Saturday, April 23rd 2022

Prof. Dr. Onno Crasborn

International sign: another language we all understand

Although popular belief is that deaf people throughout the world use a single sign language, in fact each deaf community has its own language. However, signers with limited shared linguistic resources still manage to communicate with each other, linguistic boundaries notwithstanding. Cross-signing is one of the phenomena under the umbrella term ‘international sign’ that is receiving increasing attention in the literature (Byun et al., 2019; Sivunen & Tapio, 2020; Zeshan, 2015). To achieve cross-signing, interlocutors pool all the semiotic resources they have at their disposal. But what are these semiotic resources?

This presentation investigates the use of spoken language resources in such interactions, focusing on the use of fingerspelling. To what extent and when exactly in a conversation does a spoken language serve as a useful resource in interactions where signers do not share a sign language, and do or do not share a spoken language? In this presentation I will share recent findings from novel data on interactions between signers from the Netherlands with deaf people from China, Wallonia, and Flanders. Surprisingly, Dutch signers in all three language combinations appeared to use fingerspelling, using both Dutch and English words. International sign is sometimes perceived as making maximum use of non-linguistic visual resources, but the present study rather supports a claim to the opposite.

Dr. Maria Carmen Fonseca-Mora

Musical aptitude as an individual difference in learning to read

Studies focusing on the relationship between language perception, musical skills and reading abilities confirm that music and language rely on similar mechanisms of auditory temporal processing. In our research on foreign language reading, our main hypothesis is that musical aptitude, as a capacity measured by the participant’s tuning, melody, accent and tempo abilities, shapes the acoustic dimension of reading because fluent reading requires a sensibility toward the phonological, rhythmic and melodic properties of any language. We have tested Spanish, German, Italian and Belgian multilingual students on their reading and music capacities. The results of our studies show that learners with a higher musical aptitude achieve significantly better results in foreign language silent reading tasks.

Dr. Azeb Amha

"Whistle my name": intersections of music and language among the Oyda people of Ethiopia

The Oyda language, from the Omotic language family of Afroasiatic, is spoken in South-West Ethiopia. The 2007 national census reports that there are 45.000 ‘ethnic Oyda’ but there is no precise information on how many of these people speak their mother tongue. There is high-level of bilingualism in the Gofa language - and in some places even shift to Gofa, which is a related language from the North Ometo branch of Omotic.

The Oyda area is dominated by mountains and valleys, partly shaped by the Great Rift Valley system that vertically splits Ethiopia into two. Most likely influenced by this natural environment, the Oyda people use a naming and communication system (moyzé súnts 'moyze name') that involves whistling, using the hands held against the mouth to modify the airstream. Most people in Oyda (irrespective of gender and age) have a moyzé súnts which is used side by side their s’eéggo sunts (personal/proper name, lit. ‘calling name’). With few exceptions, the whistled name of an individual has no phonological correspondence to his/her personal name, i.e., moyzé is not the whistled version of one's personal name. Moyzé is like a name in that an individual’s moyzé name is known and used by people close to him/her to get his/her attention and it is introduced to new acquaintances. In the presentation, I discuss the characteristics of moyzé sunts, the way it is learnt and remembered, the cultural and day-to-day contexts of its use as well as the way this melodic name relates to part of the musical performances of the Oyda people to highlight moyzé's significance in understanding creativity in the language-music nexus.

Sunday, April 24th 2022

Dr. Peter-Alexander Kerkhof

How the Flemish made Holland and the case of Walloon toponyms in the northern Low Countries

Between the tenth and twelfth century, the coastal regions of the Netherlands underwent a drastic transformation in terms of landscape and language. The long-established Frisian-Dutch bilingualism of the coastal region was disappearing and - at the same time - the vast peat marshes separating the dune strip from the inland clay and sandy soils were slowly colonized and turned into arable land. It seems plausible to me that these two developments are interrelated and in this talk I will present new evidence that contextualizes this interrelationship. I will present and examine linguistic data which indicate that there may have been a substantial Flemish demographic element to the eleventh and twelfth century colonization of the South-Holland peat. This in turn may help to explain better the causes and dynamics for the language shift in Early Medieval Holland. What emerges is a complex picture in which landscape, language and geopolitics constitute adjacent puzzle pieces in the fascinating incomplete puzzle that is the early history of “Holland”.

Dr. Dicky Gilbers

Comparing language and music cross‑culturally

I will pursue the hypothesis that musical differences between cultures are based on linguistic, especially phonological, properties of the culture’s spoken language. To study this hypothesis, I present a general constraint-based framework for describing the structural similarities between music and language. Music and language are structured by the fact that some sounds are more important than others, based on cognitive strategies which I will present as universal well-formedness conditions. However, which sounds are considered to be most salient differs across cultures, as evidenced by the world’s many linguistic and musical typologies. The first goal of the research approach is to identify these universal well-formedness conditions (e.g. prominence of strong elements based on the syllable/chord structure and domain marking based on intonation/melody patterns, pauses) for speech and music. The second goal is to assess how cultures differ from each other in terms of the relative salience assigned to these conditions (i.e. how these conditions are “ranked”).

Main references:

Gilbers, Dicky & Maartje Schreuder. 2002. Language and music in optimality theory. Rutgers Optimality Archive [#571-0103].

Gilbers, Dicky & Teja Rebernik. 2021. A constraint-based approach on structuring language and music - Towards a roadmap for comparing language and music cross‑culturally, to appear in: M. Sharinger and R. Wiese (eds). How language speaks to music: prosody from a cross-domain perspective. Linguistische Arbeiten. De Gruyter.

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Who organizes the Conference?

The conference is organized by the Conference Committee of Studievereniging T.W.I.S.T., the study association for Linguistics at Leiden University.