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Rice Linguistics Society

RLS 5: Abstracts

Plenary talks

Towards Ethnogrammar: an outline of a research program

Dan Everett, Bentley University

There are many aspects of language that are affected by culture – vocabulary items, idioms, and channels of discourse, among others. One crucial question, however, is whether culture can exercise an architectonic effect on the grammar itself, what Chomskyans might refer to as the “Core Grammar.” In Ethnosyntax, the authors present various ways in which culture is causally implicated in the grammars of a variety of languages. In Language: The Cultural Tool, I make the case that culture is implicated not only in grammatical constructions, but in the forms of sentences throughout a language, as well as topics of conversation and discourse, and the very core grammar of the language. In fact, the basic structure of languages can be derived from the simple formula: Cognition + Communication + Culture = Grammar. There is no evidence for anything specifically dedicated to human language in the human genome other than the shape of the vocal apparatus, especially the position of the human tongue in the throat. In his recent book, The Unpredictable Species, Philip Lieberman underscores the absence of a biological basis for a Universal Grammar. But if culture is so important to the understanding of language, how do we go about studying the culture-language connection? This talk reviews some of the evidence just mentioned and then makes the case that understanding culture as a set of ranked values connected to specific constructions and discourse types is the place to begin the study of a new field that I label Ethnogrammar, including ethnophonology, ethnosyntax, and so on.

French impersonals: a Cognitive Grammar account

Michel Achard, Rice University

This presentation argues a functional account provides the most insightful analysis of French impersonal constructions. Any construction deserves the impersonal label provided that i) it defocuses or backgrounds the agent of the profiled process, and ii) its profiled process exhibits a degree of generality which makes it available to a generalized conceptualizer, or in other words, virtually anyone in a position to experience the process the predicate describes. The structures that meet these criteria present a coherent, positively defined natural class, because they systematically code highly general and predictable events, the occurrence of which cannot be imputed to a specific conceptualizer. Examples are provided from il, ça, middle and indefinite (on) impersonals. Importantly, impersonals constitute only subsections of demonstrative (ça), middle, and indefinite (on) structures, but these subsections can easily be recognized as constructional clusters. Constructions therefore constitute a crucial organizing principle of French impersonals.


Learning to sign can affect cognitive ability: the Whorfian Hypothesis revisited

Jesse Hrebinka & John Bonvillian, University of Virginia

A much-debated topic in linguistics and cognitive science is whether language can affect thought. The theory of linguistic relativity has received much criticism in recent years due to a lack of substantial evidence to support a link between the language spoken and the speaker’s cognitive processes. However, a series of relatively unknown studies conducted in the 1990s report an observed relationship between a gestural method of communication and marked changes in cognition. These changes include improvements in the subjects’ spatial memory, nonverbal cognitive skills, and speech development when compared with non-signing peers. The recorded improvements arise independent of the individual’s hearing capability or exposure to aural disability. In the present paper, we defend the theory of linguistic relativity when applied to comparisons of oral vs. gestural linguistic modalities. We conclude that learning to sign can have a substantial affect on one’s cognitive skills, and we arrive at this conclusion by reviewing the findings of the aforementioned studies that observed cognitive improvements in subjects learning a visual-gestural communication system.

The effect of linguistic experience on the perception of pitch

John Galindo, Rice University

Recent research in psycholinguistics has investigated the correlation between experience and perception within a particular domain. In the domain of pitch, one’s sensitivity of pitch has been correlated with prior musical experience or native experience with a tone language. The aim of this paper is to provide a review of psycholinguistics literature with regards to the perception of pitch as a function of experience, showing both processing benefits and costs for the perception of pitch height, direction, duration, and contour as a result of experience with music or tonal languages. Another goal is to provide a theoretical basis for the influence of top down cognitive processes affecting basic perceptual processes.

On the proper status of the voice suffix -kaa in Ancash Quechua: a functional-cognitive account

Carlos Molina-Vital, Rice University

The suffix -kaa still lacks a clear definition in Ancash Quechua (AQ). Grammatical descriptions summarily define it as a passive suffix with added reflexive functions. The aim of my presentation is to determine its proper status as a voice category. First, a brief account of -ku, the reflexive-middle suffix is provided. Then, through a functional-cognitive analysis of several uses of -kaa in transitive and intransitive verbs an abstract schema of the commonalities of uses is provided. Then it will be evident that there is a parallel between reflexive -ku and -kaa, since they focus, albeit through different perspectives, on what affects the subject participant (the subject itself or external circumstances), and the level of volitionality involved in the initiator of the event. Consequently, reflexivity-middle voice, and passive voice are ruled out as defining -kaa. Instead, I will argue that -kaa is a spontaneous voice marker.

Interactional perspectives on sighing

Elliott Hoey, University of California, Santa Barbara

While sighing has traditionally been treated in the literature as a psychophysiological reflex of some inner state or physical condition, casual observation would reveal a different situation. Namely, sighs are manipulable: they may be withheld in the presence of some state, or produced in absence of one. This controllable suggests that sighs may carry some a social function. In this paper, I investigate sighs as they appear in conversational interaction. My data are 41 tokens of sighs as transcribed in the Santa Barbara Corpus of Spoken American English. What emerges from my analysis is that sighs may be used to accomplish interactional and locally-occasioned goals such as turn-management and stance-taking. This research contributes to previous work on emotion and affect as situated activities, and to work on the discourse functions of non-lexical and para-lexical forms in interaction.

A new view on vowel dispersion: the Nez Perce vowel system

Katie Nelson, Rice University

Nez Perce, a highly endangered American Indigenous language, has been of great interest in phonology over the years due to its unusual vowel system and vowel harmony process. Nez Perce has five monophthongs and seven diphthongs, with phonemic length. This system is unusual because rather than /i, e, a, o, u/, the Nez Perce inventory is /i, æ, a, o, u/. This uncommon inventory leads to two seemingly unrelated dominant, /i, a, o/, and recessive, /i, æ, u/, vowel harmony groups. To date there has been no phonetic analysis of the Nez Perce vowel system. Native speakers were used to analyze the vowel system. This paper provides an acoustic analysis of the system. I utilize this acoustic data to question the theory of maximal dispersion. According to this theory, Nez Perce vowels are not maximally dispersed. In addition, Maddieson lists Nez Perce as a language with a gap in its inventory. I challenge these analyses of the Nez Perce vowel system and claim that it is indeed maximally dispersed, however not in the canonical manner. I also suggest an analysis for Nez Perce vowel harmony based in part on the theory of maximal dispersion.

Taste as language: Slow Food’s use of tasting as a didactic and conversational tool

Ereich Empey, Rice University

The international movement of Slow Food draws upon the use of taste as a specific tool for creating and establishing lines of communication and education across various social groups. Taste then functions as a linguistic tool, providing experiences that can be associated with experiential and gustatory sensations, linked with memory and cultural contexts, in order to articulate and expand knowledge across linguistic divides when specifically located in multinational Slow Food sponsored events such as Terra Madre and il Salone del Gusto. Drawing upon ethnographic work and the publications of Slow Food International, this paper argues how through transnational movements such as Slow Food craft and reformulate the act of tasting, and the sets of distinctions that come along with it, into a linguistic pathway for exchange of culture and meanings.

‘Are you a man or a woman, are you attracted to men or women?’: Exploring the limitations of discourses on sexuality in a trans community

Bethany Townsend, Rice University

Valentine’s (2007) research demonstrated that ‘the distinction between sexuality and gender upon which the transgender/homosexuality divide is based … cannot account for the complexity of the lived and analytic domains of “gender” and “sexuality”’ (2007:60). As such, this paper examines how transgender community leaders, asked to give a Trans 101 talk at ‘the gay church,’ used this discursive space to denaturalize the discourses of sexuality available to them or imposed upon them. They problematized the ‘transgender/homosexuality divide’ by questioning the labels available to them and invented their own, criticized the fetishization/sexualization of trans bodies and lives, and reconciled their own desires for other pre-operative trans bodies. This paper positions them as queer linguists (Motschenbacher 2010:10) as their metalinguistic commentary treats dominant discourses and categories as flawed. I use this event to emphasize the importance of an ethnographic analysis of gender and sexuality (Valentine 2004:219).

Constructing celebrity persona: Lady Gaga in interviews and on Twitter

Mary-Caitlyn Valentinsson, University of Arizona

This paper discusses the discursive practices employed by American pop star Lady Gaga that establish and engender her public persona. In particular, I focus on two media-driven speech acts: interviews with journalists, and her ‘verified’ Twitter account. In these venues, Gaga constructs her public persona in a way that establishes a ‘closeness’ with her fan community through the negotiation of stance, frame, and footing. I claim that in interviews, Gaga creates an oppositional stance with representatives of the media ‘establishment’, highlighting her closeness to her fans; while on Twitter, Gaga makes use of three particular discursive techniques that construct a sense of intimate relationship between her and her fans and erase the delineation between ‘celebrity’ and ‘fans’. Taken together, these data show how Gaga cultivates ‘closeness’ with her fan community, while remaining physically unreachable and thus, driving a desire amongst her followers to consume more of her products and persona.

The grammaticalization of dùn ‘join, follow’, to mark involvement in Karbi

Linda Konnerth, University of Oregon

In Karbi (Tibeto-Burman), dùn ‘join, follow’ has grammaticalized inside a serial verb construction to create the suffix -dūn~-dùn, which indicates an abstract idea of involvement in another event, as this study argues based on examples taken from a natural text corpus. Occurring on chō ‘eat’, it means ‘eat with somebody’ or ‘eat like somebody’. The latter comparison reading also applies when -dūn~-dùn suffixes on adjectival verbs. However, other instances exemplify a more abstract notion of involvement, where dūn~-dùn indicates that by performing a certain action, the agent intervenes in or interferes with other events. That is, dūn~-dùn always signals that the event has to be understood in a particular context, i.e. vis-à-vis other participants, situations, or events, which are always identifiable from the previous discourse, cultural knowledge, or general knowledge.

On the use of a detached patient construction in Chini: interactions between animacy and information structure

Joseph Brooks, University of California, Santa Barbara

Although the information structure principles which motivate the use of detachment constructions have been the subject of on-going discussion in linguistics, little attention has been paid to the inherent semantic properties of detached NP constituents. In Chini, a Ramu language of Papua New Guinea, a construction composed of a detached P argument and a verbal proclitic mɨ signals marked information structure. Evidence from narrative discourse suggests that the function of this construction is dependent on animacy, a semantic property encoded in the pronominal and alignment systems in Chini.

There is a strong tendency for the construction to mark topic shift when the P argument is human or animate, but to mark focus for inanimates. The discourse-pragmatic properties of this construction and its structural manifestations shed new light on our understanding of information structure by demonstrating the potential importance which the semantic properties of referents can have in marked pragmatic structures.

Exploring the concept of grammatical relations in Mandarin Chinese using real conversational data

Julia Cheng, University of Colorado

Mandarin Chinese has been a language to attract debated claims in the area of grammatical relations. It has been described by Charles Li & Sandra Thompson as a topic prominent language because they believe the assignment of semantic roles to the constituents of a discourse is done by the listener on the basis of pragmatics rather than on syntactic relationships. Van Valin and LaPolla have also argued that Mandarin lacks grammatical relations because there is no strict [S, A] or [S, O] alignment. However, if Mandarin does not have grammatical relations, how do speakers disambiguate the semantic roles of different constituents when they interact?

The aim of this paper is to examine how Mandarin speakers differentiate the semantic roles of A, S and O when they interact by investigating a 23-minute discourse data. The results provide evidence to believe that grammatical relations in Mandarin may be more significant than have been alleged so far.

Talkin’ the talk: Ethnic New York and the ‘true New York accents’ on Long Island

Ann Marie Olivo, Rice University

This paper explores the ethno-historical basis for the usage of New York City English (NYCE) in the suburbs of Long Island. A sociophonetic analysis of 30 current residents of Long Island shows that usage of traditional NYCE features correlates with age, gender, and a familial connection to the boroughs of New York City (Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, Manhattan) via the immigration of various “white ethnic” groups—Italians in particular. The phonological variables include not only the traditional NYCE features (Labov 1966), but the split in the upgliding vowels described by Olivo and Koops (2013). The corresponding discourse analysis shows how Long Islanders construe their ethnicity in terms specific to their community. As one respondent described it, “We [Long Islanders] are the original New Yorkers”—a sentiment shared by many respondents.

On the importance of including data from long-term participant observation in assessments of linguistic vitality: a case study from fieldwork among the Mako

Jorge Emilio Rosés-Labrada, University of Western Ontario

Evidence from documentary work among the Mako of Venezuela illustrates the inadequacies of relying only on self-reported questionnaire and interview data in language vitality assessments and the benefits of including data obtained through long-term participant observation in analyses and reports of linguistic vitality.

Variation in acoustic cues to fricative voicing in Malagasy dialects

Penelope Howe, Rice University

This study combines experimental results with acoustic measurements of Malagasy speakers from different dialect regions to reveal variation in the use of acoustic cues to differentiate the fricative pairs /f/-/v/ and /s/-/z/. Previous studies have cited modal voicing as the primary contrast; however, speakers of certain dialects completely devoice stressed /v/ and /z/, distinguishing these fricative pairs instead through contrastive f₀ on following vowels. A two-alternative forced-choice identification task reveals that speakers who exhibit extensive devoicing rely primarily on f₀ in perception, with pitch of the following vowel ”overriding” modal voicing as a cue to fricative identity, while speakers from other dialect regions who do not exhibit extensive devoicing are able to use f₀ as a cue when modal voicing is absent from the signal but rely on voicing when it is present. These results suggest tonogenesis in progress and are supportive of claims about the role of coarticulation in sound change.

Langue vs. Parole, Competence vs. Performance, I-language vs. E-language, FLN vs. FLB, Grammar vs. Usage: A sociolinguistic response to Newmeyer (2003)

Richard Cameron, University of Illinois at Chicago

In Newmeyer’s arguments to distinguish grammar from usage, he claims (2003: 695) “a world of difference between what a grammar is and what we do.” In the process, he identifies three (687) “basic aspects of grammar,… long-distance dependencies, category-sensitive processes, (and) structure dependence…”

If “there is a world of difference between what a grammar is and what we do,” these basic aspects of grammar should not characterize usage. However, if patterns of usage display parallels, this will give us cause to rethink the “world of difference” claim. I start with (1) structure dependence, (2) move to category-sensitive processes, and then (3) long-distance dependencies. When discussing structure dependence, I explore Adjacency Pairs and the concept of “significant silence” from Conversation Analysis. For discussion of category-sensitive processes and long-distance dependencies, I draw on Variationist treatments of internal constraints on English (ing) and Spanish null/pronominal subject alternations. Usage does display parallels.

Homorganic stop insertion in Non-standard American English dialects

Brittany Courville & Elisabeth Oliver, Louisiana State University

This study examines the emergence of homorganic [t] insertion in multisyllabic words between nasal /n/ and high front vowel /i/ in nonstandard American English dialects. This insertion was introduced by African-American character actors Madea and RuPaul and has infiltrated a variety of dialects. This [t] insertion mirrors homorganic stop epenthesis that occurred in the development of several Indo-European languages.

This study provides English and cross-linguistic, historical examples of similar types of insertion, outlines factors which have influenced the adoption of this insertion by speakers of specific dialects such as social media networking websites, defines the phonological and social environments and constraints of homorganic stop insertion in six American English words, and differentiates this particular type of insertion from similar forms of epenthesis.


Cultural conventions in research article introductions: what can be employed and evaded?

Hmoud Alotaibi

This work reviews the cross-cultural studies that applied the CARS model to examine the structure of the research article introduction in six languages. The results show that with the exception to English all the examined languages did not adhere to the structure of the CARS model as they scarcely employed the second move (establishing the niche) which requires the writer to indicate a gap in the previous research. Najjar (1990) on Arabic, Ahmad (1997) on Malay, Jogthong (2001) on Thai, and Hirano (2009) on Brazilian Portuguese have reported that unlike writers in Anglophone communities who criticize previous research to create a research gap, the writers in these languages evade employing this rhetorical construct. Yet, when this move is present, the studies show that writers do not use it to challenge or evaluate previous research as English writers do because the strategy of criticizing other people’s work is discouraged in these cultures.

A preliminary comparison of discursive strategies in stand-up comedy

Sarah Cain & Marina Santiago, Rice University

This poster will present a preliminary analysis of discursive strategies used in the stand-up comedy routine of a single comedian, Hari Kondabolu. We will compare the strategies used by Kondabolu in two different performances of a comedy routine. We will examine the use of assumed audience identity, shared cultural references, and audience responsiveness and how these strategies may affect the way a joke is contextually situated. In particular we will discuss how Kondabolu presents the same comedic scenario to two different audiences, one in a non-televised stand-up comedy venue and one in a nationally televised late-night talk show segment. Using discourse analysis and audience design theory, we will specifically explore how Kondabolu’s performance may change based on contextual factors and specifically as it relates to the execution of the punch line.

Underspecified vowels or morphologically specified features creating apparent vowels: an analysis of Azeri suffixal vowels

Anthony Koth, Rice University

Articulatory Phonology (Browman and Goldstein 1987) posits that phonology can be described in terms articulatory gestures. Underspecification theory (Archangelli 1987) posits that each segment’s featural matrix need not be fully specified. What neither theory addresses is a neutral vocal tract shape perturbed both by morphological needs and consonantal articulations which results in vowel harmony. Azeri vowel harmony demonstrates a contrast between fully specified and underspecified morphemes. Underspecified morphemes include progressive /-V[+high]r/ and habitual /-V[+low]r/ aspects where only the features [+high] and [+low] are specified. In relation to AP, jaw height is variable based on morphology, while lip rounding and tongue body gestures are maintained, overlapping other gestures. As Azeri lacks /ɯ/, /ɶ/ and /ɒ/ substitution of /ɨ/, /æ/ and /ɑ/ occur. These substitutions argue for a neutral vocal tract shape being maintained across gestures resulting in apparent vowels being realized that are not present in the underlying representation.

Palatalization in Mandarin loanwords: an OT approach

Ling Ma, Rice University

This study aims to conduct an OT analysis on palatalization phenomenon in Mandarin loanwords borrowed from American English based on the transliterated American state and city names. Because of the differences between Mandarin and American English in sound inventories and syllable structures, words introduced to Mandarin from American English may need to undergo some feature change. The present study focuses on the palatalizaion phenomenon of velar consonants, and the constraint-based theoretical framework provides an explanation for that. The constraints and their ranking accounting in this study are: 1). *COMPLEX, *VELAR-V(+front), MAX >> IDENT(place), 2) *[PALATAL-an]SYLL, DEP >> *VELAR-V(+front) >> IDENT(place). However, some other factors besides phonological ones, such as character choosing, convention for translation may lead to some counterexamples, thus needs to be further studied.

Clause complex relations in bilingual Hindi film songs: a manifestation of emergence of hybrid code

Snobra Rizwan, Bahauddin Zakariya University

This study documents the way in which bilingual Hindi-English film songs exhibit clause complex relations which it is assumed serve as the manifestation of emergence of a hybrid English-Urdu/Hindi code. Along with identification of clause complex relations, this research also seeks to exhibit generic structural potential of Hindi/English film songs. Generic structural potential describes all the structural elements of songs from opening verses to middle verses to concluding verses. Generic structural potential thus identified eventually leads towards the identification and demonstration of clause complex relations between language systems. The clause complex relations which include both hypotactic and paratactic relations turn apparently divergent language systems into an organized thematic whole. The data comprising fifty bilingual Hindi film songs has been collected through a small-scale survey. The study revealed that mixing of English in Hindi film songs is becoming more and more trendy with the passage of time and it could be assumed that it in an evidence of emergence of a new hybrid code in Indo-Pakistani setting.

Argument structure in Puma

Narayan Sharma, SOAS

This paper investigates argument structure in Puma, an endangered Rai-Kiranti language spoken in eastern Nepal. Puma employs two types of antipassive in which one follows the typical Kiranti pattern and the other one is typologically closer to other world’s languages (Bickel et al. 2007), and four kinds of predicates. Two-place predicate takes two arguments with either ergative and absolutive or ergative and dative. Three-place predicate takes three arguments with ergative, absolutive and dative case. Two and three-argument predicates can be detransitivized with kha- or without kha-. However, the numbers of arguments they require and the case markings are different. Puma distinguishes between adjectival predicates and locative predicates from nominal predicates in which the copula yuŋma meaning ‘sit’ or ‘stay’ is used for adjectival and locative predication.

The findings reveal that Puma employs split ergativity, two types of antipassive and differential object marking within argument structure.

Chữ Nôm: past and future for a lost treasure

Tianqi Yang, Tulane University

Chữ Nôm or sometimes referred to as the Vietnamese Demotic Script, has existed for more than a thousand years, and has been the only writing system that was created by the Vietnamese people and that recorded the Vietnamese spoken language until the adaptation of the Roman-letter-based alphabet during the last century. This article discusses the history, the graph types and structures of Chữ Nôm from historical linguistic perspectives and a corpus study on Truyện Kiều, its uniqueness compared to other writing systems in the so-called Sinosphere, as well as the importance of in the Vietnamese writing history. The article also compares Chữ Nôm and the current day Quốc Ngữ in representing the Vietnamese language, in which they both have drawbacks where the other could fill the gap. Lastly, I propose a set of suggestions on the education and preservation of Chữ Nôm script, when keeping the phonetically more efficient Quốc Ngữ as the basic type of script.