1. October 9 was Hangul Day, a day celebrating the invention of the Korean alphabet. All writing systems are cool, but the Korean alphabet is a special favourite of linguists because the symbols are designed based on the phonetic features of their sounds. For example, from Wikipedia

    ㄱ g [k], ㅋ k [kʰ]
    Basic shape: ㄱ is a side view of the back of the tongue raised toward the velum (soft palate). (For illustration, access the external link below.) ㅋ is derived from ㄱ with a stroke for the burst of aspiration.
    ㄴ n [n], ㄷ d [t], ㅌ t [tʰ], ㄹ r [ɾ, l]
    Basic shape: ㄴ is a side view of the tip of the tongue raised toward the alveolar ridge (gum ridge). The letters derived from ㄴ are pronounced with the same basic articulation. The line topping ㄷ represents firm contact with the roof of the mouth. The middle stroke of ㅌ represents the burst of aspiration. The top of ㄹ represents a flap of the tongue.

    As this video from the late linguist Jim McCawley points out, this means that King Sejong and his scholars had a very modern understanding of articulatory phonetics and the phonology of Korean way back in the 1400s, and a sense of how important it was to design a system that was easy to learn so that everyone could be literate. 

    The individual sounds are then combined into syllable blocks. For example, here’s the word “hangul” itself: 

    For more information, Wikipedia is a good place to start, and there’s also a video series about learning Hangul

     
  2. How to Draw Syntax Trees, Part 2: What do we even mean by a syntax tree?

    Previously: Part 1: So, you asked the internet how to draw syntax trees. Here’s why you’re confused.

    The most common broad category of tree you’re going to find in an intro linguistics course in North America is a few variations within what may be called phrase structure rules, X-bar theory, a context-free grammar, a parse tree, a generativist tree, constituency tree, or a government and binding tree. You may recognize them by your instructor citing Chomsky a lot, but at the beginning of syntax pretty much everyone cites Chomsky a lot so that’s not a guarantee. If your instructors continue to cite Chomsky a lot, later courses may get into the minimalist program and possibly things like nanosyntax, but at this point you’ll be using Google Scholar to find original research, not Wikipedia or other general resources, and also you really should have people (research groups! advisors!) to talk to about these things with.  

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  3. How to Draw Syntax Trees, Part 1: So, you asked the internet how to draw syntax trees. Here’s why you’re confused.

    Whether you’re having trouble in an intro linguistics class or you just thought you’d try to figure out those trees you might have seen in a few places, you may have thought that the internet (and especially Wikipedia) might be a good place to learn how to draw syntax trees. This isn’t an unreasonable assumption: after all, Wikipedia has some decent resources on learning the IPA, learning Gricean maxims, and we’ve even got a nice explanation of Optimality Theory on tumblr now. But the internet (and especially Wikipedia) remains a pretty terrible place to learn how to draw syntax trees, and it’s not your fault, Wikipedia’s fault, or even, really, the internet’s fault. In fact, we can blame syntax itself. Here’s why.

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  4. kairirisu said: would you be interested in introducing a conference liveblogging segment on ATL? I'm an undergrad at UCLA and this weekend, there's AMPRA 2014, CUSP at beg. of Nov, and SCULC in the spring to be put on by the UCLA's undergrad ling group! allowing people who aren't able to attend still read abstracts and get handouts would be awesome; I've always been bummed to miss out on ones that were too far to go to.

    If there’s a hashtag that people can follow (perhaps on twitter, as tumblr tags get weird when one person makes too many posts in them too quickly) then I’m happy to point it out! Anyone feel free to let me know of relevant linguistics conference hashtags either via tumblr or by tweeting at me

    I’m not really planning on introducing liveblogging on All Things Linguistic itself (although when I’m at a conference I do livetweet from my own twitter and mention the hashtag from the ATL twitter), because that would involve posting way more often than normal, which might overwhelm some people, whereas lots of quick tweets are more normal. And I think that livetweeting/liveblogging is best when it’s decentralized and multiple people can contribute. But again, hashtags are great!   

    Speaking of which, I’ll be at #nwav43 and #nels45 in upcoming weeks, and #lingchat is frequently relevant. 

    While we’re on livetweeting, here’s a public service announcement: if anyone is presenting at an upcoming conference, I often want to tweet a link to people’s handouts or posters. And you want people seeing your research, right? So you should put your handout online before your talk and then tell the audience the url (even just a few minutes before your talk is fine if you’re still finishing it up).

    A few tips:

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  5. Centre embedding: New speech disorder linguists contracted discovered!
A most troubling article from SpecGram. To assist in understanding the nature of this problem, I have taken the liberty of drawing a simplfied syntax tree of one of the most perplexing sentences: “linguists linguists linguists sent examined are highly contagious”. The non-pathological version would read something like: Linguists sent (other) linguists to examine the infected linguists. Unfortunately, the examining linguists were themselves also highly contagious. 
Centre embedding is an odd phenomenon that is fine with just one level (“new speech disorder linguists contracted discovered”) but gets really hard to understand as soon as you do more of it. So it’s not actually ungrammatical, but it’s really hard to hold a sentence with two or more levels of centre embedding in your memory. On the other hand, we can easily do many many levels of non-central embedding (“I said that Jill heard that Mary saw that Alice went to the store”). 
I used the free basic syntax tree generator phpSyntaxTree to create the diagram, and the input code is as follows: [S  [NP linguists [S [NP linguists [S [NP linguists] [VP sent]]] [VP examined ]]] [VP are highly contagious ]]. If you want to play around with it, see if you can figure out how to add Ns and Vs to the tops of all the nouns and verbs in the tree above. 

    Centre embedding: New speech disorder linguists contracted discovered!

    A most troubling article from SpecGram. To assist in understanding the nature of this problem, I have taken the liberty of drawing a simplfied syntax tree of one of the most perplexing sentences: “linguists linguists linguists sent examined are highly contagious”. The non-pathological version would read something like: Linguists sent (other) linguists to examine the infected linguists. Unfortunately, the examining linguists were themselves also highly contagious. 

    Centre embedding is an odd phenomenon that is fine with just one level (“new speech disorder linguists contracted discovered”) but gets really hard to understand as soon as you do more of it. So it’s not actually ungrammatical, but it’s really hard to hold a sentence with two or more levels of centre embedding in your memory. On the other hand, we can easily do many many levels of non-central embedding (“I said that Jill heard that Mary saw that Alice went to the store”). 

    I used the free basic syntax tree generator phpSyntaxTree to create the diagram, and the input code is as follows: [S  [NP linguists [S [NP linguists [S [NP linguists] [VP sent]]] [VP examined ]]] [VP are highly contagious ]]. If you want to play around with it, see if you can figure out how to add Ns and Vs to the tops of all the nouns and verbs in the tree above. 

     
  6. I’m on Lexicon Valley talking about structural ambiguity in one of my favourite quotes from Cabin Pressure (from episode 2, Boston; transcript here). 

    ARTHUR: Actually, I think he might.

    MARTIN: No, Arthur, he won’t.

    ARTHUR: Hmm. The thing is, though, Skip, with all due respect, but what I’ve got that you haven’t is that Mum sent me on a course on understanding people in Ipswich.

    MARTIN (slowly): And if I ever want the people of Ipswich understood, you’ll be the first person I call. Meanwhile…

    So we have two possible interpretations:

    Arthur: a [ course on understanding people ] in Ipswich
    Martin: a course on [understanding people in Ipswich] 

    Here they are as trees (using phpsyntaxtree): 

    That’s not the only linguistic phenomenon in Cabin Pressure: there’s also reduplication in the Timbuktu episode, for example.

     
  7. All About That Richness of the Base

    Because you know
    I’m richness of the base
    Of the base, no Halle
    I’m richness of the base
    Of the base, no Chomsky
    I’m richness of the base
    Of the base, no Halle
    I’m richness of the base
    Of the base

    Yeah, it’s pretty clear, I ain’t gon’ write rules
    But I can GEN it, GEN it
    Like I’m supposed to do
    'Cause I got that CON CON that the tableaux chase
    And all the EVALs in all the right places

    I see that SPE workin’ that transformation
    We know that rule ain’t real
    C’mon now, make it stop
    If you got input, input, just rank ‘em up
    'Cause every constraint is perfect
    From the bottom to the top

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  8. Language will evolve irregardless of your attempt to literally lock it away in a secluded tower. Obvs.
    — 

    — Welcome to Night Vale, episode 55: The University of What It Is (via the-librarians-of-night-vale)

    Joseph Fink has a nice track record of criticizing language peevers

     
  9. Language revitalization and technology

    Several recent news stories about language revitalization. Some of them have hyperbolic framing about “saving” “lost cultures”, but the general projects are very interesting and it’s a fair point that technology, while not a solution in itself, can lead to greater exposure to a language and make younger people more excited to speak it. 

    Rapping in Mayan languages

    Pat discovered rap through a pirated 50 Cent CD, but he gained prominence with a 2009 contest at a community radio station in nearby Felipe Carrillo Puerto, where he wowed the crowd with a Mayan rap. He has since recorded three albums and shot a video, Mayan Blood, set in his hometown. Pat figures there are about 40 rappers following in his footsteps—and people of all ages coming to shows. “Old people like it for the language. Young people like it for the genre.” Even, he adds, if they don’t understand it at first. “The third, fourth or fifth time, it sticks.”

    The article is a bit confusing because it refers to “the Maya language” although there is an entire Mayan language family. However, based on the location mentioned, Quintana Roo state, the rapper would probably be speaking Yucatec Maya, which, sure enough, is often referred to as just Maya by speakers. A small sample of other Mayan languages include Kaqchikel, Q’anjob’al, Ch’ol, and Tzeltal (the apostrophe indicates ejectives; demonstration here). 

    Subtitling TV shows in various languages, including Udmurt, Maori, and Cherokee

    Viki has teamed up with the the Living Tongues Institute for Endangered Languages to encourage those who speak endangered languages to contribute their own translations of the shows. They’re currently adding projects for everything from Cherokee, a language spoken by about 18,000 people in the southeastern United States to Maori, a language spoken in New Zealand by about 60,000. The most popular endangered language on the site is Basque, spoken by about 720,000 people in the Basque region on the border between Spain and France.

    Translating Firefox into various languages, including Fulah and Chichewa

    Ibrahima Sarr, a Senegalese coder, led the translation of Firefox into Fulah, which is spoken by 20m people from Senegal to Nigeria. “Crash” became hookii (a cow falling over but not dying); “timeout” became a honaama (your fish has got away). “Aspect ratio” became jeendondiral, a rebuke from elders when a fishing net is wrongly woven. In Malawi’s Chichewa language, which has 10m speakers, “cached pages” became mfutso wa tsamba, or bits of leftover food. The windowless houses of the 440,000 speakers of Zapotec, a family of indigenous languages in Mexico, meant that computer “windows” became “eyes”.

    Transferring a Penobscot dictionary from 1980s-era floppy disks to a usable modern format:

    [Siebert] first met the Penobscot while his family was on vacation in Old Town in the mid-1930s. Just from an initial meeting with a Penobscot elder, he got started working to document the language and the oral literature in particular. And he pursued that—they always call it “avocationally.”…He worked with somewhere between a dozen and two dozen and possibly more speakers of Penobscot over the length of his work, collecting over 100 notebooks of linguistic material, including the oral literature he transcribed from dictation….During the 1980s, the Penobscot Nation got an NSF grant to hire him and a bunch of other people to work on creating a Penobscot dictionary from this material that he’d collected. They were still able to work with Madeline Shay and get new information as well….

    I’m not entirely clear on the circumstances of how it didn’t get finished, but it basically didn’t…. It sat there on 5¼-inch floppy disks done on an Apple IIe computer using the then cutting-edge Gutenburg word processing program—it was cutting-edge largely because it allowed you to create your own characters, which are needed to write in Penobscot—and that’s the way it sat.

    Creating a Skwo-mesh language immersion house

    Starting in October, we will move into what we are calling a language immersion house. The goal of the project is to create a non-classroom environment where the language is used habitually or exclusively with fluent elders and speakers visiting on a regular basis to help advance our knowledge of our language and culture. It’s a pilot project with goals to build a lasting language immersion program that will ultimately create a generation of fluent speakers in the community.

    To do this, we’re fundraising to cover costs like materials, video and audio equipment, and other miscellaneous items we may need. Join the project by buying a T-shirt through our teespring campaign here.

    The idea of a language immersion house also reminds me of language nests, when young children are cared for exclusively in the language, by elders or semi-fluent adult speakers, and it’s especially useful once the parent generation doesn’t speak the language anymore. Language nests are a low-tech idea that were originally developed by the Maori in New Zealand with great results and have since been adopted by a wide variety of other groups. 

     
  10. This is pretty darn adorable. And, I assume, that if you have all the IPA symbols blocked out like that, it would be fairly easy to recombine them to transcribe anything else you wanted.  

    For a more traditionally-laid-out IPA cross stitch, superlinguo did a consonant chart a while back, as well as a solitary schwa.  

    Other fun IPA memorabilia include the IPA eye chart, which I had on my wall for quite a long time, and a schwa necklace and earrings.