LINGUIST List Holiday Recess

Hey everyone!

This is Ken again. I just wanted to wish everyone Happy Holidays. We will be closing on Saturday for the holiday season. We reopen on the 2nd. This simply means that new submissions that come in during this time will not be posted/reviewed.

Emergency submissions can be sent in with ‘URGENT’ in the subject line. However, we will charge double for ‘URGENT’ postings.

We wish you an enjoyable holiday season and a happy new year! We truly appreciate your continued support of LINGUIST List. We couldn’t do this without you.


P.S. We had a white elephant gift exchange at the LINGUIST List Holiday party. High quality gifts were exchanged.

(Clare got a 24k dial up modem)


Some of the gifts rocked!

(literally a rock)

Linguist List at LSA

Hey everyone,

This is Ken at the LINGUIST List. I just wanted to let all of you know that we will be at the Linguistic Society of America conference in Austin, Texas in January (

We will have a booth with the other organizations at the conference. We look forward to talking to you about the projects housed here at the LINGUIST List (Multitree, LL Map, Geoling, GORILLA and more). We are also open to discussing our posting areas and the website.

Come, visit, and get to know the people behind the LINGUIST List!

On October 13th Baris Kabak visited Bloomington and the LINGUIST List

Prof. Baris Kabak, a colleague from Germany, was visiting LINGUIST List!


“I am currently visiting Indiana University from Würzburg, Germany, where I am a professor of English Linguistics at the Department of British and American Studies. I came to Indiana to give a plenary talk at the 2nd Conference on Central Asian Languages and Linguistics, which was organized by CeLCAR at the School of Global and International Studies. The conference brought together researchers specializing in the languages of the region with the theme “Continuing the Journey: Strengthening the Central Asian Community”. So far, being in Bloomington has given me not only the opportunity to strengthen my ties with scholars working on different languages such as Persian, Uyghur and Armenian, but also the privilege to talk to some faculty members at the Department of Second Language Studies at Indiana University since I have been able to combine the conference trip with a short stay in Bloomington as part of my sabbatical leave.  It was also great to see that the LINGUIST List is not just a list in the digital world, but a real home at the heart of beautiful Bloomington that provides a roof over many dedicated linguists who are doing invaluable service to the field of linguistics.”

Huge steps have been taken in LINGUIST List projects – Thank you, 2016 Summer Interns!

The Fall breeze brought the beginning of a new semester along with it, and a new season for our team of highly motivated Summer Interns at LINGUIST List, who (for the most part) just left us for the continuation of their linguistics endeavors. We are very grateful for their hard work and the priceless contribution they brought to multiple LINGUIST List projects, including GORILLA, MultiTree, LL-Map and GeoLing! These projects have all been started some time ago, and they were brought much closer to completion this summer. We are now very excited to let them tell you what they did over the last few months.



GORILLA is an exciting project currently being built. The goal of this project is to create a unified source of annotated corpora for languages around the world, with an emphasis on endangered and under-resourced languages. So Eun, Julian, Simon-Pierre, Clare and Will hugely contributed to this project by working on some novel speech corpora for Korean, German, and Kinyarwanda, and by revamping and annotating the AHEYM speech corpus for Yiddish.


“This summer, I helped to develop the Yiddish Speech Corpus: I transcribed, transliterated, and annotated Yiddish speech and developed corpus metadata. I clarecoordinated with Will and So Eun, and together we annotated over 5 hours of media for the corpus, including interviews, poetry and audio books.”

So Eun

“Over the course of the Linguist List internship, I have worked on collecting and producing speech corpora on the Yiddish and Korean SoEunlanguages. For the Korean corpus, I gathered texts in Korean from non-copy right restricted online sources, made recordings of said texts, and annotated each recording using ELAN. As to the Yiddish corpus, I helped with annotating the Yiddish recordings available at Indiana University’s Archives of Historical and Ethnographic Yiddish Memories (AHEYM) by segmenting audio files as well as converting and copying Yiddish (orthographic and YIVO/romanized) transcriptions onto the ELAN annotations.”


“While interning at LINGUIST List this summer, I was involved in one main project, and several smaller ones as well. I was told about the speech corpus I would be working on, and shown how to use the program necessary for it. I started off making audio recordings, and then transcribing them to text using ELAN. This took up the majority of my time interning here, but was very useful. After I had completed the transcriptions, I was given some smaller tasks, such as improving LINGUIST List’s website by cleaning up old links. I feel that my time interning here was useful and well spent, and has helped expand my skill set”


2) GeoLing, LL-Map and MultiTree

These three projects are some valuable tools that have been in the makings for quite some time, here at LINGUIST List. Thanks to some of our 2016 interns, these tools are now improved!

MultiTree is a digital library of scholarly hypotheses about language relationships and subgroupings, organized in a searchable database with a fancy web interface. Noah, Chloe and Arjuna spent the summer working on the structure of this useful webinterface, providing you with the new and improved MultiTree!

MultiTree interact with the LL-MAP Project, a geolinguistic database which provides users with a fully functional Geographical Information System (GIS) through which linguistic data – including subgrouping information – can be viewed in its geographical context. Jacob lead this project, assisted by Chloe.

Geoling is also an interactive map service, but with a different goal. It displays linguistics information around the world on a map: jobs, conferences, internships, and for the first time on LINGUIST List: local events. Lewis spent much time and effort reorganizing the data for this project, and with the help of Noah and Arjuna they were able to implement it to the website!


Jacob“I have spent the summer working on the LL-MAP project, which had been offline for several years. I began by identifying and correcting issues with the geometry and attribute data of the maps in our PostGIS database and KML files to allow them to display properly in viewers like QGIS, Google Earth, and OpenLayers. I also corrected the styles corresponding to the maps, according to recommendations by Jacob Henry, in order to show the colors, labels, and other visual aspects as they appear in the original source. Once the maps had been uploaded into Geoserver, I went through them to identify specific problems and fixed display issues with several dozen maps. Finally, I contributed along with several other interns to the new LL-MAP viewer. I would like to thank Lwin Moe and Damir Cavar for their help at every step of the process, and Damir and Malgosia Cavar for the opportunity to take part in this project.”


IMG_9534“As a summer intern at the Linguist List, I worked on improving the MultiTree and LL-MAP sites. Before I started, I had played around with the old and new MultiTree but didn’t know how the trees were generated. With some training in Django and D3 data visualizations, I was able to get behind the scenes of MultiTree and start exploring different tree views using the data from the Linguist List. Because of the variety of visualization options, I learned to put myself in the user’s shoes and to decide what features to prioritize in order for the site to be more helpful to the linguist community.

After MultiTree, I helped with the LL-MAP team on their project. Working on the new LL-MAP was a dynamic process because we constantly adjusted our tasks based on user feedback. The result that came out was an elegant viewer page that provides as much information as possible in a simple and organized way.

One thing I learned from my internship experience is the difference between a classroom assignment and a real project. For both MultiTree and LL-MAP, we had a lot of freedom deciding what to work on as a team as opposed to being assigned specific tasks, with the goal to make the site more informative and easier to use. I’m glad to have gained the experience of collaborating with teammates, and learning to solve issues creatively and efficiently.”


We sincerely enjoyed having these burgeoning linguists join our team, and we even have the pleasure of having Jacob and Clare stay on at LINGUIST List after the end of their internship! Thanks to the devoted work of the 2016 LINGUIST List summer interns, some novel and valuable language resources have now been created: their contribution goes beyond the limits of LINGUIST List, and is truly a contribution to the Linguistics community around the world. We now invite you all to enjoy these new tools that have been developed over the years by many different hands, and most recently by the LINGUIST List 2016 Interns crew!

A new year, a new LINGUIST List crew: introducing the 2016-2017 GAs!

Dear Readers,

With the waning of the hot season here in Indiana, and the wrapping up of some of the summer projects at LINGUIST List (you’ll get to read more exciting news about this soon!), and after having said good bye to our deeply missed predecessors, it is time to start a new semester with a new LINGUIST List crew!

You have already encountered most of us, and we’ve actually already been working here for some time, but here is the official introduction of us new GAs at LINGUIST List. Glad to meet you all!


Yue Chen

Yue is a new graduate assistant at the LINGUIST List. She comes from Chengdu, China. She is currently a second year M.A./Ph.D. student in Computational Linguistics here at Indiana University. Her academic interests are natural language processing, machine learning and recently, parsing. In daily life, she enjoys cooking, baking, hiking, crocheting and reading.


Kenneth Steimel

Kenneth Steimel is a student editor at LINGUIST List. St. Louis and Columbia Missouri were his home before moving to Bloomington. He works primarily with conferences and calls for papers at LINGUIST List. However, he also edits ask-a-linguist, summaries, FAQ, queries and discussions. His research, outside of LINGUIST List, is concerned with documenting African languages. He is specifically interested in developing computational tools and corpora for the languages he studies. In his free time, he also enjoys roasting coffee, geeking out over cars and backpacking.


Michael Czerniakowsky

Mike is a student editor here at LINGUIST List, where he works primarily on Books and Publications, while pursuing his MS in Computational Linguistics at Indiana University. In his free time he enjoys reading, crossword puzzles, and trivia nights.


Amanda Foster

Amanda started working at LINGUIST List in October 2015. She is now the Jobs and Supports Editor, as well as the editor for Journal related posts, Software announcements, and Programs and Institutions. She is originally from a small town in Northern France, but has also spent some time in Paris and in Ireland before coming to IU to pursue an MA in General Linguistics. She is passionate about the study and documentation of under-resourced and endangered languages. When she is not entertaining herself with language puzzles, she loves reading, hiking, and discovering the nature and culture around Bloomington!


Clare Harshey

Clare feels lucky to have been a summer intern for the LINGUIST List this year, and even luckier to be able to work here for the school year as well! This summer, she focused on the Yiddish Speech Corpus, part of the GORILLA project. She’s continuing work on the corpus this fall; she’s also in training as an editor for the Reviews, Books, Jobs and Support sections of the LINGUIST List. She is at IU to pursue her MS in Computational Linguistics, and is grateful for the opportunity to do work that builds on her education and her passion for this field. Outside of linguistics, she enjoys music, reading and exploring Bloomington with her dog.

We are excited to have a role to play in connecting the Linguistics community around the world. We’ll be in touch soon (and now, you can even associate a face to these editing emails you receive!)


The LINGUIST List Editors

Welcome, 2016 Summer Interns and Volunteers!

This summer, we are excited to welcome to the team 10 interns and volunteers! They are working on various projects such as Geoling and LL-Map, and they are also contributing to research on endangered languages by creating corpora for languages of around the world. If you are interested in becoming an intern, our application cycle will open again next spring. In the mean time, there are other ways to get involved here at LINGUIST List. Just contact us for more information.

Meet the 2016 LINGUIST List interns and volunteers:


So Eun Ahn

So Eun joined the Linguist List as an intern during the summer of 2016. She is from Seoul, South Korea and currently studies German and Spanish at Vanderbilt University. Her work at the Linguist List includes creating speech corpus for Korean. She intends to pursue a Ph. D in linguistics upon completion of her undergraduate degree. She is particularly interested in studying and documenting endangered languages and hopes to apply her training experience to possibly annotating K’iche’, which she has studied this past year. In her free time, So Eun loves to read, write, and listen to good music.



Jacob Heredos

Jacob is working at LINGUIST List as an intern for the summer of 2016, contributing to the LL-Map project. In May Jacob completed a B.A. with a triple major in Anthropology, International Studies, and Spanish and a minor in Linguistics at IU Bloomington, and eventually plans to pursue graduate studies in Linguistics. He has always had an interest in languages and linguistics, especially phonetics, historical linguistics, and the indigenous languages of the Americas. In his free time Jacob also enjoys running, reading, and cooking.



Clare Harshey

Clare is a summer intern at Linguist List, where she works on the GORILLA project, specifically developing the Yiddish Speech Corpus. She studied linguistics and computer science as an undergraduate at the University of Kentucky, and is starting Indiana’s MS in Computational Linguistics this fall. Clare has taken courses in modern and classical Germanic, Celtic, Indic and Romance languages, and is especially interested in the study and preservation of under-resourced languages, endangered languages, and heritage languages.



Lewis Dunham

Lewis is working as an intern at Linguist List for the summer of 2016. He is from St. Louis, MO and in the fall will return to Truman State University in northeastern Missouri to begin his third year pursuing a BS in Linguistics with minors in Sociology and Folklore. He hopes to continue his linguistic studies in graduate school as well. So far Lewis has been assisting with developing the GeoLing project. His research interests include French, Arabic, internet linguistics, creative word-formation processes, and constructed languages (of which he has created one and has a second planned). He also enjoys hiking, cooking, and social activism.


Noah Kaufman
This is Noah Kaufman. He graduated with a BA in Linguistics from McGill University and is now at IU for an M.S. in Computational Linguistics. He became interested in language because of how cool he thought it was that people could secretly talk to each other in a foreign language without others understanding them. This got him interested in language learning and later linguistics. Within linguistics, Noah mostly like sociolinguistics and how discourse constructs our biased mental models of the world which contribute to our judgements and power. At Linguist List I will be working on web development for the new website as well as Gorilla and Geoling.



Hai Hu

Hai comes from Chengdu, China and has just finished his first year of the PhD program in Computational Linguistics at Indiana University. His interests are corpus linguistics, syntactic theories (generative and computational) and documenting Chinese dialects. He is working on the LFG project at Linguist List this summer.


SimonPierreSimon Pierre Munyaneza

Simon Pierre Munyaneza is a summer intern for Linguist List. He is now working on Kinyarwanda speech corpus. He is currently a Doctoral student in Literacy Culture and Language Education – Indiana University Bloomington with a Minor in African Studies. His area of interest is mostly social linguistics and literacy. He speaks two European languages (French and English) and four African Languages Kinyarwanda, Kiswahili, Lingala and Orunyankole­Rukiga and has been a languages teacher in Rwanda since 1999. He thinks that working at Linguist List, through Information Technology, will help him to save and revive numerous endangered African languages.



Julian Dietrich

Julian will be interning at the Linguist list during the summer of 2016 until August, when he will start studying computational linguistics at Indiana University. Born in Germany, he moved to the United States at the age of 7, and was raised bilingual. His father is a professor for German linguistics, from whom his interest in the field developed. Julian’s hobbies include reading, traveling, and hiking.




William Shankman
Will is a summer intern for the Linguist List. He is a senior at IU planning to graduate with a major in Linguistics and a minor in Folklore/Ethnomusicology. He has studied Spanish, Chinese and Italian. He plans to get a graduate degree in Linguistics and one day perform ethnographic and linguistic research on cultures with endangered languages.




Qiaochu “Chloe” ChenIMG_9534
Chloe is a rising Junior at Tulane University in New Orleans, LA. She majors in Linguistics and Computer Science, and minors in Art History and Psychology. As a summer intern here, she’s currently working on the MultiTree project. She is a native speaker of Mandarin Chinese and the Wu dialect spoken in the Yangtze River Delta. She has studied French and is about to start learning Arabic. She hopes to get a graduate degree in Computational Linguistics, and go on to use creative technology to solve problems in language documentation and conservation. Her interests in linguistics include bilingualism, dialectology, and linguistic relativity. In her free time, she enjoys traveling and visiting museums.


Featured Linguist: Adam Przepiórkowski

Featured Linguist: Adam Przepiórkowski

Featured Linguist: Adam Przepiórkowski

Grammar sucks: it is complex and it makes no sense. That’s what I learned at school. One day you are told that each Polish noun has a grammatical gender, and the next day – that it actually has a different gender in the singular and in the plural. One day you are told that transitive verbs always combine with accusative objects, and the next day you see the direct object in the genitive, just because some negation is floating around. One day you are told that complements are obligatory participants and adjuncts are optional circumstances expressing manner, location, etc., and the next day you notice verbs like BEHAVE or RESIDE, with obligatory circumstantials. So you can’t be blamed for deciding that mathematics and programming make much more sense. Having said farewell to grammar, I went to an experimental university level maths high school, and got far enough in the national maths olympics to be accepted as an MSc student to the Mathematics and Computer Science department of the University of Warsaw.

These were late 1980s and early 1990s, the communism fell down – first in Poland, then in Berlin, Czechoslovakia and other places – and suddenly exchange programs became available, of which I immediately took advantage, spending a year in Edinburgh twice: first at Heriot-Watt, and then at the Centre for Cognitive Science of the University of Edinburgh. There, with teachers like Elisabet Engdahl and Robin Cooper, grammar not only started making sense, but became great fun – like a bottomless box of toys and puzzles. One game was called “Principles and Parameters”: how to set parameters (and how to tweak supposedly universal principles) to get Polish? I must have set a couple of parameters right, as I got an A+ for the final syntactic assignment and an offer to publish it, PUBLISH IT (gasp), as a research report of the Centre for Cognitive Science (EUCCS/RP-62). Another game was: how to make a computer produce all and only grammatical sentences of Polish? Computational linguistics courses were fun also for reasons not really intended by the lecturers. I remember a particularly enjoyable class at 2 Buccleuch Place, Edinburgh, about the implementation of some kind of focus calculus in some form of dynamic semantics, when – as the teacher was trying to explain the intricate workings of perhaps a little unwisely named parameters FOC-IN and FOC-OUT – the colour of his face was becoming increasingly purple… Edinburgh was certainly a forming experience for me, and the solid broad exposure to syntax (Chomskyan and HPSG), formal semantics, logic and computational linguistics set me on the path of becoming a formal / computational / corpus linguist.

I was also lucky to have a safe haven in Poland to always go back to. When still in Edinburgh, toiling over a preprint of soon-to-be-published “Head-driven Phrase Structure Grammar” by Pollard and Sag, I found out about a computational linguistic group at the Polish Academy of Sciences, headed by the late Prof. Leonard Bolc, who – at that time (early/mid 1990s) – got an idea that it would be interesting (and en vogue) to implement an HPSG grammar of Polish. I got heavily involved and – some 7–8 years later, in early 2000s – we had among us 4 linguistic PhD dissertations (and a couple dozens of papers) concerned with various aspects of Polish formalised in HPSG, an implemented HPSG grammar of Polish, and a monograph on Polish in HPSG.

Letters of recommendation I got in Edinburgh, from Elisabet and Robin, opened many doors for me: first to Stuttgart, where I worked in Hans Kamp’s group on the Verbmobil machine translation system, then to Tübingen, definitely the best HPSG place in Europe at that time, where I defended my PhD on case assignment in Polish, then to Ohio, where I was a postdoc with Carl Pollard and was supposed to work on HPSG, but where – after reading too much Minimalism during my PhD work and following the general paradigm shift – I decided to requalify as a corpus linguist. At that time there was no large, publicly available, linguistically annotated corpus of Polish, but there were a few more-or-less closed corpora around. At the Polish Academy of Sciences, we got a grant for building such a large, publicly available corpus, as well as various tools for its annotation and search, so soon there was one more corpus of Polish, pretty much as in this xkcd strip:, although of course we thought of ours as the best in all (well, almost all) possible respects. This situation became a little embarrassing, and after a few well-intended but still slightly caustic remarks by Prof. Čermák – the head of the monolithic Czech National Corpus at that time – regarding the situation in Poland, the developers of various Polish corpora joined forces and created the National Corpus of Polish (NCP;; our partners from the English Department of the University of Łódź decided that the acronym of “Polish National Corpus” would not sound respectable in English…), one of the most popular language resources of Polish these days.

Frequently, with the advancement through scientific ranks comes the accumulation of administrative functions. In 2005, when Prof. Bolc retired, I took over the helm and was the Head of the Linguistic Engineering Group at the Institute of Computer Science of the Polish Academy of Sciences (isn’t that a mouthful) for the next 10 years, until my “administrative retirement” at the end of the last year. During that time, most of my work – apart from some teaching of theoretical and computational linguistics at the University of Warsaw – consisted in heading various computational and corpus linguistic projects, and also coordinating the National Corpus of Polish. These projects were very important in various ways, and helped establish the Linguistic Engineering group at the Polish Academy of Sciences as a reliable partner in such projects, but they mostly involved engineering work, with little interesting linguistics, so I also tried to find the time to follow my theoretical linguistic interests, once the Minimalist trauma was gone. After a few years’ break with HPSG I decided it would be fun (again; homo sapiens is indeed homo ludens!) to play with a different well-established theory, namely, Lexical-Functional Grammar. At that time I supervised an enthusiastic PhD student who also got interested in LFG, and we made a strong debut at the LFG 2012 conference in Bali. In fact, our entrance was duly noted during the LFG business meeting, when the rules were tightened on how many papers by the same authors may be accepted to an LFG conference. We continue intensive work within LFG, although I sometimes miss the more rigid (in my humble opinion) logical foundations of theories such as HPSG or Categorial Grammar (which I suppose I should really be working within, given that these days I teach at the Institute of Philosophy of the University of Warsaw, where Ajdukiewicz was a professor for some time…). So I am very excited by the fact this year my group at the Polish Academy of Sciences will host the first truly joint HPSG/LFG conference (

With a little over 20 years of research, I am perhaps somewhere in the middle of my scientific career (common assumptions being made here), and I should probably consider myself relatively successful (as measured by the number and outcome of projects, by my h-index, etc.), but I am not at all certain I would direct my scientific career the same way, had I my current experience 20 years ago. It’s good to publish a lot, but perhaps I should have submitted more papers to journals, instead of leaving them in conference proceedings, etc.? It’s good to have grants which provide external funding, also for PhD students, programmers, etc., but managing such grants takes a lot of time and energy. It’s good to have many interests and broad horizons (this is especially useful for running the Journal of Language Modelling;, but it makes it harder to really become an expert in any single area. So these days I am pursuing a different approach: forgetting about grant applications, getting rid of as many administrative and managerial duties as possible, being picky about reviewing, etc., and finding again lots of time to read and… to play. Because linguistics can be a lot of fun!





Please support the LINGUIST List student editors and operations with a donation during the 2016 Fund Drive! The LINGUIST List needs your support!

Featured Linguist: Johan Rooryck


Featured Linguist: Johan Rooryck

Featured Linguist: Johan Rooryck

Once upon a time in Belgium

I have always been fascinated by the variety and structure of languages. My father greatly contributed to my lifelong passion ­for linguistics by instilling in me a deep love and appreciation for Latin — he had taken a degree in Classics before pursuing a career in Law. In high school in Belgium, I was lucky to have had inspiring and demanding language teachers as well. Through the study of Latin, I learned to rigorously reflect on language and its structure from an early age.



At the University of Leuven, I studied what was then known as ‘Romance philology’, a combination of literary and linguistic studies of Romance languages. During the first year, I received an introduction to linguistics from a somewhat eccentric and unconventional professor, Karel van den Eynde, a former Bantuist and structural linguist. His teaching style consisted of defiantly throwing linguistic puzzles at his students, challenging us to come up with an analysis. Only a few years later did I discover that most of these puzzles came straight out of Henry Allan Gleason’s 1961 Introduction to Descriptive Linguistics. It was around this time that I decided that the study of language would be my professional future.

I wrote my MA dissertation on ellipsis and gapping. Two years later, part of this MA dissertation turned into my very first scholarly article published in Linguistic Analysis in 1985. I received a four-year stipend from the Belgian National Science Foundation to pursue a PhD at the University of Leuven. In 1987, I defended my PhD on infinitival complementation in French. My dissertation dealt with issues at the syntax-semantics interface. It examined the interpretation of the empty subject of infinitives, a topic known as control. This fascination with the relation between syntax and semantics would become an enduring one in all of my research.


On the road in the USA

Row of elm trees on the Penn State campus

Row of elm trees on the Penn State campus

Since there were no academic positions available in Belgium at the time, I decided to leave my home country in order to continue my career in linguistics. At the recommendation of Pierre Swiggers, I was hired at Penn State in 1988 by Phil Baldi, the director of the Penn State linguistics program at the time, and Richard Frautschi, the head of the French department. During this one-year visiting assistant professorship (that was extended by another year), I met Pierre Pica, who would become a lifelong friend. Rather informally, Pierre taught me a lot about generative grammar, and I became fascinated by the rich perspective this framework had to offer for the understanding of language structure and variation. I also assisted Pierre with editing the French translation of Chomsky’s seminal Lectures on Government and Binding. This editorial work enhanced my theoretical grounding in generative grammar. I continued working on topics of infinitival complementation from the perspective of generative syntax and the Minimalist Program which was just taking off.


After two years at Penn State, I moved on to the department of French and Italian at Indiana University for another one-year visiting assistant professorship position, which was renewed for another two years. At Indiana, there was a large community of linguists: Albert Valdman and Laurie Zaring in French and Italian, but also Steven Franks, Alice ter Meulen, Stuart Davis, Natsuko Tsujimura, Clancy Clements, Louise McNally, Linda Schwartz and many others in the linguistics department. With their support, I coordinated and organized a lecture series on phrase structure and the lexicon, which later resulted in an eponymous edited book in 1995.

The Sample Gates at Indiana University

The Sample Gates at Indiana University




Settling down in The Netherlands

In 1992, I applied for a full professorship in French linguistics at Leiden University. At the time, Jean-Yves Pollock and Dominique Sportiche, whom I greatly admired, had also applied for this position and ended up not taking it. To my great surprise, I was hired. At 32, I was one of the youngest professors to have been named at Leiden University. I have been there ever since. I learned to negotiate the intricacies of Dutch academic life, and to properly distinguish the use of ‘proper’ Dutch (as it was called, even by my fellow Leiden linguists) from my own Flemish variety of Dutch. When I arrived in Leiden, theoretical linguistics was enthusiastically led by Jan Kooij, Teun Hoekstra, Hans Bennis, and Harry van der Hulst. The years between 1993 and 1998 were perhaps the most inspiring of my life: I learnt a lot about linguistics, but also about supervising PhD students, administration, and academic politics. All linguists would have lunch together, and our discussions invariably centered around linguistics: theory, data, and analysis. Only Monday morning coffee breaks were strictly dedicated to discussing soccer results from the previous weekend, under the watchful eye of Jan Kooij, a cigarette permanently fixed between his lips.


Between 1998 and 2000, things changed. Teun Hoekstra, who had become a good friend, died after a long battle with renal cancer. Hans Bennis took up a position as the director of the Meertens Institute, and Harry van der Hulst left Leiden for the University of Connecticut. Shortly before Teun Hoekstra passed away, he had asked me to take over the editorship of Lingua from him, and I became Lingua’s executive editor in January 1999. I published a book on sentential complementation with Routledge in 2000, which brought together a set of articles that I had written and published in the previous ten years. I took up various administrative duties at Leiden University, supervised more and more PhD students, and was involved in the Syntactic Atlas of Dutch Dialects (SAND). When Guido Vanden Wyngaerd spent a sabbatical in Leiden in 1997-1998, we started working on Binding Theory, which eventually resulted in our joint book Dissolving Binding Theory, published by Oxford University Press in 2011.

dissolving binding theory


Broadening my horizons

Between 2000 and 2010, I came to realize that supervising PhD students was just as rewarding as doing my own research: creating an atmosphere of intellectual trust and respect; testing hypotheses with them; nurturing their new and original insights; gently steering them clear of ideas that would never work; helping to shape a vague intuition into a rigorous argument; facilitating and encouraging them to talk to other people who could contribute the necessary expertise to the supervision team. Admittedly, I was blessed to be working with extraordinarily gifted PhD students. They have enriched and challenged me, and presented me with the most interesting and novel puzzles. Many of them have gone on to train PhD students of their own, in the Netherlands, Germany, Belgium, Portugal, Brazil, and South Africa. I have learned a lot from them. I believe that is how it should be: so-called PhD “supervision” is a two-way street, an exchange, a partnership. You don’t supervise, really, you participate.

During these years, I also led and collaborated on various research projects sponsored by the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO), which enabled me to broaden my expertise beyond generative syntax. With Martine Coene, I collaborated on experimental research on the development of language in children with cochlear implants. I also learned a lot about experimental research from Vincent van Heuven. With Willem Adelaar, I worked on our joint project on evidentiality, and became more acquainted with descriptive research. With my former PhD students Marjo van Koppen and Erik Schoorlemmer, I led a project on the morphosyntax of inalienable possession. Again thanks to Pierre Pica, who had been working on the number system of the Mundurucu in the Amazon, I became interested in the interdisciplinary domain of core knowledge systems. In 2012, in collaboration with Pierre and a number of Dutch researchers, I obtained a large interdisciplinary grant with funds for 4 postdocs and 4 PhD students to investigate the relation between core knowledge systems and language, music, poetry, and the visual arts.


Towards Open Access: from Lingua to Glossa

During the noughties, Lingua steadily grew in size, from a 700-page journal with 70 submissions per year, to a 2300 page journal with around 340 submissions per year. This growth was largely due to the success of our formula of guest edited Special Issues dedicated to a specific, coherent theoretical theme examined from various perspectives. Managing the journal came to dominate my daily routine, requiring constant discipline, vigilance, and, not in the least, diplomacy. At the same time, it gave me an unparalleled overview of general linguistics in all its variety, a peek into almost every nook and cranny of the field, and it helped me develop a vast network of authors and reviewers. It was like sitting in the first row of a concert hall.

In October 2015, Lingua was ranked 7th in Google Scholar’s h5-Index Top Publications – Humanities, Literature & Arts, and 3rd in the subsection Language & Linguistics, when its 6 editors and the 31 members making up its editorial board resigned in reaction to Elsevier’s refusal to publish Lingua under conditions of Fair Open Access. This action was inspired by my growing frustration with Elsevier. As the journal grew, so did the number of stipulations of the editorial contracts. Around 2011, Elsevier started trying to influence the choice of associate editors at Lingua, asking me politely to select associate editors with the nationality of countries where they incidentally happened to sell a lot of new subscriptions. Independently, this was also the time when the Elsevier boycott started. Many colleagues contacted me either to say that their library could no longer afford the expensive subscription for Lingua, or to inform me that they would no longer review for the journal, since it was an Elsevier journal. When I forwarded such messages to Elsevier, I only received vacuous corporate spin stories in return. I began to feel like I was working for the enemy.


This gave me the incentive to explore other options and I was serendipitously contacted by advocates of Open Access. With their help, we managed to acquire funds for ‘flipping’ linguistics journals to ‘Fair’ Open Access. Once our foundation Linguistics in Open Access was in place (, we informed Elsevier that we wished to renegotiate our collaboration with them along principles of ‘Fair’ Open Access. When they refused, we left to set up Glossa, the successor journal to Lingua. The outpouring of support from the linguistic community was overwhelming and gratifying. The event was widely reported in the mainstream media (see: A full account can be found on the Facebook pages of Linguistics in Open Access and Glossa.

I feel privileged to have spent most of my life in linguistics. I have had the opportunity to collaborate with great people, I have caught some glimpses of understanding of the workings of language, and I have been able to develop an idea or two. I look forward to my next 20-odd years in the field with anticipation and excitement.

Johan Rooryck |



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Fund Drive 2016: Donate by Friday to Win a Prize!

Dear LINGUIST List Colleagues,

Today we are rolling out another bundle of books and journal subscription prizes for this weekend, one of which you can win if you donate to the LINGUIST List Fund Drive before Friday, May 13, before 5 pm.


From Bloomsbury Publishing: THREE copies of The Bloomsbury Companion To Historical Linguistics edited by Silvia Luraghi and Vit Bubenik (

From Cambridge University Press: TWO one-year online-only subscriptions to Journal of Linguistics (

From De Gruyter Mouton: 30% discount code on all of the linguistics books on their website (

From Elsevier: ONE personal one-year electronic subscription to an Elsevier linguistics journal of the winner’s choice (see the complete list of their linguistic journals here:

Again, to win any of these fantastic prizes from this coming week’s prize bundle, you can donate to enter your name into the drawing, until Friday May 13th, at 5 PM EST. For every $10 you donate, your name will be entered into the lottery to win. Donate by the link below:

In addition to the one-time donations to our Fund Drive, you can also become a recurring donor and support LINGUIST List on a long-term basis. Find out how by following this link:

And as always, if you cannot donate monetarily, you can help us out in other ways, such as liking, sharing, and retweeting our Fund Drive posts on social media. If you like the LINGUIST List and have benefited from our free service, tell your friends about the LINGUIST List and our Fund Drive. Every little bit of support is appreciated!

There will be many more great prizes from our supporting publishers in the coming month, so stay tuned to our social media pages to hear about more prizes that you can win. Thanks and good luck!

Linguistically yours,
The LINGUIST List Crew

Featured Linguist: Miriam Butt

Featured Linguist: Miriam Butt

Featured Linguist: Miriam Butt

I was born in Taif, Saudi-Arabia in a military hospital. I was one of the first (maybe even the first) European babies born there and caused quite a stir.

My father was an electrical engineer from Pakistan, charged with bringing electricity to the country. Some of my first memories involve peacocks in the garden of the royal summer palace — one of the duties my father had was to make sure that the royal family was well supplied with electricity!

My mother is a German journalist who interrupted her career to go on an Arabian adventure and from whom I presumably have a good portion of my love of language.

I grew up trilingual in German, English, Urdu with a bit of Arabic thrown in, but thought that that was normal. Indeed, I was astonished when the doctor in Germany was astonished when I asked him *which* language I should count to 20 in. Checking on counting ability is one part of the overall, standard examination to determine fitness to go to school in Germany, but one only needs to be monolingually fit.

Indeed, schools in Germany are still only slowly coming to terms with the new multilingual reality caused by recent migrations. Paradoxically, the state governments have consistently been decreasing the amount of linguistics taught to language teachers, thus exacerbating the situation, rather than addressing it effectively.

My first memory of thinking about language is when I was quite young. I wondered where language came from. What were the first words? How did it all start?

I went to ask my mother, but, once she had figured out what I was asking, had no answers.

In school in Germany, I learned Latin as of fourth grade. Although I consistently got fairly bad grades, I absolutely enjoyed the sense of antiquity, the sense of history and hidden information that wafted off the pages and pages of vocabulary items, paradigms and texts.

I wanted to become an archaeologist but my family told me there was no money in it and I should go for a different profession.

When I was thirteen, we moved to Pakistan and I attended the Lahore American School (LAS). There was no Latin in the curriculum, but the teachers were willing to be creative and helpful and allowed me to engage in a self-study course in which I continued with some Latin. I also found Mario Pei’s “The Story of Latin and the Romance Languages” in the library and worked my way through that in utter fascination.

With an American high school degree one can do very little except go to college in the US, so that is what I set out to do. I had been to the US on a brief visit, but it was mainly terra incognita, especially with respect to the college landscape. In the days before internet and instant access to information, I picked some states at random to narrow down the search space somewhat and then leafed through big college information books, looking for places that taught both Latin and computer science.

Computer Science because Pakistan at that time only allowed the use of foreign exchange (Pakistani rupees for dollars) if one studied one of a list of approved subjects. Air-conditioning was out of the question for me, so I settled on computer science. I knew I liked programming because LAS had offered a computer course and I had learned BASIC. Quite a forward looking curriculum for the early 80s in a school in Pakistan!

I applied to a number of places and was accepted (with financial aid) by Wellesley College. The experience there continues to be one of the best of my life. I learned linguistics from Andrea Levitt. Though her research is squarely in phonetics and language acquisition (something I only learned later), she made sure that all of us doing “Language Studies” received a broad and thorough linguistic training. This was augmented by Annette Herskovits in Computer Science, who worked on spatial terms from a Cognitive Science perspective. With the two of them as incredible mentors, I ended up doing a BA thesis comparing spatial terms in Hausa and Urdu.

This opened doors for the next step: graduate school. In applying, I knew I should be sensible and do computer science and earn a lot of money. However, a year spent as a Computer Science intern taught me that I did not want to spend my life in an air-conditioned office in front of a computer. I compromised and applied to places that did both computer science and linguistics. Stanford was one of those places.

On my first day there, I encountered a colibri and pepper trees and sun shine and the experience just kept on getting better. I took courses from and was mentored by a series of great linguists: Joan Bresnan, Eve Clark, Charles Ferguson, Andrew Garrett, Paul Kiparsky, Aditi Lahiri, John Rickford, Ivan Sag, Peter Sells, Henriette de Swart, Elizabeth Traugott and Tom Wasow. They taught me the value of a broad, interdisciplinary approach to linguistics and that being able to look at a given phenomenon from several different perspectives is a necessity in understanding language structure.

But most of all, I was influenced by KP Mohanan, who taught courses with an emphasis on South Asian languages and set me off on my current career path. Most importantly, though, he taught me to question each and every assumption I was presented with and that having an argument is always good! I have vivid memories of sitting out on a terrace in Kerala years later in the early morning light from about 6 am onwards with a cup of tea arguing about politics, linguistics, religion, anything and everything!

This memory also includes Tracy Holloway King, a Stanford class mate. Strong bonds were forged at Stanford with her and others, most notably Gillian Ramchand. We organized conferences together, published together while arguing vociferously about linguistics and about who would have to use the phone to call somebody (a duty to be avoided at all costs!) and published with Dikran Karaguezian of CSLI Publications. (We did not argue with him, but of course always accepted his sage advice!).

Our collaborations have continued even as we have moved into different directions, with industry at one end of the spectrum and theoretical linguistic research augmented by experimentation at the other end.

My first job out of graduate school was on Machine Translation. The next on grammar development, where I became part of the Parallel Grammar (ParGram) effort (see for some of the resulting on-line interactive computational grammars and treebanks that document this work). The early years of this effort were characterized by intense exchanges (that is another way of saying “argument”) with another set of great linguists: Dick Crouch, Mary Dalrymple, Ron Kaplan, Lauri Karttunen and Annie Zaenen as well as Tracy King and John Maxwell at Xerox and at PARC (Palo Alto Research Center). I am indebted to my boss of the time, Christian Rohrer, for beginning the ParGram collaboration and for fostering a truly interesting research environment that always strove to be cutting edge both in terms of computational and theoretical linguistics.

Continuing that type of research and providing that type of research experience to my students has been at the heart of my efforts at the University of Konstanz. We focus on interdisciplinary research that connects up new computational and experimental methodology with research that combines all core areas of linguistics. We are one of many sites world wide chipping away at the vast expanse of missing linguistic knowledge and understanding. I write this just after attending a conference on South Asian linguistics in Lisbon that featured discussions of Tamil as seen through the lens of Christian missionary grammar writers, of Indian languages as they have fared in the diaspora (e.g., South Africa, Trinidad, Guadalupe), of Indo-Portuguese creoles and of understudied languages like Marathi and Punjabi (but which each count millions and millions of speakers). Listening to these talks again opened up vistas of thousands of topics that are in urgent need of linguistic attention, but that are currently attended to (if at all), by a comparatively vanishingly small number of linguists.

The Linguist List is a hugely important effort that has created a world-wide community of linguists who can communicate with one another effectively and quickly, thus ameliorating some of our lack of boots on the ground. It provides a space to share software and knowledge and is always looking for new and crucial ways to serve the community. Help keep it going and thereby help foster crucial linguistic research world wide!



Please support the LINGUIST List student editors and operations with a donation during the 2016 Fund Drive! The LINGUIST List needs your support!