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Article

Mayan Languages  

Nora C. England

Mayan languages are spoken by over 5 million people in Guatemala, Mexico, Belize, and Honduras. There are around 30 different languages today, ranging in size from fairly large (about a million speakers) to very small (fewer than 30 speakers). All Mayan languages are endangered given that at least some children in some communities are not learning the language, and two languages have disappeared since European contact. Mayas developed the most elaborated and most widely attested writing system in the Americas (starting about 300 BC). The sounds of Mayan languages consist of a voiceless stop and affricate series with corresponding glottalized stops (either implosive and ejective) and affricates, glottal stop, voiceless fricatives (including h in some of them inherited from Proto-Maya), two to three nasals, three to four approximants, and a five vowel system with contrasting vowel length (or tense/lax distinctions) in most languages. Several languages have developed contrastive tone. The major word classes in Mayan languages include nouns, verbs, adjectives, positionals, and affect words. The difference between transitive verbs and intransitive verbs is rigidly maintained in most languages. They usually use the same aspect markers (but not always). Intransitive verbs only indicate their subjects while transitive verbs indicate both subjects and objects. Some languages have a set of status suffixes which is different for the two classes. Positionals are a root class whose most characteristic word form is a non-verbal predicate. Affect words indicate impressions of sounds, movements, and activities. Nouns have a number of different subclasses defined on the basis of characteristics when possessed, or the structure of compounds. Adjectives are formed from a small class of roots (under 50) and many derived forms from verbs and positionals. Predicate types are transitive, intransitive, and non-verbal. Non-verbal predicates are based on nouns, adjectives, positionals, numbers, demonstratives, and existential and locative particles. They are distinct from verbs in that they do not take the usual verbal aspect markers. Mayan languages are head marking and verb initial; most have VOA flexible order but some have VAO rigid order. They are morphologically ergative and also have at least some rules that show syntactic ergativity. The most common of these is a constraint on the extraction of subjects of transitive verbs (ergative) for focus and/or interrogation, negation, or relativization. In addition, some languages make a distinction between agentive and non-agentive intransitive verbs. Some also can be shown to use obviation and inverse as important organizing principles. Voice categories include passive, antipassive and agent focus, and an applicative with several different functions.

Article

Endangered Languages  

Chris Rogers and Lyle Campbell

The reduction of the world’s linguistic diversity has accelerated over the last century and correlates to a loss of knowledge, collective and individual identity, and social value. Often a language is pushed out of use before scholars and language communities have a chance to document or preserve this linguistic heritage. Many are concerned for this loss, believing it to be one of the most serious issues facing humanity today. To address the issues concomitant with an endangered language, we must know how to define “endangerment,” how different situations of endangerment can be compared, and how each language fits into the cultural practices of individuals. The discussion about endangered languages focuses on addressing the needs, causes, and consequences of this loss. Concern over endangered languages is not just an academic catch phrase. It involves real people and communities struggling with real social, political, and economic issues. To understand the causes and consequence of language endangerment for these individuals and communities requires a multifaceted perspective on the place of each language in the lives of their users. The loss of a language affects not only the world’s linguistic diversity but also an individual’s social identity, and a community’s sense of itself and its history.

Article

Artificial Languages  

Alan Reed Libert

Artificial languages—languages which have been consciously designed—have been created for more than 900 years, although the number of them has increased considerably in recent decades, and by the early 21st century the total figure probably was in the thousands. There have been several goals behind their creation; the traditional one (which applies to some of the best-known artificial languages, including Esperanto) is to make international communication easier. Some other well-known artificial languages, such as Klingon, have been designed in connection with works of fiction. Still others are simply personal projects. A traditional way of classifying artificial languages involves the extent to which they make use of material from natural languages. Those artificial languages which are created mainly by taking material from one or more natural languages are called a posteriori languages (which again include well-known languages such as Esperanto), while those which do not use natural languages as sources are a priori languages (although many a posteriori languages have a limited amount of a priori material, and some a priori languages have a small number of a posteriori components). Between these two extremes are the mixed languages, which have large amounts of both a priori and a posteriori material. Artificial languages can also be classified typologically (as natural languages are) and by how and how much they have been used. Many linguists seem to be biased against research on artificial languages, although some major linguists of the past have been interested in them.

Article

Languages of the World  

William R. Leben

About 7,000 languages are spoken around the world today. The actual number depends on where the line is drawn between language and dialect—an arbitrary decision, because languages are always in flux. But specialists applying a reasonably uniform criterion across the globe count well over 2,000 languages in Asia and Africa, while Europe has just shy of 300. In between are the Pacific region, with over 1,300 languages, and the Americas, with just over 1,000. Languages spoken natively by over a million speakers number around 250, but the vast majority have very few speakers. Something like half are thought likely to disappear over the next few decades, as speakers of endangered languages turn to more widely spoken ones. The languages of the world are grouped into perhaps 430 language families, based on their origin, as determined by comparing similarities among languages and deducing how they evolved from earlier ones. As with languages, there’s quite a lot of disagreement about the number of language families, reflecting our meager knowledge of many present-day languages and even sparser knowledge of their history. The figure 430 comes from Glottolog.org, which actually lists them all. While the world’s language families may well go back to a smaller number of original languages, even to a single mother tongue, scholars disagree on how far back current methods permit us to trace the history of languages. While it is normal for languages to borrow from other languages, occasionally a totally new language is created by mixing elements of two distinct languages to such a degree that we would not want to identify one of the source languages as the mother tongue. This is what led to the development of Media Lengua, a language of Ecuador formed through contact among speakers of Spanish and speakers of Quechua. In this language, practically all the word stems are from Spanish, while all of the endings are from Quechua. Just a handful of languages have come into being in this way, but less extreme forms of language mixture have resulted in over a hundred pidgins and creoles currently spoken in many parts of the world. Most arose during Europe’s colonial era, when European colonists used their language to communicate with local inhabitants, who in turn blended vocabulary from the European language with grammar largely from their native language. Also among the languages of the world are about 300 sign languages used mainly in communicating among and with the deaf. The structure of sign languages typically has little historical connection to the structure of nearby spoken languages. Some languages have been constructed expressly, often by a single individual, to meet communication demands among speakers with no common language. Esperanto, designed to serve as a universal language and used as a second language by some two million, according to some estimates, is the prime example, but it is only one among several hundred would-be international auxiliary languages. This essay surveys the languages of the world continent by continent, ending with descriptions of sign languages and of pidgins and creoles. A set of references grouped by section appears at the very end. The main source for data on language classification, numbers of languages, and speakers is the 19th edition of Ethnologue (see Resources), except where a different source is cited.

Article

Psycholinguistics and Aging  

Michael Ramscar

Healthy aging is associated with many cognitive, linguistic, and behavioral changes. For example, adults’ reaction times slow on many tasks as they grow older, while their memories, appear to fade, especially for apparently basic linguistic information such as other people’s names. These changes have traditionally been thought to reflect declines in the processing power of human minds and brains as they age. However, from the perspective of the information-processing paradigm that dominates the study of mind, the question of whether cognitive processing capacities actually decline across the life span can only be scientifically answered in relation to functional models of the information processes that are presumed to be involved in cognition. Consider, for example, the problem of recalling someone’s name. We are usually reminded of the names of friends on a regular basis, and this makes us good at remembering them. However, as we move through life, we inevitably learn more names. Sometimes we hear these new names only once. As we learn each new name, the average exposure we will have had to any individual name we know is likely to decline, while the number of different names we know is likely to increase. This in turn is likely to make the task of recalling a particular name more complex. One consequence of this is as follows: If Mary can only recall names with 95% accuracy at age 60—when she knows 900 names—does she necessarily have a worse memory than she did at age 16, when she could recall any of only 90 names with 98% accuracy? Answering the question of whether Mary’s memory for names has actually declined (or improved even) will require some form of quantification of Mary’s knowledge of names at any given point in her life and the definition of a quantitative model that predicts expected recall performance for a given amount of name knowledge, as well as an empirical measure of the accuracy of the model across a wide range of circumstances. Until the early 21st century, the study of cognition and aging was dominated by approaches that failed to meet these requirements. Researchers simply established that Mary’s name recall was less accurate at a later age than it was at an earlier one, and took this as evidence that Mary’s memory processes had declined in some significant way. However, as computational approaches to studying cognitive—and especially psycholinguistic—processes and processing became more widespread, a number of matters related to the development of processing across the life span began to become apparent: First, the complexity involved in establishing whether or not Mary’s name recall did indeed become less accurate with age began to be better understood. Second, when the impact of learning on processing was controlled for, it became apparent that at least some processes showed no signs of decline at all in healthy aging. Third, the degree to which the environment—both in terms of its structure, and its susceptibility to change—further complicates our understanding of life-span cognitive performance also began to be better comprehended. These new findings not only promise to change our understanding of healthy cognitive aging, but also seem likely to alter our conceptions of cognition and language themselves.

Article

African (Urban) Youth Languages  

Ellen Hurst

A growing phenomena in urban centers on the African continent in the latter half of the 20th century and start of the 21st century has been what have been described as Urban Youth Languages,’ although the ‘urban’ moniker is increasingly being dropped as these phenomena spread out from cities to rural areas. The term tends to refer to language phenomena such as Sheng or Engsh in Kenya, Tsotsitaal in South Africa, Nouchi in Ivory Coast, Camfranglais in Cameroon, and many more, both named and unnamed. These language styles are used and innovated predominantly by young people, and in this way they are distinguished from the large urban vernaculars present in African urban centers such as urban Wolof. African (Urban) Youth Languages usually utilize a dominant urban language as the grammatical base, such as Swahili in Nairobi Sheng and Zulu or Sotho in Johannesburg Tsotsitaal, and they feature a great deal of lexical borrowing from other languages present in Africa’s highly multilingual urban contexts, such as the colonial languages and the local African languages common to a particular urban center. They also may utilize the dominant European language as the grammatical base, such as French in the case of Camfranglais, with borrowings from English and African languages. They strikingly draw on metaphor and pop culture in the innovation of new terms. These varieties are ‘languages relexicalised,’ in Halliday’s terms, and are used by young people for creativity and entertainment, to have fun with peers, to affirm in-group relations, and to indicate status.

Article

Contact Between Spanish and Portuguese in South America  

Ana M. Carvalho

Spanish and Portuguese are in contact along the extensive border of Brazil and its neighboring Spanish-speaking countries. Transnational interactions in some border communities allow for ephemeral language accommodations that occur when speakers of both languages communicate during social interactions and business transactions, facilitated by the lack of border control and similarities between the languages. A different situation is found in northern Uruguay, where Spanish and Portuguese are spoken in several border towns, presenting a case of stable and prolonged bilingualism that has allowed for the emergence of language contact phenomena such as lexical borrowings, code-switching, and structural convergence to a variable extent. However, due to urbanization and the presence of monolingual dialects in the surrounding communities, Portuguese and Spanish have not converged structurally in a single mixed code in urban areas and present instead clear continuities with the monolingual counterparts.

Article

Morphosyntax of Himalayan Languages  

George van Driem

Several language families and a few language isolates are represented in the Himalayas, the world’s greatest massif, running a length of over 3,600 km. The most well-represented language family in this region happens to be the Trans-Himalayan language family, whose very centre of gravity and phylogenetic diversity is situated within the Eastern Himalaya. This most populous language family on our planet in terms of numbers of speakers used to be known as Tibeto-Burman but, in some circles, the family formerly also went by the names “Indo-Chinese” or “Sino-Tibetan”, the latter two labels actually designating empirically unsupported and now obsolete models of language relationship. The study of Trans-Himalayan historical grammar began with Brian Houghton Hodgson in the 1830s, who during this time served at Kathmandu as the British Resident to the Kingdom of Nepal. Periodically, minor studies devoted attention to several of the more salient morphosyntactic phenomena of Trans-Himalayan historical grammar, but Stuart Wolfenden contributed the first major monograph to the subject in the 1920s. Finally, the historical morphosyntax of the Trans-Himalayan language family came to be the focus of numerous linguistic studies from the 1970s onward, and since that time our understanding of the historical grammar of the language family has changed drastically. As ever more languages out of the hundreds of previously undocumented Trans-Himalayan tongues came to be described and analysed in great detail, it came to be understood that the flamboyant verbal agreement morphology observed in languages such as the Kiranti languages of eastern Nepal and the rGyalrongic languages of southwestern China were neither grammatically innovative nor represented typological flukes, but instead represented the most grammatically conservative languages within the entire language family. Subsequently, cognate inflectional systems or vestiges of cognate conjugational morphology were discovered in most other branches of the language family as well. The geographical centre, as well as the centre of phylogenetic diversity of the Trans-Himalayan language family, was identified as the highland arc of the Eastern Himalaya. Sinitic languages, although representing by far the most populous single branch of the Trans-Himalayan family, were now understood as constituting just one out of many subgroups, not more divergent from other branches than any one of the four dozen other subgroups making up the language family. The various types of epistemic marking systems observed sporadically throughout the region were shown to be secondary innovations, reflecting a great variety of semantically distinct language-specific grammatical categories. Particularly, languages showing the typology of the Loloish or Sinitic type were shown to be innovative in their grammar, having lost much of the original Trans-Himalayan morphosyntax.

Article

Altaic Languages  

George Starostin

“Altaic” is a common term applied by linguists to a number of language families, spread across Central Asia and the Far East and sharing a large, most likely non-coincidental, number of structural and morphemic similarities. At the onset of Altaic studies, these similarities were ascribed to the one-time existence of an ancestral language—“Proto-Altaic,” from which all these families are descended; circumstantial evidence and glottochronological calculations tentatively date this language to some time around the 6th–7th millennium bc, and suggest Southern Siberia or adjacent territories (hence the name “Altaic”) as the original homeland of its speakers. However, since the mid-20th century the dominant view in historical linguistics has shifted to that of an “Altaic Sprachbund” (diffusion area), implying that the families in question have not sprung from a common source, but rather have acquired their similarities over a long period of mutual linguistic contact. The bulk of “Altaic” has traditionally included such uncontroversial families as Turkic, Mongolic, and Manchu-Tungusic; additionally, Japanese (Japonic) and Korean are also frequently seen as potential members of the larger Altaic family (the entire five branches are sometimes referred to as “Macro-Altaic”). The debate over the nature of the relationship between the various units that constitute “Altaic,” sometimes referred to as “the Altaic controversy,” has been one of the most hotly debated topics in 20th-century historical linguistics and a major focal point of studies dealing with the prehistory of Central and East Eurasia. Supporters of “Proto-Altaic,” commonly known as “(pro-)Altaicists,” claim that only divergence from an original common ancestor can account for the observed regular phonetic correspondences and other structural similarities, whereas “anti-Altaicists,” without denying the existence of such similarities, insist that they do not belong to the “core” layers of the respective languages and are therefore better explained as results of lexical borrowing and other forms of areal linguistic contact. As a rule, “pro-Altaicists” claim that “Proto-Altaic” is as reconstructible by means of the classic comparative method as any uncontroversial linguistic family; in support of this view, they have produced several attempts to assemble large bodies of etymological evidence for the hypothesis, backed by systems of regular phonetic correspondences between compared languages. All of these, however, have been heavily criticized by “anti-Altaicists” for lack of methodological rigor, implausibility of proposed phonetic and/or semantic changes, and confusion of recent borrowings with items allegedly inherited from a common ancestor. Despite the validity of many of these objections, it remains unclear whether they are sufficient to completely discredit the hypothesis of a genetic connection between the various branches of “Altaic,” which continues to be actively supported by a small, but stable scholarly minority.

Article

Gothic  

D. Gary Miller

This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Linguistics. Please check back later for the full article. Apart from runic inscriptions, Gothic is the earliest attested language of the Germanic family, dating to the 4th century. Along with Crimean Gothic, it belongs to the branch known as East Germanic. The bulk of the extant Gothic corpus is a translation of the Bible, of which only a portion remains. The translation is traditionally ascribed to Wulfila, who is credited with inventing the Gothic alphabet. The many Greek conventions both help and hinder interpretation of the Gothic phonological system. As in Greek, letters of the alphabet functioned as numerals, but the late letter names were from runic. Gothic inflectional categories include nouns, adjectives, and verbs. Nouns are inflected for three genders, two numbers, and four cases. Various stem types inherited from Indo-European constitute different form classes in Gothic. Adjectives have the same properties and are also inflected according to so-called weak and strong forms, as are Gothic verbs. Verbs are inflected for three persons and numbers, an indicative and a nonindicative mood (here called “optative”), past and nonpast tense, and voice. The mediopassive survives in Gothic morphologically as a synthetic passive and syntactically in innovated periphrastic formations; middle and anticausative functions were taken over by reflexive-type structures. Nonfinite forms are the infinitive, the imperative, and two participles. In syntax, Gothic had null subjects as an option, mostly in the third person singular. Aspect was effected primarily by prefixes, which have many other functions, and aspect is not consistently indicated. Absolute constructions with a participle occurred in various cases with functional differences. Relativization was effected primarily by relative pronouns built on demonstratives plus a complementizer. Complementizers could be used with subordinate clause verbs in the indicative or optative. The switch to the optative was triggered by irrealis, matrix verbs that do not permit a full range of subordinate tenses, expression of a hope or wish, potentiality, and several other conditions. Many of these are also relevant to matrix clauses (independent optatives). Essentials of linearization include prepositional phrases, default postposed genitives and possessive adjectives, and preposed demonstratives. Verb-object order predominates, but there is much Greek influence. Verb-auxiliary order is native Gothic.

Article

Frisian  

Christoph Winter

Frisian is a West Germanic language that is indigenous to the southern coastal region of the North Sea in the Netherlands and Germany. In the early 21st century, it was spoken by around 400,000 inhabitants of the Dutch province of Friesland, by up to 1,000 speakers in the German municipality of the Saterland, and by an estimated 4,000 people in the German district of Nordfriesland. Corresponding to the geographical separation of these areas, which is the result of a complex historical process involving several migration events and language shifts, the Frisian language is traditionally divided into three dialect groups: West Frisian, East Frisian (Saterlandic), and North Frisian. They share common Frisian features, like the presence of two classes of weak verbs. Nevertheless, they are also characterized by individual innovations and various degrees of influence from different contact languages, which explains why they are no longer mutually intelligible. All three dialects are fully recognized as minority languages but differ in terms of their sociopolitical status. While West Frisian appears to occupy a moderately strong position in society—as it is not only recognized as the second official language of the Netherlands but also has access to higher domains and enjoys a considerable amount of constitutional support—the same does not apply to the other dialects. North Frisian and Saterlandic are mostly, if not entirely, confined to lower domains and attempts to extend their use have been only moderately successful. Considering the number of speakers, West Frisian is a relatively vital language as opposed to North Frisian and Saterlandic, which are both severely endangered.

Article

Morphology in Austronesian Languages  

Theodore Levin and Maria Polinsky

This is an overview of the major morphological properties of Austronesian languages. We present and analyze data that may bear on the commonly discussed lexical-category neutrality of Austronesian and suggest that Austronesian languages do differentiate between core lexical categories. We address the difference between roots and stems showing that Austronesian roots are more abstract than roots traditionally discussed in morphology. Austronesian derivation and inflexion rely on suffixation and prefixation; some infixation is also attested. Austronesian languages make extensive use of reduplication. In the verbal system, main morphological exponents mark voice distinctions as well as causatives and applicatives. In the nominal domain, the main morphological exponents include case markers, classifiers, and possession markers. Overall, verbal morphology is richer in Austronesian languages than nominal morphology. We also present a short overview of empirically and theoretically challenging issues in Austronesian morphology: the status of infixes and circumfixes, the difference between affixes and clitics, and the morphosyntactic characterization of voice morphology.

Article

Mixed Languages  

Felicity Meakins

Mixed languages are a rare category of contact language which has gone from being an oddity of contact linguistics to the subject of media excitement, at least for one mixed language—Light Warlpiri. They show considerable diversity in structure, social function, and historical origins; nonetheless, they all emerged in situations of bilingualism where a common language is already present. In this respect, they do not serve a communicative function, but rather are markers of an in-group identity. Mixed languages provide a unique opportunity to study the often observable birth, life, and death of languages both in terms of the sociohistorical context of language genesis and the structural evolution of language.

Article

Language Endangerment in Africa  

Tucker Childs

As elsewhere in the world, languages in Africa are endangered. The estimates for language loss on a world scale likely hold for Africa as well. Although the particular group of factors at work in Africa may be unique, they come from a well-established inventory familiar elsewhere. The forces reducing African language diversity come from the combination of a set of macro socioeconomic factors and historical events, such as colonization and globalization, coupled with local factors such as military conquest and misguided government policies. Simple demographic factors, such as number of speakers, are also important: the less widely spoken languages are more severely threatened than are those spoken more widely. The shift from African languages is to both European languages and the more widely spoken languages on the continent. Shifts also occur to localized or appropriated versions of the two. Climatic factors, most notably global warming, have played and will continue to play a role as well; the correlation between biological and linguistic diversity has often been remarked. For example, with the growth of plantation economies and the destruction of rain forests, there is a concomitant reduction in linguistic diversity.

Article

Germanic Languages in Contact in Central and South America  

Karoline Kühl

West and North Germanic language varieties have been part of the Latin American language ecology since the middle of the 19th century, when European mass migration created Germanic-speaking immigrant communities in North, Central, and South America. The subsequent fate of the Germanic immigrant varieties in Latin America varied greatly in terms of how long intergenerational transfer has been maintained, if and to what degree language maintenance has been supported by linguistic codification and language teaching, and the degree of contact with the surrounding majority population. Some languages like the Mennonite Low German varieties have been quite repellent with regard to language change induced by contact with the majority languages Portuguese and/or Spanish, other (Germanic) immigrant varieties, and indigenous languages. However, contact with the majority population and other (immigrant) ethnic groups, bilingualism, and, accordingly, the influence of Spanish and/or Portuguese has been growing for most Germanic immigrant varieties at least since the 1950s. The long-standing German dialectological research tradition into extra-territorial Germanic language islands has led to detailed accounts of many German varieties in Latin America. Accounts of other Germanic varieties are much more restricted, both in numbers and in extent: Some like Argentine Danish or Patagonian Afrikaans have been described only recently; others, like Swedish in Brazil and Argentine Dutch, hardly at all. In all cases, the accounts differ greatly regarding if, and to what extent, language contact is included as a cause of language change. Based on the scholarly coverage, the extent of contact-induced change in the Germanic varieties in Latin America appears to vary greatly, but whether this impression is due to the varying degrees of attention that the accounts devote to the effects of language contact or to particular sociolinguistic circumstances preventing or promoting language contact cannot be established. Still, contact linguistic profiles of many Germanic immigrant varieties in Latin America present themselves as a promising terra incognita for future research. From a bird’s-eye perspective, we may in general terms conclude that the Germanic varieties in Latin America are characterized by lexical borrowing, at least for cultural loans and discourse-structuring elements, as well as ad hoc code-switching. Interestingly, a number of varieties show a similar pattern of integrating Spanish or Portuguese verb stems of verbs ending in -ir and -ar into a very similar inflectional Germanic paradigm (Misiones Swedish -era, Argentine Danish -is(ere), Riograndenser Hunsrückisch -ieren, Volga German -i(:)ere). In general, syntactical restructurings seem to be restricted, with the notable exception of standard deviant omission of mainly pronominal subjects and, partly, pronominal objects. Other developments are specific, applying only to individual varieties.

Article

English in the U.S. South  

Kirk Hazen

English in the U.S. South contains a wide range of variation, encompassing ethnic, social class, and subregional variations all within the umbrella term of Southern English. Although it has been a socially distinct variety since at least the mid-19th century, many of the modern features it is nationally known for developed only after 1875. Lexical variation has long distinguished the U.S. South, but new vocabulary has replaced the old, and subregional variation in the U.S. South is no longer important for lexical variation. Social class still plays an important role in grammatical variation, but the rise of compulsory education limited previously wider ranges of dialect features. Despite traditional scholarship’s primary focus on lexical and grammatical language variation in the U.S. South, phonological variation has been the main area of scholarship since 1990s. Within phonological variation, the production of vowels, the most socially salient features of the U.S. South, has been a heavily studied realm of scholarship. Prosodic, consonant, and perception studies have been on the rise and have provided numerous insights into this highly diverse dialect region.

Article

Phonetics of Sign Language  

Martha Tyrone

Sign phonetics is the study of how sign languages are produced and perceived, by native as well as by non-native signers. Most research on sign phonetics has focused on American Sign Language (ASL), but there are many different sign languages around the world, and several of these, including British Sign Language, Taiwan Sign Language, and Sign Language of the Netherlands, have been studied at the level of phonetics. Sign phonetics research can focus on individual lexical signs or on the movements of the nonmanual articulators that accompany those signs. The production and perception of a sign language can be influenced by phrase structure, linguistic register, the signer’s linguistic background, the visual perception mechanism, the anatomy and physiology of the hands and arms, and many other factors. What sets sign phonetics apart from the phonetics of spoken languages is that the two language modalities use different mechanisms of production and perception, which could in turn result in structural differences between modalities. Most studies of sign phonetics have been based on careful analyses of video data. Some studies have collected kinematic limb movement data during signing and carried out quantitative analyses of sign production related to, for example, signing rate, phonetic environment, or phrase position. Similarly, studies of sign perception have recorded participants’ ability to identify and discriminate signs, depending, for example, on slight variations in the signs’ forms or differences in the participants’ language background. Most sign phonetics research is quantitative and lab-based.

Article

Luxembourgish  

Peter Gilles

This article provides an overview of the structure of the Luxembourgish language, the national language of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, which has developed from a Moselle Franconian dialect to an Ausbau language in the course of the 20th century. In the early 21st century, Luxembourgish serves several functions, mainly as a multifunctional spoken variety but also as a written language, which has acquired a medium level of language standardization. Because of the embedding into a complex multilingual situation with German and French, Luxembourgish is characterized by a high degree of language contact. As a Germanic language, Luxembourgish has developed its distinct grammatical features. In this article, the main aspects of phonetics and phonology (vowels, consonants, prosody, word stress), morphology (inflection of nouns, adjectives, articles and pronouns, partitive structures, prepositions, verbal system), and syntactic characteristics (complementizer agreement, word order in verbal clusters) are discussed. The lexicon is influenced to a certain degree by loanwords from French. Regarding language variation and change, recent surveys show that Luxembourgish is undergoing major changes affecting phonetics and phonology (reduction of regional pronunciations), the grammatical system (plural of nouns), and, especially, the lexical level (decrease of loans from French, increase of loans from German).

Article

Yiddish  

Lea Schäfer

The Yiddish language is directly linked to the culture and destiny of the Jewish population of Central and Eastern Europe. It originated as the everyday language of the Jewish population in the German-speaking lands around the Middle Ages and underwent a series of developments until the Shoah, which took a particularly large toll on the Yiddish-speaking Eastern European Jewish population. Today, Yiddish is spoken as a mother tongue almost exclusively in ultra-Orthodox communities, where it is now exposed to entirely new influences and is, thus, far from being a dead language. After an introductory sketch, information on the geographical distribution and number of speakers as well as key historical developments are briefly summarized. Particularly important are the descriptions of the various sociolinguistic situations and the source situation. This is followed by a description of various (failed) attempts at standardization, as well as the geographical distribution and surveys of the dialects. The following section describes the status of Yiddish in the early 21st century, which overlaps with the sociolinguistic situation of Orthodox Yiddish. Finally, the linguistic features of modern Eastern Yiddish (dialects, standard, and Orthodox) are presented. In this context, linguistic levels and structures in which Yiddish differs from other (standard) Germanic languages are also discussed. Since Yiddish, as a language derived from Middle High German, is particularly close to German varieties, the differences and similarities between the two languages are particularly emphasized.

Article

Psycholinguistic Methods and Tasks in Morphology  

Daniel Schmidtke and Victor Kuperman

Lexical representations in an individual mind are not given to direct scrutiny. Thus, in their theorizing of mental representations, researchers must rely on observable and measurable outcomes of language processing, that is, perception, production, storage, access, and retrieval of lexical information. Morphological research pursues these questions utilizing the full arsenal of analytical tools and experimental techniques that are at the disposal of psycholinguistics. This article outlines the most popular approaches, and aims to provide, for each technique, a brief overview of its procedure in experimental practice. Additionally, the article describes the link between the processing effect(s) that the tool can elicit and the representational phenomena that it may shed light on. The article discusses methods of morphological research in the two major human linguistic faculties—production and comprehension—and provides a separate treatment of spoken, written and sign language.