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Article

Experimental Semiotics  

Bruno Galantucci

Experimental Semiotics (ES) is a burgeoning new discipline aimed at investigating in the laboratory the development of novel forms of human communication. Conceptually connected to experimental research on language use, ES provides a scientific complement to field studies of spontaneously emerging new languages and studies on the emergence of communication systems among artificial agents. ES researchers have created quite a few research paradigms to investigate the development of novel forms of human communication. Despite their diversity, these paradigms all rely on the use of semiotic games, that is, games in which people can succeed reliably only after they have developed novel communication systems. Some of these games involve creating novel signs for pre-specified meanings. These games are particularly suitable for studying relatively large communication systems and their structural properties. Other semiotic games involve establishing shared meanings as well as novel signs to communicate about them. These games are typically rather challenging and are particularly suitable for investigating the processes through which novel forms of communication are created. Considering that ES is a methodological stance rather than a well-defined research theme, researchers have used it to address a greatly heterogeneous set of research questions. Despite this, and despite the recent origins of ES, two of these questions have begun to coalesce into relatively coherent research themes. The first theme originates from the observation that novel communication systems developed in the laboratory tend to acquire features that are similar to key features of natural language. Most notably, they tend (a) to rely on the use of symbols—that is purely conventional signs—and (b) to adopt a combinatorial design, using a few basic units to express a large number of meanings. ES researchers have begun investigating some of the factors that lead to the acquisition of such features. These investigations suggest two conclusions. The first is that the emergence of symbols depends on the fact that, when repeatedly using non-symbolic signs, people tend to progressively abstract them. The second conclusion is that novel communication systems tend to adopt a combinatorial design more readily when their signs have low degrees of motivation and fade rapidly. The second research theme originates from the observation that novel communication systems developed in the laboratory tend to begin systematically with motivated—that is non-symbolic—signs. ES investigations of this tendency suggest that it occurs because motivation helps people bootstrap novel forms of communication. Put it another way, these investigations show that it is very difficult for people to bootstrap communication through arbitrary signs.

Article

Game Theory in Pragmatics: Evolution, Rationality, and Reasoning  

Michael Franke

Game theory provides formal means of representing and explaining action choices in social decision situations where the choices of one participant depend on the choices of another. Game theoretic pragmatics approaches language production and interpretation as a game in this sense. Patterns in language use are explained as optimal, rational, or at least nearly optimal or rational solutions to a communication problem. Three intimately related perspectives on game theoretic pragmatics are sketched here: (i) the evolutionary perspective explains language use as the outcome of some optimization process, (ii) the rationalistic perspective pictures language use as a form of rational decision-making, and (iii) the probabilistic reasoning perspective considers specifically speakers’ and listeners’ beliefs about each other. There are clear commonalities behind these three perspectives, and they may in practice blend into each other. At the heart of game theoretic pragmatics lies the idea that speaker and listener behavior, when it comes to using a language with a given semantic meaning, are attuned to each other. By focusing on the evolutionary or rationalistic perspective, we can then give a functional account of general patterns in our pragmatic language use. The probabilistic reasoning perspective invites modeling actual speaker and listener behavior, for example, as it shows in quantitative aspects of experimental data.

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

Enregisterment  

Asif Agha

Features of interpersonally perceivable communicative conduct, including speech, function as indexical signs insofar as they point to or delineate features of their contextual surround; they function as social indexicals when what they delineate are aspects of the social roles or relationships performed by interactants or the social practices in which interactants are engaged; and they function as stereotypic social indexicals when many persons construe them in comparable ways. Enregisterment is the sociohistorical process through which stereotypic social indexicals are differentiated from each other and organized into socially distributed registers of communication. A register is identified by attending to the metapragmatic behaviors of its users, behaviors that typify the pragmatic or indexical values of its signs. To identify a register is to characterize three variables—its exponents, its social range, and its social domain—and their values or attributes: The exponents of a register are the perceivable behaviors through which it is performed, whose semiotic range may include speech and non-speech signs arrayed into co-occurrence styles, where speech segments may involve discrete repertoires, and where performed exponents serve as diacritics that differentiate the register from others. The social range of a register is the range of social indexical effects performable through its use—whether usage is emblematic of social categories of speaker-actor (viz., class, gender, caste, profession, etc.), of relationships to interactants, or of the social practices such usage makes palpable or sustains. The social domain of a register is the group of persons acquainted with the register, those able to perform or construe the effects enactable through it. All speakers of a language do not acquire competence in all its speech registers during the normal course of language socialization. Asymmetries of socialization link contrasts among registers to features of social organization, such as facts of positional ranking within society, the ability to take part in specific social practices, opportunities within a division of labor, and the myriad forms of exclusion or belonging that emerge as outcomes of such processes.

Article

Pop Cultural Linguistics  

Valentin Werner

Pop cultural linguistics represents an emerging research subfield. It can be conceptualized as a specific type of media linguistics concerned with the study of performed language as represented in various pop culture manifestations, such as music, TV series, movies, comics, cartoons, and video games, among others. Pop culture is thus viewed as a broad category that includes artifacts with a commercial, entertainment-related purpose that are (mass-)mediated, fall within the mainstream, and represent largely fictional and scripted content. Linguists working in pop cultural linguistics explicitly take account of the current social and practical relevance of pop culture and the fact that it is largely a multimodal phenomenon with a strong linguistic component and the potential for affective engagement. Pop cultural linguistics possesses inherent relevance for the broader area of cultural studies, which may benefit from quantitative and qualitative approaches used in linguistics to increase the overall validity of findings and to develop a comprehensive picture of pop culture artifacts. The main object of study in pop cultural linguistics is performed language. While performed language was traditionally sidelined in linguistics due to its alleged “inauthentic” nature, it has gradually been acknowledged as a regular part of everyday language use and thus has been normalized in linguistic study. The increasing availability of resources relevant for pop cultural linguistics, such as language corpora and thematic bibliographies, illustrates the vitality of the field, as does the growing body of research. Research in pop cultural linguistics is methodologically eclectic and commonly adapts approaches and frameworks used in established linguistic subfields, such as sociolinguistics, stylistics, or corpus linguistics. It serves to explore salient topics, such as the linguistic construction of authenticity and identity from a sociolinguistic angle or the representation of politeness from a pragma-stylistic point of view, occasionally also applying a contrastive perspective in terms of performed language vs. natural conversation. Pop cultural linguistics is further characterized by increasing methodological reflection and a growing recognition of the affordances of multimodal analysis, even though these aspects will have to be addressed more explicitly in the future.

Article

Acquisition of Pragmatics  

Myrto Grigoroglou and Anna Papafragou

To become competent communicators, children need to learn that what a speaker means often goes beyond the literal meaning of what the speaker says. The acquisition of pragmatics as a field is the study of how children learn to bridge the gap between the semantic meaning of words and structures and the intended meaning of an utterance. Of interest is whether young children are capable of reasoning about others’ intentions and how this ability develops over time. For a long period, estimates of children’s pragmatic sophistication were mostly pessimistic: early work on a number of phenomena showed that very young communicators were egocentric, oblivious to other interlocutors’ intentions, and overall insensitive to subtle pragmatic aspects of interpretation. Recent years have seen major shifts in the study of children’s pragmatic development. Novel methods and more fine-grained theoretical approaches have led to a reconsideration of older findings on how children acquire pragmatics across a number of phenomena and have produced a wealth of new evidence and theories. Three areas that have generated a considerable body of developmental work on pragmatics include reference (the relation between words or phrases and entities in the world), implicature (a type of inferred meaning that arises when a speaker violates conversational rules), and metaphor (a case of figurative language). Findings from these three domains suggest that children actively use pragmatic reasoning to delimit potential referents for newly encountered words, can take into account the perspective of a communicative partner, and are sensitive to some aspects of implicated and metaphorical meaning. Nevertheless, children’s success with pragmatic communication is fragile and task-dependent.

Article

Discourse Analytic Approaches to Language and Identity  

Dorien Van De Mieroop

Rather than thinking of identity as something that defines a person in such a way that it makes them distinguishable from others, researchers using discourse analytical approaches within linguistics—especially in the fields of pragmatics and interactional sociolinguistics—tend to adopt a social constructionist perspective and thus view identity as a multimodally constituted activity or process. From this perspective, identity is not something one is or has, but something that one does or creates by means of various linguistic and paralinguistic resources as well as bodily movements. This performative view of identity has a number of implications. Rather than thinking of identity in the singular, a plural conceptualization of identities is capitalized on. Moreover, these identities should not be regarded as pertaining to only the ‘large’ macro-level sociodemographic categories individuals belong to, such as gender, race, and social class; identities are often described in much more nuanced terms. Such a fine-grained approach is needed to do justice to this performative perspective on identity, as it helps to capture the many dynamic and extremely fleeting ways in which people engage in identity work. Furthermore, all these identity constructions are not necessarily always consistent with one another, and they may sometimes even be contradictory, as people may not always be—or be able to be—equally prone to enacting a particular identity. This may depend on what they are doing and with whom, as identities are also related to the identities other people may construct around them. All these aspects make the analysis of identity quite a complex endeavor, as not only can their plural and fleeting nature make identities quite hard to capture, but it can also be quite a challenge to pin down precisely at which points in an interaction we can actually observe identity work in action.

Article

Verbless Predicative Clauses in the Romance Languages: Syntax, Semantics, Variation  

Melvin González-Rivera

Nonverbal or verbless utterances posit a great deal of challenge to any linguistic theory. Despite its frequency and productivity among many languages, such as Arabic, Chinese, Finnish, Guaraní, Haitian Creole; Hdi, Hebrew, Hungarian, Irish, Korean, Mauritian Creole, Mina, Northern Kurdish, Romandalusí, Russian, Samoan, Turkish, Yucatec Maya, a.o., verbless clauses have received so far relatively little attention from most theoretical frameworks. The study of such clauses in general raises many interesting questions, since they appear to involve main clause structure without overt verbs. Some of the questions that arise when dealing with verbless constructions are the following: (a) are these clauses a projection of T(ense), or some other functional category, (b) do verbless clauses have an overt or null verbal head, (c) are verbless clauses small clauses, and (d) can verbless clauses be interpreted as propositions or statements that are either true or false. In mainstream generative grammar the predominant assumption has been that verbless clauses contain a functional projection that may be specified for tense (Tense Phrase) but need not occur necessarily with a verbal projection or a copula. This is strong evidence against the view that tense needs to co-occur with a verbal head—that is, tense may be universally projected but does not need to co-occur with a verbal head. This proposal departs from previous analyses where the category tense may be specified for categorial verbal or nominal features. Thus, in general, verbless clauses may be considered Tense Phrases (TPs) that dominate a nonverbal predicate. An example of verbless constructions in Romance languages are Predicative Noun Phrases (henceforth, PNPs). PNPs are nonverbal or verbless constructions that exhibit clausal properties.

Article

The Language of the Economy and Business in the Romance Languages  

Franz Rainer

The expression language of the economy and business refers to an extremely heterogeneous linguistic reality. For some, it denotes all text and talk produced by economic agents in the pursuit of economic activity, for others the language used to write or talk about the economy or business, that is, the language of the economic sciences and the media. Both the economy and business contain a myriad of subdomains, each with its own linguistic peculiarities. Language use also differs quite substantially between the shop floor and academic articles dealing with it. Last but not least, language is itself a highly articulate entity, composed of sounds, words, concepts, etc., which are taken care of by a considerable number of linguistic disciplines and theories. As a consequence, this research landscape offers a very varied picture. The state of research is also highly diverse as far as the Romance languages are concerned. The bulk of relevant publications concerns French, followed at a certain distance by Spanish and Italian, while Romanian, Catalan, and Portuguese look like poor relations. As far as the dialects are concerned, only those of some Italian cities that held a central position in medieval trade, like Venice, Florence, or Genoa, have given rise to relevant studies. As far as the metalanguage used in research is concerned, the most striking feature is the overwhelming preponderance of German and the almost complete absence of English. The insignificant role of English must probably be attributed to the fact that the study of foreign business languages in the Anglo-Saxon countries is close to nonexistent. Why study foreign business languages if one own’s language is the lingua franca of today’s business world? Scholars from the Romance countries, of course, generally write in their mother tongue, but linguistic publications concerning the economic and business domain are relatively scarce there. The heterogeneity of the metalanguages used certainly hinders the constitution of a close-knit research community.

Article

Perfects in the Romance Languages  

Gerhard Schaden

This article is devoted to the description of perfect tenses in Romance. Perfects can be described as verbal forms which place events in the past with respect to some point of reference, and indicate that the event has some special relevance at the point of reference ; in that, they are opposed to past tenses, which localize an event in the past with respect to the moment of utterance. Romance is an interesting language family with respect to perfect tenses, because it features a set of closely related constructions, descending almost all from the same diachronic source yet differing in interesting ways among each other. Romance also provides us with a lesson in the difficulty of clearly pinning down and stating a single, obvious and generally agreed upon criterion of defining a perfect.

Article

Register and Enregisterment in Germanic  

Jürgen Spitzmüller

Enregisterment denotes the sociolinguistic process within which specific forms of speaking, writing, or signing are subsumed by a social group into a coherent, distinctive whole (a language, a dialect, a standard, a slang etc.), which is often also given a label (such as Viennese, Spanglish, chatspeak, youth slang, officialese) and associated with specific contexts of use, media, groups of users, purposes, and ends, which are expected to be “typical” with regard to these forms. The product of such a process, an allegedly distinct set of communicative means that is associated (indexically linked) with assumed contexts and hence evokes specific expectations as far as their use is concerned, is called a register, register of discourse, or register of communication. According to the sociolinguistic theory of enregisterment, registers are interpretive or ideological concepts rather than ontological facts; that is, there is often not much empirical evidence that these forms of communication are really used in the exact way, as distinctively, or as coherently as the register allocation would suggest, but nevertheless there is a shared belief throughout the relevant community that this is the case. Since such shared beliefs do have an impact on how people categorize the world they find themselves in, however, registers are not dismissed as “false beliefs” about language, but are rather seen as a core ingredient of the social use of language, particularly in relation to processes of social positioning, and of alienation and social discrimination, as well as the construction of social identities. Furthermore, many scholars have pointed out that enregisterment is not merely a “folk-linguistic” phenomenon (as opposed to allegedly “nonideological” forms of inquiry practiced by linguistic experts), since enregisterment processes are often propelled by linguistic scholars, and registers (such as “ethnolects” or “netspeak”) sometimes even derive from academic discourse. Since the concept has gained great prominence in contemporary sociolinguistics, registers and enregisterment have been widely researched in Germanic languages, most notably English but also other Germanic languages such as German, Dutch, Swedish, Danish, and Norwegian. Enregisterment processes have been identified with regard to multiple historical and contemporary dimensions with which registers are being linked, among them nation states (language standardization and pluricentric standard variation), regions (regional and urban varieties), gender (e.g., “female speech,” “queer slang”), class (e.g., received pronunciation), age (e.g., “youth slang”), media (e.g., “netspeak”), profession (e.g., “officialese”), and ethnicity (e.g., “ethnolects”).

Article

Clinical Linguistics  

Louise Cummings

Clinical linguistics is the branch of linguistics that applies linguistic concepts and theories to the study of language disorders. As the name suggests, clinical linguistics is a dual-facing discipline. Although the conceptual roots of this field are in linguistics, its domain of application is the vast array of clinical disorders that may compromise the use and understanding of language. Both dimensions of clinical linguistics can be addressed through an examination of specific linguistic deficits in individuals with neurodevelopmental disorders, craniofacial anomalies, adult-onset neurological impairments, psychiatric disorders, and neurodegenerative disorders. Clinical linguists are interested in the full range of linguistic deficits in these conditions, including phonetic deficits of children with cleft lip and palate, morphosyntactic errors in children with specific language impairment, and pragmatic language impairments in adults with schizophrenia. Like many applied disciplines in linguistics, clinical linguistics sits at the intersection of a number of areas. The relationship of clinical linguistics to the study of communication disorders and to speech-language pathology (speech and language therapy in the United Kingdom) are two particularly important points of intersection. Speech-language pathology is the area of clinical practice that assesses and treats children and adults with communication disorders. All language disorders restrict an individual’s ability to communicate freely with others in a range of contexts and settings. So language disorders are first and foremost communication disorders. To understand language disorders, it is useful to think of them in terms of points of breakdown on a communication cycle that tracks the progress of a linguistic utterance from its conception in the mind of a speaker to its comprehension by a hearer. This cycle permits the introduction of a number of important distinctions in language pathology, such as the distinction between a receptive and an expressive language disorder, and between a developmental and an acquired language disorder. The cycle is also a useful model with which to conceptualize a range of communication disorders other than language disorders. These other disorders, which include hearing, voice, and fluency disorders, are also relevant to clinical linguistics. Clinical linguistics draws on the conceptual resources of the full range of linguistic disciplines to describe and explain language disorders. These disciplines include phonetics, phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics, pragmatics, and discourse. Each of these linguistic disciplines contributes concepts and theories that can shed light on the nature of language disorder. A wide range of tools and approaches are used by clinical linguists and speech-language pathologists to assess, diagnose, and treat language disorders. They include the use of standardized and norm-referenced tests, communication checklists and profiles (some administered by clinicians, others by parents, teachers, and caregivers), and qualitative methods such as conversation analysis and discourse analysis. Finally, clinical linguists can contribute to debates about the nosology of language disorders. In order to do so, however, they must have an understanding of the place of language disorders in internationally recognized classification systems such as the 2013 Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) of the American Psychiatric Association.