Author: Becca Morris

Obituary: Petr Sgall (1926-2019)

Professor Emeritus Petr Sgall, professor of Indo-European, Czech studies, and general linguistics at Charles University in Prague, and an Honorary Member of the LSA since 2002, passed away on May 28, 2019 in Prague, the day after his 93rd birthday.

Over a lifetime of distinguished work in theoretical, mathematical and computational linguistics, he did more than any other single person to keep the Prague School linguistic tradition alive and dynamically flourishing. He was the founder of mathematical and computational linguistics in the Czech Republic, and the principal developer of the Praguian theory of Functional Generative Description as a framework for the formal description of language, which has been applied primarily to Czech, but also to English and in typological studies of a range of languages.

Petr Sgall was born in in České Budějovice in southern
Bohemia, but
spent most of his
childhood in the small
town Ústí nad Orlicí in
eastern Bohemia and
lived in Prague from the time of his
university studies.

He studied typology under Rudolf Skalička, with a PhD dissertation on the
development of
inflection in Indo-
European languages. His habilitation thesis in 1958 was based on his postdoctoral study in Cracow on the infinitive in Old Indian; it earned him a position as docent (associate professor) of general and Indoeuropean linguistics at Charles University.

At the beginning of the 1960s, Sgall was one of the first European scholars who became familiar with the newly emerging Chomskyan generative grammar. He immediately understood the importance of an explicit description of language, but at the same time, he was concerned that the early generative approach lacked a full appreciation of the functions of language (see his analysis of Prague School functionalism in his paper in the renewed series Prague Linguistic Circle Papers, the Travaux linguistiques de Prague Vol. I (1964)). Based on the Praguian tenets, Sgall formulated and developed an original framework of generative description of language, the so-called Functional Generative Description (FGD). His papers in the early sixties and his book presenting FGD (Sgall 1967) (http://ufal.mff.cuni.cz/~sgall/doc/sgall-bibl.pdf) were the foundation stones of an original school of theoretical and computational linguistics that has been alive and flourishing in Prague since then. Sgall’s innovative approach builds on three main pillars: (i) dependency syntax, (ii) information structure as an integral part of the underlying linguistic structure, and (iii) attention to the distinction between linguistic meaning and cognitive content.

The linguistics group that was established under his leadership in 1959 flourished in an interdisciplinary environment that included both the Philosophical Faculty of Charles University and the Faculty of Mathematics and Physics until political difficulties under the Communist regime led to his removal from his post as head of the Laboratory of Algebraic Linguistics, and nearly led to his expulsion from the University and the dissolution of the linguistics group. The Laboratory was disbanded, but courageous colleagues in the Faculty of Mathematics and Physics enabled the transfer of the staff of the Laboratory to that Faculty, where it thrived and became the Institute of Formal and Applied Linguistics (UFAL). Throughout the difficult years from 1972 until the fall of Communism in 1989 (with gradual improvements starting in the early 1980s), Sgall helped the group maintain ties with many international colleagues and continue to develop their productive work in formal and functional linguistics and pioneering computational applications. (The author remembers from visits in 1981, 1985, and a semester in 1989 how weekly seminars were held at 5pm so that talented young colleagues who were barred from university participation could attend after finishing their work days in factories and technical institutes.)

In the post-Communist era starting in 1990, the group was able to maintain UFAL, finally with permission to teach and to have their own graduate students, and they were also able to establish the Institute of Theoretical and Computational Linguistics back in the Philosophical Faculty. They could then regularize their ties with many colleagues and programs abroad, including a cooperative computational linguistics program with Johns Hopkins University and a collaboration between the Prague Dependency Treebank and the Penn Treebank.

Also in the post-Communist era after 1989, Professor Sgall was able to travel freely, hold guest professorships at foreign universities and a fellowship semester at NIAS, and to receive some of the public recognition he long deserved. He was elected a member of Academia Europea, awarded an Alexander von Humboldt Research Prize, and received Honorary Doctorates from the Institut National des Langues Orientales in Paris and from Hamburg University. He was named an Honorary Member of the Linguistic Society of America in 2002.

Petr Sgall will be remembered with admiration, respect, and gratitude by generations of students and colleagues for his untiring and successful personal and intellectual leadership of the development of Prague School linguistics, helping it to maintain a valued place in the contemporary international linguistics world, and for his own major contributions to typological studies and to theoretical and mathematical linguistics.

An obituary written by his Prague colleagues, from which the photograph above and some parts of this text were taken, can be found at http://ufal.mff.cuni.cz/obituary-petr-sgall .

 

-Barbara Partee

The Fund Drive is Almost Over!

Dear LINGUIST List,

Over the last month we have sent numerous calls for support. As you should know, LINGUIST List is on a soft budget; the funds to pay salaries to our student-editors and the web development team comes from paid ads and from your donations. While bills need to be paid, there is one thing we don’t want to do: hide behind a pay wall and charge an obligatory fee from our readers. This is because the only way to become a member in our club is by participating in knowledge exchange, not by paying a fee. To help running LINGUIST List, to keep the doors open to those who cannot pay, to keep the contributions of those who cannot pay available to us, for the progress of the field, for yourself to keep this resource functional, please donate.This is the last day of the Fund Drive, the last call. Our advisors, whom I cannot thank enough, encouraged and supported us during this Fund Drive by organizing challenges in their home institutions and donating themselves. The whole list of our faithful advisors is here: https://new.linguistlist.org/advisors/

If we receive a minimum of $1000 within 24 of this post, our advisors pledged to match this donation with their own additional contribution of $1000.

Please donate.

Thank you,
The LINGUIST List Team

The current LL crew!

Challenges Update!

Hello all, welcome to another Challenges Update!

It looks like Syntax is still in the lead with $2050! They are followed pretty closely by Semantics with $1894, and in third we still have Sociolinguistics with $1365.

These three subfields seem to have solidified their places in this Fund Drive’s Challenges, will there be some changes before it’s over?

The top three for universities are as follows: Stanford is still in the lead with $1230.00 (12 donors), followed by University of South Carolina with $885.00 (13 donors), and Southern Illinois University Carbondale with $500.00 (1 donor).

It looks like Stanford would like to win this year over University of Washington!

North America is first place for regions with 118 donors. Europe takes second place with 90 donors, and is followed by Asia with 14 donors.

With 109 donors, USA takes first place for the countries challenge. Germany comes in second with 22 donors, and Spain takes third with 12 donors!

Thank you all again for your continuous support! Please check the Fund Drive page for more updates and to donate!

Sincerely,
The LL Team

Challenges Update!

Week Four Challenges Update!

Hello all! First of all, thank you to all of those who have donated this year, and in previous years, we couldn’t do it without you! Below you see how the challenges are going thus far.

For the subfields it looks like Syntax is still in the lead with $1460! In a new turn of events, Sociolinguistics is now in second place with $960 and they are followed by Language Acquisition who has $905!

University of South Carolina is still in the lead and now with $815. Southern Illinois University Carbondale maintains their second place spot with $500. We have a new university in third place — Stanford University with $455!

North America is still in the lead for regions with 77 donors, which is 32 more donors since last week! Europe is still in second place with 36 donors and they are followed by Asia who is in third place with 6 donors.

The United States still takes the lead for countries with 73 total donors. Germany is no longer tied for second place and they have 6 donors. Spain and the United Kingdom are tied for third with 5 donors!

Again, we appreciate all of your support and thank you for donating!

Sincerely,
The LINGUIST List Team

Week Two Challenge Update

Hello all! Here is the week two challenge update.

Subfields:
The subfield challenge is heating up! It looks like Syntax has overtaken Pragmatics with donations totaling $1095! Pragmatics is now second with $650 and they are followed by Language Acquisition who has $480.

Universities:
Southern Illinois University Carbondale is now second with $500.00 (1 donor) and University of South Carolina is in first place with $600.00 (6 donors) — they also have the most donors out of the universities thus far. Arizona State University also makes the top three with $300.00 (1 donor).

Regions:
North America still leads now with 29 donors and they are followed by Europe with 14 donors. Asia comes in third with 2 donors.

Countries:
United States of America (USA) still leads for now with 29 donors and they are followed by Germany who has 4 donors. It looks like Spain and the United Kingdom are both in third and are still tied with 3 donors.

Thank you for all of your support and be sure to check back at the end of this week for another challenge update.

Sincerely,
The LINGUIST List Team

Staff Letter: Becca Morris

Dear LINGUIST List readers,

Here I am showing off a new haircut.

My name is Becca Morris and I am the Managing Editor here at LINGUIST List (LL) and I am also responsible for Finances, posting jobs, and creating social media boosts. We may have met via email, or you may remember my staff letter from last year.

It has been almost a year since I started at LINGUIST List and it has truly been a wonderful experience and opportunity. I am now a second year PhD student in Computational Linguistics at Indiana University and I would not have been able to continue if I hadn’t gotten my graduate assistantship job at LL – I came to IU as an out-of-state unfunded MA student. By employing graduate students The LINGUIST List is providing us the means to contribute to our field in an impactful way, while at the same time they are helping us tremendously.

Since my staff letter last year, I have become a second year PhD student and I am now working on Universal Dependencies and Dependency Parsing for Hakha Chin (as mentioned in my blog post) at IU. I am also minoring in Informatics. I expect to finish my qualifying exams by the end of Fall 2019 and then become a candidate. In my spare time, which there is not a lot of as a graduate student, I am teaching myself Swedish and would like to work with this language in the future.

I also like to go to concerts in the small amount of spare time that I have. Coheed and Cambria is my favorite band and this was my ninth time seeing them live.

LINGUIST List has not only allowed me to excel academically but also personally. This past year has been a rather transformative year for me and I don’t think I would have been able to do it had it not been for LL supporting me. I was able to find myself, personally and academically, this year and I will forever be grateful to The LINGUIST List for helping me along this journey.

Working at LL has taught me many things, for example, how to make valuable connections with notable people in our field and how to become better at time management and these are valuable skills that I will use throughout my career. This job also allows the editors and programmers to see what is going on in our field and provides us the opportunity to contribute to academia in a meaningful way.

LINGUIST List provides our field with vital resources and we couldn’t do it without your support. When you support The LINGUIST List you are not just supporting the editors and the programmers but also the linguistics community as a whole. Next year LL will turn 30 and we couldn’t have done it without your support.

 

Thank you again for all of your support, everyone here at LINGUIST List is forever grateful to all of you. If would like to help us to continue providing resources to the linguistic community please visit our fund drive page and donate.

Tack så mycket!

Sincerely,
Becca Morris
Managing Editor
Jobs Editor
Finances

Creating Resources for Under-Represented Languages: Hakha Chin

Dear LINGUIST List readers and subscribers,

The theme for this year’s Fund Drive is Language Documentation and Revitalization, because of this year’s theme, I would like to tell you about some of the work that I am involved with at Indiana University in addition to working at The LINGUIST List. I am a Computational Linguistics PhD student here at and as part of my work as a graduate student I am involved with a language documentation project: building documentary materials and computational tools for Hakha Chin. It should be noted that The LINGUIST List is not affiliated with this project, rather it is work that I am doing as a student while also working at The LINGUIST List.

Hakha Chin (Laiholh) is a language spoken in Myanmar/Burma with roughly 165,000 speakers, and there are more than 23,000 Burmese refugees who call Indiana home with nearly 17,000 residing in Indianapolis. Last year Hakha Chin was the language that was studied in the field methods classes taught by Dr. Kelly Berkson. Since there are not many resources available for Hakha Chin, the motivation behind this project is simple: having access to information in your native language is not a privilege, but a right. This motivation has lead to projects like using Mozilla Common Voice for Hakha Chin.

This is a screenshot of the Common Voice homepage illustrating the idea behind their system.

Mozilla Common Voice is a project whose aim is to “help make voice recognition open and accessible to everyone”. They do this by having users donate their voice and by listening to validate other submissions. Follow this link to see the page for Hakha Chin.

Here is a screenshot of what Common Voice looks like for Hakha Chin.

The Hakha Chin Common Voice Project has gotten very popular among the Hakha Chin speaking community. Mentions of this project have appeared on the Travel Myanmar YouTube channel and on the Chin Cable Network. Below you can see our very own Dr. Berkson discussing the work that is being done with Hakha Chin on the Travel Myanmar YouTube channel.

There is a lot of work revolving around Hakha Chin at IU at the moment, and there are multiple graduate students, myself included, working on this language. For example, I am working on creating a Universal Dependencies treebank so that I can work on Dependency Parsing for Hakha Chin.

To see some other cool things that are happening in the world of Language Revitalization and Documentation be sure to check back on our blog and social media pages, but most importantly, visit our Fund Drive page – it is here where you can learn more about us and make a donation. Thank you for your continued support.

Sincerely,

Becca Morris, on behalf of The LINGUIST List Team

(Sources: https://www.ethnologue.com/language/cnh, https://thebaci.org/)

Linguistics and Pop-Culture: Atlantis: The Lost Empire

Hello LINGUIST List readers and subscribers!

Following this year’s Fund Drive theme we’re going to take a look at the movie Atlantis: The Lost Empire, an animated Disney movie from 2001. This movie was one of my all time favorites as a child, I even had a Barbie of the main character. In this movie Milo James Thatch, voiced by Micheal J. Fox, is a linguist and cartographer at the Smithsonian Institute. He believes that he can find The Shepherd’s Journal, which is an ancient manuscript that contains directions to Atlantis. It is safe to say that this movie is likely the first time I ever heard of linguistics and maybe watching this movie as much as I did primed me to be a linguist. Atlantis: The Lost Empire was briefly mentioned by our editor Sarah Robinson in her awesome ConLangs series here on our blog because this movie contains a ConLang: Atlantean.

This movie starts out with Atlantean dialogue with English subtitles, the scene is the destruction of the city and what the citizens do to preserve what they can of Atlantis resulting in it being hidden from the rest of the world. After the opening scene we see Milo, who while at work dwells in the boiler room (I feel like this is par for the course for a linguist, yeah?), describing a translation error of an Old Norse text. Milo is criticized for his research on Atlantean and is not taken seriously, which leads to him being hired to go on an expedition to find the city of Atlantis. The person who hires Milo exclaims that the crew is complete except that they need an expert in gibberish, aka Atlantean. Does this feel familiar anyone?

Here we see Milo, in his boiler room office, correcting his translation error about where The Shepherd’s Journal is located from ‘Ireland’ to ‘Iceland’. It turns out that it was located in Iceland.

Atlantean script is prevalent throughout the movie. Until the expedition crew gets to Atlantis, the script is mainly seen in The Shepherd’s Journal, which was found by the expedition crew on a previous expedition. Upon arriving in Atlantis, Milo discovers that Atlanteans can speak multiple languages and he hypothesizes that Atlantean must be based on a root dialect like The Tower of Babel. Milo explains the grammatical system of Atlantean by saying:

…if you deconstruct Latin, you overlaid it with some Sumerian, throw in a dash of Thessalonian you’d be getting close to their grammatical structure.”

Here is Milo Thatch studiously looking over The Shepherd’s Journal.

 

It turns out that Milo is the only one who can read Atlantean because the knowledge of how to read Atlantean was lost in The Great Flood that ruined city. Milo helps the main Atlantean character Kida, voiced by Cree Summer, translate ancient Atlantean murals throughout the city to help return Atlantis to its former glory. Not only can Milo read and translate Atlantean, on the fly I might add, but he can also speak it. When speaking with Kida in Atlantean he asks how is accent is, which I’m sure every linguist reading this has done with a native speaker. The addition of this small detail was very much appreciated. For those interested, she said Milo’s accent was “boorish, provincial, and you speak it through your nose”.

The Atlantean language developed for this movie was created by Marc Okrand, who is also responsible for the creation of Klingon. Okrand created Atlantean by including a large inventory of Indo-European words and Atlantean can be described as being highly agglutinative. Inspiration for Atlantean was drwn from Sumerian and North American languages. Atlantean is based on historical reconstructions and is inspired by the fantasy of Atlantis: The Lost Empire. There are two main fictional principles surrounding the creation of the Atlantean language: Atlantean is intended to be a “Tower of Babel language”/”root dialect” of all languages, and Atlantean has existed without change since before 100,000 B.C., which is the First or Second age of Atlantis.

The writing system for Atlantean was created by John Emerson with the help of Marc Okrand and draws its inspiration from ancient alphabetical scripts, Semitic being the main inspiration. There is no capitalization or punctuation in Atlantean, and the character for ‘a’ was created with the intention of being a map of the city. Atlantean is also written using the boustrophedon writing system, so lines are written and read left to right for the first line, and then right to left for the following line, and then back to left to right, etc.

Here is the Atlantean alphabet with some IPA and their numerals.

Since Milo, mentioned the grammatical system of Atlantean I will also mention it briefly. The word order in Atlantean is strictly SOV. Adjectives and nouns that are of genitive case follow the nouns that they modify. Postpositions are the only type of adpositions present in Atlantean. Modal verbs follow the verbs they modify and also take on all personal and aspectual suffixes. In contrast, adverbs come before the verbs they modify. An interrogative particle is also utilized in Atlantean; however, the formation of questions does not affect the word order.

All-in-all, Milo can be chalked up to being considered one of the movie linguist archetypes. He seemed to be more of a translator than a linguist, but the film is still delightful and there were some additions, like the question of the accent that were appreciated as a linguist. Some of the things about Atlantean mentioned in this movie, like that the language has existed without change since 100,000 B.C. is very unrealistic even if this society has existed in isolation since 100,000 B.C. If you haven’t seen Atlantis: The Lost Empire I highly recommend it.

Here at The LINGUIST List we are dedicated to providing you, our readers and subscribers, with knowledge of all things linguistic. This year’s fund drive theme is geared towards discussing how our field is portrayed in media and pop-culture. Thanks to our donors and users we are able to continue to providing you all with information on all things linguistic. Please consider donating here to ensure that we can continue to provide this service to all of you. Thank you!

Sincerely,

– The LL Team

(Sources: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atlantis%3A_The_Lost_Empirehttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atlantean_language)