Featured Linguists

Featured Linguist: Stefan Müller

I am delighted to support this year’s fund drive for the LINGUIST List.

While preparing this text, I had a look at the pieces from previously featured linguists and noticed that I share some characteristics with Adele Goldberg and Colin Phillips: we all had a passion for mathematics. I was a member of the Mathematische Schülergesellschaft (MSG) run by researchers from the Humboldt University from the fifth grade onwards. When I was 13, I applied to the Heinrich Hertz Oberschule, which is a school with a specialization in mathematics (nine hours of math each week). Back then two to four pupils out of 30 could go to the Extended Secondary School and getting a place on this special school was even more competitive. There were two tests: a math examination, which I finished with 100%, and a political talk, which I failed. They asked me whether I would want to serve in the army for an extended period of time (three years instead of one and a half), and I told them that I never thought about this question but that I thought it was a bad idea. Since the GDR expected loyalty of those who were allowed to these extended schools and those who were allowed to study, I was rejected. I am very grateful to my parents who left no stone unturned in order to get me into this school. They got certificates from my math teacher and from the MSG, and I had a second chance interview on political issues with the principal of my school. I told them that it was my deepest wish to serve in the army for three years (sarcasm).

My application having been successful, I went to the Heinrich Hertz school, and it was great. Lots of math and even computer science. We could learn to program using programmable pocket calculators from Texas Instruments (note that GDR money could not buy you those, so the school must have had some special connections), and later using the first home computers produced in the GDR (KC85-1). The school organized a partnership for individual pupils with the Humboldt University. I could work in the main computing facility of the HU. I was very privileged: while university students had to use punch cards at the time (1985), I could type in my programs at the terminal of the HU’s main computer. This mainframe had 128k of memory and an electronic typewriter typing out important messages. Clack, clack, clack. (/dev/console)

After this happy childhood with mathematics and mainframes, I had to serve in the army. I hated every minute of it; it was the darkest period of my life. I went to the library in the town where I was stationed and got a book by Kurt Schwitters: “Anna Blume und andere”. Kurt Schwitters is one of the proponents of Dada (an art movement of the European avant-garde in the early 20th century) and this was the right kind of craziness for me. I knew immediately: either I write crazy stuff like this or I will really go crazy. So I went for Dada. I published my stuff together with a friend who did illustrations in a Samizdat, an underground self-publication, using army computers and printers. I wrote the publishing and layout software myself, a precursor to what I would do later in life.

Finally released from the army, I began to study at the Humboldt University. I studied Mathematical Computer Science, a brand-new subject, which was a full-scale math curriculum with computer science on top. I started in September 1989, when GDR still existed. The elections on March 7th of that year were fake, and people left the country in masses via Hungary and Czechoslovakia. The situation culminated on October the 7th, which was the 40th anniversary of the foundation of GDR but also one of the days on which the opposition kept reminding the government of the fake elections which had taken place on another 7th day of a month. Protesters and celebrators mixed, and riot police with helmets and water guns were in the streets: something that had never happened before. Secret service members mixed with the crowd and tried to stop discussions, arresting many of the protesters. The outcome of all this is known. There was a huge demonstration in November and things began to change slowly. A world collapsed and something new began. I was deeply disappointed by the faculty members: they just continued to talk about algebra, analysis, and logic as if nothing was happening. They completely ignored the outside world. Their math was dead. It worked as it always did, it was correct, but it was boring. I could not connect to them any longer. I wanted something different, something dirty, something that is not perfect: language. One thing the Dadaists did in the 1920s was anagrams. They made anagrams with pencil, paper, and scissors. Being a nerd, I went for more systematic and efficient methods: I used a computer. We learned Prolog in the computer science lectures, and so I used Prolog to permute the letters, and a dictionary to then test the permutations against word sequences. Of course arbitrary word sequences were not good enough; I wanted to filter out all those sequences that are naturally occurring phrases. So I wrote my first grammar of German.

Udo Kruschwitz, a friend of mine, had the idea to go to Great Britain for a year. We checked Glasgow, Edinburgh, and some other places, and decided to apply for Edinburgh since they did not require a language test. My English was terrible at the time, but as far as computer science lectures were concerned, I did not have any problems. As so often in my life, I was lucky: Edinburgh was a hot spot of computational linguistics. Chris Mellish, the pope of parsing and Prolog, was there. Alan Black did computational semantics. Henry Thomson did formal linguistic stuff. It was just great. It was an international mix of students, including David Adger, and it was really inspiring with a lot of fruitful interaction. The year abroad ended with a Large Practical in which we used Prolog for syntactic and semantic analysis of English. I did a PATR-like grammar with a Discourse Representation Semantics component.

When I came back, the courses I did in Edinburgh were accepted so that I could finish my study in four years including the year abroad. The original plan for my diploma was to develop a grammar and a processing system that incorporated the ideas about verb fields by Jürgen Kunze (Professor for Computational Linguistics at the Humboldt University back then). This theory is a very cool theory since it uses semantic primitives like ’cause’, ‘become’, and ‘have’ to model the verbs of exchange of possession (‘give’, ‘take’, ‘steal’, ‘lend’, ‘borrow’). Kunze modeled the field in German: 91 verbs. A 92nd verb would have been expected, so he discovered a lexical gap in German.

But, back in Edinburgh, I had visited one of my supervisors. There was a copy of the first volume of Pollard & Sag about Head-Driven Phrase Structure Grammar (HPSG) on his desk. I asked him what this was about, and he said: “Oh, this is too difficult for you.” I knew how to work with Definite Clause Grammars, but I also felt that a bit more than this would be required for my diploma thesis. So I had a look into Generalized Phrase Structure Grammar (GPSG) and developed a parser for a fragment of German. I compiled out all phrase structure rules, and the result got so messy and dealing with the grammar got so complicated that I decided that HPSG could hardly be more complicated than what I was already doing. So I turned to the forbidden book, and I loved it. I also got an ESSLLI booklet from 1992 with a draft version of the ’94 HPSG book. I read the books several times. I developed an HPSG grammar of German and a parser for it. Sometime in December 1993, Kunze said that there was a position I could take. He asked what I had done so far for my diploma and decided that this was enough. So I never got to his cool semantics but was deeply involved with HPSG.

Kunze was coming from the Academy of Science of the GDR, which was closed down after the end of the GDR. A lot of scientists from GDR universities or other research institutions became unemployed (half of the 218,000 researchers in GDR, two thirds of the professors). But there was also a program called Wissenschaftlerintegrationsprogramm (researcher integration program). The idea was to give three-year contracts to East Germans so that they could find their place in the West German academic system (or rather in the German academic system). There was money in the pool for Kunze’s position, but since he got a professorship, this money was not needed. He used it, together with other money, to create a position, which I was lucky to get. This was a huge privilege, since it was a personal position with a personal travel budget of 10,000 Deutschmarks, and I was freshly graduated, not taken over from an existing GDR institution. I used the time well to extend the HPSG Grammar and improve the parser. By the end of the three-year period, I had the largest grammar of German available and the fastest system for processing it. As Wolfgang Wahlster, one reviewer of my PhD thesis, remarked: It was better than what IBM came up with, with a research group working on grammar and parser and a 1 Mio DM budget. But when I presented my work to the computer scientists of the Humboldt University, they did not really like it. I guess I made a mistake in presenting the stuff; they were not interested in the grammar part at all. So, rather than trying to convince them that computational linguistics is interesting and that I had something that is worth a PhD, I looked for different options, and so Hans Uszkoreit and Wolfgang Wahlster became my PhD reviewers. I defended the PhD at the computer science department in Saarbrücken. I also got a job there at the DFKI (German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence) in the Computational Linguistics (CL) lab of Hans Uszkoreit, working in the VerbMobil project. The goal of VerbMobil was speaker-independent machine translation of spoken language. Nowadays every phone can do this, but CL was far away from this goal in 1992, when VerbMobil started. The project was way too big, as far as the number of involved people was concerned. Wolfgang Whalster counted 911 people (including student assistants). Many complained that communication was difficult, but for me the VerbMobil time was just great. Again, I was lucky: everybody who was directly before or after me in the processing pipeline was in my lab. There were Uli Krieger and Bernd Kiefer, responsible for parsing, and Walter Kasper, with whom I interacted closely since he did the semantics for my grammar. If something was wrong with the output format or the semantic representation, they got the message from other groups and we dealt with the problems internally.

After defending my PhD, I wanted to give a conference talk based on the chapter about particle verbs in my thesis. The reviewers did not like it. I felt hurt and misunderstood. I decided to write something bigger, maybe a journal article. Particle verbs are complex predicates. They form a predicate complex similar to verbal complexes and resultative constructions with adjectives. In order to write this up properly, I had to talk about secondary predication (depictives and resultatives), about copula constructions, and about verbal complexes. All these phenomena interact with fronting, passivization and so on. I realized quickly that I had to write a book. This became my habilitation. Another lucky coincidence in my life.

VerbMobil ended in 2000, but this was the time of internet startups and the DFKI was involved with several of them. One was Interprice (now Semantic Edge), a platform for price comparison with a natural language interface. The domain was later changed to travel. I continued to develop the German grammar for these domains and was responsible for other languages too. In 2001 I got the offer to replace the chair for computational linguistics in Jena for two years.

When this time was over, I was lucky again and got an assistant professorship for Theoretical Linguistics/Computational Linguistics in Bremen. After a year in Potsdam, filling in a position in CL, I got my first permanent position at the Freie Universität Berlin in 2007. This position was in German and General Linguistics, and while my focus had been on German in previous years, I now started projects on Danish, Persian and Mandarin Chinese. I developed computer-processable HPSG grammars for German, Danish, Persian, Mandarin, English, Yiddish, Spanish, French, Maltese and Hindi. All grammars come with syntax and semantics, and some with an information structure component which was developed in the Collaborative Research Center 632. The grammars share a common core grammar, that is, constraints that hold for all (examined) languages or for subgroups of them. In 2016, I moved to the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, where I have had a chair in German Syntax since then. We started another Collaborative Research Center there (CRC 1412). It deals with register phenomena. My lab contributes a project dealing with the empirical side (corpus linguistics) and with questions on how to pair HPSG with probabilistic aspects.

Throughout my life I spent a lot of time comparing various theoretical frameworks. Most energy went into the lexical vs. phrasal constructions discussion (basically phrasal Construction Grammar vs. HPSG/SBCG/Categorial Grammar/Minimalism) and I really enjoyed working together with Steve Wechsler on a target article, but there are also other comparisons like the ones of HPSG and Minimalism as well as HPSG and Dependency Grammar. In general, I think that linguistic frameworks share a lot of ideas, and we should talk more to each other to be able to understand the commonalities and work together across framework boundaries.

The Linguist List has been important to me throughout my scientific life. It played a role in scientific exchange (I remember the challenge to the Minimalist community to build a parser showing that Minimalist ideas can be made consistent and working.


The resulting discussion was very interesting…), the job postings were very important, and one early post by Martin Haspelmath (in 2004!!!) to the list about open access turned out to be one cornerstone in the foundation of Language Science Press.


During a dinner in 2012 with Adele Goldberg, Thomas Herbst and Anatol Stefanowitsch, we realized that the tools for running a scholarly-owned open access publishing house were now available. I started writing to scholars asking for signing at a website for support. I remembered the post from Martin and asked him if he wanted to join the enterprise. We met at the Freie Universität Berlin, talked things through, wrote a DFG proposal, founded Language Science Press, and the rest is history. (Part of this history, and an important one, is Sebastian Nordhoff, who worked for Martin and later joined Language Science Press. Without him and his social and technical skills, the great success of this initiative would not have been possible.)

The organizers of this year’s fund drive of the Linguist List gave us a motto for our piece: silver lining. We all need one, after over a year of Covid, which has been exhausting and terrible for everybody in academia (and beyond). And this is not the only crisis we are in. The climate crisis is something that is not waiting for us at the end of the pandemic. It is something that is happening simultaneously and on top of everything we already have. I have been active with Scientists 4 Future for several years now. Martina Schäfer, Gisbert Fanselow and I started an initiative for flying less, and we collected signatures of people who pledge to refrain from business flights to destinations less than 1000km away. 25% of the scientific staff of the Humboldt University signed. Given the fact that 50% of the carbon emissions of universities is due to travel, and 93% of this is due to air travel, this was a good result. However, we are far from zero carbon emissions, and we have to go down to zero. There is not much time left (as the most recent report of the IPCC made clear again).

So, where is the silver lining? Well, maybe it is not easy to see it in all the smoke coming from the fires in Canada, Spain, Italy, Greece, and Turkey. But once the smoke clears, we may be able to see that Covid brought us one thing: we learned to live without traveling. Search committees, job talks, conferences are possible without intercontinental flights. The tools we are using are not perfect, and I experienced disasters in communication which I was very unhappy about, but we can improve on this and learn how the online world works. Since we must go down to zero emissions rather quickly, it was good that we’ve now learned, at least in principle, how to do it.


Featured Linguist: Chris Green

I always thought my journey to linguistics was a bit odd and haphazard, but as I’ve met more linguists over the years, I’ve come to realize that many of us took some time to find our way to the field. Like many others, after graduating high school, I had never heard of linguistics. I had always been interested in languages and learning them – first Spanish and French in high school, and even Swahili, which I tried to learn on my own – so that I could travel to new and exciting places. Growing up in central New York, and particularly, enduring its long grey winters, had me longing to see what else was out there in the world…preferably some place warm and sunny! Back in those days, when we would go to the mall, I would spend my time in Borders or Barnes & Noble, eagerly flipping through the pages of whatever language books I could get my hands on.
Despite this interest in language, I went to college (yes, someplace warm!) to study biochemistry and classical saxophone performance. For fun, I took Ancient Greek for three semesters, and was simultaneously puzzled and fascinated by new-to-me ideas like grammatical case, aspect, and mood that I had never heard of before (Aorist?! What’s an aorist?). Upon finishing my two degrees, I began working in a virology lab as an electron microscopy specialist, but I got burned out quickly working in a reverse-pressure Level 3 facility, communicating with my colleagues through double-paned glass windows all day. A former French professor told me about the linguistics class that she was taking, and as she described her assignments, the perfect combination of scientific inquiry and language unfolded right in front of me. She offered to introduce me to her professor, the late J. Kathryn Josserand, an expert in Mayan discourse analysis at Florida State University. Kathryn and her husband, Nick Hopkins, a phonetician, happened to be working with a PhD student from Côte d’Ivoire, Sidiky Diarrasouba, to analyze the discourse structure of his mother tongue, Nafaanra, and they invited to me to join them. As is often said, the rest is history.
I became fascinated by linguistics, and by all things related to African languages. I spent the next year continuing to work in my lab, taking graduate classes in linguistics as a non-matriculated student, and working with Kathryn, Nick, and Sidiky on the weekends. When it came time to apply to graduate school, Indiana University took a chance on me and also offered me the chance to begin studying Bambara. My karamɔkɔ, Boubacar Diakite, was also a graduate student in linguistics at the time, and along with classmate Abbie Hantgan (CNRS), the three of us spent a lot of time thinking of ways to apply to Bambara what we were learning in our other coursework. Bambara became the focus of my dissertation work, and my love of phonology, and of prosody and tone in particular, blossomed while taking classes with Sam Obeng and Stuart Davis, and also while working in Dan Dinnsen’s lab at the Learnability Project.
Just before heading to Bamako to do my dissertation fieldwork, I was offered a job at the former Center for Advanced Study of Language (CASL) at the University of Maryland. I went to Mali, collected my data, and returned home to finish and defend my thesis. I then spent the next five years as Co-PI of several federally funded projects whose goal was ultimately to help adults (e.g., diplomats, soldiers, translators) learn African languages quickly and effectively. Being on “soft money” projects was an incredible challenge for a new PhD specializing in phonology, as funders had no interest in theory and little in typology, and even our language foci often changed annually in response to world events. What this period of time provided me, however, was exposure to new languages, and particularly, to the Cushitic languages Somali, Maay Maay, and Marka. I also was awarded a Collaborative Research Grant from the NSF with Co-PIs Michael Marlo (Missouri) and Michael Diercks (Pomona) to study Wanga (a Bantu language of Kenya), expanding upon work I began in a field methods course in graduate school. Added to my work on Bambara and Susu (another Mande language), I found myself awash in data from three different language families and needing to somehow build a research program. In the interest of making the most of my situation, I began to think big picture about prominence. How do languages with vastly different prosodic systems encode prominence? What structures and factors affect its realization? What counts as prominence anyway? In this realm, I’ve published on issues related to tone, wordhood, headedness, syllable structure, and vowel harmony. As I heard Laura Downing (Gothenburg) once say in a workshop discussion (and I’m paraphrasing slightly), “As a phonologist, I’m attracted to interesting data.” For me, nothing could be closer to the truth, and I remind myself of this when I reflect on the various languages and phenomena that have occupied my thoughts over the past 12 years or so.
Since 2016, I’ve been a member of the Linguistic Studies Program faculty at Syracuse University, back in my hometown, and (despite enduring the long winters once again) enjoying the opportunity to finish up old projects while beginning new ones, including documentation and description of the Jarawan languages of Nigeria, which began in 2018 with MA student Milkatu Garba. Milka is a mother tongue speaker of the Jarawan language Mbat (iso:bau), and has become a collaborator and, in many ways, my project manager, since finishing her MA in 2020. In hopes that the pandemic would be winding down, I applied for and was awarded an NEH fellowship to continue this project. I had truly hoped that this might include some travel and data collection, whether for me, Milka, or both of us. Of course, these plans were met head on with the realities of the ongoing state of global public health. But, in the spirit of the theme for this year’s Fund Drive, “Silver Linings,” Milka and I found a way to harness the power of social media to find several Jarawan-speaking consultants in Nigeria who were eagerly willing to work with us. Through a combination of sharing questionnaires on GoogleDrive, conducting meetings over Google Voice, receiving recordings through WhatsApp, and making payments via international cash apps, we’ve managed to find a way to work effectively with two speakers each of two new-to-us Jarawan languages, Duguri and Galamkya. We’ve spent this Summer making strides learning about their unique properties and, thereby, beginning to understand more about the internal dynamics of this language cluster whose status as Bantu vs. non-Bantu has been widely debated. So, like many others, we have tried to find a way to make the best of the continued pandemic state of affairs, and to find a way to look on the bright side and to seize upon what is within the realm of possibility to do safely, to somehow push ahead in our research.
Despite all the chaos in the world, and the extra hoops that we encounter daily in our remote fieldwork, though, I can’t help but nod my head and smile. Whether its participating in informal weekly Zoom working groups, learning how to handle remote workshops and conferences, participating in midnight colloquium talks on the other side of the world, or figuring out how to interface with consultants remotely through social media and smart phones, it is abundantly clear that we linguists comprise a resilient and creative community, and that bodes well for the future of our discipline.

Christopher R. Green
Syracuse University, Department of Languages, Literatures, & Linguistics
HBC 307, Syracuse NY 13244
[email protected]


Featured Linguist: Scott Moisik

Linguistics through art and music: My story on how I came to do what I do

I have always been an artsy individual, so it seemed only natural that I should pick fine arts as my undergraduate major. Frankly, high school did not leave me feeling very confident that I would be able to study much of anything else. Pursuing fine arts allowed me to develop an appreciation for how the visual arts use modeling as a lens through which we can better understand nature in all of its beautiful (and horrendous) complexity. But while fine arts was a comfortable choice, I was not fulfilled and started exploring other areas of study, and I eventually discovered linguistics.

Initially I decided to take a linguistics course under the misguided belief that it might somehow help me with my communication skills. However, I soon developed a fascination with the bits and pieces of language, the wonderful strangeness of phenomena like implicature, and the machinations underlying speech production – the “meat” of our vocal tract. My interest in the study of the process of speaking became intertwined with my interest in music that features various “abuses” of the human voice (Skinny Puppy, Swans, Einstürzende Neubauten… that sort of stuff). I was ultimately drawn into an academic descent into the lower vocal tract.

My descent began innocently enough. Towards the end of my undergraduate studies in linguistics, my phonetics professor, the late (but very great) Michael Dobrovolsky handed me a dusty VHS tape entitled “Pharyngeal Articulations”. On the video was a laryngoscopic view of John Esling’s throat as he performed a series of laryngeal manipulations, including lowered and raised larynx voice qualities and, most importantly, growling. These vocalizations absolutely resonated with my musical interests and I was utterly captivated. I sought out John Esling and pursued graduate studies under his supervision. This would ultimately lead to many laryngeal adventures with John, including the production of a book which gave me a chance to express my love of the larynx artistically – by drawing the states of the larynx (see Figure 1). However, it was during my graduate studies that I discovered an entirely new means to tap into my artistic need to create models: I had the opportunity to create a 3D computer model of the larynx.

Figure 1: My hand-drawn illustrations of the laryngeal constriction continuum from fully unconstricted (left), as in ‘deep inspiration’, to fully constricted (right), as in epiglottal stop [ʡ]. These illustrations appear in Voice Quality: The Laryngeal Articulator Model, a book I co-authored with John Esling, Allison Benner, and Lise Crevier-Buchman. It also happened to win the LSA’s 2021 Leonard Bloomfield Book Award.

Given my background in art, the opportunity to develop an interactive articulatory model of the larynx seemed like the ultimate chance to marry my interests together. The only problem was my general lack of any formal training in the necessary technical fields. However, I was not deterred, and I soon learned what was needed to build my model (with no small amount of help from the online courses offered by Stanford University and MIT and some very patient engineering friends of mine). While topics like math, physics, and computer programming had previously seemed out of reach for me, having a clear purpose suddenly made them fresh and exciting. They started to reveal their secrets and surprising interconnections. I began to view them as a new sort of paint brush through which new dynamic forms of representation and understanding became possible.

As it would turn out, the computational skills and appreciation for math and science that I developed during my years as a graduate student have allowed me to pursue a career as a linguist. I have had the humbling opportunity to explore many issues within phonetics and phonology by applying computational modeling (for example, see, Figure 2), and I know that this will continue to be the way forward to help us tackle questions that would be difficult or impossible to address otherwise.

Figure 2: Video of the pressure distribution from 0 to 10 kHz for the vocal tract airway in the shape of an [u] computed using the Boundary Element – Rayleigh Integral Method (BERIM). As a fine arts student, I could not possibly have imagined that one day I would be tinkering with Fortran code to simulate 3D vocal tract acoustics.

I now also find myself honored to be in the position to teach phonetics to new generations of students, and modeling is a key part of my teaching. Physical models are helpful for teaching about anatomy and physiology of speech and hearing. In my own course, I take it to the next level by transforming my lessons into hands-on artistic experiences with anatomy. Each lesson, students build models of speech structures in class using modeling clay (see Figure 3).

Figure 3: Hands busy at work getting to know the structures of the vocal tract through sculpture in my course on anatomy and physiology of speech called “The Meat of Speech” that I teach at NTU in Singapore.

We have a lot of fun, but it also never ceases to amaze me how such a simple act of using modeling clay to “unproject” 2D representations of body structures into physical 3D structures reveals insights about form and function and produces that ‘a ha!’ moment in my students. I apply a similar hands-on approach in my other more technical courses, where we “digitally sculpt” the sound of the human voice. I know what it’s like to feel as though these more technical topics are “out of reach”, but I have the egalitarian belief that everyone can be empowered by becoming acquainted with them. In this way my occasionally STEM-shy humanities students begin to see the beauty in math, physics, and computer programming and how the marriage of disciplines provides powerful models that can help us gain new insight into speech and language.

Scott Moisik

Featured Linguist: Michał B. Paradowski

It is a great pleasure to be able to contribute to the Fund Drive for the LINGUIST List, a resource which I have relied on since my MA years, and now during each inaugural seminar meeting encourage students to subscribe to.
My adventure with linguistics officially began with my filing an application to the University of Warsaw’s Institute of English Studies. While up to that point my neighborhood and classrooms could not have been more monolingual and homogenous, I had always been drawn to other languages, even down to deciphering the mysterious ingredients and descriptions printed on foreign food packaging, or checking out translators’ footnotes/endnotes in novels.
My choice of courses at university zeroed in on Theoretical and Applied Linguistics. At the time, I also did a semester of teaching English as a foreign language in my former high school, getting many ideas from my observations of the classroom. I subsequently undertook a PhD under the supervision of Romuald Gozdawa-Gołębiowski, inspired by and expanding upon his Interface Model of comparative/contrastive ISLA. I was assigned to teach Generative Syntax 101, developing activities on the systemic and systematic mechanics of the English language. It was gratifying to see the students grasp the subject matter and ace the final exam, even those who were repeating the class. Parallel to the syntax classes, in my fresher year I again taught full-time at my old high school, which permitted gathering data for my dissertation. In the subsequent years, I focused on writing, with gainful employment restricted to the classes at the university and working as an ELT consultant for television, and a food and wine critic. Though the last of these may appear to be unrelated to linguistics, it will turn out to have more than merely anecdotal significance.
As it happened, after having won several culinary competitions and met the chefs, I interned in the kitchens of Warsaw’s hotels. While there, one of the U.S. chains asked me to help with a series of bilingual cookbooks they were planning to publish. My task was to translate, proofread and edit the content contributed by Polish chefs or other nonnative speakers of English. This assignment required familiarity with not only specialized lexis, but also the preferred structures and discourse conventions of American recipes. I approached the task by compiling a reference corpus, utilizing pre-edited and standardized recipes from a popular cookery software solution. Altogether, four bilingual cookbooks were published, but the process also led to the compilation of enough novel linguistic material to merit a couple of conference presentations and a Q1-listed journal paper. My internship at the Sheraton also paid off in a more tangible form: the contract included a clause whereby I could return to the pastry kitchen to bake a dessert for my PhD viva: a sponge base with roasted hazelnuts, followed by a layer of dark chocolate mousse, stewed Williams pear under a layer of Bourbon vanilla crème, and topped with matching glaze. I prepared the torte the day before the public defense and stored it overnight in the walk-in fridge. Then on the morning of the viva I carried it across the square to our institute, concealed it under the table (the formal green drapery was finally useful), and later served it to the committee and the guests in the audience. It was the icing on the cake, so to speak, of the various activities during my PhD days.
As in any journey, there were many other steps that fell into place naturally. One regret is an unrealized one-year Fulbright Research Grant to go to the Department of Second Language Studies, University of Hawai`i at Mānoa to work under the guidance of Bonnie Schwartz and Bob Bley-Vroman. For personal reasons, it was necessary for me to relinquish the grant and complete the dissertation ahead of time. However, an opportunity to briefly visit that department came one year later, when it hosted the Second Language Research Forum.
After graduating from the PhD program, I took a position as an assistant professor at the University of Warsaw’s Institute of Applied Linguistics. My enjoyment of teaching, learning, research, and interacting with other scholars also led me to look for opportunities to participate in inspiring conferences, which additionally permit catching up with old friends and making new ones in the field. Invitations to give guest lectures, workshops and public outreach talks have provided stimulating forums for exchanging ideas and insights with new audiences, thus far in over 30 countries.
A serendipitous accident in these wanderings took place one September day quite close to home, when walking past the old university library I stumbled upon an announcement for a workshop on language simulations. I walked in and spoke to the organizers, who graciously let me participate. It soon became clear why there had been no notice of the event at my institute: it was being organized and attended almost exclusively by physicists. I managed to understand the gist of most of the presentations, and began to ponder why linguists were not tackling the same research questions and instead seemed to be abandoning the field by walkover. One of my strengths has always been finding points of overlap and connection among different phenomena and disciplines, and a year later I got accepted to a summer school in complexity science organized by Henrik Jeldtoft Jensen and Kim Christensen from Imperial College London’s Department of Mathematics, and then to the European Conference on Complex Systems, thanks to the generosity of the late Dietrich Stauffer. Insights gained from subsequent events and readings led to two successful grant proposals applying the methodology and tools of complexity science to language phenomena. One, a small project carried out together with Łukasz Jonak, investigated the social diffusion of linguistic innovation in a microblogging site. A larger, current project financed by the National Science Centre of Poland and carried out in collaboration with six colleagues uses the tools of computational Social Network Analysis (SNA) to investigate how communication among participants in intensive immersive L2 courses influences their progress. While the importance of social networks has been recognized in the SLA community, especially among study abroad researchers, those works have typically tended to only consider learners’ egocentric networks – without obtaining equivalent reciprocal information – and have predominantly focused on communication with native speakers of the target language. The novelty of our approach lies in filling the gap by reconstructing (maximally) complete, directional weighted graphs of communication among the learners, as well as using a range of computational metrics, measures and algorithms that have been a staple in contemporary network science, though not in L2 research, despite their great utility. The first papers from the project can already be accessed at https://peerlang.ils.uw.edu.pl/publications/. We are currently seeking collaborators, so if anyone reading this is aware of intensive language courses being offered in this or next academic year, please share the information and get in touch with us – some remuneration is foreseen, as well as the potential for joint publications.
I have found it immensely motivating and inspiring to be able to learn about and straddle different disciplines, exchange ideas and work alongside skilled colleagues who bring different competencies to the table. For instance, my projects so far have benefitted from collaboration with a sociologist, psychologists, an anthropologist and ethnographer, computer scientists, a physicist, an epidemiologist, and education researchers. The interdisciplinary character of the research has expanded the scope of its outreach – by now our work has been presented in theoretical and applied linguistics/SLS/TESOL and related departments and conferences, as well as those focused on fields as diverse as education, psychology, sociology, mathematics, statistics, physics, complex systems and networks, robotics, and artificial intelligence.
The theme of this year’s LL Fund Drive is “silver linings”, and it would be impossible to speak of these without mentioning the COVID-19 pandemic. Apart from the countless human tragedies it has brought, it has meant introducing broad-based changes to teaching and research. In my own case, on the former front the protracted duration of working in the distance mode has been a bit daunting. While academic life had attracted me with its prospect of face-to-face interactions with students and colleagues, the pandemic has meant 1.5 years of talking to the computer screen (with the exception of a few invited mask-to-mask teaching stints abroad during brief re-openings). I have greatly missed daily interactions with friends, colleagues, and students. A major upset was the Presidential Proclamation, thwarting a planned lecture trip to the U.S. this year. One of the many things the pandemic has taught me is to take nothing for granted – and to be resourceful.
On the research side, the project of one of my PhD students suffered in particular: Agnieszka has been investigating how Polish speakers with Down’s syndrome process and comprehend different types of simple vs complex clauses. The study had been planned with in-person sessions in order to ensure a consistent protocol and to accompany the comprehension and reaction-time experiments with tests carried out under the supervision of a qualified psychologist. With the target participants being a vulnerable population, this was no longer possible to carry out during the pandemic, so the study needed to be modified, converted to an online format, and resubmitted to the IRB.
My main study-abroad grant project expectedly also ground to a halt. However, in early March of 2020, even before the school closures were announced in Poland, I was already thinking about the need to investigate how language teachers and learners would cope with this unprecedented and hurried transition to emergency remote instruction. Over the next five weeks, with the help of PhD student and psychology graduate Magda, a comprehensive, custom-made survey was developed and approved by IRB. In addition to the original surveys for language teachers and learners, we elaborated versions for instructors and students in linguistics and related fields, as well as for educators in non-language subjects. Though the questionnaire included 400+ items and would sometimes take upwards of 45 minutes to complete, we endeavored to see the stakeholders as human beings rather than merely in their instructors’ or students’ hats. The approach paid off: responses came in from nearly 9,000 participants from 118 countries (many of them recruited with the help of the LINGUIST List). So far, the data analyses have yielded six papers (shared at http://schoolclosure.ils.uw.edu.pl/publications/), which have merely scratched the surface of this massive dataset. Further analyses are forthcoming; we have also been joined by expert colleagues from other institutions and are looking forward to exciting collaborations.
The shift to the online delivery of language instruction has also opened up opportunities for investigating if and how brick-and-mortar classroom research topics have changed under distance learning. A grant project implemented by Magda and me will investigate the role of grit and complementary personality factors in L2 courses being offered online. (If the readers know someone who is or has just finished learning a second/foreign language online – or face-to-face, for that matter, as there is a corresponding version of the survey – please feel free to share the link to the study: https://L2grit.ils.uw.edu.pl; it has already obtained IRB approval.)
On the academic front, other pandemic-related changes have brought greater opportunities for participating in conferences, seminars, workshops and lectures close and far. It has become easier to move between sessions, or even between events. (Of course, the social component is missing, and events held on the other side of the world require staying up at odd hours.) Apart from open events, I have also been fortunate to join the SLS Colloquia at Indiana University-Bloomington (thanks for keeping me on the roster, Mike!), which I had missed since my sabbatical, the CSTAT Workshops at Michigan State (thanks, Kiyo and Marianne!), as well as advanced data analysis and visualization courses offered by the Institute of English Studies at our own university (thanks, Agnieszka, Karolina, and Breno!). This year also brought several invitations to give keynote talks, lectures, and workshops at events and in places that would have been hard to reach otherwise, especially during the academic year. Another outcome during these months has been the (sometimes reluctant) realization by administrative bodies that many council board meetings and other formalities can be successfully arranged online.
While the future may currently seem a bit less predictable (though life has never been exactly otherwise), at least two things seem certain: first, it is important to not only set goals, but also try to enjoy the path along the way. Second, linguistics is such a fascinating and ever-growing field that it will never keep us bored. I trust that the LINGUIST List will soon be filled again with new, exciting face-to-face events. If this is your wish as well, every donation to the Fund Drive helps keep this invaluable resource running smoothly.

Michał B. Paradowski
Institute of Applied Linguistics,
University of Warsaw

Featured Linguist: Bernard Comrie

My home town of Sunderland, in the northeast of England, was perhaps not the most propitious birth place for one whose interests were to encompass worldwide language diversity. Even less so the villages to the north of Sunderland where I grew up, and where hardly a foreign word was heard. It was, however, a good laboratory for lower-level diversity, at the dialect level. For don’t, the people to the north said divn’t [‘dɪvnt], while we said dinnot [‘dɪnət], and the folks to the south of Sunderland still used the thou series of second person singular pronouns. And I had an added source of linguistic diversity: a Jamaican father. While he never exposed us to Jamaican Creole, his English was still full of Jamaicanisms. His warning cry Mind you fall! (= Mind you don’t fall! in “mainstream” English) still rings in my ears. But whatever their source, the seeds of more exotic linguistic interest were sown, and at age 7 I duly told my mother that I wanted to learn French. My mother had “school French”, and she did everything to encourage my strange interest, even taking me on vacation to France a year later at a time when foreign vacations were by no means the norm in our social milieu. My first week immersed in a foreign language environment! I’m not sure that my parents ever really understood what drives me as a linguist. And certainly nothing is guaranteed to bring a tenured full professor of linguistics more rapidly down to earth than when their mother says So when are you going to get a real job? But they always offered me their fullest support.

At grammar school (≈ junior high school + high school) I took all the language offerings available, and even increased my oddity from the perspective of my peers by taking evening classes in Russian at the local community college. I also took advantage of the burgeoning possibilities of school trips to the European continent. I think that over the years I borrowed all the admittedly restricted set of foreign language textbooks from Sunderland library, and also started my own collection – one Teach Yourself language course (in those days just a book, with grammar and translation exercises) conveniently cost one week’s pocket money. But then came the real revelation, when the library started getting books about a subject called linguistics.  I already knew what I wanted to be: a linguist! Incidentally, it was also in grammar school that I undertook my first typological project, though I wouldn’t have known to name it that at the time. The Classics teacher had just introduced the Ancient Greek rule whereby a neuter plural subject requires singular verb agreement, and mused whether any other languages had a similar rule. I took that as a personal challenge and scoured the grammars available to me to draw up a list of comparable phenomena. With hindsight, the sample was ludicrously small and biased, and my results were certainly not a publishable article, but I had cut my typological teeth.

My undergraduate and graduate years at Cambridge were a mix of advanced language study (French, German, Russian), historical linguistics, and what was then a rather new academic subject in Britain, namely (general) linguistics. In my student days the last was largely generative grammar of the day, though I always had my mind on cross-linguistic variation, and soon after completing my doctoral dissertation I moved definitively toward linguistic typology. I’ll fast forward through the rest of my career to leave time for the present, but suffice it to say that I have doggedly pursued the view that understanding Language means understanding languages, that the linguist has to take cross-linguistic diversity seriously. And needless to say, I have been pleased to see more and more subfields of linguistics and approaches to language embracing this ideal. The phenomena that have interested me have been primarily syntactic, with some excursions into morphology and semantics (and even beyond), with recurring interests being relative clauses, valence and voice, and alignment – I consider my first meeting with the phenomenon of ergativity to be one of the truly transformative events of my life. Throughout this time and across the world, I have been blessed with teachers, colleagues, and students (these are not always discrete categories) who have provided an environment that has cherished my approach to language. In addition, I have had the opportunity to work with members of indigenous communities who have broadened not only my understanding of language but also my outlook on life. My great hope for the future: that indigenous communities will be empowered to study their own languages.

The COVID-19 pandemic in which we currently find ourselves is a tragedy, including for indigenous communities, and nothing that I will go on to say detracts from this. But for me, there have indeed been some silver linings. One has been the development of online lectures, which means both that I have been able to “attend” lectures that even in the best of times would have been geographically inaccessible to me, and also that I have been able to present my own ideas to international audiences, and even have them immortalized on YouTube. Another has been the opportunity – forced by necessity – to explore the range of scientific resources available on the internet, especially during the period when libraries were hermetically sealed and interlibrary loan inoperative. For instance, I am working on a project that requires me to identify basic color terms in a fixed set of Germanic, Slavic, and Romance languages. Under current circumstances, where was I going to find the relevant material for Wymysorys, an offshoot of German spoken in the small town of Wilamowice, Poland? Catalogs told me that an extensive dictionary was published in Poland in the 1930s, but imagine my joy when I discovered that an excellent photographic reproduction of the dictionary is available at Wikimedia Commons. And where was I going to find the color terms of Istro-Romanian, spoken by a few hundred people in a handful of villages on the Istrian peninsula in Croatia? Well, it turns out that an article on just this topic is available open access on the web site of the Slovenian journal Jezikoslovni zapiski. Does this mean that I will be avoiding the library when it reopens? Far from it. I already have a list of references that are not available online and that I will need to check via interlibrary loan once I have worked through the material I already have. And just as a library needs librarians to curate its holdings, so too the various internet sites that I have been exploiting also need to be curated – it is only too easy to take for granted that things are freely available on the internet while forgetting how much effort and cost is involved in keeping existing material accessible and making new material available.

Which brings me to the Linguist List. I can remember a time before there was the Linguist List, though those memories are getting vague. How did we cope in those days? Well, to be honest, we just did without a lot of information, or in some cases could get the information but only by time-consuming means of varying reliability. No ready list of conferences across different subfields and in different parts of the world; you basically found out about the conferences linked to societies you had joined and networks you had infiltrated, with the information circulating by snail mail. No ready list of new publications. If you had a question, you could ask the people around you, and you might send letters to a few others, but the thought of reaching thousands of people instantaneously was not even a dream. Now all of this and much more is available thanks to the Linguist List. But this easy accessibility has its danger: We start to take it for granted. It is only thanks to the hard work of the Linguist List team that this material is available, and curating this material does cost money. So please, donate what you can to the Linguist List. Every small amount helps. Each year I make sure that I make my own donation, secure in the knowledge that this sum is going to benefit our field in a way that would not have been imaginable just a few decades ago, but that now is indispensable.

Featured Linguist: Colin Phillips

This week, we are pleased to bring you the work of Professor Colin Phillips for our Featured Linguist!

When the LINGUIST editors invited me to write a piece for this year’s 30th anniversary fund drive, I was curious to dig into the LINGUIST archives. LINGUIST started shortly after I started in the field. Like, really shortly. So LINGUIST and me were finding our feet right around the same time, in late 1990.

A quick scan of the first 6 months of LINGUIST turned up this message:

Date: Thur, 04 Apr 91
Subject: Our 1000th Subscriber
If we were not an academic organization, and therefore had some money, we might hand out a prize for this. As it is, all we have to offer is congratulations to Colin Phillips ([email protected]), who is our 1000th subscriber.

I was an exchange student in linguistics at the University of Rochester at the time, taking a year to find some direction in my life. I was definitely finding that direction.

Finding linguistics felt like a kind of destiny for me. In high school in the UK I learned lots of languages and studied mathematics. They didn’t offer psychology, but I would have signed up in a heartbeat if I could. At age 16 my math teacher, who everybody considered a bit nutty, told me there was this guy called Chomsky who I should look into. Living in a farming town, pre-internet, I didn’t know how to follow up on that prescient tip. In college, at Oxford University, I followed a literature path, and focused on medieval German. It was the comparative psychology aspect that interested me the most when learning about the medieval world.

I’m not entirely sure how I got to be in Rochester. There was an exchange scholarship, and I was told that nobody else had applied. I checked a US map in a local bookstore, and it looked like Rochester was just outside New York City. I had no grasp of the scale of the US.

Within two weeks of arriving in Rochester I was smitten. I was surrounded by energetic students and faculty from many different countries who were arguing about language using ideas from multiple fields: linguistics, psychology, computer science, philosophy. They cared deeply about each others’ answers. They were so well integrated that it was hard to tell which students were from which field. It was pure good luck that I had stumbled into this incredibly vibrant pocket of language science. After my years as an isolated medievalist, it was intoxicating. I wanted more. By the time I signed up for LINGUIST List, I was wrapping up a life-changing year in Rochester, and preparing to move to Cambridge, MA to join the graduate program at MIT.

A scan of the first 6 months of LINGUIST turns up some surprises.

There is a post from Andrea Zukowski. At the time we were both graduate students in Rochester. She was in Psychology. We have now been married almost 25 years, and our child is a college freshman at the U of Maryland. Andrea was posting about a conference she was organizing in Rochester. It was the first time the CUNY Sentence Processing Conference was held outside New York City. I wasn’t a psycholinguist at the time, but I have now attended that conference every year since 1995. Not only because it was how I met my wife.

The early issues contain a lot of back-and-forth discussions among well-known linguists, such as a long-running discussion about cognitive linguistics involving George Lakoff, Vicki Fromkin and many others. And since websites were not yet a thing, there are surprisingly many posts asking, “Hey, does anybody have contact information for so-and-so?”

In May 1991 there is a post from John Lawler about the LINGUIST List archive that he was curating, pointing out that the “spectacular growth” of the list over its first few months had led to the archive file reaching 2MB in size.

Innocent times indeed. And so it’s little wonder that fields like psycholinguistics were less accessible to linguists at the time, too.

I went to MIT planning to be a semanticist. Clearly, that didn’t work out. I didn’t intend to become a psycholinguist. Linguistics students at MIT were not doing that kind of work. That was typical of most programs at the time, with a couple of exceptions, such as UMass. If you wanted to do psycholinguistics, you went to a psychology department. By another stroke of luck, my first couple of years in Cambridge coincided with some new grants that aimed to create bridges between fields.

Alec Marantz, David Poeppel and I started exploring MEG research on speech perception in 1993. On our first trip to New York City to collect some data we missed the last flight back to Boston. We were sleeping on the floor of La Guardia airport at 4am.

My dissertation work grew out of another accident. I was embarrassingly delinquent on some class projects. One night I was lying awake worrying, when I realized that I could kill two birds with one stone. A paper on incremental structure building that I owed Ted Gibson for a psycholinguistics class could do double duty as a paper on syntactic constituency that I owed David Pesetsky. The path that I started along that night is one that I have been following ever since, though in ways that I could never have predicted.

When I started my first faculty job, at the University of Delaware in 1997, I was hired as a hybrid syntactician and psycholinguist. I had limited lab experience and was learning on the job. UD was relatively unusual for the time in hiring a psycholinguist into a linguistics department.

In those days a linguist could feel like an outlier in psycholinguistics conferences. I remember feeling particularly despondent after the 1999 CUNY Conference in New York City. The conference was hosted by the CUNY Linguistics Department, but linguists were a small and marginalized group at the conference.

The role of psycholinguistics in linguistics has changed dramatically during my time in the field.

Psycholinguistics used to be something that you would go to the psychology department to do. Nowadays it is an entirely normal part of a linguistics department.

Experimental research used to be exotic in linguistics departments. Now it’s routine. Of course, it’s easier now than it used to be. (Not that today’s psycholinguists are slackers.)

Computational research used to be largely out of reach for linguists. Now it’s more normal. There was a time when I was technically on the cutting edge for a linguist. Nowadays my students leave me in the dust with their computational skills.

The growth of psycholinguistics within linguistics has been remarkable. It is no longer a “Cinderella” field. I no longer feel like an outlier at the conferences that I regularly attend.

Some things have changed faster, such as faculty and student interests, and the range of research methods used. Some things have changed more slowly, such as curricula and publishing practices. Linguistics curricula are gradually moving away from a traditional canon that marginalizes psycholinguistics. Psycholinguistics publishing remains dominated by psychologists. Currently I’m happy to be part of a team that is preparing to launch the new journal Glossa: Psycholinguistics that aims to sit squarely between fields.

A surprise to me has been the rise in popularity of adult psycholinguistics among linguists. When I started in the field language acquisition was taken more seriously by linguists. But the balance of interests shifted at some point. I hope to see a resurgence of interest in learning issues among linguists.

What future directions do I predict or hope for psycholinguistics?

It’s too easy to predict more data using more diverse tools from a wider range of languages. Of course, this is almost certain to happen. Bringing in evidence from more languages is a very good thing. But more data won’t necessarily get us better questions or answers.

There’s no doubt that computational tools will play an increasingly important role in psycholinguistics. I hope that this will be accompanied by more widespread computational thinking. Nowadays we have relatively easy access to complex computational models, and to powerful toolboxes for statistical analyses. There’s a bit of an arms race. But I would place my bets on the most useful insights coming from relatively simple models. We often learn the most from computational models that take us a little beyond what we can do with thought experiments alone. If the model then yields surprises, we can figure out the cause of the surprise. At that point we understand our own hypotheses better, and we can then do better thought experiments.

The COVID-19 pandemic has clearly limited the kinds of data that we can gather as psycholinguists. Right now we have no clear sense of when we will be able to do eye-tracking or EEG experiments again. But the pandemic has also launched a time of remarkable creativity in data collection. As I write this, we are planning a Japanese speech production experiment. The speech data will be collected via the internet, taking just a couple of days, while we are mostly isolated in Maryland. This was unimaginable twenty years ago. The new possibilities for online data collection could advance cross linguistic research in psycholinguistics more than anything else in recent decades.

I am generally happy with where psycholinguistics is as a field currently. There are many talented young people who combine linguistic expertise with sophisticated experimental and computational skills. They are asking questions about mental linguistic computation that simply weren’t on our radar when I was cutting my teeth.

I feel really fortunate that a series of accidents led to me finding myself in the middle of this thriving field.

Thanks for reading and if you want to donate to the LINGUIST List, you can do so here: https://funddrive.linguistlist.org/donate/

All the best,
– The LL Team

Featured Linguist: Bonny Sands

This week, we are happy to bring you the work of Professor Bonny Sands for our Featured Linguist!

Professor Bonny Sands

The mostly blue-collar suburb on the outskirts of Portland, Oregon where I grew up was not the best place for a hopeful polyglot in the 1970s and early ’80s. Today, the area has many shops, churches and other establishments with signs in Russian, Korean, and Spanish. Back then, classmates who used languages other than English in their homes were small in number, and, with the exception of ASL, I don’t recall any languages being shared at school much. Looking back, I can see that I missed opportunities for learning about other languages and cultures; I failed to pay attention because English dominated the linguistic landscape. I tried learning about languages from books but rarely got past the sections on pronunciation which inevitably had something about the vowel in “caught” being different than the vowel in “cot”, which made absolutely no sense to me.

When my older brother Ron took French in high school, he taught me and my twin sister a few words and phrases such as “Fermez la porte!” when we were still in grade school. I still remember being fascinated that the French word porte was like the word ‘portal’ that I knew from watching Star Trek. Just about my only exposure to African languages at that point would have been Lieutenant Uhura speaking a few words of Kiswahili in a Star Trek episode. (I was definitely a nerd before that was a cool thing to be). In middle school, I liked to read the dictionary and find more about the roots that connected different words together. I sought out books such as Mario Pei’s “The Story of Language” and Isaac Asimov’s “Words from History” to learn more. When this same brother brought home a course catalog from the University of Oregon, I studied it, imagining all the things I might get to learn about one day. I came across this thing called “Linguistics” and learned that was a major where you could learn about all of the languages of the world. How fun! You wouldn’t have to be limited to a single language! When it came time for me to think about college, I narrowed down my choices by only looking at ones that had a Linguistics major. When I took Introduction to Linguistics the first semester of my Freshman year (with David Odden, at Yale University), I was pretty much hooked.

Of course, being a linguist is not the same as learning to speak many languages. I love learning about languages even more than I love learning them. I really wanted to be a historical linguist, given my interest in etymology, but didn’t know how I could do that given my lack of language-learning achievements at that point. I took Historical Linguistics & Intro to Indo-European with Stephanie Jamison, which I loved, but never having studied Latin, Greek, etc. I didn’t see how I could specialize as an Indo-European historical linguist. I had a lot of great classes as an undergrad that allowed me to learn about languages as diverse as Pangasinan, Icelandic and Classical Chinese. I learned about syntax, language acquisition, field methods, etc. but besides historical linguistics, the other subject that really grabbed me was phonetics. The time I spent with a speech therapist as a child learning how to correct a lisp taught me early on about my alveolar ridge, and how to listen to myself and adjust my pronunciation. I loved learning about ejectives, implosives and clicks in Louis Goldstein’s phonetics class and about patterning of sounds in Pam Beddor’s phonology class. Even though I have an abiding interest in (pre)history, I wanted to study living languages, since there’s something about teaching your mouth to move in a different way that is so much fun. (Like watching a ballet dancer on “So You Think You Can Dance” learn to dance hip-hop, or seeing a b-boy tackle a jazz number).

My specialization in African linguistics was due in large part to the fact that Kiswahili was taught at Yale using a method called soft-immersion. Having failed to become fluent enough after four years of study (with all A’s!) to pass an advanced French class, I knew I’d never become fluent in another language without learning through immersion. My Junior year, I took Kiswahili at 9am, then went straight to German at 10am. The languages were so different and taught in such different ways that I never got them confused and I was happy to make up for lost time in learning languages. I don’t have any extraordinary talent for language-learning but just put in the time to acquire the skills needed to do fieldwork and to read the literature in at least one part of the world.

I was excited by the choice of Kiswahili. I felt it was wrong that my schooling up to that point had taught me so little about Africa and I had (and still have!) a strong conviction that every adult should know basic facts about different parts of the world — such as, what languages are spoken there. About a third of the world’s languages are in Africa, so even as a supposed expert, I find myself in a (blissful) constant state of learning.

My two years of Kiswahili (plus a summer-abroad in Kenya) was enough for the label “Africanist” to be bestowed upon me when I started grad school at UCLA, despite having done relatively little to earn it at that point. I happened upon the study of clicks for my MA thesis when Peter Ladefoged suggested I work on some recordings of isiXhosa that Rosalie Finlayson of UNISA had sent him. He and Ian Maddieson had a series of NSF grants that resulted in their book “The Sounds of the World’s Languages”, and they took me with them to Kenya and Tanzania to record words of the click languages Dahalo, Hadza and Sandawe. I returned to Tanzania to continue working on Hadza (resulting in the sketches in Routledge volume “The Khoesan Languages”, ed. Rainer Vossen). Since my dissertation work (supervised by Tom Hinnebusch and Ian Maddieson) showed that Hadza is best viewed as a language isolate, I shifted my research focus to Khoesan languages in the Kalahari Basin, where I could collect data for historical reconstruction and phonetic description. Since being at Northern Arizona University, I have conducted fieldwork on languages such as Nǀuu, ǂHoan, and varieties of !Xun with colleagues Amanda Miller, Chris Collins, Levi Namaseb, Andy Chebanne, and others. Some of these findings are published in the book “Click Consonants”, published by Brill.

These days, I am transitioning away from fieldwork and trying to focus on publishing more. I’ve enjoyed expanding my knowledge of African languages to be able to write surveys on topics as diverse as: “Language revitalization in Africa”, ” The sounds of the Bantu languages”, “Tonogenesis”, and “Tracing language contact in Africa’s past”.

Linguistics as a discipline still has so much to learn from Africans and African languages. It is a deeply rewarding area of study and I encourage everyone to seek to know more about this large and important part of the world.

Thanks for reading and if you want to donate to the LINGUIST List, you can do so here: https://funddrive.linguistlist.org/donate/

All the best,
– The LL Team

Featured Linguist: Naomi Nagy

For this week’s Featured Linguist post, we bring you some great work being done by Professor Naomi Nagy at the University of Toronto.
Be sure to check the link at the end since it contains the lion’s share of the information for this week’s post!

My need to understand how languages work in multilingual contexts goes back to my childhood. I remember learning that my hometown of Montreal was famous as a bilingual city. As a preschooler, I thought the two relevant languages were Hungarian and English – the languages I heard among family and friends. When I learned a few years later that it was actually French and English that “counted,” and that there was a long history of scholarship about how these language influence each other, my passion for linguistics was born. Today, I work with a vibrant group of students to document and examine Toronto’s heritage languages, as reported here [LINK: https://www.artsci.utoronto.ca/news/hong-kong-toronto-undergrad-researchers-study-variation-and-change-cantonese].”

Thanks for reading and if you want to donate to the LINGUIST List, you can do so here: https://funddrive.linguistlist.org/donate/

All the best,
– The LL Team

Featured Linguist: Amani Lusekelo

For this week’s Featured Linguist we are pleased to present Professor Amani Lusekelo!

Associate Professor of Linguistics, University of Dar es Salaam

Amani Lusekelo

I cannot recall anytime that I had inspirations of becoming a linguist. That I shall never claim. But I cannot ignore the fact that I became a linguist by effort, mainly in search of full-time scholarship.

I was born in an administrative district called Rungwe in Southern Highlands of Tanzania in East Africa. Both parents of mine, Bernard Lusekelo and Janeth Ndambo, were born in the families of the Moravian church clergy-men Undule and Mwandambo, respectively. I am the seventh-born child in the family of ten children.

My father worked first as a primary school teacher and later as an office administrator in many parts of Tanzania but came to retire in the office of Rungwe District Council. My mother, remained home to care for us, her precious children. By 1983, when I joined Lupale Primary School, my father had already retired and moved to Nkunga village, some 25 kilometres from the district headquarters at Tukuyu. The village of Nkunga is the first landmark for me to acquire Nyakyusa Bantu (Guthrie’s group M31), the language of the majority in the village, and my future tongue of research specialisation. Swahili Bantu became my second language, as it was and has remained the language of primary schooling in Tanzania.

I learned much of spoken Swahili at Kipoke and Kantalamba schools where I attended secondary education in Tanzania. In the late 1990s, I trained for teacher education in Tanzania and I was stationed at Saba Secondary School in Tanzania, teaching Geography and English Language. Perhaps both, my college training and blood lineage allowed me to be passionate about teaching. Both my grandfathers were teachers in the church. My father was a teacher in a school. I, too, remained a teacher for more than two decades now! And I shall continue teaching and researching about African languages.

During my undergraduate programme at the University of Dar es Salaam (between 2001 and 2005), I double majored Geography and English Linguistics. I minored in education (pedagogy) studies. My best scores and interests were skewed towards Geography, perhaps having taught more Geography sessions in secondary schools in Tanzania. And I was training further as a secondary school teacher of Geography. At the end of my four-year bachelor degree programme in the mid-2005, I was awarded a full-time scholarship to undertake a master’s degree in linguistics, majoring in Bantu languages (Bantuistics). Now my life turned from that of a teacher of Geography to a student of advanced linguistics.

With regard to Bantuistics, my favourite specialisation, I received inspirations from my lecturers, specifically, Abel Mreta, Henry Muzale, Josephat Rugemalira, and David Massamba. In fact, Bantuistics became funny and enjoyable at the master’s level! The enjoyment continued when writing my thesis on the tense and aspect system of my mother-tongue Nyakyusa as both my late teacher, Abel Mreta, became the best supervisor, and my late mother, Janeth Ndambo, became the best informant! The funnier part was that I am a mother-tongue speaker of Nyakyusa, thus, I personally produced several useful datasets, which I then personally analysed! As I pointed out in my current publication (“Why did you choose Runyambo instead of Ruhaya for your research project? By the way, why not choose Kiswahili, the national language? ‘Forces’ acting upon the choice of language of research in Tanzania” Journal of Linguistics and Language in Education (2019)), I believe that research in mother-tongue language should be encouraged.

In between my studies for master’s degree programme, in 2006, I assumed a position in the Department of Foreign Languages and Literature (Incorporating Communication Skills unit) at the Dar es Salaam University College of Education, the Constituent College of the University of Dar es Salaam. Then, I became a (formal) linguistics teacher (perhaps a linguist on training post as well). Today, I still teach linguistics at Dar es Salaam University College of Education!

The University of Cape Town in South Africa awarded me a two-year doctoral fellowship under the auspices of USHEPiA. By 2010, I was writing my doctoral thesis under the supervision of Herman Batibo, the distinguished scholar in African languages (https://linguistlist.org/studentportal/linguists/batibo.cfm). By December 2012, I graduated from the University of Botswana and returned to my working station, Dar es Salaam University College of Education in Tanzania. At that time, I became one amongst a handful of academics holding doctoral degrees at the university college.


As a teaching linguist at the university college, I generally teach three undergraduate courses: Introduction to Linguistics, Linguistic Morphology, and Syntactic Theory. I also teach four graduate courses: Contact Linguistics, Sociolinguistics of International Languages, Research Methods in Language Studies, and Advanced Morphology. To support my teaching of undergraduate students, I have written and published locally two course-books which include illustrative cases from Swahili and English, namely, “A coursebook of syntactic theories” and “Linguistic morphology”. A course-book on Introduction to General Linguistics remains a challenge that I have not realised. Perhaps a collaboration with my graduate students should be the target now because my focus has been on contact and anthropological linguistics.

Inspired by a paper produced by Josephat Rugemalira in 2007 (i.e. “The structure of Bantu noun phrase” SOAS Working Papers in Linguistics), I concentrated much attention on the structure of noun phrases of eastern and southern Bantu languages, but particularly my mother-tongue Nyakyusa. In this line, my earlier publications were really skewed towards Bantuistics, e.g. “The structure of the Nyakyusa noun phrase” Nordic Journal of African Studies (2009), “Criteria for identification of determiners in Bantu noun phrases” Journal of the Linguistics Association of Southern African Development Community Universities (2013), and “Distribution of ɸ-features in Bantu DPs and vPs: The case of concord and agree in Kiswahili and Kinyakyusa” Journal of Linguistics and Language in Education (2015).

My journey to the University of Botswana was very fruitful not only on my doctoral studies but also interests on Khoisan linguistics. Besides Herman Batibo, both Andy Chebanne (an African linguist from Botswana) and Chris Collins (an American syntactician and Khoisanist) invited me to field trips in the Khoisan villages in Botswana. Apart from enjoying the countryside in that country, I learned a lot on how to gather data from smaller communities. It was very fascinating to learn the intricate issues related to clicks, tone patterns, syllable structure, and sound systems of the Khoisan languages of Botswana. But being a new comer to Khoisan linguistics, I feared sound patterns of Khoisan languages. But I, too, got inspired to write a small-grant application and got funding from Endangered Language Fund. I had to undertake an investigation of personal names amongst the Hadzabe society of Tanzania.

The experience with the Hadzabe people in Mang’ola area (Karatu district) and Yaeda Chini village (Mbulu district) in northern Tanzania turned out to be very influential in my interests in sociolinguistics, onomastics, and linguistic anthropology. I submitted another application to African Humanities Program in order to continue the study of the culture of the Hadzabe. By 2015, after a fellowship stay at University of Ibadan in Nigeria, I published a book on the Hadzabe culture titled “The Hadzabe Society of Tanzania”.

With Hadzabe datasets, I could articulate a lot of issues related with contact linguistics in other publications of mine (see “Language contact in Lake Eyasi area in north-western Tanzania” Journal of Historical Society of Nigeria (2013) and “The consequences of the contacts between Bantu and non-Bantu languages around Lake Eyasi in northern Tanzania International Journal of Society, Culture & Language (2015).

The exposure to the Hadzabe culture had shaped a lot my teaching of research methods to graduate students. This happens because Nyakyusa, my first research experience, had been associated with moving into villages where I was fully known. Gathering rapport with villagers is always smooth. But with the Hadzabe, I had to establish and maintain contacts, and use these contact personnel to recruit more informants. And this is not always an easy task!

My concentration on the Hadzabe slowed down in between 2005 and 2018. With funding obtained from the collaboration of the University of Dar es Salaam and Michigan State University, I shifted my attention to conducting research amongst school children in Maasai villages in Monduli district I northern Tanzania. Issues of language contact between Swahili Bantu and Nilotic Maasai became the centre of attention for my research (see “Education-induced borrowing in Tanzania: Penetration of Swahili nouns into Maa (Maasai) and Hadzane (Hadzabe). Language Matters 2017). Although I did not produce much on the Maasai, I still reserve some energy so that in future I shall return back to the Maasai people and conduct research on issues related to the spread of the Maasai in Tanzania and the linguistic and social outcome of their contacts with speakers of other languages.

In addition, in 2012, when I returned home from the University of Botswana, I was assigned to the position of Associate Chief Editor of the only journal available at Dar es Salaam University College of Education. Since all Chief Editors held administrative positions in the University of Dar es Salaam, I remained the key personnel to handle all matters arising from the submissions, reviews, acceptances, major corrections, and rejections! And from this exercise, I grew up exponentially, as regards journal article authorship.

Furthermore, in 2013, I participated fully in revamping the Journal of Linguistics and Languages in Education (Department of Foreign Languages and Linguistics at the University of Dar es Salaam) as a co-editor, assisting the Chief Editor, by then my former teacher and supervisor, Abel Mreta. Besides the editorial tasks and review requests, I contribute articles to this journal, e.g. “DP-internal and V-external agreement patterns in eastern Bantu: Re-statement of the facts in eastern Bantu” Journal of Linguistics and Language in Education (2013).

Swahili, as the official language and medium of instruction in schools in the country, has tremendous impact on languages of East Africa. Since I teach contact linguistics, borrowing is one of my areas of interest. For the past ten years, I have researched on the impact of Swahili on Bantu languages (see “The spread of Kiswahili lexis into the interior Bantu: The case of names of New World cereals and tubers in Tanzanian Bantu” Kioo cha Lugha 2016) and non-Bantu languages of Tanzania (see “The incorporation of the Kiswahili names of cereals and tubers in the non-Bantu languages in Tanzania” Utafiti Journal of African Perspectives 2019). Some of the data is obtained from the assistant of undergraduate students, while a bulky of datasets had been elicited from graduate students in the University of Dar es Salaam. To me, my university college is both, the point of work where I teach linguistics, and the language laboratory where I gather a lot of data for my scholarship. In the way, I teach some of my students, with whom some I co-author (see “The linguistic landscape in urban Tanzania: An account of the language of billboards and shop-signs in district headquarters” Journal of Language, Technology and Entrepreneurship in Africa 2018).

Since 2018, Roland Kiessling and I (together with our graduate students) are engaged in the research project about the Nilotic Datooga, spoken in north-western Tanzania. In the first phase of the project (year 2018 through 2021), we focus on the speakers of Datooga dialect called Gisamjanga in Mbulu district and Taturu in Igunga district within the country. Since I am a new comer to the Nilo-Saharan family, I work with the peripheral topics associated with languages in contact in Tanzania. I personally visited other Datooga group called Rotigenga who settled in Bunda district in northern Tanzania.

So far the project has strengthened my knowledge of fieldwork practices because I have learned a lot from the exposure that Rolland Kiessling offers. Consequently, under the auspices of the Datooga project in the University of Dar es Salaam, I have worked on the impact of the Sukuma Bantu on Nilotic Datooga in Igunga district. I came up with the paper “Adaptation of Sukuma loanwords in the western dialects of Datooga (Taturu) and its dialectological implications” (Ethnologia Actualis 2019).

I have gained a number of new techniques towards establishing tools for data collection. I shall share an exemplary case here. Roland Kiessling and I wanted to investigate the internal structure of the noun phrase of Nilotic Datooga. I was assigned a task to come up with a research tool. I extracted a questionnaire developed by Language of Tanzania Project in the University of Dar es Salaam. Unfortunately it turned out that the questionnaire was designed to capture data for the noun phrases of Bantu languages. It did not fit the patterns of noun phrases in Nilotic languages. During the course of elicitation session, Roland Kiessling, had to construct question-items to suit the Datooga patterns. Had I been alone in the field, I would have abandoned this task!

Notice that I have not moved out of Khoisan linguistics. Currently, I am also engaged in a project sponsored by the University of Dar es Salaam that focuses on plants and crops amongst the Hadzabe people. It is my expectation that at the end of 24 months, I will be able to gather names and utilities of more than 250 plants and crops in this community. In collaboration with natural scientists (chemist Ebert Mbukwa and botanist Halima Amir) and a specialist of African literature (Micky Mgeja), we will be in the position to write some three articles. Currently, Micky Mgeja and I have this accepted article: “Linguistic and social outcomes of interactions of Hadzabe and Sukuma in north-western Tanzania” Utafiti Journal of African Perspectives (2020). I, too, focus on writing this monograph (it reached 180 pages): “Plant nomenclature and ethnobotany of the Hadzabe society of Tanzania”.

With both Datooga and Hadzabe datasets at hand, I have managed to revisit a number of claims which I previously made particularly as regards lexical borrowing as a result of contact of speakers of different languages. I will urge African universities to continue funding researches as they keep building the knowledge of the academics.

In the course of building my career through supervision of master and doctoral students, who are more than 30 now, I must confess that I learn a lot from them! For instance, one of my doctoral student wrote about the noun phrase structure of Iraqw, the Cushitic language of Tanzania. The patterns within the noun phrase are quite distinct from the patterns I was aware of from Bantu noun phrases. Another doctoral student is applying the framework propagated by Harald Baayen on transparency, frequency and productivity of deverbalising suffixes in Bantu languages. Previously, I had not paid much attention to this framework. Her choice of this framework sparkled my interest in it. Also, one master’s candidate wrote about semantic extension of the body parts, a subject matter which I have not mastered fully, even for the paper we co-authored: “An analysis of metaphoric use of names of body parts in the Bantu language Kifipa” International Journal of Society, Culture & Language (2014). But some students of mine have researched about the subject matter which I am very aware of, for instance, categorial properties of adjectives, adverbs and nouns (see “Properties of the adjective category in Runyambo” South African Journal of African Languages 2020).

Thanks for reading and if you want to donate to the LINGUIST List, you can do so here: https://funddrive.linguistlist.org/donate/

All the best,
–the LL Team

Featured Linguist: Adele Goldberg

For this week’s featured linguist, we are proud to present Professor Adele Goldberg!

Professor Adele Goldberg

As a kid, my mom always praised me for being logical. Not appreciating how generously mothers view their children, I took this praise very literally and as an undergraduate at U of Penn, I signed up for all of the courses related to logic I could find. I ended up majoring in math and philosophy:  Math, because my parents wanted to ensure I would be employable, and philosophy because I was interested in the philosophy of mind (and because I had a lot of courses in logic).

When I graduated, I had no idea what I wanted to do, and the job market was lousy. If I could only afford it, I just wanted to continue taking classes. This passion, to just be a student, is what led me to graduate school. I was lucky to stumble into UC Berkeley’s Logic and Methodology of Science PhD program which very generously offered me a fellowship despite my rudderlessness. The philosophers in the program were kind and excellent teachers, but the math professors I met in those days were somewhat less skilled at teaching or relating to people. One told us that we should think of him as a fountain of knowledge and then cupped his hands to inform us that we should try to drink the downpour. Another scribbled his lectures on the chalkboard without turning around. I had a sense of not fitting in. Many of the students I began the program with, including all of the women, soon dispersed to other programs on campus.

Perusing the course catalogue in 1987, I found a class by George Lakoff, who had just published Women, Fire, and Dangerous Ideas, which we read and discussed in class. As he pirouetted through topics that crossed linguistics, psychology, cognitive science, math, and philosophy, I was riveted. His enthusiasm for the ideas was palpable. And he seemed pleased to find a potential “convert” from the Logic program.

Transferring to the linguistics program felt like coming home. In my fellow graduate students,  I found kindred spirits. Since we were all expected to take undergraduate classes, the fact that I had virtually no background in linguistics didn’t present much of a problem. I boldly asked the simplest questions “what is the subject in that passive?” which were generously interpreted as deep (“what is a subject?”). Chuck Fillmore and Paul Kay co-taught a course in which they formulated an evolving version of construction grammar. They filled their classes with laughter, a sense of shared curiosity, and a deep appreciation for the richness of language. George Lakoff taught a graduate level “boot camp” where we all learned to come up with examples and counter-examples to formulate and then challenge every idea. He always made time for students, happy to talk shop for hours at the slightest provocation. I was giddy that we were encouraged to take classes in computer science, psychology, cognitive science, and education, with faculty from the same varied departments sharing the narrow halls of a drafty temporary barracks with a dozen of us graduate students.

By sheer luck, I landed a faculty position right after graduating, at UCSD: in a brilliant and eclectic linguistics department with strong ties to the cognitive science department. Luminaries included Liz Bates, Jeff Elman, Marta Kutas, Ron Langacker, and David Perlmutter. It was at UCSD that I learned to appreciate the wealth of evidence for the usage-based approach to language. I also began to take part in the sort of experimental work that I had always felt was important.

I would have happily stayed at UCSD for my entire career, but my husband and I were commuting as he finished his postdoc in the Bay Area. When I interviewed for a new job at UIUC, I attempted to hide my pregnancy under a blousy dress, only later learning that this was entirely unnecessary (and unsuccessful). At UIUC, I found another welcoming community, where I was exposed to new perspectives and new skills. Like UCSD, UIUC had an active cognitive science community at the Beckman Institute, with Kay Bock, Gary Dell, Cindy Fisher, Susan Garnsey, Greg Murphy and Brian Ross. I came to appreciate how to apply the constructionist perspective to learning and processing work, enjoying the thrill of collaborative research.

I’ve come to feel that moving is the best way to grow as a researcher, as day to day interactions with new colleagues have a way of suffusing one’s thinking with new perspectives and ideas. In 2004, we came to Princeton, an hour from where I grew up in Pennsylvania. The cutting-edge work here in experimental methods, neuroscience, and machine learning has convinced me that linguistics needs to embrace the full range of methods at our disposal.

I also now see that there are many unifying themes across newer work in linguistics. The usage-based constructionist perspective offers theoretical grounding for the growing field of sociolinguistics by emphasizing that language is a complex dynamic system with an important social dimension. The approach is also a natural counterpart to the healthy field of laboratory phonology, applied to grammar rather than sound:  both emphasize that generalizations emerge from learned distributions constrained by our general perceptual and cognitive abilities. The impressive strides being made within machine learning provides evidence that language can be learned, while simultaneously making clear that communicative goals are required to shape what it is that we learn.

Thanks to brilliant and committed students and postdocs, I’ve been able to branch out recently into projects on polysemy, second language learning, conceptual metaphor processing, computational linguistics, and language learning in individuals on the Autism spectrum. An appreciation of language’s complexities and nuances provides fertile ground for a panoply of research topics, constrained only by time and resources. As far as these constraints go, I appreciate that I have been immensely lucky.

But linguistics has a lot to offer both academia and our broader communities.  Embracing interdisciplinary efforts and keeping up with rapid changes within the field and beyond, hold the key to its future success.

Thanks for reading and if you want to donate to the LINGUIST List, you can do so here: https://funddrive.linguistlist.org/donate/

All the best,
–the LL Team