Language  (Vol. 92, No. 4) December 2016


Learnability shapes typology: the case of the midpoint pathology

Juliet Stanton, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

The MIDPOINT PATHOLOGY (in the sense of Kager 2012) characterizes a type of unattested stress system in which the stressable window contracts to a single word-internal syllable in some words, but not others. Kager (2012) shows that the pathology is a prediction of analyses employing contextual lapse constraints (e.g. *EXTLAPSER; no 000 strings at the right edge), and argues that the only way to avoid it is to eliminate these constraints from CON. This paper explores an alternative: that systems exhibiting the midpoint pathology are unattested not because the constraints that would generate them are absent from CON, but because they are difficult to learn. This study belongs to a growing body of work exploring the idea that phonological typology is shaped by considerations of learnability.


Seri verb classes: morphosyntactic motivation and morphological autonomy

Matthew Baerman, University of Surrey

The verbal suffixes of Seri (a language isolate of Sonora, Mexico) divide the lexicon into classes of unparalleled complexity. The paradigm has only four forms, which mark subject number and aspect (or event number), yet there are over 250 distinct types in a corpus of just under 1000 verbs. This relation of forms to types means that by information-theoretic measures this is among the most complex inflection class system yet studied. In part this complexity is due to the sheer wealth of allomorphs and the freedom with which they combine within the paradigm; however, these properties can be found in all inflection class systems of any complexity. The unique property of Seri it that although the suffix morphology and the morphosyntactic paradigm have the same featural content, the two systems are not directly coordinated. Both suffix morphology and verbal morphosyntax are based on the concatenation of markers of plurality, and an increase in the morphological marking of plurality reflects a morphosyntactic accumulation of subject and predicate plurality (i.e. aspect). In this sense morphology is a direct exponent of featural content. But there is no consistent mapping between the two systems, and the precise calibration between morphological form and morphosyntactic function must be lexically specified; it is this specification that increases dramatically the number of inflectional types. Seri therefore represents a middle ground in between the conceptual extremes of morphosyntactically motivated and morphologically autonomous morphology that serve as a basis for much of our theory building.


Outliers, impact, and rationalization in linguistic change

Sali A. Tagliamonte, University of Toronto
Alexandra D’Arcy, University of Victoria
Celeste Rodríguez Louro, University of Western Australia

Quotative be like is a rapid global innovation, yet no evidence pinpoints when it arose, under what circumstances, or the consequences of its emergence. Using a dataset spanning four cities and two hemispheres, we document systemic regularity across time and space. The results force us to confront three issues: the uniformitarian principle, the criterion for face to face contact in the diffusion of language change, and the nature of language as a complex adaptive system. Be like is an outlier, it has had a major impact on the linguistic system, and it can only be rationalized by hindsight, demonstrating the possibility of significant random events outside the predictable structures and processes in language. We conclude by suggesting that be like is a (linguistic) Black Swan event (Taleb 2010 [2007]).


The temporal interpretation of clause chaining in Northern Paiute

Maziar Toosarvandani, University of California, Santa Cruz

Northern Paiute uses clause chaining to express certain temporal relations between clauses, which are conveyed by temporal subordinators such as after and while in English. Rather than a subordination structure, however, I show that clause chaining in Northern Paiute has an underlying coordination structure. I propose that temporal relations between the clauses in a chain arise, in part, from verbal morphology conveying relative tense. In Northern Paiute, relative tense can be bound in a coordination structure, as in an embedded clause in other languages (Ogihara 1994, 1995, 1996, Abusch 1997). In addition, I argue that this semantics is enriched pragmatically to produce a ‘forward moving’ temporal interpretation characteristic of narrative discourse (Kamp & Rohrer 1983, among others). This in-depth investigation of one language raises questions about the syntax and semantics of clause chaining in other languages.


Do serial verb constructions describe single events? A study of co-speech gestures in Avatime

Rebecca Defina, Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics

Serial verb constructions have often been said to refer to single conceptual events. However, evidence to support this claim been elusive. This paper introduces co-speech gestures as a new way of investigating the relationship. The alignment patterns of gestures with serial verb constructions and other complex clauses were compared in Avatime (Ka-Togo, Kwa, Niger-Congo). Serial verb constructions tended to occur with single gestures overlapping the entire construction. In contrast, other complex clauses were more likely to be accompanied by distinct gestures overlapping individual verbs. This pattern of alignment suggests serial verb constructions are in fact used to describe single events.


Grammaticalization and prosody: the case of English sort/kind/type of constructions

Nicole Dehé, Universität Konstanz
Katerina Stathi, Leibniz Universität Hannover

This paper studies the relationship between prosody and desemanticization in grammaticalization processes by means of a well described phenomenon, the grammaticalization of ‘type’ nouns (type, kind, sort) in present-day English. To this end, 1,155 tokens of the three nouns, retrieved from the ICE-GB corpus, were semantically classified and prosodically analysed. Our main result is that different synchronically co-existing prosodic patterns correspond to different degrees of grammaticalization. This result provides evidence that desemanticization and erosion proceed hand in hand. Their parallel development is attributed to the demands of iconicity rather than to frequency effects.



Online-only: Language & Public Policy


The Common Core State Standards and English Learners: Finding the Silver Lining

Betsy Rymes, University of Pennsylvania
Nelson Flores, University of Pennsylvania
Anne Pomerantz, University of Pennsylvania

In this article we lay out the tenets of a COMMUNICATIVE REPERTOIRE (CR), approach to meeting the needs of ELs in the context of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). We begin by critiquing the underlying theory of language that has long guided approaches to EL instruction. We then illustrate how the CR approach builds on more contemporary understandings of language and language development, noting its compatibility with the CCSS, and providing an example of what this approach looks like in a 12th-grade English literature class for ELs. Building from this example, we illustrate the general framework for developing lessons from a CR perspective that align with the CCSS and can be used across a variety of instructional settings. Finally, we discuss what policies and opportunities for teacher professional development might be conducive to supporting this instructional approach and to ensuring that the CCSS is implemented in ways that maximize EL academic achievement and engagement.


Online-only: Research Reports


Grammar and social agency: the pragmatics of impersonal deontic statements

Giovanni Rossi, University of Helsinki & Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics
Jörg Zinken, Institut für Deutsche Sprache in Mannheim

Sentence and construction types generally have more than one pragmatic function. Impersonal deontic declaratives such as ‘it is necessary to x’ assert the existence of an obligation or necessity without tying it to any particular individual. This family of statements can accomplish a range of functions, including getting another person to act, explaining or justifying the speaker’s own behavior as he or she undertakes to do something, or even justifying the speaker’s behavior while simultaneously getting another person to help. How is an impersonal deontic declarative fit for these different functions? And how do people know which function it has in a given context? We address these questions using video recordings of everyday interactions among speakers of Italian and Polish. Our analysis results in two findings. The first is that the pragmatics of impersonal deontic declaratives is systematically shaped by i) the relative responsibility of participants for the necessary task, and ii) the speaker’s nonverbal conduct at the time of the statement. These two factors influence whether the task in question will be dealt with by another person or by the speaker, often giving the statement the force of a request or, alternatively, of an account of the speaker’s behavior. The second finding is that, although these factors systematically influence their function, impersonal deontic declaratives maintain the potential to generate more complex interactions that go beyond a simple opposition between requests and accounts, where participation in the necessary task may be shared, negotiated or avoided. This versatility of impersonal deontic declaratives derives from their grammatical make-up: by being deontic and impersonal, they can both mobilize or legitimize an act by different participants in the speech event, while their declarative form doesn’t constrain how they should be responded to. These features make impersonal deontic declaratives a special tool for the management of social agency.



Online-only: Teaching Linguistics


Learning to think like linguists: A think-aloud study of novice phonology students

Catherine Anderson, McMaster University

A key learning outcome for undergraduate linguistics courses is for students to learn to reason scientifically about language. This article presents the findings from a think-aloud study of undergraduates in an introductory linguistics course who were in the process of learning linguistic reasoning about phonology. I describe the students’ developing concepts and make recommendations for instructors to help students develop fully-formed linguistics concepts and the ability to think scientifically about language.



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