Dr. Tessa Verhoef
Conventionalisation in space and time: emergence of structure and meaning in language
Language is an important defining feature of the human species. There is, however, still a lot we do not know about how language evolved. I will discuss recent data collected as part of several studies that mimic language evolution processes by inviting participants to take part in experiments disguised as interactive games. Previous work has shown that language-like signals emerge spontaneously in the laboratory when people are asked to communicate through a medium that is linguistically novel to them. Such experimental methods provide a window into the mechanisms that were likely involved in the early emergence of human language. I will present experiments that were designed to study the role of cognitive biases and social coordination in the emergence of space-time metaphors in language. Pairs of participants used a novel, movement-based signalling device to play guessing games about temporal concepts. Rapidly, communication systems were established that mapped systematically between time and space. In addition I will show how Microsoft Kinect, a motion capture technology designed for video game control, can be used in gesture research to measure changes in body movements as a consequence of conventionalisation in interactive games. The results of these experiments contribute to our understanding of the relation between the macro-level patterns we see emerge in languages and the micro-level individual behaviours and cognitive biases that shape them.
Dr. Eduardo Alves Vieira
Is Portuguese becoming queer(er)? The use of the Pajubá slang and expressions by (non)LGBTQIA+ speakers in Brazil
Hayes (1976) noted that the richest features of GAYSPEAK are found in the lexicon. Since the 1980s, several studies on how gay men and lesbians use language(s) have been conducted under the paradigm of Queer Linguistics. Examples of the latter are not limited to the use of queer lexicon (Leap, 1995) and include frequency measurement, turn-taking examination, coconstruction of topics, and narratives analysis, amongst others (Kulick, 2000). Most of the literature concerning the intersectionality of language, gender, and sexuality is written in/about the English language, however, there are also examples of other languages, such as Latin American Spanish (Murray & Arboleda, 1995), American Sign Language (Kleinfeld & Warner, 1997), and Japanese (Valentine, 1997) - to name a few. In the case of Brazilian Portuguese (BP), previous studies have also looked at the use and speakers’ language attitudes toward “gay” vocabulary (Dynes, 1995; Kulick, 1998; da Cruz & de Paula Tito, 2016; Barroso, 2017). Nonetheless, due to the recent development of Queer Linguistics in Brazil (Borba, 2015), there is still much to be explored regarding such a lexicon in the country. For example, most of the queer linguistic research conducted so far has focused on the use of language(s) by gay men and lesbians, excluding bisexuals (Lewis, 2018), and heterosexual participants who might also use the same language(s) (Kulick, 2000; Kelsey, 2009). Therefore, in this presentation, I discuss how native speakers of BP use slang and expressions stemming from Pajubá, also known as the Brazilian LGBTQIA+ dialect. More specifically, I analyze the attitudes of those speakers toward the use of Pajubá to answer the main research question of this study: what are the sociolinguistic factors that favor the use and spread of Pajubá slang and expressions among BP speakers? Consequently, I analyze the discursive ideologies of those two supposedly opposite linguistic groups of speakers, LGBTQIA+ and heterosexual individuals, to compare their sociolinguistics practices and beliefs concerning the use of Pajubá. Data comes from an online Qualtrics questionnaire completed by 910 respondents and promoted via social media, email, and through a friend-of-a-friend technique. I argue that BP is becoming queer(er) as Pajubá is more widely known in Brazil, not only by the LGBTQIA+ community but also by its heterosexual counterpart; mostly female individuals (387 participants), who have now more access to such a vocabulary via (social)media, for instance. Findings suggest that the participants are aware of this lexicon, although it is not always clear to them that the slang and expressions stem from Pajubá and that it is an LGBTQIA+ dialect. Likewise, results indicate that cisgender heterosexual women are likely to know the Pajubá slang words/expressions, which also enable them to convey messages of tolerance toward the LGBTQIA+ community and openness to language variation. Therefore, this article sheds light on the intrinsic relationship between language, gender, and sexualities, to understand BP in motion in current society.
Prof. Dr. Helen de hoop
“Leiden, you’re raining!” Spatio-temporal addressees in tweets
The use of social media offers unprecedented opportunities for evaluating experiences promptly. Apparently, grammar does not seem to constrain this possibility, but rather enables it. Using Twitter as a data source, we investigated the characteristics and function of messages fictively directed to places or events, such as “Amsterdam, you are fantastic” or “Valentine’s Day, you are a bitch”. The function of addressing such a spatio-temporal topic, is to tell an imagined audience about an experience users are having or recently had at a place (e.g., Amsterdam) or during a time or event (e.g., Valentine’s Day). Comparing spatio-temporal with human addressees in these tweets, we see that they behave quite differently. The construction with a spatio-temporal addressee mostly contains an unequivocally positive or negative evaluation, such as a compliment (“you are fantastic”) or an insult (“you are a bitch”), unlike similar utterances with a human addressee, which are often neutral. Although evaluation of a first-hand experience is the core meaning of the construction with the spatio-temporal addressee, the experience itself is not directly referred to. The construction thus provides a short, modest, and unambiguous way to share a personal experience with others. While the spatio-temporal addressee is personified to a certain degree, its spatio-temporal characteristics remain crucial, as they provide the background for the reported experience. Strikingly, this even leads to clauses that are plainly ungrammatical otherwise, such as “Leiden, you’re raining!” This reveals the flexibility of grammar, as it shows how grammar can adapt to the possibilities and limitations of social media use, and make otherwise ungrammatical utterances, such as “you are raining”, fully comprehensible.
Dr. Nick emlen
Poetics, metaphor, and sound symbolism in a 17th century Aymara text: a view from anthropological linguistics
During the early colonial period (16th-17th centuries), European missionaries published a great quantity of material in indigenous Andean languages. However, these texts mostly comprise dictionaries, grammatical descriptions, and religious materials that were composed by Europeans, and thus provide a better record of the lexicons and structures of those languages than the actual discursive practices of their speakers. This presentation discusses a notable exception to this limitation: a 600-page book written in the Aymara language in 1612 by an indigenous man named Martin de Sancta Cruz. The purpose of Sancta Cruz's book was to transform an earlier Spanish text about the life of Jesus Christ (published in 1591) into a work of Aymara verbal art that would be engaging and intelligible to an indigenous audience. Given control over the composition of this work, Sancta Cruz made dramatic changes and lengthy additions, filling his Aymara text with characteristically Aymara poetic structure, metaphors, religious concepts, and references to local animals, plants, cultural practices, and landscape features. What emerges is a cultural encyclopedia of the 17th century Andes from the perspective of an indigenous person, as well as a record of indigenous discourse styles from the period--both of which are exceptionally rare. In this presentation I describe how the voice of Martin de Sancta Cruz can be drawn out through a careful, line-by-line comparison of the original 1591 Spanish text with his 1612 Aymara translation, and what kinds of innovations Sancta Cruz brought to this extraordinary document. I also discuss preliminary findings about what Aymara speakers today have to say about Sancta Cruz's additions, as well as a planned project that seeks to involve contemporary Aymara communities in the analysis and use of the 1612 text.
Dr. Xander vertegaal
A Luwian Conspiracy
The study of the Luwian language (Indo-European, c. 1500 – 700 BCE) has taken an increasingly prominent position within the field of Indo-European linguistics since the mid- seventies, when a great leap in deciphering its hieroglyphic script was made. Along with new readings and a better understanding of the texts came deeper insight into the various sound changes that shaped Luwian and set it apart from its closest relatives. In this talk I will focus on four Luwian sound changes that fundamentally changed the phonological structure of the language and intimately tied the language’s syllable structure to its (stress) accent. Although these changes are separated by centuries and apply to wholly different elements of Luwian phonology, they are fully complementary and functionally highly similar, giving the impression that they ‘conspire’ to reach a particular effect. The notion of such linguistic conspiracies has been around for over 50 years, but so far it has mainly featured in discussions of synchronic phonological rules. In my analysis, I borrow elements from conspiracy theory and apply them to the diachronic Luwian data, providing an explanation for the similarity between these sound changes on the basis of system-internal pressure. While doing so, I argue that sound changes should not always (if ever) be considered as random, disjointed rules, but rather as creators and creations of a system that is in constant motion itself.