Student Speakers

Melle Groen

Non-configurationality in syntactic theory: the case of Iraqw

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The core hypothesis of generativist research is that humans have an innate and universal language faculty, and that all languages share certain syntactic principles (commonly referred to as Universal Grammar). However, as the scope of generativist research broadened beyond English and other European languages, some languages proved to be difficult to account for using the syntactic principles that had been previously established. In particular, some languages appeared to have a free word order and discontinuous constituents, which seemingly defied the hierarchical structure that was assumed to be universal. These so-called non-configurational languages have played a central role in comparative syntactic research, and a number of different ways to analyze them have been proposed over the years.

In this talk, I will discuss the state of the art on non-configurationality in relation to Iraqw, a Cushitic language spoken in Tanzania. Despite showing a number of the common properties, Iraqw also differs from prototypically non-configurational languages in certain ways. The data from Iraqw support the currently dominant view in generative linguistics, namely that non-configurational languages do not form one coherent ‘type’ of language: they do not differ from ‘configurational’ languages in one major way, but rather in several minor ways. Furthermore, Iraqw, like other non-configurational languages, does not defy any universal syntactic principles as they are currently conceived, although it does have some unusual properties that offer interesting possibilities for future research.

Ariëlle Reitsema, Laura Preining, Leanne Van Lambalgen, Chenxin Li with contributors Saskia Galindo Jong and Noa de Lange

Cross-Categorical Recalibration in Lexical Tone Perception: Evidence from Standard Mandarin Chinese

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By recalibrating auditory speech perception, listeners adapt to variability in not only segments of speech, but also suprasegmental features such as lexical tone. What remains unclear is what exactly is being recalibrated. In this study, we tested whether recalibration of lexical tone is bound by tonal category or acoustic tonal contour. In exposure phases, native Standard Chinese listeners were semantically biased to interpret an ambiguous tonal contour as either a level tone or a rising tone. Crucially, the rising exposure is either biased as Tone2 or sandhi Tone3. In subsequent test phases, regardless of whether biased as Tone2 or sandhi Tone3, participants were significantly more likely to perceive the ambiguous tonal contours as a rising tone (either Tone2 or sandhi Tone3) compared with those biased toward a level tone. This suggests that suprasegmental recalibration is guided by the acoustic similarity of tone contours rather than tone categories.

Marcin Gawliński

Influence of Perspective and Bias on the Genealogical Classification of the Etruscan Language

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Etruscology is still one of the most mysterious disciplines of the classical studies. The Etruscans were an ancient civilization that flourished in central Italy from the 8th to the 3rd century BCE. The enigma of the Etruscan civilization is caused almost exclusively by the unfamiliarity of their language. Due to scarce knowledge of the Etruscan language, one of the greatest challenges for scholars was always its genealogical classification. Lack of an unambiguous evidence for a certain classification of this language generated possibility for the researchers to let their perspective and/or bias significantly influence their theories. Among the best known examples of such theories are: the Semitic theory (Annio da Viterbo) strongly influenced by political reasons and the Indo-European theory (W.P. Corssen) inspired by F. Bopp’s discovery from 1814. Many past theories, among which the two mentioned before, have been disproven. Currently there has been achieved some scientifical consensus on this matter, but for a lot of researchers the topic is still in discussion.

In this presentation I analyse selected linguistic theories on the genealogical classification of the Etruscan language. The analysis is drawing from a diachronic study of preserved samples of the Etruscan language and its possible sister languages, as well as from a socio-cultural study of these theories. Having conducted the research, I demonstrate the fallacies in some of the previously mentioned theories (Semitic theory, Indo-European theory), giving evidence against them, based on a comparison between the Etruscan language and the proposed sister languages. Depending on the case, I either give an adequate historical background that may be considered the reason, or a strong factor in the process of creating the theory (e.g. the political usage of the Etruscan heritage in case of Annio da Viterbo), or I propose a linguistic explanation why some theories may seem plausible (Basque).

Tess Huijting

When compounds aren’t compounds and nothing means something: the case of West Greenlandic

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In most languages, the distinction between productive and non-productive is fairly clear and easy to define. This is often not the case for polysynthetic languages, where word formation through derivation is incredibly salient. In this talk, we’ll take a look at the case of West Greenlandic (Inuit-Yupik-Unangan). We’ll find out why Monday is a verb, why morpheme boundaries don’t exist, and why certain words spark such debate between descriptive linguists, historical linguists, native speakers, and even Noam Chomsky himself. Last but not least, we’ll see why understanding the above can help us make sense of a “meaningless” morpheme that has been confusing linguists for decades.

Jelle Christiaans

Danish hiccoughs, or can synchronic phonology really explain everything?

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Danes like to hiccough when they speak. What we are hearing is stød, which literally means ‘push’ or ‘shock’. In Danish phonology, it is a glottal feature of heavy stressed syllables, and realized as a glottal stop or as creaky voice on the vowel. We find it in words such as syv [ˈsywʔ] ‘seven’, se [ˈse̝ːˀ] ‘to see’ and hund [hunʔ] ‘dog’. As you can see, stød is not written in Danish orthography. In linguistic transcription, it is written as a superscript glottal stop < ʔ >.

What is so interesting about stød? It does morphophonological alternations: in some forms of the verb it appears, and in others it disappears – and we want to know when and why. The renowned Danish linguist Hans Basbøll (2003, 2005, 2014) made a synchronic phonological analysis of it. We find though at least one stubborn exception.

The synchronic phonologist faces a serious problem: how do we explain these counter-cases to Basbøll’s principles? An attempt has been made, but this was not really satisfying. Is synchronic phonology even able to capture this? Or is diachronic phonology much better suited to do this? I will present evidence from Old Norse (the predecessor of all North-Germanic languages, including Danish) that can help explain this modern idiosyncrasy. 

But wait… what are we hearing? Young Danes are dropping some more sounds, especially schwas at the end of words: elske sounds more like [ˈelsk], and viste more like [ˈviːst]. It looks like history is almost repeating itself – can we anticipate a role for synchronic or diachronic phonology? Let us discuss and start a debate!

Angela Radić

Pro-Drop Language vs. Non-Pro-Drop Language: Null Subject Parameter in Dutch Heritage Speakers of Serbian

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This research investigates how Dutch heritage speakers of Serbian treat the (non)lexicalization of pronominal subjects in sentences. As Serbian is a pro-drop language, it is possible to drop subject pronouns given the right syntactic and discourse conditions. This research presented the participants with an online survey including sentences with both covert and overt pronouns found in that-clauses and when-clauses. The participants belonged to one of the following groups: second generation Serbian speakers with Dutch as their first language (L1), or second generation Serbian speakers with any other language besides Serbian as their L1. The results show that Dutch heritage speakers of Serbian have no significant preference for the inclusion or for the omission of pronominal subjects. This paper then also provided explanation for why this might be the case, and also considered the influence of Dutch as a non-pro-drop language. In essence, this research investigated how Serbian heritage speakers responded when it came to recognizing, using, and interpreting null subjects in the Serbian language.

Simon Den Hertog

Subgrouping the Old English dialects using Historical Glottometry

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In 731 AD, an Anglo-Saxon monk called Bede completed his Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum, a historical account of his people’s settlement of England. On the identity of the settlers, Bede wrote that northern England was settled by Angles, southern England was settled by Saxons and Kent was settled by Jutes. Because historians are mostly sceptical of its historical veracity, the value of Bede’s account as a primary source on Anglo-Saxon ethnography is often overlooked. While Bede may have overstated the cultural homogeneity of the settlers, his three-way division of Anglo-Saxons into Angles, Jutes and Saxons likely reflects the divisions between three distinct Anglo-Saxon cultural groups. 

The objective of my research was to ascertain whether Bede’s ethnography was sound. As language and culture are inextricably linked, shared historical developments can serve as a marker for social/cultural convergence and divergence within speech communities. Using a novel dialectological method called Historical Glottometry to quantify the interrelatedness of the four Old English dialects, I was able to ascertain the existence of two dialectal macro-groups: in the north, the Northumbrian and Mercian dialects formed a tight-knit, widely acknowledged dialect group, while the south was home to West Saxon and Kentish, which were shared a significant amount of developments but were more distinct and less tight-knit than the northern dialects. This conclusion is in line with Bede’s ethnography and provides his Historia ecclesiastica with some long-needed vindication, if not as a historical account, then at least as an account of contemporaneous Anglo-Saxon ethnic groups.

Nikos Koulopoulos

Linguistic humor strategies in Greek and American observational stand-up comedies: a contrastive analysis

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According to the General Theory of Verbal Humor (GTVH), the first Knowledge

Resource, the Language, provides suitable linguistic elements and strategies to the

speaker to elicit laughter from the hearer as a result of the latter’s mirth. In observational

stand-up comedy worldwide, the comedians follow the same line of work, causing the

same reactions in the audience. So far, research has been conducted for observational

stand-up comedies in specific parts of the world, like the United States, whereas other

countries, like Greece, have been neglected on that matter. A contrastive analysis of the

linguistic elements strategies used by American and Greek observational stand-up

comedians would interestingly shed light on potential differences and similarities

between them. In this talk, I will present a contrastive analysis of the linguistics strategies

and elements used by two different observational stand-up comedians, the Greek

Lambros Fisfis and US American Jim Gaffigan. Which linguistic elements and strategies

does each comedian choose as part of their humor strategies to manifest laughter in the

audience as a result of their mirth? Are there any differences or similarities between

them? With these two research questions in mind, I present a comparative analysis of the

elements and strategies elicited from verbal and non-verbal markers in 15 short-duration

videos from Fisfis’ playlist on YouTube, “Να ένας Σοφός” (Here is a wise man) and

Gaffigan’s playlist on YouTube “Laugh Society” respectively. My goal is to develop a

theory of the linguistic elements and strategies used by each comedian in order to

describe how they combine these markers and how the audience reacts to them.

Kiki Freriks

Determinatives and classification in ancient Egyptian hieroglyphic and hieratic scripts

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The ancient Egyptian language boasts a fascinating addition to its scripts, a feature commonly referred to by Egyptologists as ‘determinatives’: a class of signs that can be added at the end of a word to give semantic information, without carrying any phonetic value. In recent research, there has been more regard for these determinatives in the context of the broader linguistic phenomenon of classification and classifiers. This has led to fascinating new research on, for example, determinatives as conceptual categories, the domains of use of specific determinatives, and the developments of the determinative system over time. 

However, an aspect that has not yet been adequately taken into account when discussing these issues, is the writing system used for the texts in question. In egyptological research, this question is most relevant, as throughout its history, the Egyptian language made use of two different scripts simultaneously. On the one hand the (iconic, monumental) hieroglyphic script and on the other the (cursive, everyday) hieratic. In my research, I have attempted to analyse the differences in determinative usage in hieroglyphic and hieratic texts by means of a case study of texts of comparable genres. 

I have analysed different aspects of determinative usage for the texts in each script, both regarding individual words and throughout the entire corpus. This paper will show that determinatives seem to be used in a fundamentally different way in both script types, leading to interesting consequences for their further study and their consideration as linguistic classifiers.

Emma Buijl

A Modern Take on Historical Data: Cross-Linguistic Influence in Caxton’s Reynard

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This paper explores the theme of perspective on a linguistic and literary level. It examines the work of the fifteenth-century writer and translator William Caxton, whose work took him back and forth between England and the Low Countries and subsequently between English and Dutch. How did multilingual authors such as Caxton handle the transitions between languages when translating texts? My specific case study considers how William Caxton’s Middle English-Middle Dutch bilingual mind influenced his 1481 translation of The History of Reynard the Fox. It is widely accepted that Caxton was a fluent user of both Middle English and Middle Dutch and the co-occurrence of these languages in his mind has left traces in his translations. By comparing Caxton’s The History of Reynard the Fox with Leeu’s Die Historie van Reinaert die Vos, an edition close to the lost source material used by Caxton, I explore to what extent Caxton experienced linguistic interference from Middle Dutch on orthographical, lexical, and grammatical levels whilst translating the Reynard text into Middle English. Drawing on modern perspectives from the fields of bilingualism (Hernandez, 2013), language processing (Jarvis & Pavlenko, 2007), and psycholinguistics (Traxler, 2012), and building on existing research on Caxton, I argue that there are more examples of cross-linguistic influence to be found in Caxton’s translation that those enshrined in the historical dictionaries (MED and OED) and the standard edition (Caxton, 1970). My work arises from an internship with Prof. Ad Putter, professor of Medieval English Literature at the University of Bristol. The study is part of the North Sea Crossings project, which examines medieval relations and transitions between the British Isles and Low Countries. It marks language transition as inherently human and contributes to current ideas on language acquisition and processing. By placing Caxton in the long history of linguistic transitions due to contacts between speakers of other languages, this paper reclaims Caxton’s Reynard as an important source for the study of cross-cultural and cross-linguistic transitions as seen from a modern perspective.