Author: Andrew Lamont

Linguistics Goes Hollywood!

BLOOMINGTON, Indiana – While the recent rise of popular fantasy series like Game of Thrones has Hollywood all abuzz about conlanging, linguists of all stripes have long been involved in cinema.

With the recent announcement of production on 4 *#!&’s Sake, It’s Another Look Who’s Talking, the latest installment in the noted documentary series, leading pioneer and noted linguist Professor Schmaltz is once again the darling of Tinsel Town. LINGUIST List reporters caught up with Schmaltz on set for an exclusive.

“I believe it was in the early eighties when I first noticed something strange about my then infant’s speech,” he explained, contemplating the table of cronuts craft services laid out. “I was having a particularly heated argument with my then wife. Our son, [redacted] Jr., looked up at us screaming at each other and said æbəbæbə. I was shocked.”

Schmaltz, shocked, ran to his typewriter and, in a blaze of phonology and flying frying pans, determined the now famous derivation:

The famous derivation (Schmaltz 1981).

The famous derivation (Schmaltz 1981).

Schmaltz knew at once that his discovery had profound consequences for linguistic theory.

“There it was: a bona fide counter-anti-cyclical-unbled-prereordered-feeding relation fabled to occur only in the speech of children acquiring exotic languages like those Tocharian creoles spoken in the Amazon,” he paused to take a bite of cronut. “Or French.”

Schmaltz typed feverishly through the night, submitting his magnum opus to the journal That’s Some Science! Quarterly the next morning.

“I lost half of everything in the divorce, so I could only legally publish it as a squib,” Schmaltz explained. “Squib. What an odd word. Squib…squib…squibby…”

æbəbæbə became a cultural sensation overnight. Not since Chomsky and Halle’s classic blues album The Sound Pattern of Anguish had a theoretical linguist so captured the public imagination. T-shirts were printed, the Swedish rock group Abba was forced to disband after successful copyright litigation, and Schmaltz changed his first name to Professor.

“As [redacted] Jr. – I changed his name as well – started to grow up, I noticed his phonology changing,” Schmaltz recalled, wiping powdered sugar from his puce turtleneck. “When he was an infant, Jr. was satisfied saying things like fləəə, dramatically reducing complicated underlying phrases like irreconcilable differences, but as he matured these strange epenthetic words starting creeping in…What happened to the craft services guy?”

As the theory goes, babies are born with fully formed grammars and are equipped to articulate perfectly, but they choose not to. In an infant’s eyes, adults are all-knowing superbeings who can correctly interpret even the most phonetically reduced speech.

“Some people might call this theory of mind, but what’s that? Babies don’t have theory of mind. If they did, they wouldn’t cry in movie theatres. They’re rude people, babies.”

Schmaltz’s aptly named Conservation of Rudeness model of language acquisition sees babies as inherently trusting but inherently lazy speakers. They maximize their rudeness quotient by reducing otherwise coherent speech to strings of repeated monosyllables, expecting the adult to make up for it.

Fig. 1: A baby rudely using their dinner as a hat.

Rude: A baby using dinner as a hat.

“You can tell they’re doing it on purpose, I mean, look at consonant harmony. That’s not even a real thing. Anyways, as babies get older, they watch adults make mistakes and do stupid things. And, you know, not necessarily their own parents, cause some parents are models of self-control and humani,” Schmaltz paused noticing the now empty cronut platter. “-ity. Hmm…”

As a child’s opinion of adults in general falls, the child no longer assumes their parents will correctly interpret babbling. They slowly trade the rudeness of lazy phonetic reduction with the rudeness of condescendingly using codas and enunciating. This peaks when the child reaches their teenage years and begins incorporating phonemic contrasts not present in their ambient language.

Before our reporters could ask how Schmaltz planned to incorporate his Conservation of Rudeness theory in his latest production, he excused himself from the interview to “check out the spread on the set of ET 2: Brute.”

Announcing the 2016 Premiums!

Dear LINGUIST List Subscribers,

Happy Wednesday to all! We are so excited to have reached the $4,000 mark in our Fund Drive this week, however, we still have a long way to go. Our goal is to collect $79,000 for our editors and the programming support.

Today we want to show you our Fund Drive premiums—what you can get for free with a donation to LINGUIST List as a thank you!

With a minimum donation of $250, you can get this Classic Embroidered Zip-Up Sweatshirt. Our classic sweatshirt features two arm-length sleeves and an attractive LINGUIST List logo. For the price of just 125 cups of coffee you can show off your linguistics swag even on a windy day!


What casual picnic setting could not be improved by a Classic LINGUIST List T-Shirt? This wardrobe staple is 100% cotton and 100% LINGUIST List approved. Make a donation today and secure your place in linguistics fashion for the low, low minimum donation of $100.


Not looking to accessorize? We have you covered with our official LINGUIST List Playing Cards! These cards are compatible with a number of popular card games and the only deck that officially sports the LINGUIST List logo. For the minimum donation of $75, these 52 beautifully crafted cards can be yours. That’s only $1.44 per card guaranteed!


Are you the type of modern person who owns a flat surface that distinctly lacks a hip LINGUIST List sticker? Well, fear not! For a minimum donation of $10, we will happily send you a stunning sticker featuring the classic LINGUIST List logo. Batteries are neither included nor required! Get yours today.


Remember, you are not donating just for a premium, or even for your own interest alone –LINGUIST List is read worldwide, by professionals but also students and language enthusiasts who otherwise would have much more limited access to linguistic contents.

Will you make a donation and help us reach our goal?


Your LINGUIST List Team

Hilaria Cruz at LINGUIST List

We at the LINGUIST List are always happy to collaborate with fellow scholars on our projects. We were lucky to host Dr. Hilaria Cruz, a researcher and speaker of Chatino, for a week while she worked on creating a spoken corpus of the language for an ongoing project. If you’re interested in collaborating on spoken corpora with us, please contact us!

Dr. Cruz at LINGUIST List

Hilaria Cruz is a linguist and a native speaker of San Juan Quiahije (SJQ) Chatino, an endangered Zapotecan language, spoken in the mountains of Oaxaca, Mexico. She has been documenting and revitalizing the Chatino languages since 2003. Hilaria founded the Chatino Language Documentation Project (CLDP) together with her sister Emiliana Cruz (now an assistant professor at UMass Amherst), and their advisor Tony Woodbury of The University of Texas at Austin.

The CLDP aims to carry out linguistic documentation projects and research integrating the advancement of linguistic science with the wishes of the Chatino people to promote and honor their language. During the course of Hilaria’s fieldwork on Chatino, she has personally collected and archived more than one hundred hours of audio recordings of naturalistic speech in formal and informal settings.

Hilaria earned her Ph.D. in linguistics in 2014 at the University of Texas at Austin. The dissertation entitled “Linguistic Poetics and Rhetoric of Eastern Chatino of San Juan Quiahije,” analyzes the poetic patterns of SJQ discourse.

Hilaria is currently working on a project with LINGUIST List to create tools for speech recognition in SJQ Chatino. Beginning in the fall of 2015 Hilaria will be a Lyman T. Johnson Postdoctoral fellow at the University of Kentucky. There Hilaria will investigate, the Chatino concepts of death in four Eastern Chatino communities. They are Santa Maria Yolotepec (YOL), Santa Maria Amialtepec (AMIA) and San Juan Quiahije (SJQ) and San Marcos Zacatepec (ZAC).  Hilaria’s research interests include Chatino poetics and verbal art, language revitalization, and automatic speech recognition in Chatino.

A Visitor to LINGUIST List

In the normal course of running The LINGUIST List, we are occasionally lucky enough to receive visitors. Last week, Dr. Francis M. Tyers, a post doc in computational linguistics at The University of Tromsø stopped by the office to discuss various computational projects. Dr. Tyers is in town collaborating with local linguists as well enjoying the abundant sunlight – surely a treat coming from the Arctic Circle!

Dr. Tyers (center) with Andrew Lamont (left) and Jonathan Washington (right)

Dr. Tyers has been involved in the field of machine translation for nine years, he completed his PhD at the Universitat d’Alacant, and now works as a postdoctoral researcher at UiT Norgga árktalaš universitehta. He has published over 30 articles related to machine translation and computational linguistics. He is secretary of both the ISCA SIG on Speech and Language Technology for Minority Languages (SaLTMiL) and the Apertium project. His research interests include finite-state morphological analysis, rule-based disambiguation and machine translation for marginalised and lesser-resourced languages. He is currently in Bloomington working on dependency parsing for Kazakh.

Should you be on the IU campus in Bloomington, we would love to meet you. Please come and see us!

2015 Summer Interns and Volunteers

We at LINGUIST List are delighted this summer to open our doors to the 2015 Summer Interns! If you are interested in becoming an intern, be on the look-out for our application cycle to 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.

Take a look below to meet the newest members of the LINGUIST List:

Seyed Asghari

Seyed Amir Hossein Asghari is a doctoral candidate in the Near Eastern Languages and Cultures department at the University of Indiana, Bloomington. He has been the project manager for the first Persian-Albanian Dictionary (2010) and co-author of Persian-Albania and English conversation (2008).

He is currently working at Baharli South Azeri Turkish of Iran at Linguistic List.

Zac Branson


Zac recently completed his second year in the PhD program in the Department of Linguistics at Indiana University. He is pursuing coursework for an M.A. in Linguistics and an M.S. in Computational Linguistics. Zac’s research interests include the documentation of understudied and endangered languages, and the development of computational tools to aid such documentation.

Petar Garzina

Petar comes from Zadar, Croatia where he is currently finishing an MA at the Department of Linguistics at the University of Zadar. His fields of interest are computational linguistics, particularly natural language processing, and authorship attribution. During his free time he regularly works out (crossfit), when the weather is nice he also spear fishes and when the weather is bad he likes to watch a good movie, or play online video games.

Jacob Henry

Jacob is currently an intern at the LINGUIST List for summer 2015. His main projects include the relaunch of the LL-Map website as well as assisting with the launch of the GORILLA site. He’s originally from Muncie, Indiana and in 2011 he became a student at the University of Oklahoma where he’s currently pursuing a BA in French and General Linguistics. His particular academic interests lie in sociolinguistics, historical linguistics, and typology. He has also done research in various periods of French literature, as well as interning in a microbiology lab.


Umida Khikmatillaeva



Umida started volunteering for the Linguist List in the Spring of 2015. During 2012-2014 she worked at IU for the Turkish Flagship Program; her task was creating Turkish to Uzbek Bridge project materials. Prior to this program, she worked at the Center for Turkic and Iranian Lexicography and Dialectology (CTILD). Together with her colleagues, they created an Uzbek-English online dictionary. She has been working for IU since 1996 and taught Intermediate level Uzbek at Summer Workshop in Slavic, East European and Central Asian Languages (SWEESL) till 2003, then she coordinated Advanced Uzbek Program (Summer Overseas Program) in Samarkand in 2004.


Levi King

Levi joined LINGUIST List as a volunteer for the summer of 2015, where he’s contributing to the GORILLA project and related speech recognition work. He’s currently a Ph.D. student in Computational Linguistics (CL) at Indiana University, where he previously got a dual M.A. in CL (Department of Linguistics) and Applied Linguistics & TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages; Department of Second Language Studies). While his CL interests run the gamut, he’s particularly interested in applying natural language processing to the automatic content analysis of non-native speaker language, and more broadly, the analysis of “noisy” language data in general. In his free time, he enjoys live music, board and video games, trivia, pottery and comic books.

Alec Wolyniec

Photo on 6-22-15 at 7.20 PM #2

Alec is an intern at the LINGUIST List for the summer of 2015. His work includes assisting with the development of the LL-Map website, updating databases to be used in the development of Automatic Speech Recognition technologies, and creating algorithms to scrape language data from Wiktionary and other websites. Originally from the suburbs of New York City, he is currently a student at Emory University in Atlanta, where he is pursuing a BS in Computer Science and a secondary major in Linguistics. In his spare time, Alec enjoys jazz music, reading, basketball, and board games.

Historical Linguistics: Programmer Lwin’s Favorite Tree

Dear LINGUIST List Subscribers,


As you may have known from previous Fund Drive emails, trees are a big part of our Fund Drive this year. I would like to tell you about my very first Tibeto-Burman tree that I digitized at LINGUIST List and appeal for your continued support of our LINGUIST List students.


I went to Michigan in the summer of 2010 to work at LINGUIST List as an intern while I was a graduate student in computational linguistics at Indiana University in Bloomington. I was assigned to the  MultiTree team. I had to learn the ins and outs of digitizing a typological tree for the project. As a native speaker of Burmese and an ethnic Mon in Burma (now Myanmar), I have always been fascinated by the linguistic typology of Tibeto-Burman and Mon-Khmer languages. During my internship, I digitized several Tibeto-Burman trees. My very first tree was the hypothesis by Paul K. Benedict ( I learned a lot about the relationships of Tibeto-Burman languages that summer. I learned about new languages such as “Banpara” ( There are more recent hypotheses about the relationships of Tibeto-Burman languages, yet Benedict’s hypothesis was my first digitization of a tree for the MultiTree project as an intern, and I will always think of it as a special one.

Please consider donating so that LINGUIST List can support student editors and interns to edit the mailing list and work on linguistic projects.



Lwin Moe

Programmer at LINGUIST List

Startling Allegations Rock Historical Linguistics Community

BLOOMINGTON, Indiana – It has been an exciting week for the Indo-Europeanist community. While Monday saw the announcement of Bob’s Law, which derives the modern English Pez dispenser from the Proto-Indo-European *pesd-, today’s news marks a more controversial chapter.

Recently uncovered documents suggest Jacob Grimm may have forged evidence to support some of his theories.

“We now suspect that the entire Tocharian branch may have been invented by Grimm to further his career and possibly to impress women,” Professor Schmaltz, a noted figurehead in such matters, explained. “After all, we’ve had tremendous difficulty deriving the word yakup in Tocharian A that is claimed to correspond to PIE *deiwos.”

At a press conference held earlier this morning Schmaltz also cited accounts of Grimm’s character by some of his contemporaries:

Karl Verner wrote of Grimm, “Jacob was there at the onset establishing sound change rules. He worked tirelessly, never stopping and never shifting his opinion.” More damning is a letter written by Hermann Grassmann after Grimm’s death stating, “When I first met him, he had two aspirations: academic rigor and a drive to become famous. As he got older it seems the first gave way to the second.”

Scholars point to sloppy forgeries like this tablet as proof of Grimm's misconduct (via Wikimedia).

Scholars point to sloppy forgeries like this tablet as proof of Grimm’s misconduct (via Wikimedia).

This new theory, unveiled at the ongoing Construction of Reconstructed Languages conference, may be supported by work of folklorist Professor Jones of the Totally Legit School of Language Studies.

Jones notes that a hidden confession may be found in the classic fairy tale The Two Beans, or Zwei Bohnen, die verbrüdert sind, diskutieren die moralischen Implikationen des Fälschens historischer Dokumente, um die Karriere einer der Bohnen zu fördern, one of many collected by Jacob Grimm and his brother Wilhelm.

The text may have gone unnoticed by researchers this long for two main reasons. First, the bean that likely represents Jacob Grimm, has consistently been mistranslated into English as Jacob Melancholy the Bean, instead of Jacob Grimm the Bean. Second, as Jones points out, the relative dearth of violence in The Two Beans has diminished its popularity.

“Of course, as with any Grimms’ Fairy Tale, there is a fair amount of unnecessary violence, but in The Two Beans, the focus is Jacob the Bean’s monologue in which he takes responsibility for gross academic misconduct.”

In response to these allegations, Thomas Grimm, a descendant of Jacob Grimm, announced he had recently discovered a box full of his ancestor’s documents indicating both his innocence and access to a modern-day word processor and printer.

Featured Linguist: Eric Campbell

LINGUIST List Fund Drive 2015

Featured Linguist: Eric Campbell (University of California, Santa Barbara)

Featured Linguist: Eric Campbell (March 2015-1)

Featured Linguist: Eric Campbell


My journey to becoming a linguist was a circuitous one, taking me first through music, into engineering, then back to music, and finally landing in linguistics. I suppose it began when I was nine years old and I got my first (toy) drum kit for Christmas. I really took to playing the drums, and two years later I got my first real drum set. In high school in Dearborn, Michigan (U.S.), I enjoyed most subjects, but math and science were the ones that came most naturally for me. So, not knowing what else to do, I applied to and then enrolled in the nearby College of Engineering at the University of Michigan. In the meantime, a few friends and I had formed a band, and we began writing music and playing live shows in Detroit and Chicago, inspired by the blissed-out shoegazer rock coming out of England at the time.

At the age of twenty, I realized that I didn’t really want to become an engineer. I had caught the travel bug, and after an eye-opening cross-country road trip to California, I bought my first motorcycle and a tent, and I rode out to San Francisco for a fresh start. Some former bandmates followed shortly after, and we formed a new band, Transient Waves. We built a budget recording studio in our basement, and recorded our first album. This obviously didn’t pay the rent, or anything else for that matter, so I supported myself by waiting tables in restaurants and working in coffee shops. I became friends with many coworkers from Mexico and Central America, and to keep our minds stimulated while cooking and serving pasta in North Beach, we began teaching each other our native languages. That was where my interest in language began.

Several years later, and after two more albums in two more cities, Virginia Beach and Philadelphia, I returned to Michigan. I missed the excitement of the university setting, but not knowing what I wanted to study, I opted to sample many topics in the local Washtenaw Community College, from philosophy, to history, to auto mechanics. What grabbed my interest most was Spanish language and literature. I wanted to build upon my restaurant Spanish and learn the nuts and bolts of how the grammar worked and how it differed from Iberia to Mexico to Argentina, and how it differed from English. With this in mind, I re-enrolled at the University of Michigan and declared a Spanish major.

Since I enjoyed exploring Spanish grammar so much, I took some introductory linguistics courses, and I knew pretty quickly that that was my primary field. One of those first classes was Language and History, inspiringly taught by Bill Baxter. In that class I thought for the first time that I wanted to be a professor some day. A short while later, Sally Thomason allowed me to enroll in her graduate class in historical linguistics. In that class I decided I was going to go to graduate school in linguistics. Sally also connected me with some of her graduate students, and I was a research assistant for Nancy Pérez, making lexical databases of Matlatzinca and Ocuilteco, Otomanguean languages of Mexico, from colonial era and modern sources.

I applied to graduate schools, and I was most drawn to the University of Texas, where there is a vibrant community of faculty and students documenting and researching indigenous languages of Latin America, including speakers of such languages. In my application, my numbers were good, but my statements were relatively weak because I only had a vague idea that I wanted to do historical linguistics and perhaps work on Mayan Hieroglyphic writing. Fortunately, Texas took a chance on me, and near the end of my first year in the program, Hilaria and Emiliana Cruz, graduate students and speakers of San Juan Quiahije Chatino, another Otomanguean language of Oaxaca, Mexico, invited me join their Chatino Language Documentation Project, along with Tony Woodbury. Thus, my initial linguistic research was done in collaboration with native speakers and community members, and that will always remain an important part of my work.

Featured Linguist: Eric Campbell (March 2015-2)

Chatino Language Documentation Project members in Oaxaca City, April 2008 Left to right: Alma Delia Cruz Candelario, Eric Campbell, Emiliana Cruz, Gabriel Cruz Peralta, Tranquilino Cavero Ramírez, Tony Woodbury, Hilaria Cruz, Margarita González Hernández


The Chatino group proposed that I work on the divergent, outlying, and little-studied Chatino variety of Zenzontepec. What a great opportunity this was, so I accepted the invitation and made preliminary plans to travel with them to Mexico in the summer of 2007. I learned that Terry Kaufman and John Justeson had included the language in their lexicographic Project for the Documentation of the Languages of Mesoamerica (PDLMA), so I contacted Terry to see what further plans he had, if any, regarding the language. I was surprised and thrilled when that communication turned into an invitation to join the PDLMA and take over the work on the Zenzontepec Chatino lexical database that Troi Carleton had begun, pending an interview with Kaufman and Justeson over tacos during the next Maya Meetings in Austin, and assisted by recommendations from Nora England, Tony Woodbury, and Sally Thomason.

Making a dictionary isn’t typically the way one starts working on a new language, but it suited me well for several reasons. First of all, I’m interested in all levels of linguistic structure and how all of the pieces fit together. To create and check entries in the database I had to first figure out the basics of the segmental phonology, some morphology, basic syntax to identify grammatical classes, how the lexicon is organized into semantic domains, and ethnographic and cultural information associated with the forms. Second, I learned a lot about the language, and about Mesoamerica in general, during that first summer, and I had plenty of data for my M.A. thesis, an analysis of the morphology and phonology of verbal aspect/mood inflection. I didn’t break through the tone system until the second summer. Finally, and importantly, I formed a bond that will last forever with Tranquilino Cavero Ramírez, the Chatino speaker hired by the PDLMA to work with me.

In my third year of graduate school, I was awarded a documentation grant from the ELDP, and began assembling a small team of native speakers to record a corpus of varied genres of language-in-use in the community. With this support, Tranquilino Cavero Ramírez, Flor Cruz Ortiz and I transcribed, translated, and archived the texts, and from these and supplementary data, I am writing a grammar of Zenzontepec Chatino.

Featured Linguist: Eric Campbell (March 2015-3)

Esteban Ruíz Ramírez speaking to Eric Campbell and Tranquilino Cavero Ramírez about traditional plant medicine in El Jicaral, Zenzontepec, Oaxaca, Mexico, Feb. 2010


Since 2012, during the summers I have been involved in workshops for speakers of Otomanguean languages, in coordination with a team of linguists from Mexico and the U.S. It is an exciting time in Oaxaca because there is a growing support for this kind of work and a growing interest in learning linguistics on the part of community members. Unfortunately, many of the languages are endangered, but many still have young speakers. These speakers have some skills in digital technologies now, and because of this there is great opportunity to enhance the maintenance and understanding of these languages.

Now, I’m (very pleased to be!) back in California. I’m in my first year as a faculty member in the Department of Linguistics at the University of California, Santa Barbara. It’s an invigorating intellectual environment where people approach language from various perspectives that all share a focus on understanding language in use, in almost every corner of the globe. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly where in this story I became a linguist, but at some point these experiences all shaped me into a person who seeks to understand how languages work, how people use them, how they got to be the way they are, how they are similar to one another, and how they differ. Finally, a crucial factor to my becoming a linguist has been the enduring support of my parents and my wife, without whom I never would have made it through graduate school or gotten here.


Please support the LINGUIST List student editors and operations with a donation during the 2015 Fund Drive! The LINGUIST List really needs your support!


New Evidence for Neanderthal Language Announced

YPSILANTI, Michigan – The controversy over whether Neanderthals possessed a capacity for language may have been resolved. After years of speculation by evolutionary anthropologists and geneticists, a group of linguists has announced today that they have uncovered written evidence proving the Neanderthal capacity for language.

“Neanderthal man was able to express his ideas about the world around him, but was restricted by his limited syntax,” Professor Schmaltz explained at today’s press conference. “Whereas modern man combines words hierarchically into structure, the Neanderthal could only concatenate them linearly.”

It seems that Neanderthals had a single syllable oog, which, when repeated, formed different words. oog has been translated as ‘Oog’ a proper name, oog.oog meant ‘two people named Oog,’ oog.oog.oog meant ‘emotionally distant – like a teenager anxious to move out of his parents’ cave’ and so on.

Schmaltz’ team was able to identify and translate two texts left by Neanderthals. The first, a recent discovery in Spain, is a fragment of a teenager’s diary. It reads oog.oog.oog and has been translated as ‘[Dear diary, I feel] emotionally distant. [I wish I had my own cave]’.

‘[Dear diary, I feel] emotionally distant. [I wish I had my own cave]’


The second text is either an exhaustive history of the region or simply the Neanderthal word for ‘antelope’, oog.oog.oog.oog.oog.oog.oog.oog.oog.oog.oog.oog.oog.oog…



These findings suggest Neanderthals were just as culturally sophisticated as modern humans, but totally lacked an efficient method of communication. It has long been known that while Homo Sapiens’ culture developed rapidly, Neanderthals stagnated over thousands of years. Schmaltz hypothesizes that innovations simply would have taken too long to explain, as new words would have to be even longer chains of oog’s.

Schmaltz went on to speculate that the high-five traces its origins back to a borrowing from Proto-Neanderthal. “With each hand representing the name ‘Oog,’ slapping them together must have been used as a greeting. It truly was the original instant message.”