Author: admin

Updates and new site

Dear LINGUIST readers,

the Linguist List site has been transferred to a new server and background technology. The entire software base of the site has changed, from the server operating system, the web server itself, and background data storage, all is wrapped and dressed now in new bits and bytes, running on up-to-date hardware, connected with high bandwidth.

The main goal for us – justifying the investment in such a challenging migration – was to improve the user experience, the stability and robustness of the service, and the future maintenance processes. The current state brings immediate advantages to you and the entire development, management, and editing team at LINGUIST.

As you can imagine, the site had to be rewritten, reconfigured, and to a great extend reprogrammed from scratch. This is always a source of errors and bugs, even though we perform a deep quality control processes constantly. We may, and surely do miss serious flaws and issues with browsers and systems that we did not recognize earlier. Thus, if you encounter issues with the site, please do let us know about those. We are working intensively to remove and minimize the number of bugs and improve the user experience. After the complete migration to the new server, we are now facing many small problems and issues with the site and code. Some of our readers already pointed out problems. Thank you all for that! We really appreciate your help and all hints about pages or tools that are not working correctly. Thank you all for your time and effort to help the entire linguistic community and us to improve the website and mailing services of LINGUIST.

You can mail us your comments, suggestions, questions, requests, and error reports to linguist, errors, damir, malgosia, lwin or the other editors at

Thank you for your support!

Malgosia and Damir

Server maintenance and system downtime August 2014

Dear friends, colleagues, and LINGUIST List subscribers,

the LINGUIST List website will be switched off for an hour to two at least once, maybe even twice, between the 5th and 7th of August 2014. The mailing list will not be affected by this, neither will the various blog sites and other information services (e.g. our social media pages or the RSS feed).

During the down-time we will migrate most of the pages to a new service. We would appreciate, if you let us know of any problems with the website after the 7th of August 2014. The site has been migrated to a new server platform, new operating systems, and a completely new software environment. The services of The LINGUIST List will not only be much more reliable and responsive after the switch, they will also be extended with new features during the next weeks. We hope that the new technological environment will significantly improve the user experience with the LINGUIST List pages and services.

There might be issues with existing applications and function that we missed during our quality control procedures. We might oversee some bugs and problems with new functions in the next weeks. Please help us correcting any issues or problems. Let us know of any errors by mailing to linguist or error, or the moderators directly at Your help, suggestions, ideas, and comments are always welcome!

Thanks for your understanding and support!

Malgosia and Damir


Changes at LINGUIST List

Dear linguists,

We have some news to announce.

The LINGUIST List is moving.

This will not affect the website or mailing lists. The postal address is changing, as well as our phone and fax numbers.

The new fax and phone numbers are active:

phone: +1 812 391-3602
fax: +1 888 908-2629

The phone-line now provides a voice mailbox. You can leave us a message outside of common office hours (8 AM to 6 PM, Eastern Time). You can also text us to this number.

The new mailing address is from end of June 2014 only:

Department of Linguistics
Indiana University
Memorial Hall 322
1021 E. 3rd Street
Bloomington, IN 47405-7005
United States

You can send all LINGUIST List related mail to this new address already now. From June on you should only use this new address.

Please update your address books.

The LINGUIST List has also a second moderator. Malgorzata E. Cavar is serving LINGUIST for a while now and has been nominated as a new co-moderator by the board of the eLinguistics Foundation end of May 2014.



The LINGUIST List Team!

Step right up and donate for your chance to win from Wiley Publishing!

Hello Readers!

Thanks to the recent donation from Wiley Publishing, we are able to give away not one, not two, but THREE books!

  1. Bhatia and Ritchie / The Handbook of Bilingualism and Multilingualism, hardback, published Dec 2012 (was just honored as a CHOICE Outstanding Academic Title!) 
  2. Sidnell / The Handbook of Conversation Analysis, pub Nov 2012 (bestselling reference work)
  3. The Handbook of Chinese Linguistics, JUST PUBLISHED, April 2014 

We will randomly choose a name from donations that we receive from today through 11:59 PM EST on Wednesday (April 30, 2014). Make sure to DONATE TODAY and show your support for both your university and your favorite linguistic field by associating your donations!

Today’s Prize: You Pick the Book!

Dear LINGUIST List Readers,

Have we got a deal for you! Today’s Fund Drive Prize is sponsored by Multilingual Matters, and believe me, you don’t want to pass this up! If you donate before 11:59 p.m. today, you could be one of six people who win the Multilingual Matters book of your choice! You read that right: you get to pick the book!

If there’s any title you’ve had your eye on for a while, you better donate today!

And you always get to pick which Fund Drive premium you would like to receive if you donate $35 or more!

Good luck!

-The LINGUIST List Crew

Featured Linguist: Stephen Morey

During the past nine weeks we have been sharing the most inspiring stories from linguists all around the world with our readers and subscribers. Today we are completing our journey with a truly motivating and encouraging story from our Featured Linguist Stephen Morey. Read below how Stephen became a linguist!

Stephen Morey with Jonglem Khilak

Stephen Morey with Jonglem Khilak

I have just returned from my twentieth field trip to North East India, documenting and describing the Tai, Singpho and Tangsa languages spoken in Assam and Arunachal Pradesh, in the parts that border Myanmar.

Although I grew up in a monolingual community I’ve always been fascinated by different languages. As a teenager I wrote to the late Dr. Adam Murtonen at Melbourne University asking how I could go about learning ancient languages: Hittite, Assyrian, ancient Egyptian and Sumerian. He advised me to learn German first, because so much literature on these languages was in German. This advice disappointed me, and while I did learn a bit of German subsequently, I have never learned Hittite, well not yet.

Around the same time, feeling that someone who lives in Melbourne should know about this area, I went to the State Library of Victoria and copied out by hand word lists from books about Aboriginal languages, particularly Victorian Languages: A Late Survey by Luise Hercus. I met Luise about 30 years later and have been delighted to work with her on projects to combine her knowledge gained from native speakers of Victorian languages with the 19th century written records .

At age 16, however, I was seduced by music, specifically the mandolin, and for a decade and a half I concentrated on learning, and then performing, teaching and researching this instrument. Some friends and I formed a group to play mediaeval music, joined by Kate Burridge, singer, hurdy-gurdy player and Morris dancer. I used to listen with fascination as she told us in the coffee break at our rehearsal about her day job: linguistics, and her coming book on euphemism. So when in the early 1990s I developed some physical injury in my hand and had to abandon mandolin, I went to Kate to find out what linguistics was.

I had a year before I could start a University degree. I had researched my family history and learned that some of my ancestors were among the last speakers of Cornish; and then I learned that you can study revived Cornish and so with my spare time (not too much of that these days) I learned Cornish by Correspondence and passed the Gorsedh exam after which I was invited to become a Cornish Bard. It is an inspiration to put more effort into language documentation that my own ancestors spoke a language that was lost. But European languages were not really what I was looking for. By chance, one day I was marching in a huge demonstration against the policies of the then government and I met an old friend. “What are you doing, Gareth,” I asked and he answered “Learning Thai”. At once I decided to learn Thai as well.

After several years of a double major in Linguistics and Thai, I got me an overseas study grant for a semester at the Prince of Songkla University in Pattani, Thailand. I took three subjects (all taught in Thai), Principles of Thai Language, Thai Dialectology and Malay language (Introductory).

My dialectology teacher, Dr. Thananan Trongdi, had heard that my wife and I were planning a trip to India. He said, “Why don’t you go to Assam, there are Thai people there.” I thought Assam was closed to foreigners, as indeed it had been, but by October 1996 it was open and we went there, armed with a name: Nabin Shyam. On the day we arrived and met up with him, he said to us that he would be going to his home village in three days, if we wanted, we could come too. So on the night of 21st October 1996 I spent my first night in a village in Assam: Ban Lung Aiton village in Karbi Anglong District. More than 1000 nights in at least 40 villages over 20 field trips have followed that night!

The Tai people in India have their own writing system; it is based on the Shan alphabet which is itself based on Burmese, but it is unique. We had visited a second village, Namphakey in Dibrugarh District, and there I had mentioned to my hosts that I had learned how to make fonts (I called it ‘computer printing block’). Nobody in the village and ever seen a computer at that time, but they gave me a hand-copied book and a request to make the font. Back in Australia I thought it would be a good PhD project to learn about their language. So a year later I returned, with the font made and a laptop to work on. There followed 5 years in which I studied the Tai languages, then two fellowships over 4 years to work on Singpho, and for the last 7 years I’ve concentrated much of my effort on Tangsa.

Recording devices have changed much in that time. At first, with only my own resources to cover costs, I had just a small cassette player of dubious quality. Over the years sound recorders have changed from Cassette through Minidisc and Microtrack to the Zoom H4n and video from those with cassettes to those that use SD cards. I’ve recorded songs and stories and linguistic information in 5 Tai varieties, 4 Singpho varieties and (at latest count), 32 Tangsa varieties. Although the Tai varieties are all mutually intelligible, and the Singpho ones more or less so, the Tangsa varieties are very diverse and it remains a huge task learning enough about each variety to really understand what’s going on. The immense task of transcription, translation, analysis and archiving is ongoing and will go on for a good deal longer!

All along I’ve had two special interests: manuscripts and songs. Of the three groups I’m working with, the Tai have a long written tradition. Tai Phake and Tai Aiton communities still contain people who can read manuscripts, though not too many in the Aiton; but the Tai Ahom language ceased to be spoken 200 years ago, and the manuscripts, which are different from those of the Phake and Aiton, are hard to interpret. The problem is like this: Tai is a tonal language, with perhaps 5 tonal contrasts likely to have been present in Ahom. But tones are not marked and so a single written word can have many meanings.

Song language, in all three language groups, is equally challenging, differing in form from the spoken language to a lesser and greater degree. It has been very exciting to record songs, to learn about the context, and then record an explanation of their meaning and try to translate it all.

In North East India there are usually not places to stay in villages apart from someone’s house. So I’ve got to know many families in all the different communities that I have stayed in. Because I’m trying to learn as much as I can about the languages, it may sometimes seem to my hosts that I’m always working (it certainly seems so to me at times!). I have found that I can only really enjoy sitting and chatting with people when I have got good enough at the language to be able to chat easily. In my more recent work on Tangsa, because of its huge diversity, this hasn’t really happened, and these days the younger people are usually more fluent in English and so we end up using that. I wish I could learn each Tangsa variety to the level I learned Tai Aiton, but that would take several lifetimes.

Stephen Morey

Donate Today and You Could Be This Week’s Winner!

Dear LINGUIST List Readers,

We’re just itching to kick off this week’s Routledge Giveaway, so let’s get straight to it!

Anyone who donates this week is eligible to win either the title of their choice from Routledge’s Handbooks in Applied Linguistics series, or a one year subscription to their preferred Linguistics journal! For more details, please visit the link below:

Remember, the only way to be eligible is to donate!

And don’t forget that if you donate $35 or more, you’re guaranteed the Fund Drive premium of your choice!

Good luck!

The LINGUIST List Crew

Win a Free Subscription to Language Dynamics and Change! Donate Today!

Dear LINGUIST List Readers,

Today we’re excited to announce our latest Fund Drive Drawing, generously donated to us by Brill: if you donate today before 11:59 p.m., you could be the lucky winner of a year’s subscription to the journal Language Dynamics and Change!

This exciting publication, which is normally $85, could be yours for as little as a $5 donation! But remember, you have to donate today to be eligible!

And while we can’t guarantee you’ll be the winner, but if you donate $35 or more, we can guarantee you’ll get to pick the Fund Drive Premium of your choice!

Good luck!

The LINGUIST List Crew

Featured Linguist: Jost Gippert

Please welcome our new Featured Linguist Jost Gippert! Jost was born in Western Germany and is currently working at the University of Frankfurt. Find out below what led him to linguistics and why he chose this path.

Jost Gippert

How I Became a Linguist
by Jost Gippert

“Buenos dias”, “buenas noches” – this was the first words in a foreign language I heard in my life, as a three-year old boy growing up in developing post-war Western Germany, where the first gastarbeiters had arrived from Spain. Fascinated by the strange sounds, I tried to get to know some more languages, the only opportunity being TV courses of English and French – there was no foreign language education for pre-teen school children in Germany yet in those days. The first foreign language I had to learn “officially”, in secondary school, was Latin – fascinating as well, not so much for its sounds (as nobody “spoke” it) but for its structure, with case endings, perfect subjunctives, and the accusativus cum infinitivo. Then, when I was eleven years old, my father gave me a textbook of Russian he had received for evaluation (as a school teacher of German, so it made no sense for him). Yet another fascinating experience: first, I had to deal with a different script here (actually, not for the first time, I had learned the Greek alphabet long before, but not so much the language); and second, the textbook came along with a disc which contained the first five or so lessons, spoken by well articulating native speakers (of course there were no “normal” Russian speaking people around on our side of the Iron Curtain then) – I still have their voices in my ears today after listening to them for many hours in those times. Finally, when I was 15 years old, I had the opportuny to apply what I had learned from the discs, on a one-week trip to Moscow, which turned out to be one of the biggest disappointments in my “early linguistic career”: I had to realize that the “stagy” pronunciation of the speakers on the disc (presumably all elder emigrants from Tzarist St. Petersburg) had barely anything in common with the colloquial Muscovite slang with all its vowel reductions etc. I was confronted with on that trip. Nevertheless, I did not give up – after four days I had accustomed myself to that sufficiently for an intriguing conversation with a young lady of my age (whom I never met again, alas!).

Russian was decisive indeed for my choice to become a linguist, not so much because of the (delayed) success in speaking it but rather because of its stunning similarities with Latin: common words like luna “moon”, common grammatical features as in feminines ending in -a, common preverbs like pro-, etc. Even though I had heard nothing concrete about the parentage and affinity of Indo-European languages at school, it was clear to me that Comparative Linguistics was “my” subject when I took up my university studies at Marburg, and it has remained so down to the present day, in both its senses: as a discipline investigating genetic relations of languages, and as a discipline trying to classify them according to their typological characteristics. After a “career” of more than 40 years, I can tell for sure that the more languages you get acquainted with, the less you will be deterred by strange sound systems (and sound changes), anteablatives, or antipassives, and yet every new language will be fascinating for you, especially if you try not to miss the cultural background behind it.

Jost Gippert

Featured Linguist: Neil Smith

Today we are introducing our next featured linguist Neil Smith from the University College London. If you have ever wondered why you should become a linguist, read Neil’s story where he tells you why this is the best profession in the world!

Neil Smith

How I Became a Linguist
by Neil Smith

It all began at secondary school when I specialised in languages – French, German and Latin – simply because the man teaching French and German (Leonard Priestley) was an inspiration. Reading Voltaire’s Zadig was an excuse to discuss astronomy and the nature of the senses; studying Molière led to ruminations on hypochondria. Syllabus? What syllabus? So I went to Cambridge (UK) and read ‘Modern and Medieval languages’.

In my final year I had to select five optional subjects (out of some 77) to be examined on. I had chosen the History of the French Language, the History of the German Language, German Literature before 1500, Vulgar Latin & Romance Philology, and was about to put down German Literature in the 20th century, when a friend asked if I knew what ‘Linguistics’ was. After we had agreed that neither of us had the slightest idea, he persuaded me to join him in adding it as our final option. So in October 1960 we enrolled on John Trim’s course on “The Principles of Linguistics”, and I have been hooked ever since.

The bulk of the course consisted of phoneme theory, with a healthy admixture of morphemes and even a smattering of syntax in the form of Immediate Constituent analysis. Banal by today’s standards, but Trim was an inspiring teacher and I was soon converted from my desire to be a medievalist to a desire to understand everything about the phoneme. In fact, my understanding even of that was minimal. I still remember with stark clarity at the end of the first term being given a passage and told to transcribe it both phonetically and phonemically. I had no idea what that meant. Similarly, I remember endlessly searching in my dictionary for some insight which would enable me to distinguish ‘syntax’ and ‘semantics’, but again to no avail. These memories have made me tolerant of students today who have problems with a much more rebarbative jargon.

We took finals. I got distinctly mediocre marks, and was told unofficially that my worst paper had been linguistics, which I nearly failed. So I applied for jobs. Fortunately, none of librarianship, school-teaching or the British Council would touch me and, faute de mieux, I started a PhD at UCL. I had a hankering to do field-work and planned to go up the Amazon and find some unwritten language to study. I was advised that Nigeria was more likely to leave me alive at the end of my trip and I finally picked on Nupe. The Central Research Fund of the University of London gave me my air fare, but it seemed more interesting to go overland so I hitch-hiked to Bida in Northern Nigeria… The journey lasted two months, took me through 14 countries, and included every conceivable form of travel – from aeroplane via pilgrim-lorry to dug-out canoe.

A year’s field-work is wonderful training for any linguist. Being confronted with a complex tone language, whose syntax was unlike anything I had ever heard of was chastening, exhilarating, illuminating, educative, and fun. It was also intermittently very lonely and extremely hard work, but it set me up with stories to dine out on for life, and it also brought a PhD. Better still, my new found expertise as an Africanist seemed to have qualified me to become a lecturer in West African Languages in the Department of Africa at SOAS (the School of Oriental and African Studies).

SOAS was strange. My colleagues were mostly a delight, but relations between the Linguistics department and the Africa department were strained, and those between the Linguistics department and the sister department at UCL where I had come from were icy. It was ‘not convenient’ for me to use the library of the Linguistics department or attend seminars there, and some of the students were warned not to talk to me “in case they get confused”. To escape the suffocation of the rivalries at SOAS, I applied for a Harkness Fellowship and went to MIT and UCLA for a couple of years.

MIT was a revelation. There was huge enthusiasm, appallingly hard work, and remarkable talent. I had gone to MIT because of Chomsky, but when I arrived, he was away and, to my great good fortune, Morris Halle took me under his wing. Partly because of this and partly because I am married to a medical doctor I later wrote a book on the acquisition of phonology. How come? As my work wasn’t essential like that of a doctor is, it often fell to me to look after our elder son, Amahl. To stay sane I made endless notes and recordings. Who but a linguist could sit on the floor playing trains and claim it was research? It was such fun that I did it again nearly 40 years later and wrote a book on the acquisition of phonology by his elder son, Zak.

When I had arrived at MIT the place was buzzing with the ideas of Generative Semantics, and the demise of Chomsky’s ‘Standard theory’ was widely assumed to be imminent. Chomsky’s response was electrifying. In the spring semester of 1967 he delivered the lectures which became “Remarks on Nominalization”, widely interpreted as a systematic attack on Generative Semantics. Chomsky’s arguments were illuminating: at once critical, penetrating and innovative (X-bar theory first saw the light of day in these lectures), and ultimately set the scene for much of the linguistic theorising of the next decade. But it was another thirty years before I thought I understood enough of his ideas and ideals to write about them.

Being a linguist has brought other pleasures: beautiful people and places to visit, the chance to straddle disciplines and popularise one’s favourite findings, wonderful colleagues and co-authors, inspiring students, awe-inspiring subjects of research like the polyglot savant Christopher. The list is almost endless. Be a linguist!

Neil Smith