LL Main

Thank you from the LINGUIST List

Dear linguists,

The last 72 hours have brought some dramatic changes to our challenges! Sociolinguistics comes first before syntax—but phonology has taken third place for the first time during this year’s fund drive. At the last moment, Indiana University Bloomington took over the lead from the University of South Carolina, and Wayne State and Stanford share the third place! A big round of applause!

Thank you all for your resounding support for our 2021 Linguist List Fund Drive. Nearly 400 linguists from 152 universities in 40 countries on 6 continents donated this year. Thanks to your personal commitment, we have collected over $27,000—this alone will help us fund one student editor in 2022. This is an uplifting message for all of us, and for so many reasons! It will be easier for the whole team to stay abreast of the everchanging media and information landscape. At a more personal level – one more student of linguistics will have secure support and will be able to continue working and learning at the LINGUIST List without going into debt. For the whole community, the positive message is that LINGUIST List will continue its operations. More importantly, your support proves that we are a strong community of committed individuals. We hope that you will continue to support us. There is no LINGUIST List without our readers.

Thank you!

Malgosia, Helen, Steven, Lauren, Billy, Joshua, Jeremy, Sarah, Everett, Nils

LINGUIST List Office Tour

The LINGUIST List is the best place on the web for linguistics news. But where does the magic actually happen?

Join intrepid explorer (and LINGUIST List editor) Billy Dickson on an exciting tour of our offices in Bloomington, Indiana!

We’d like to thank you all for your generous support of our 2021 Fund Drive with this special behind-the-scenes look.

And don’t miss the secret of the Underlying Phonemic Pig!


Challenge Update: Last Chance!

Dear Linguists,

As of this announcement, the counter on our website has reached $24,155.88 and we are starting the countdown to the end of the Fund Drive. If you can donate—if you want help ensure smooth operation of the LINGUIST List in 2022—now is the time. Any donation is appreciated; even $5 makes a difference. Together, we are strong. There are thousands of linguists who read our posts and can contribute. If you donate, your contribution might be the $5 that makes a difference between whether the LINGUIST List can afford 6 or 7 editors next year. As we are wrapping up this year’s Fund Drive, please make it happen and donate before Friday at:


In the subfield challenge, sociolinguistics took a comfortable lead, with $3,608 in donations. Phonology is in second, followed closely by Historical Linguistics and Syntax—which had previously held the first place spot! Check the rankings at https://funddrive.linguistlist.org/subfield/ and you may just be able to raise your subfield in the rankings.
19 linguists from the University of South Carolina ensured the top rank of their university in our university challenge with a combined donation of $1,300. They are followed closely by Indiana University, Stanford University, Wayne State University and the University of Illinois. Thank you for your continued support! In the country challenge, the leader is the US with 156 donors, followed by Germany, UK, Canada, Italy and Australia.

Thank you to everyone who has participated in our Fund Drive challenges. We appreciate your donations, whether you took your subfield or university to the top of the rankings, or whether you were the only donor from your area of study. We are happy to see the support of such a variety of linguists!

Our warmest thanks to all contributors! There is no LINGUIST List without its readers, thank you linguistics!

Malgosia and the LINGUIST List team

A Personal Request to Linguists around the World

(A letter from one of our founding members)

Dear LINGUIST List Readers,

It is with sadness that I read that after six weeks LL currently still is far off from the target needed to maintain LL in the next year. And it is with sadness that I read only about 200 (!!!) out of ‘thousands of linguists’ decided to contribute to the fund-raising goal. It really is a sad state of affairs if people who actually benefit hugely by the information made available by LL do/did not consider making a very much needed contribution to maintaining one of the most important resources of our profession.

Without LL we as linguists would be lost. Where else will we find out about new publications (books, theses, etc) and planned conferences (a huge variety) internationally? You are quite right when you ask:

What would happen if LINGUIST List was not there tomorrow?
What would this mean for you and your colleagues, for your students?
What would this mean for the linguists in smaller institutions without big funding?
What would this mean for linguists in other countries?

As someone from far away (South Africa) I can confirm that the international part of my career of 42 years has been made possible by LL. LL enabled me to see which conferences I could attend (Europa, USA, Africa, Australasia, Asia, etc.), which conferences would suit my research better, who would attend these conferences (always a nice network opportunity), where I could apply for funding. Due to LL I could find out about important new publications in my fields of specialization. Therefore: without LL being a linguist in South Africa would have been a lot tougher then it already is due to the distance from other continents. As an example: because of LL I recently was able to virtually participate in a conference in Tbilisi, Georgia.

As I consider myself a ‘founding member’ of the LL (I had already started to use LL and its predecessor at the beginning – 1992 I think) I have the confidence to plead with linguists elsewhere in the world to consider making a contribution. If everyone of the “thousands of linguists” in the world (wherever they are) send the equivalent of $20-30 LL will have more than enough for the next year. And then everyone should make it an annual habit to contribute.

I especially want to urge linguists from Africa to wake up and contribute to an absolute worthy cause (it is very easy to do it by means of a credit card). In my own case I contributed $100 – which in SA rand is a lot of money due to the exchange rate. But I believe I have a professional obligation to keep the LL going as I personally benefited a lot from LL throughout my career. And because of me, many linguists in SA also benefited since I regularly forwarded relevant information to them.

Nowadays I am retired but I still check the mail from LL every day – and then I forward applicable information to younger linguists in my country. And I regularly see applicable publications which must be ordered and read, like recently with Normativity in Language and Linguistics (see https://benjamins.com/catalog/slcs.209#).

Therefore, to all linguists: Help LL to continue their mission (on our behalf!), i.e. ‘to connect linguists from different universities all over the world, different countries and different frameworks. Help them to continue telling us about the conferences we organize, the books we wrote (or are considering writing), new books in our fields, the vacancies we want to fill, the funding opportunities for students, the grants we can apply for, the ideas we want to share’.


Kind regards from South Africa

Prof Wannie Carstens
Nowadays extra-ordinary professor in Afrikaans linguistics
North-West University
Potchefstroom South Africa


Please support the LL editors and operation with a donation at:

Happy Halloween!

Happy Halloween everyone! This spooky season got us wondering, how exactly does the headless horseman speak? For those who aren’t familiar with the headless horseman, the common (American) version of the myth comes from Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, and features a soldier who lost his head and rises as a ghost to search for his missing head. In all depictions (that I have seen), however, the headless horseman can still speak despite having no head! Some depictions involve him using a pumpkin as a replacement head, so if he somehow put a vocal tract in the pumpkin, I must say that is an absolute marvel of pumpkin carving and he should win every pumpkin carving contest ever.

This got me thinking about the other monstrous creatures of Halloween as well, and whether/how they can produce speech. Probably the easiest are vampires and werewolves, since they pretty much retain all their human anatomy despite technically being undead or wolves some of the time. A little trickier are zombies, mummies, and draugr. They still have vocal tracts but a much harder time using them.

Things get really strange when you think about ghosts. Depictions vary whether they can produce sound at all, but they are able to produce speech often enough that I wonder how? They’re incorporeal beings, so even if they have vocal tracts, how do they act on the air and actually produce any sound? I’ve got a couple theories. Some ghosts are able to physically effect the world around them, meaning they could make sound as well. I think this is a boring, easy explanation, personally. I much prefer the theory that when ghosts rise, the sounds they made while living come with them, and whatever they’re saying is just a manifestation of the sounds they made in their past life. Perhaps this is what the headless horseman is really doing, and his lack of a vocal tract isn’t a hindrance to him at all!

What do you think? Are there any other scary creatures with some odd methods of producing speech? How do you think ghosts produce their dire warnings? Thanks for joining us on this little distraction on (for some of us) our favorite holiday. Before we say goodbye, we have just one request to make.

When you support the LINGUIST List, you’re not just supporting a valuable resource for the Linguistics community, but several linguists in training. We’re still a long ways away from our funddrive goal for this year. To those of you who have already donated, we cannot thank you enough. We’ve survived for nearly 30 years thanks to the support of our large community. With your support, we can finish building the new, modern website and continue bringing you the valuable information and news of what’s new in the world of Linguistics.

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

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.


Advisory Board Challenge

Dear Linguist List-ers,

Our Fund Drive is now coming to an end, so it is time to acknowledge out Advisory Board: Jeff Allen, Anthony Aristar, Helen Aristar Dry, Emily Bender, Andrea Berez, Kelly Harper Berkson, Arendse Bernth, Hans Christian Boas, Vladimir Borschev, Andrew Carnie, Stuart Davis, Manuel Díaz-Campos, Sebastian Drude, Stan Dubinsky, Arienne M Dwyer, Paul D. Fallon, Hana Filip, Lenore A. Grenoble, Pius Ten Hacken, John Hale, S.J. Hannahs, Susan C. Herring, Dick Hudson, Martin M. Jacobsen, D. Terence Langendoen, John Lawler, Elizabeth D. Liddy, Ahmad R. Lotfi, Monica Macaulay, Brian MacWhinney, Ernest N McCarus, Joyce Milambiling, Steven Moran, Geoffrey S. Nathan, Alexis Palmer, Barbara Partee, Paul Peranteau, Joseph Salmons, Vladimir Selegey, Farzad Sharifian, Chilin Shih, Richard Sproat, Bethany Townsend, Elly van Gelderen, Ljuba Veselinova, Andrew Winnard, Margaret E. Winters, Arnold Zwicky and Wilhelm Meya. We would like to thank the members of our board for all sorts of support – financial, moral, logistical, lobbying and advising. Your contributions will not go unnoticed!

Our Board is specially involved in this Fund Drive and wants to challenge you: if we manage to collect more than $1,500 in donations till midnight (EST) on Friday, our donors will match it up to the amount of $2,000! Please help us, even $5 help us to achieve our goal. Support our student editors and enable the operation of the Linguist List in 2022! Donate at: https://funddrive.linguistlist.org/donate/

Malgosia Cavar

On behalf of the LINGUIST List Team

Staff Letter: Joshua Sims

Hello, Linguist List Readers!

I’m Joshua Sims, the systems administrator at the Linguist List. I do the behind-the-scenes work to keep our website running smoothly, both for our editors and for our readers.

I also maintain the Easy Abstracts service at the Linguist List. If you are organizing a conference and need a free, easy to use service to handle abstract submissions and reviews, use EasyAbs! Give it a try at https://old.linguistlist.org/confservices/EasyAbs/index.cfm.

Like all my colleagues at the Linguist List, I am a student at Indiana University. I’m working on a dual PhD in Linguistics and Central Eurasian Studies. My primary focus is Mongolian phonology, especially with regards to ATR vowel harmony and palatalization. I’m also part of a field methods course working on Lutuv, a member of the Maraic sub-branch of the Tibeto-Burman family.

On my own time, I enjoy studying languages (most recently, Mandarin and Esperanto), practicing Mongolian Calligraphy, reading Science Fiction & Fantasy, and capitalizing words that don’t need to be capitalized.

I have greatly enjoyed working at the Linguist List during my studies here. In my work as systems administrator, I get to see submissions and postings from all the topics we handle at the Linguist List. It makes me so happy to see announcements for books, conferences, journals and jobs, for all subfields of linguistics and all for fascinating languages. I still remember, as a sophomore studying linguistics, being told about the Linguist List, as a great place to find linguistics resources and jobs in the future. And now I work here—it’s kind of like being famous!

Your support for the Linguist List makes it possible for me to study here. I wouldn’t be able to pursue my degree without my position at the Linguist List. When you donate to the Linguist List, you’re supporting a free and open forum for linguistic ideas and opportunities. At the same time, you’re also supporting a team of hard-working student linguists, so we can continue with our studies until we get to apply to these jobs ourselves someday.

Thank you for your donations and continued readership, and for keeping us together, editors and readers, year after year, at the Linguist List. If you haven’t donated yet, please do so at https://funddrive.linguistlist.org/donate/, and if you have—thanks!

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]


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