1. If you aren’t following (and possibly participating in) #LingTomSwifties, you’re missing out on some truly excellent humour. A few of my favourites so far: 

    "I’ve never been a fan of Whorfianism" Tom dissed Sapir

    "I still don’t know how to form the subjunctive," Tom said moodily.

    "Never trust an /l/ in coda position" said Tom darkly

    "I’m nervous about the future," said Tom tensely.

    The PIE voiceless stops became voiceless fricatives in Germanic, said Tom grimly.

     
  2. How to Draw Syntax Trees, Part 3: Type 1 - A sentence is an S

    Previously on how to draw syntax treesPart 2: What do we even mean by a syntax tree?

    The first type of tree that we’re going to talk about begins with a basic generalization that a sentence (such as “the cat plays piano”) consists of a noun phrase (such as “the cat”) and a verb phrase (such as “plays piano”). You might have learned in high school English class that these two parts are called a subject and a predicate. A noun phrase, in turn, contains an optional determiner and a noun, while a verb phrase contains a verb and an optional further noun phrase. The category label “determiner” can be replaced with “the”, the category label “noun” can be replaced with “cat” or “piano”, and the category label “verb” can be replaced with “plays”. (Of course, there are so very many words out there that in this last step we only list the relevant ones for a particular sentence.)

    In addition to writing them as words, you can also write these generalizations more compactly in what’s known as rewrite rules or Phrase Structure Rules or PSRs (S can be rewritten/replaced with NP and VP, NP can be rewritten as optional Det and N, etc) as follows:   

    S → NP VP
    NP → (Det) N
    VP → V NP
    Det → the
    N → cat, piano
    V → plays

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  3. 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

     
  4. 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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  5. 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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  6. 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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  7. 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. 

     
  8. 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.

     
  9. 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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  10. 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