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Article

Okinawan Language  

Shinsho Miyara

Within the Ryukyuan branch of the Japonic family of languages, present-day Okinawan retains numerous regional variants which have evolved for over a thousand years in the Ryukyuan Archipelago. Okinawan is one of the six Ryukyuan languages that UNESCO identified as endangered. One of the theoretically fascinating features is that there is substantial evidence for establishing a high central phonemic vowel in Okinawan although there is currently no overt surface [ï]. Moreover, the word-initial glottal stop [ʔ] in Okinawan is more salient than that in Japanese when followed by vowels, enabling recognition that all Okinawan words are consonant-initial. Except for a few particles, all Okinawan words are composed of two or more morae. Suffixation or vowel lengthening (on nouns, verbs, and adjectives) provides the means for signifying persons as well as things related to human consumption or production. Every finite verb in Okinawan terminates with a mood element. Okinawan exhibits a complex interplay of mood or negative elements and focusing particles. Evidentiality is also realized as an obligatory verbal suffix.

Article

Case Markers in Indo-Aryan  

Miriam Butt

Indo-Aryan languages have the longest documented historical record, with the earliest attested texts going back to 1900 bce. Old Indo-Aryan (Vedic, Sanskrit) had an inflectional case-marking system where nominatives functioned as subjects. Objects could be realized via several different case markers (depending on semantic and structural factors), but not the nominative. This inflectional system was lost over the course of several centuries during Middle Indo-Aryan, resulting in just a nominative–oblique inflectional distinction. The New Indo-Aryan languages innovated case markers and developed new case-marking systems. Like in Old Indo-Aryan, case is systematically used to express semantic differences via differential object marking constructions. However, unlike in Old Indo-Aryan, many of the New Indo-Aryan languages are ergative and all allow for non-nominative subjects, most prominently for experiencer subjects. Objects, on the other hand, can now also be unmarked (nominative), usually participating in differential object marking. The case-marking patterns within New Indo-Aryan and across time have given rise to a number of debates and analyses. The most prominent of these include issues of case alignment and language change, the distribution of ergative vs. accusative vs. nominative case, and discussions of markedness and differential case marking.

Article

Linguistics in Premodern India  

Émilie Aussant

Indian linguistic thought begins around the 8th–6th centuries bce with the composition of Padapāṭhas (word-for-word recitation of Vedic texts where phonological rules generally are not applied). It took various forms over these 26 centuries and involved different languages (Ancient, Middle, and Modern Indo-Aryan as well as Dravidian languages). The greater part of documented thought is related to Sanskrit (Ancient Indo-Aryan). Very early, the oral transmission of sacred texts—the Vedas, composed in Vedic Sanskrit—made it necessary to develop techniques based on a subtle analysis of language. The Vedas also—but presumably later—gave birth to bodies of knowledge dealing with language, which are traditionally called Vedāṅgas: phonetics (śikṣā), metrics (chandas), grammar (vyākaraṇa), and semantic explanation (nirvacana, nirukta). Later on, Vedic exegesis (mīmāṃsā), new dialectics (navya-nyāya), lexicography, and poetics (alaṃkāra) also contributed to linguistic thought. Though languages other than Sanskrit were described in premodern India, the grammatical description of Sanskrit—given in Sanskrit—dominated and influenced them more or less strongly. Sanskrit grammar (vyākaraṇa) has a long history marked by several major steps (Padapāṭha versions of Vedic texts, Aṣṭādhyāyī of Pāṇini, Mahābhāṣya of Patañjali, Bhartṛhari’s works, Siddhāntakaumudī of Bhaṭṭoji Dīkṣita, Nāgeśa’s works), and the main topics it addresses (minimal meaning-bearer units, classes of words, relation between word and meaning/referent, the primary meaning/referent of nouns) are still central issues for contemporary linguistics.

Article

Text-Messaging in Africa  

Ana Deumert

The concept of Africa requires reflection: what does it mean to study a social phenomenon “in Africa”? Technology use in Africa is complex and diverse, showing various degrees of access across the continent (and in the Diaspora, and digital social inequalities—which are part and parcel of the political economy of communication—shape digital engagement. The rise of mobile phones, in particular, has enabled the emergence of technologically mediated literacies, text-messaging among them. Text-messaging is defined not only by a particular mode of communication (typically written on mobile phones, visual, digital), but it also favors particular topics (intimate, relational, sociable, ludic) and ways of writing (short, non-standard texts that are creative as well as multilingual). The genre of text-messaging thus includes not only short message service (SMS) and (mobile) instant-messaging (which one might call prototypical one-to-one text messages), but also Twitter, an application that, like texting, favors brevity of expression and allows for one-to-many conversations. Access to Twitter is still limited for many Africans, but as ownership of smartphones is growing, so is Twitter use, and the African “Twittersphere” is emerging as an important pan-African space. At times, discussions are very local (as on Ghanaian Twitter), at other times regional (East African Twitter) or global (African Twitter and Black Twitter); all these are emic, folksonomic terms, assigned and discussed by users. Although former colonial languages, especially English, dominate in many prototypical text messages and on Twitter, the genre also provides important opportunities for writing in African languages. The choices made in the digital space echo the well-known debate between Chinua Achebe and Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o: the Africanization of the former colonial languages versus writing in African languages. In addition, digital writers engage in multilingual writing, combining diverse languages in one text, and thus offer new ways of writing locally as well as shaping a digitally-mediated pan-African voice that draws on global strategies as well as local meaning.

Article

Models of Human Sentence Comprehension in Computational Psycholinguistics  

John Hale

Computational models of human sentence comprehension help researchers reason about how grammar might actually be used in the understanding process. Taking a cognitivist approach, this article relates computational psycholinguistics to neighboring fields (such as linguistics), surveys important precedents, and catalogs open problems.

Article

Structural Semantics in the Romance Languages  

Miguel Casas Gómez and Martin Hummel

Structural semantics is a primarily European structural linguistic approach to the content level of language which basically derives from two historical sources. The main inspiration stems from Ferdinand de Saussure’s Cours de linguistique générale (1916), where the Genevan linguist also formulates the fundamental principles of semantic analysis: the twofold character of the linguistic sign, the inner determination of its content by the—allegedly autonomous—linguistic system, the consequent exclusion of the extralinguistic reality, the notion of opposition inside the system, and the concept of “associative relations” in the domain of semantics. This tradition was later refined by Hjelmslev and Coseriu, who introduced theoretical and methodological strength and rigor, suggesting systematic analyses in terms of semantic features linked by (binary) opposition. The second source of inspiration was the more holistic concept elaborated by Wilhelm von Humboldt, who saw language as a means of structuring the world. In the second half of the 20th century, structural semantics was mainstream semantics (to the extent that semantic analysis was accepted at all). A long series of authors deepened these historical traditions in theoretical and empirical studies, some of them suggesting secondary and/or partial models. Finally, prototype semantics and cognitive semantics strove to downgrade structural semantics by turning back to a more holistic conception of meaning including the speakers’ knowledge of the world, although not without introducing the alternative structural notion of “network.”

Article

The History of Variationist Germanic Linguistics  

Frans Gregersen

The history of variationist linguistics (also known as variationist sociolinguistics or language variation and change) shows that over the years it has entered into competition and collaboration with a number of disciplines. It is in competition with Chomskyan theoretical linguistics, diverging from this hegemonic trend in methods, data, and types of analysis: variationist linguistics favors observation and dismisses introspection; it builds on everyday conversations with more speakers than one; and it uses quantitative methods in all analyses. Variationism collaborates with or is compatible with other types of analyses of language use and is sometimes seen as part of a larger sociolinguistic field also encompassing interactional linguistics, discourse analysis, critical discourse analysis, conversation analysis, and functional grammar, and systemic functional linguistics may complement or in other ways be used in otherwise mainly variationist enterprises. Indeed since one of the central variationist types of data is the sociolinguistic interview, variationist data may be analyzed by all of these disciplines. The article is organized along the following historical framework: It circumscribes three periods ranging from approximately 1960 to ca. 2010: The founder period establishes the approach at the various European universities by producing a number of exemplary studies, primary among them William Labov’s dissertation and later book, The Social Stratification of English in New York City. In focusing on an urban environment, Labov identified a moot point in the dialectological tradition, which otherwise is not only compatible with variationism but would also, gradually, be profoundly transformed by it. He also studied a community whose sheer size makes sampling and concomitant discussions of representativity necessary. These are central discussions for any urban sociology. The history of variationism in general plays out differently in the various countries or regions of Germanic-speaking Europe, but in the second period it is characteristic that variationist linguistics gets a more or less favored place in a broader canvas of disciplines studying spoken language in use. The disciplines may take their cue from sociology (ethnomethodology, conversation analysis), philosophy (speech-act theory), or social psychology (accommodation theory). Thus, we have labeled this period the period of fragmentation. The third period distinguished here is a period of larger corpora, when studies of variation may be carried out in tandem with, or indeed in collaboration with, other analyses; thus, in a way, modifying the previous period of fragmentation—at least institutionally. The three periods happen at various points in time in the various countries discussed, and it could be argued that the two later periods overlap, but the framework used here nevertheless makes it possible to organize their overall history.

Article

Psycholinguistic Research on Inflectional Morphology in the Romance Languages  

Claudia Marzi and Vito Pirrelli

Over the past decades, psycholinguistic aspects of word processing have made a considerable impact on views of language theory and language architecture. In the quest for the principles governing the ways human speakers perceive, store, access, and produce words, inflection issues have provided a challenging realm of scientific inquiry, and a battlefield for radically opposing views. It is somewhat ironic that some of the most influential cognitive models of inflection have long been based on evidence from an inflectionally impoverished language like English, where the notions of inflectional regularity, (de)composability, predictability, phonological complexity, and default productivity appear to be mutually implied. An analysis of more “complex” inflection systems such as those of Romance languages shows that this mutual implication is not a universal property of inflection, but a contingency of poorly contrastive, nearly isolating inflection systems. Far from presenting minor faults in a solid, theoretical edifice, Romance evidence appears to call into question the subdivision of labor between rules and exceptions, the on-line processing vs. long-term memory dichotomy, and the distinction between morphological processes and lexical representations. A dynamic, learning-based view of inflection is more compatible with this data, whereby morphological structure is an emergent property of the ways inflected forms are processed and stored, grounded in universal principles of lexical self-organization and their neuro-functional correlates.

Article

Interrogatives in the Romance Languages  

Nicola Munaro

This article investigates the structural properties of interrogative clauses in the Romance languages. Interrogative clauses are typically produced by the speaker in order to elicit information from the addressee; depending on the kind of information requested by the speaker, one can distinguish between two basic types of interrogatives: polar interrogatives and constituent interrogatives. In Romance main polar interrogatives, the interrogative interpretation of the utterance may be triggered only by prosodic means, through a final raising tone. While main polar interrogatives may employ different morphosyntactic strategies, embedded polar interrogatives display a greater degree of uniformity and are invariably introduced by the interrogative complementizer. As for constituent interrogatives, across Romance we find languages employing different strategies: Beside the ordinary fronting of the wh-item in the sentence-initial position, we also find wh-clefting, in which the sentence-initial wh-item is followed by an inflected copula and the complementizer; wh-in situ, with the wh-item appearing in sentence-internal position; wh-doubling, with two wh-items appearing, one in sentence-initial position and the other in sentence-internal position; and multiple wh-fronting, with both wh-items sitting in a left-peripheral position. In nonstandard questions the wh-item is obligatorily fronted, even in the languages that allow for wh-in situ in standard questions.

Article

Word Formation in Standard Romance Languages Versus Minor Languages and Dialects  

Immacolata Pinto

The use of a sociolinguistic approach in the comparative study of word formation is a quite modern phenomenon. The lack of any continuous documentation for many of the nonstandard Romance varieties results in the still partial nature of such analyses. However, they are undoubtedly of great interest from a comparative point of view. In short, while all the Romance varieties are connected through genetic affinity, contact phenomena have instead caused significant divergences related to status in the realm of word formation. What was the cause and how did this happen? In particular, the lack of an intense and continuous contact with the Greek-Latin cultural superstrate prevented the creation of new formation rules for words of learned origin in the minor Romance varieties and dialects (e.g., Corsican, Occitan, Friulian, Sardinian). This lack of interconnection with the Greek-Latin lexical stock has caused the minor Romance varieties to be distanced from the standard Romance languages (e.g., French, Italian, Spanish) and besides has brought the last ones closer to the learned levels of the main European non-Romance languages.

Article

Georg von der Gabelentz  

James McElvenny

The German sinologist and general linguist Georg von der Gabelentz (1840–1893) occupies an interesting place at the intersection of several streams of linguistic scholarship at the end of the 19th century. As Professor of East Asian languages at the University of Leipzig from 1878 to 1889 and then Professor for Sinology and General Linguistics at the University of Berlin from 1889 until his death, Gabelentz was present at some of the main centers of linguistics at the time. He was, however, generally critical of mainstream historical-comparative linguistics as propagated by the neogrammarians, and instead emphasized approaches to language inspired by a line of researchers including Wilhelm von Humboldt (1767–1835), H. Steinthal (1823–1899), and his own father, Hans Conon von der Gabelentz (1807–1874). Today Gabelentz is chiefly remembered for several theoretical and methodological innovations which continue to play a role in linguistics. Most significant among these are his contributions to cross-linguistic syntactic comparison and typology, grammar-writing, and grammaticalization. His earliest linguistic work emphasized the importance of syntax as a core part of grammar and sought to establish a framework for the cross-linguistic description of word order, as had already been attempted for morphology by other scholars. The importance he attached to syntax was motivated by his engagement with Classical Chinese, a language almost devoid of morphology and highly reliant on syntax. In describing this language in his 1881 Chinesische Grammatik, Gabelentz elaborated and implemented the complementary “analytic” and “synthetic” systems of grammar, an approach to grammar-writing that continues to serve as a point of reference up to the present day. In his summary of contemporary thought on the nature of grammatical change in language, he became one of the first linguists to formulate the principles of grammaticalization in essentially the form that this phenomenon is studied today, although he did not use the current term. One key term of modern linguistics that he did employ, however, is “typology,” a term that he in fact coined. Gabelentz’s typology was a development on various contemporary strands of thought, including his own comparative syntax, and is widely acknowledged as a direct precursor of the present-day field. Gabelentz is a significant transitional figure from the 19th to the 20th century. On the one hand, his work seems very modern. Beyond his contributions to grammaticalization avant la lettre and his christening of typology, his conception of language prefigures the structuralist revolution of the early 20th century in important respects. On the other hand, he continues to entertain several preoccupations of the 19th century—in particular the judgment of the relative value of different languages—which were progressively banished from linguistics in the first decades of the 20th century.

Article

Discriminative Learning and the Lexicon: NDL and LDL  

Yu-Ying Chuang and R. Harald Baayen

Naive discriminative learning (NDL) and linear discriminative learning (LDL) are simple computational algorithms for lexical learning and lexical processing. Both NDL and LDL assume that learning is discriminative, driven by prediction error, and that it is this error that calibrates the association strength between input and output representations. Both words’ forms and their meanings are represented by numeric vectors, and mappings between forms and meanings are set up. For comprehension, form vectors predict meaning vectors. For production, meaning vectors map onto form vectors. These mappings can be learned incrementally, approximating how children learn the words of their language. Alternatively, optimal mappings representing the end state of learning can be estimated. The NDL and LDL algorithms are incorporated in a computational theory of the mental lexicon, the ‘discriminative lexicon’. The model shows good performance both with respect to production and comprehension accuracy, and for predicting aspects of lexical processing, including morphological processing, across a wide range of experiments. Since, mathematically, NDL and LDL implement multivariate multiple regression, the ‘discriminative lexicon’ provides a cognitively motivated statistical modeling approach to lexical processing.