, we examine tone from 4 communities in the Mackenzie Basin group, with examples of both H and L tone-marked languages (tone reversal), in an instrumental analysis of fieldwork data, in a preliminary analysis of the tone data. The broad goal is to provide a documentation of the pitch typology and variation in this area and its relationship to the theories of Athabaskan tonogenesis, with an instrumental analysis of pitch patterns including pitch range, tone bearing units, peak/valley alignment, tone distribution, and patterns in tone realization between the morphological categories (pre-stem (inflectional) versus stem (content) domains (McDonough 1999, 2003; Gessner, 2005; Kingston, 2005.))

This talk will also outline the issues related to the collection and analysis of fieldwork data from small speech communities and/or endangered language communities, and the generalizations that can be drawn from this type data.