Of interest to Students

Featured Linguist: Wannie Carstens

MY CAREER IN (AFRIKAANS) LINGUISTICS

I grew up in Namibia (in the 1950’s and 1960’s) where I was exposed to a real multilingual world: German (as Namibia is a former German protectorate, end of 19th and beginning of 20th century), Afrikaans (due to the historical connection to South Africa where Afrikaans at that stage was the primary language), English, and many indigenous languages: Oshiwambo, Otjiherero, Nama, Damara, Kavango, San, etc. My father worked for the government and he travelled a lot. During school holidays I accompanied him and experienced these languages and their speakers in their actual settings. It opened a multicultural and multilingual world to me, a world in which I felt comfortable, the world of languages.

But I had a very good Afrikaans teacher in my high school in Windhoek, and this eventually motivated me to take Afrikaans (in combination with Dutch) and German as my majors for my BA degree at the University of Stellenbosch in South Africa. During my first year (1971) I took an extra course in General Linguistics (Algemene Taalwetenskap), taught by Prof Rudolph P Botha, one of South Africa’s best linguists ever. This where I really felt at home – hearing more about syntax, semantics, pragmatics, etc. But due to my interest in Afrikaans (and the possibility of becoming a teacher in Afrikaans) I continued with my study in Afrikaans and eventually obtained a MA degree in Afrikaans linguistics.

I was fortunate enough to be appointed as a temporary lecturer in Afrikaans linguistics at the University of Stellenbosch (SU), and it dawned upon me that I probably would not become a school teacher any more. (The fact the my girl friend of that time – now my wife of more than 40 years – was still studying at SU naturally had no effect on my decision to accept the position …) This also motivated me to enrol for a DLitt degree at SU under the guidance of Prof Fritz Ponelis, the foremost scholar in Afrikaans syntax. In my thesis I focussed on a combined semantic-syntactic study of Afrikaans definite pronouns and researched the influence the context of various written texts had on the use of these pronouns in Afrikaans.

At this time I already was a lecturer in Afrikaans linguistics at the University of Cape Town, where I eventually spend 11 and a half years before moving to the former Potchefstroom University for Christian Higher Education (since 2004 the Potchefstroom campus of the North-West University) where I retired (after a full career of 41 years) at the end of 2017 as professor in Afrikaans linguistics.

At UCT I wrote my first book, a book on normative linguistics for Afrikaans (Norme vir Afrikaans (“Norms for Afrikaans”)), as I had to develop material for my second and third language speakers of Afrikaans for one of my courses. When a publisher came around asking for manuscripts I told them about the work I was doing and I was invited to submit the manuscript. To my astonishment this book (published in 1989) became a best-seller in Afrikaans linguistics and it has been used since then as a handbook in many courses in South Africa. The 6th revised edition of this book was published in January 2018. It still amazes me that this book had this success!

Due to my interest in text linguistics, of which I took note while busy with my DLitt, and after meeting Prof Nils Erik Enkvist from Turku in Finland, and the great Robert de Beaugrande himself, who at that stage was teaching at the University of Botswana, in Gaborone, Botswana, I in due time completed the first book on text linguistics in Afrikaans in 1997 (Afrikaanse Tekslinguistiek (“Afrikaans Text Linguistics”)). This enabled me to combine my interest in syntax, semantics, pragmatics, discourse analysis and text linguistics into one book. This eventually led to my next book on text editing (Afrikaanse Teksredaksie (“Afrikaans text editing”)– together with Prof Kris van de Poel of the University of Antwerp in Belgium) where I was able to use the knowledge gained from normative grammar and text linguistics to develop a model – based upon Prof Jan Renkema of the University of Tilburg’s well-known CCC model – for the training of a new generation of copy/text editors in Afrikaans. Again a first for Afrikaans. Since then this book has been adapted for use in English (Text Editing, 2012), Sesotho (2016) and the IsiZulu version should be finalized this year and the IsiXhosa version next year. Versions in German and Dutch are also underway. (We are looking for candidates to adapt this book also for their own languages – scholars in Mandarin, Spanish, Hindi, Russian, etc. are more than welcome to contact me in this regard.) I am glad my work had this effect! This was an effort on my side to transfer my skills and knowledge to other languages.

My last project was just concluded when I submitted the final manuscript for Part 2 of a book on the history of Afrikaans (together with Prof Edith Raidt). This book, titled Die storie van Afrikaans: uit Europa en van Afrika. Biografie van ‘n taal (“The story of Afrikaans: Out of Europe and from Africa. Biography of a language”) is the result of the last five years of my career. I had the privilege to be part of the last 48 years of the history of Afrikaans (and the way it developed) and I recorded this for the next generation. There is a good possibility that the last two books (Part 1 and 2 of STORIE) will be translated into English in the near future.

My whole career was in and about Afrikaans. It was a decision I made early on in my career. Rather than trying to be a scholar in a language I am not fluent in (English) my choice was to make a contribution to my home language, Afrikaans – despite what so many people said about this language and its complex history. Looking back I think I made a small contribution in developing Afrikaans linguistics as a discipline in a few fields: normative grammar, text linguistics, text editing, language politics, the history of Afrikaans. At least I do hope it is experienced as such by colleagues in South Africa!

TIPS FOR THE NEXT GENERATION OF LINGUISTS

  1. Do not be afraid to follow your passion. (It worked for me.)
  2. Read, read and read as wide as possible at the beginning of your career. It helps you to make an informed choice regarding the field you want to specialize in, whatever it may be.
  3. Look for the gaps in your selected field and then make yourself the expert regarding that specific gap.
  4. Never be afraid to tackle something new. Be bold. (All the famous linguists followed this route.) You might become the real expert in that field. (And eventually a famous linguist …)
  5. Do not be afraid to follow your gut. (It will not always work out but how will you know if you do not experiment with something?)
  6. It makes no sense to do exactly what someone else already did. It is just repetition and not something new. When you look back over your career, can you say: “I think I really made a difference”? This is the real test.
  7. Remember that every generation stands on the shoulders of the previous generation(s). This means that you can and may (!) use the work of a previous generation(s) as point of departure for your own work. Therefore do not be afraid to criticise the work of the previous generation. (It happened that some of my former students criticized some of my earlier work and it meant a lot to me: as (a) it meant they found it worthwhile enough to criticize and (b) I thoroughly enjoyed it as it helped to sharpen the knowledge on the specific topic. (c) It even ‘gave me a kick’ to know that my students were not afraid to be critical of their former teacher.)
  8. Make a serious effort to establish a good and wide network (friends, contacts) in your discipline and specific field. No academic / linguist can survive without a network. (Hi! to Bob at UCLA, Gary at UNLV in Las Vegas, Paul at UNC Chapel Hill, Jacques at Univ Ghent, Kris at Univ of Antwerp, Marijke and Gijsbert at Leiden, Rina in Vienna, Sanna in Turku, Eric in Aruba, etc.)
  9. If you get an opportunity to spend time in other countries (as post doc, visiting scholar) make use of this opportunity as it will broaden your horizon as academic. Networks make this possible and feasible.
  10. Share information (new books, an article they/he/she might be interested in, information on a possible relevant conference or event, etc.) with your network. Because of this someone in your network might be willing to read your first draft of papers and even give critical feedback. This is priceless!
  11. Attend conferences nationally and internationally. Otherwise no one will know about your work. You do not always have to read a paper, as attendance of these conferences is part of experiencing the world of linguistics.
  12. Publish in good international journals as much as possible, but also do not be afraid to publish in local journals as the local linguistics’ industry of your country must also be maintained.
  13. Remember that you have a responsibility to develop the field and discipline in your own country and in your own language.
  14. Do not be afraid to publish in your own language. English is NOT the only language of science. But also publish in English if it is possible for you as it probably will be read wider.
  15. You really do not have to be the most important international scholar. It is a bonus if it is the case. But it is important to be a recognized scholar in your own context because this is where you work and stay and function.
  16. If your work is regarded as good/exceptional translate it in English if you are a scholar in another language.
  17. Take a business card (linked to your institution) to conferences and hand it out if there is an opportunity. And when you get back home keep the cards you got and make contact with persons in your field. (It takes time and effort, but trust me: it really is worthwhile!)
  18. Attend at least one LSA. Two will be even better. This is very important! This will make a difference to the way you approach what you do and the way you think about language and linguistics. (And take a picture of yourself with some of the ‘big names’ and put it against your wall to look at when you feel discouraged and tired.)
  19. Make provision in your annual research budget for a financial contribution to the LinguistList (LL). Or make certain that your institution makes an annual (worthwhile!) contribution to the List. Without it you will be in ‘linguistic darkness’. We talk about pre- and current LL. You are lucky that you are in the current LL period. Enjoy the benefits of this.

MY ASSOCIATION WITH THE LINGUIST LIST

I think I am actually one of the first linguists in South Africa who started to make use of the List. Even in the early days of email in South Africa (1992!) I was a member of earlier versions of the list. And to be honest – I am proud that I realised the enormous potential of the List. It opened a world wide network of linguists (wwnl) to me. I could read their informal thoughts about topics in linguistics, and I learned about new publications. It also opened linguistics as an international discipline to me, and it helped me immensely in my own career in various ways:

  1. It helped me to sharpen my own thinking about linguistics as a discipline, and also specific issues in linguistics.
  2. It informed me about conferences of which I would not have known otherwise. It made it possible for me to attend conferences all over the world (such as in the USA, the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Finland, Russia).
  3. It informed me about publications I would not have seen otherwise. (Due to the cultural and academic boycott in the 1970’s and 1980’s we in South Africa could not always get the books we wanted but at least we could take note of it and get copies through other means.) I ordered it for our university library and in this way it helped to build a trusted and respected library for the field.
  4. This library enabled me to read more then would have otherwise been the case.
  5. It enabled me to share information from the List (about conferences, workshops, books, etc.) with colleagues all over the country, and even in other parts of the world. In this way my own network grew. And then colleagues again started to share their ideas, publications, etc. with me. Therefore beneficial to both parties.
  6. For many years I was a manager and had to establish a new generations of linguists in South Africa, not only in Afrikaans, but in general – the information I got from the List helped me to shape their careers (send them to conferences, order books for them, help them to select topics for further study, etc.).

FUNDING FOR THE LL

Lastly. When I became a manager (some of us get to be managers…) and the List asked for funding to support the various services of the LL, I was in a position to start a funding campaign in my own institution (money from the institution itself but also from individual researchers) and it enabled us as group to make a contribution. For many years the NWU was the Africa and South African champion regarding our contributions! The exchange rate of the SA rand unfortunately had an effect on the actual amount in US dollar bit at least we tried. I also tried to get other South African institutions to buy in regarding fun ding support but I was not too successful in this regard. A pity.

Now that I have retired there is no guarantee that the linguists at my institution will continue to contribute, but I did my best to convince the new managers to continue with the project. I also requested the Linguistic Society of Southern Africa (LSSA) to become more involved in the funding campaign. Let us hold thumbs that there will be success in both cases.

I find it really strange that the LL have to actually plead for support! There are so many benefits for linguists that even an annual contribution equivalent to $20 from ALL linguists around the world should just be a formality. There are 10 000 people regularly using the List and I think $200 000 will enable the staff to even add more services. Therefore: help to keep the LL going at all costs! As long as I as retired linguist have access to research funding I certainly will make a contribution, every year, even if it is a small amount. The LL should maybe consider asking a fee for enrolment – I know it will take a lot of effort but it might just be the solution to the problems.

I thank the staff maintaining the List for enabling me to be part of an international network and this over a long time. I do wish you the best and I will continue consulting the List as long as I am still active as linguist. I am and will remain a true supporter of the List!

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A History of Pop Culture ConLangs Part III: Dothraki, Valyrian, and How Language Becomes Its World (And People)

Welcome to part III of our series on fictional constructed languages, which is part of this year’s Fund Drive theme, linguistics and pop culture. ConLangs—and we do mean languages constructed for creative fiction, not languages like Esperanto designed for the real world—have contributed to popular culture in rich and varied and sometimes really weird ways. We started with Part I, which briefly covered J.R.R. Tolkien’s Quenya as one of the world’s first prominent creatively constructed language, focusing on the real-world linguistic influences. Part II got a little lengthier in an attempt to examine how creative linguists use phonology to create a range of human-like and non-human-like effects in the creation of “alien” languages for Science Fiction.

Now welcome to Part III, where we’ll try to cover some of the aspects of the world’s newest wave of influential ConLangs, specifically focusing on what we think is probably today’s most popular ConLangs, Dothraki and Valyrian and the role of languages and multilingualism in fictional worlds.

This blog is dark and full of spoilers!

Very minor spoilers from old seasons but STILL.

Still with us? Okay.

Dothraki and Valyrian are the show’s most prominent ConLangs, and both of them are used by one of the series’ main protagonists, Daenerys Targaryen, who has a lot of titles.
George R. R. Martin’s fantasy books do not have a usable language in them, despite the many other ways in which the epic series takes its cues from the works of J.R.R. Tolkien (either by means of inevitable cultural assimilation that happens with such influential works as Lord of the Rings, or by intentional subversion.) A few Dothraki words, like Khal and its feminine variant Khaleesi, did, however, appear in the books and provide the base for linguist David J. Peterson’s development of the language. Peterson not only worked with the existing words and utterances from the books, but developed the language to be easily pronounceable for the actors—it had to sound convincingly foreign to a primarily English-speaking audience, but also sound natural and fluent in the mouths of mostly L1 English speakers. The Language Creation Society, of which Peterson is a member, now has a page devoted to Dothraki.

Daenerys Targaryen is a multilingual, multidimensional character (with really good hair) played by Emelia Clarke

In terms of phonology, the most salient element of a ConLang to the audience, we find some interesting features. Those stops, nasals, and laterals that would be alveolar in English are instead dental—a small adjustment that for most of the audience may invoke the sound of Spanish. Peterson did include very un-English-like phonemes, like a uvular stop, and a velar fricative, and there is both an alveolar stop and a trill (but no English-like rhotic!) This phonological make-up is probably what prompted Peterson himself to describe Dothraki in an interview as evoking both Spanish and Arabic.

Aspirated stops may occur but not contrastively, and there’s geminates of just about every consonant, including geminate fricatives like /xx/ and /θθ/. That one is really smart, in my opinion—typologically rare, (especially as a geminate!) but still no challenge for the actors. Peterson also took phonological rules into account, devising, for example, regular place assimilation among vowels under the influence of neighboring consonants. Honestly, spoken Dothraki just sounds really cool.

It’s also an interesting point of comparison with Klingon—probably both fictional cultures can be said to be based on some of the same literary and pop-cultural tropes, and they manifest in some of the same ways. I’d be willing to bet any fictional language invented by English-speakers for an English-speaking audience intended for use by warlike cultures has velar fricatives in it; I don’t know why and it’s only a casual observation. (Quick! I need a sociolinguist to survey ConLangs phonology for velar fricatives.) Perhaps that sound strikes English speakers as sufficiently foreign and sufficiently “guttural,” (but still sufficiently pronounceable) for use in a language intended to come off as harsh and powerful. But Dothraki is very much a human language and it has a pleasantly even consonant space—no weird, alien gaps like we found in Klingon.

Jason Momoa plays Dothraki warlord Khal Drogo (with really good hair,) and reportedly can still speak some Dothraki

Dothraki’s syntax is equally rich and interesting. It’s a highly inflectional language with five cases, including nominative, accusative, genitive, allative, and ablative, as well as three tenses and two different imperatives. (The Dothraki and a very imperative people.)
And there’s an archaic participle. There’s actually a lot of thought put into the diachrony of Dothraki, including archaic spellings that reflect older pronunciations—Dothraki has no bilabial stops (they’ve lenited to labiodental fricatives) but some words, particularly names, are still spelled with Romanize p and b or bh. The regular irregularities produced by diachrony are one of the most persuasive and inventive aspects of fictional languages to me, because it means the creator imagined a history for his language. Like the world it exists in, there’s more to Dothraki than a snapshot of its synchrony. It creates the impression that this world and its languages have existed for a long time before now, not just as stories.

But this has already gotten long! Let’s talk about Valyrian so we can talk about Daenerys so we can talk about the rest!

High Valyrian was also developed by David J. Peterson, and the first thing I learned about it when reading for this blog post was that it has derivative variants. Peterson is no slouch. (Also the variants are mentioned in the books.) Valyrian has plenty of phonological overlap with Dothraki as one would expect, and also, joyously, contact phenomena—Dothraki loanwords have resulted in the introduction of those fantastic Dothraki fricatives /x/ and /θ/ mentioned earlier. The phonological inventory of Valyrian is larger in general than that of Dothraki, with a full series of labials (except /f/, basically), including nasals, a full series of alveolars including contrastive voiced and voiceless trills (cool), all the way back to uvulars and glottals. The vowel system involves six major vowels /i e o a u y/ (Dothraki had four, /i e o a/ not including the allophonic alternations), and contrastive vowel length. Like Dothraki, Valyrian has a well-thought-out diachrony, and the front rounded series /y/ and /y:/ in High Valyrian are no longer pronounced as such in its descendant variants. Like Latin, High Valyrian no longer has native speakers in Essos and Westeros, although Daenerys does call it her “mother tongue,” before ordering her dragons to roast a guy. In Astapori Valyrian (one of the variants), the length contrast in vowels in gone.

Valyrian has four grammatical numbers—singular, plural, paucal, and collective—eight noun classes, and four grammatical genders. According to Peterson, who talks about Valyrian grammar in this exceedingly interesting discussion on Dothraki.com, the genders are called vēzenkor qogror “solar class”, hūrenkor qogror “lunar class” tegōñor qogror “terrestrial class” embōñor qogror “aquatic class,” and most animate nouns wind up in the solar or lunar genders while others wind up in the aquatic and terrestrial genders—the names of the genders are prototypical members of each. He described gender as phonologically predictable generally, but also being influenced by the derivational properties of the Bantu languages.

There is an enormous amount more that can be said about the very complex and fascinating structure of Valyrian, and it’s one of the most developed fictional ConLangs we have ever seen. But I really want to get to how these languages interact with the worlds and the people they are used by because that is, after all, what makes language come alive.
Like J.R.R. Tolkien, Peterson designed his languages with a view to the people who would be speaking them, their world, their history, their philosophy. The depth of their complexity and the sense of history and development and change over time is what makes them feel like lived-in languages for real people. Daenerys Targaryen, one of the main protagonists, ends up using both of them, as well as the Westeros common language (English, functionally.) As a member of the ruling class (well, sort of, her family has been ousted at the beginning of the series), Daenerys is educated in Valyrian, but for her, it’s more than that—she’s descended from the rulers of Old Valyria and regards Valyrian as her mother tongue (in season 3, episode 4, an Astapori Valyrian speaking slaver insults her in Valyrian while conducting a deal with her, only to have her declare herself and her lineage, and, as previously mentioned, command her dragons to barbecue him. He deserved it.) She also teaches her dragons to respond to commands like “dracarys!” which means “dragonfire,”  (Or, more pragmatically, “barbecue him!”) pronounced beautifully by Emilia Clarke.

Daenerys’s character arc is paralleled by her achievements in multilingualism. Emilia Clarke had to learn multiple ConLangs for the show

Daenerys identifies with the language of her heritage, which is also the language of her name, and that’s interesting to me. Language plays a part, not only in the plot (as mentioned above) but in the characterization of the people who carry out the plot, and none more than Daenerys. She goes through a lot during the course of her story, not least of which is being married off to the Dothraki Khal Drogo as part of a political move. As her character develops, she learns to cope with the extreme distress and trauma of her life, becomes more and more empowered, and begins acquiring the Dothraki language. While still regarding Valyrian as her language. Her process of acculturation within the Dothraki is a major part of her arc, and is portrayed in the books and TV show alongside her becoming more and more fluent in Dothraki. By the current point in both the show and the books, she’s one of the most powerful political players, most realized and human characters, and fluently multilingual. She’s a perfect example of the way that language can add depth to a fictional character as much as it adds depth to a fictional world.

Today, ConLanging, casual and professional, is more popular than ever. If you follow Steve the Vagabond and Silly Linguist on social media (and you should, for a good laugh) you will have seen snippets of Atlaans, a Germanic-based ConLang invented as the mother-tongue for an alternate linguistic history of the world (check it out here!) There’s plenty of alternate-history ConLangs, but I have already promised that ConLangs intended for the real world are not my subject here… except if you create an alternate history language that is also part of a work of fiction.

 

Video games are in on the ConLang game now.
Get it? Game?
I’ll show myself out.

Having already talked at length about books, movies, and TV shows, I think it’s time to bring up the latest world-building venture that involves ConLanging: video games. Far Cry Primal, by Ubisoft, released in 2016 and involves a ConLang called “Wenja,” developed by University of Kentucky assistant professors Andrew and Brenna Byrd, which is spoken by the inhabitants of a prehistoric world from thousands of years ago. Indo-Europeanist Andrew Byrd described Wenja as like Proto-PIE, something that might have been used thousands of years before PIE is hypothesized to have been spoken. Not much is said in the interview about the mechanics of Wenja, except that it had to have been pretty much imagined, and they developed a very robust vocabulary that could easily suffice for a real-world language-user. But the language, according to its creators, didn’t feel alive until Brenna Byrd began teaching it to the actors. Who began using it and practicing it among themselves, and inventing cries and greetings to fit in the game. Andrew and Brenna Byrd managed to find the meeting place between a totally fictional language for a totally fictional world and a hypothetical language that could have existed in the real world, which is amazing on its own. But it wasn’t until it was deployed among real speakers that it was electrified to life.

The lightning is speakers.

What I think is important about ConLangs, specifically fictional ones, and the reason I am so interested in them, is what they represent. ConLangs created to fill the lives and form the expressions of fictional people who live in imagined worlds, are in a way representative of how we imagine our relationship with language in the real world. That gets reflected in the way that fictional languages can become integral both to their worlds and to their speakers’ identities. They come to life in the hands of real speakers, and carry with them a sense of the history that has led the world and its people, even up to individuals like the initially-unassuming Daenerys.

As everyone knows, there’s a lot of trouble in the world. But it’s not all trouble out there, and it’s worth thinking about that today more than ever, creators are invested in talking about what it means to communicate with each other. What it means for peoples and cultures and individuals to cross and recross language boundaries. They are invested in creating rich and diverse worlds full of people who have their own individual and cultural relationships with the very concept of human communication.

And that’s pretty neat.

 

Well, this has been way longer than we ever intended it to be. There’s too much interesting stuff to talk about with language, and it turned out there were a lot more fictional languages than I ever could have covered!

If you enjoyed this series, please support us here at the LINGUIST List by donating here! This series was written as part of our Fund Drive’s focus on language and linguistics in media and pop culture. We work hard to help provide a space for linguistic resources. Thanks so much for being with us all these years!

–Sarah Robinson, Publications Editor
on behalf of the LINGUIST List team

Rising Stars: Meet Michelle Michimani Leyva

For several years, we have featured linguists with established careers and interesting stories to tell. This year, we will also be highlighting “Rising Stars” throughout our Fund Drive, undergraduates who were nominated by their mentors for their exceptional interest in linguistics and eager participation in the global community of language researchers.

Selected nominees were asked to share their view of the field of linguistics: what topics they see emerging as important or especially interesting, what role they see the field filling in the coming decades, and how they plan to contribute. We hope you will enjoy the perspectives of these students, who represent the bright future of our field.

Today, we are happy to share the thoughts of Michelle Michimani Leyva, a senior at St. Mary’s University in San Antonio, Texas. She is majoring in both English-Communication Arts and Spanish, and is especially interested in applying her knowledge of lexicology to advertising and reaching minority Spanish-speaking populations. You can learn more about her research on her portfolio.

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Michelle Michimani Leyva

The role of language in cultural identity is often overlooked. However, acknowledging the connections between cultural and linguistic identities contributes to a fuller understanding of societies. Deepening our understanding of linguistics helps prevent miscommunication between dialects, fosters a sense of belonging through common linguistic features, and counteracts stigmas associated with variations between dialects. Knowledge of linguistic identities helps us understand communities and individuals better and helps us accept and cherish our unique linguistic attributes.

As an advertiser and linguist, I hope that the intersection of these fields emerges as a “hot topic.” Linguistics has been explored in media, but its application to advertising specifically has not been explored in as much depth. Advertising is about communicating, whether it is through art or through its copy; but if advertisement’s main point is to create a customized ad specific to a target audience, why is copy language so generalized? I am personally interested in the topic of using Spanish dialects in copy since Spanish has a vast lexical bank throughout its many dialects. During my internship as media planner at Wavemaker (formally known as MEC) in New York City, I was able to see the advertising industry’s push for placing the right advertisement in front of the right person. However, there seems to be an oversight on the affect linguistics has on an advertisements’ performance. For example, in 2004 Hershey partnered with Thalia Sodi to create a “Hispanic inspired” candy line. The new candy bar was called “Cajeta Elegancita.” “Cajeta” in Mexico is defined as a caramel sauce made of goat’s milk, but in Argentina, “cajeta” is a slang term used to describe a part of the female anatomy. Linguistic knowledge helps optimize creative advertising and branding, and it helps advertisers craft ads that resonate with various audiences. Gloria Anzaldúa wrote, “Ethnic identity is twin skin to linguistic identity.” Being able to portray various linguistic identities in advertising would help remediate the issues of non-representation and misrepresentation of minorities in advertising.

This year, I finished my research study, Lexical Variation in Spanish Speakers, and presented it at the Third International Conference on Heritage/Community Languages in the University of California, Los Angeles. My research surveyed the lexical bank of Spanish speakers in the United States and compared the results to the lexical bank provided in five 1st and 2nd year Spanish textbooks for college students. The results of my research indicated that Spanish heritage speakers lexical bank varied significantly from standard Spanish. My conclusion focused on the lexical variety in Spanish speakers and the stigmas among variations that are not the norma culta or standard Spanish.

While I work in the advertising field, I hope to contribute to linguistics research by completing an extension of my study. In this future research, I would like to examine lexical variation in Spanish speakers and its application to Spanish advertising. Through my research and my work, I hope to create awareness of the importance of linguistics features that makes language so unique. Eventually I would like to attend graduate school for linguistics and dream of creating my own multi-cultural advertising agency that embodies linguistics in advertising in order to represent the beautiful diversity in language.

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If you have a student who you believe is a “Rising Star” in linguistics, we would love to hear about them! We are still accepting nominations for exceptional young linguists. Please see the call for nominations for more information.

If you have not yet–please visit our Fund Drive page to learn more about us and why we need your help! The LINGUIST List relies on your generous donations to continue it support of linguists around the world.

How does Linguistics shape a Criminal Investigation?

Dear LINGUIST readers,

This week, following our Fund Drive theme of “Linguistics on the Silver Screen”, we are highlighting another depiction of linguistics in media: the role of linguistic clues in Manhunt: Unabomber. This 2017 Discovery Channel mini-series depicts (a somewhat fictionalized version of) the FBI investigation of the Unabomber, an American domestic terrorist who mailed a series of package bombs to victims across the United States between 1978 and 1995. Due to his care in leaving virtually no forensic evidence, the Unabomber proved to be difficult to identify through traditional forensic methods. Adding to that difficulty, his victims appeared to be selected at random, his mail bombs were sent anonymously in nondescript packages and there was only one known sighting in 17 years.  In his manifesto, the Unabomber said “Some scientific work has no conceivable relation to the welfare of the human race… comparative linguistics, for example” (Industrial Society and its Future, paragraph 88). Ironically, it was linguistics that led to the identification and arrest of the Unabomber, and the story is a truly fascinating one.

If you haven’t seen this series yet, this is your official spoiler warning for the rest of this post! And although the outcome of the case may be historical fact, we recommend watching the series and enjoying the gripping twists and turns in the story of the investigation.

“What if there’s a wudder in there?”

The series begins with the introduction of James Fitzgerald, a real life criminal profiler who contributed to the case. Although some with knowledge of the true events claim “Fitz” is a composite character representing several investigators, he is nonetheless a compelling protagonist. Fresh out of FBI Academy, Fitz is a new criminal profiler chosen to take part in the FBI’s UNABOM investigation. Quickly becoming frustrated with the FBI’s adherence to unlikely profiles based on little evidence, he suggests developing a fresh profile of the killer, one derived from careful reading of the Unabomber’s own letters and manifesto. He thinks the Unabomber is much more intelligent than the FBI had accounted for, and ultimately an ideological terrorist, not a serial killer.

“Is it Corrections, or Errata?”

The first inkling of linguistics as a relevant avenue of investigation comes to Fitz when he is mocked by his teammates for his pronunciation of the word water, or as he says, wudder, with his Philadelphia accent. Fitz has a revelation–what if there’s a wudder in the manifesto, some clue in the language as to the author’s origins? He invites a team of experts in all the topics relevant to the manifesto, including linguist Natalie Rogers. While the other academics contribute little, Rogers politely asks questions about the language in the text: does it say Corrections or Errata? It turns out to be an important distinction: the format of the manifesto matches the accepted format for dissertations written between 1967 and 1972. The first major clue: the Unabomber has a PhD. Rogers then tells Fitz about idiolect, the concept of linguistic variation at an individual level, or as Fitz calls it, a “linguistic fingerprint”. He is immediately taken by the idea, and it begins to shape his team’s investigation going forward.

Through this idea, clues start to reveal themselves: the Unabomber spells some words in unusual ways, which turn out to match an old style guide for the Chicago Tribune, indicating that he probably read that newspaper diligently at some point between 1949 and 1954. He uses outdated and offensive terminology for women and minorities, indicating his age as older than previously thought, probably at least 50. He’s meticulous, a perfectionist; he writes about his sophisticated philosophical ideas in a somewhat academic register. The picture painted by these clues looks quite different from the FBI’s original profile.

However, word choice and spelling aren’t the only tools at Fitz’s disposal. While grabbing dinner with Rogers, she humorously uses a nacho platter as a visual aid for explanation of the linguistic case for the Slavic homeland. She explains that linguists looked not only for the words the daughter languages had, but the ones they didn’t have. This inspires Fitz to look toward discourse analysis of the manifesto, and the concepts and topics not mentioned by the Unabomber.

Linguists can make a visual aid out of anything.

More clues and theories roll in: he doesn’t mention a family, or friends, and is likely very isolated. He doesn’t appear to have a phone, and doesn’t seem to know about computers, pop culture, or modern tech companies. Maybe, Fitz reasons, he’s been isolated for quite some time.

Eventually, the big break in the case does come from language: when the Unabomber demands his manifesto be published on a national scale, Fitz convinces his boss, who convinces Janet Reno, that agreeing to the demand might result in someone recognizing the language in the document. Sure enough, David Kaczynski comes across the manifesto, recognizes the style and content, and is immediately concerned that his brother, Ted Kaczynski, may be the Unabomber. After hearing Fitz’s working profile, David is stunned by the close resemblance. This convinces him to share more evidence and give up his Ted’s location.

Finally, Fitz is able to help the team secure a warrant to search Kaczynski’s cabin, based on the close linguistic resemblance between the killer’s letters and Kaczynski’s letters to his brother. Language proves to be the tool that provides not only investigative leads, but also probable cause.

Where is the Unabomber’s “homeland”?

Although the account presented in Manhunt: Unabomber is fictionalized, this case is well known to be one that brought forensic linguistic analysis into higher regard. The series depicts the real value of author identification, dialectology, discourse analysis, and corpus analysis, as these techniques conspired to create a valuable and accurate criminal profile of the Unabomber.

Furthermore, even within the bounds of fiction, the story depicts a reality many linguists experience daily: the fascinating applications of linguistic analysis, and the frequent, frustrating resistance from those outside the field. Natalie Rogers is mocked by the other academics even when her insight proves useful to the investigation; Fitz is told repeatedly that language isn’t real evidence, and is repeatedly prevented from following what are truly real leads, with real investigative value. As a linguist, it is definitely a pleasure to watch Fitz and Rogers succeed and eventually lead the case to its close–even if, at the end of the story, they still don’t get the credit they deserve.

One qualm that a member of our staff had was how the Philadelphia accent was depicted in the movie. As a Philadelphian herself, she found issue with how the actor pronounced wudder, as well as the lack of common idiosyncrasies present in the Philadelphian dialect. While the film highlighted idiolects and their ability to reveal aspects of a person’s history, Fitz was played by an Australian actor and, at times, his native idiolect came through. Inadvertently, the show once again depicts how one’s own language can reveal more than initially meets the ears.

Have you seen Manhunt: Unabomber? If so, tell us in the comments what you thought! If not, we highly recommend watching the tale unfold for yourself. For more analysis of linguistics in pop culture, check out last week’s post about Arrival. And don’t forget to head over to our Fund Drive homepage to read more about us and donate TODAY. The LINGUIST List needs your help!

Linguistically yours,

Clare Harshey, jobs editor
on behalf of the LINGUIST List Team

EDIT: Although not mentioned in the post above, one clue used to secure the search warrant was the Unabomber’s inversion of the popular idiom: “you can’t eat your cake and have it too”. LINGUIST List reader Anna Finzel reached out to let us know that this is actually an inversion typically used in Nigerian English! Upon investigation, we found that the idiom is inverted in several other languages as well. So it should be noted that forensic linguistics, wielded recklessly, could also have hurt this investigation. In this case, if that clue had been relied on too strongly, it could have led the team to incorrectly narrow the suspect pool to Nigerian English speakers or other immigrant communities. Thanks, Anna, for sharing this important point!

Featured Linguist: David Stifter

Featured Linguist: David Stifter

Why am I a linguist ‒ A tale of three spells

1. Under the spell of Celtic

I remember when I first encountered the word ‘Celtic‘. I was around eight years old and had to stay home from school because I was suffering from a fluish infection. To stave off my boredom, my father brought home the latest volume of Asterix, ‘Asterix in Belgium’, my first encounter with that character. On one of the first pages, Asterix introduces himself to the Belgians by saying (of course in German translation) ‘We are from the Celtic part of Gaul’. I wondered what ‘keltisch’ (Celtic) meant and came up with one of my first etymologies. I thought this word must be somehow derived from ‘kalt’ (cold). One learns through one’s mistakes.

A few years later, in grammar school, I remember the excitement that I felt when I leaved through the final pages of our school edition of Caesar’s Gaulish War. The index gave explanations and etymologies for all personal names mentioned in the text, including the Gaulish ones. By that time, not least because of Asterix, I had a general idea what Celtic and Gaulish meant, but the language itself, like the other Celtic languages of which at the time I knew nothing more than the names, had already put a spell on me that had nothing to do with any practical considerations. This is how conditioning works. A generation later, I find myself in Ireland, holding the position of professor of one of those Celtic languages and contributing to the edition of newly discovered Gaulish inscriptions, on the forefront of those who try to shed some light on this still so poorly understood language.

How I got into Old Irish is an anecdote worth telling, an anecdote that illustrates the twists and turns of life. Although I had had these romantic ideas about Celtic for many years, I used to be least attracted by Irish (largely for aesthetic reasons: too many h’s in the words). One October evening 1994, while walking home from an evening lecture, I told the lecturer that I was dreaming of going to Wales to study Welsh. Next morning, the Head of Department, Prof. Jochem Schindler – who the lecturer must have contacted immediately after our chat – called me into his office and greeted me with the words: ‘You are going to Maynooth to do Old Irish‘. I refrained from objecting that so far I had not felt the least appeal by Old Irish. Only a few weeks later Prof. Schindler, having just turned 50, suffered a stroke and died a few days later, and I was left with his linguistic legacy. So I went to Maynooth, facilitated by a Scholarship of the Republic of Ireland, and sucked in Old Irish there. After that year abroad, I returned to Vienna where I got sucked into a career as a historical linguist, more by a combination of luck and inadvertence than by any grand design. After fifteen years I received a call back to Maynooth. In this way, very much like St Patrick who heeded the call of Vox Hiberionacum ‘the voice of the Irish‘, I am here again now, spreading Old Irish to the world. And after all, compared to Modern Irish, there aren’t that many h’s in Old Irish words.

2. Under the spell of solving riddles

Without curiosity, there is no science. Without the desire for discovery, there is no progress. Without the urge to solve riddles, we will only ever remain at the stage of stupefied mystery, but we will not be able to move on to appreciative admiration. This is what motivates me to look behind words, where they come from, what their history is, and to look into them, to see what their inner working is. It may be the case that knowing the name of something tells us nothing about that thing, but knowing a name and its etymological analysis surely reveals us something about the people who created the name, what they thought, how they saw their world. Many riddles in that!

My discipline of historical linguistics is blessed in that we can operate on the hypothesis that every riddle has a solution, but it is cursed all the same since the key to that solution is often irretrievably lost in time. We can try to piece together the fragmentary evidence that has come down to us, but we may not have access to enough information to create the full picture. However, we can still make the effort, and perhaps, on the way, we are fortunate to discover an alternative way of looking at a problem. This is why I love deciphering inscriptions in scripts that are no longer used, or why I spend my time on extracting fragmentary messages from almost illegible manuscripts. For me, the linguistic study of a language is inseparable from a rooting in the philology of that tradition. When I approach an unknown text, it has to be taken from all sides: the palaeography, the spelling, the requirements of the genre, the phonology, the lexicon, the syntax, the historical context. Missing a tiny stroke of ink over one letter can have effects on the understanding of the verb, the clause, the text, with further reverberations on syntactic theory, the study of history etc. Without understanding its anchorage in real life, we will only make superficial statements about the language.

A newly found word, its meaning, its prehistory, and its relationship with other words fill me with great excitement. These small riddles can be found everywhere in our lives, they can enrich us every day. The fact that I grew up in a part of Austria where four different languages (not counting dialects) are spoken, made me aware of the richness and value of linguistic diversity. I learnt soon that most of my German-speaking peers carried their ignorance and rejection of the minority languages like a depraved badge of honour, not as a mark of disgrace, but for me it was a stimulus to learn more and to keep my mind open.

I was fortunate to belong to the ‒ perhaps ‒ last generation of university students in my country that was not squeezed into the straightjacket of economised education, that is to say, school-like curricula and tight time-frames. I had the privilege of being able to learn just for learning’s sake, almost whatever I wanted and for as long as I wanted. Since I did not need any credits for my degree at home, I never actually sat a single exam in Old Irish when I studied in Maynooth. The closest I got to being examined about Early Irish were two exams in Middle Irish, which I did a few years later in Vienna. I spent nine years on my Master’s degree, and another five on the PhD. Add this to my twelve years in school, and I spent 26 years in education and training. How does this compare to the 20 years of learning that Julius Caesar reported for the druids? It is fitting that as a professor in Ireland I now bear the title of Ollamh, the highest grade awarded to poets in medieval Irish society. And knowing its history, I bear it proudly.

3. Under the spell of time

The third spell that I am under is that of time: What is time, what is its cause, and is it at all? How does it shape human experience, what does it mean for a person to lose time? These issues are intricately woven into the structure of languages and language experience – language being one of the most effective means to counteract time.

Where these three spells overlap, that is that delightful place where I find myself when I succeed in recreating a small piece of lost time, when I am able to make speak to us again human beings who lived centuries or millennia ago, and when I make them share some of their thoughts with us, make them share how they rationalised their lives in environments that are very different from our daily modern experience, and yet they are of the same human nature. There is no standing still. It is one of the tasks of a scientist to bring together the past with the present in order to transform it into the future. What my job, or rather my vocation, is about is, in the final analysis, to bring together the old – the ancient texts, the languages no longer spoken – with the new ‒ the modern technology of computational and quantitative methods, databases, the internet, in order convey the analogue media of the objectivised past into the digital media of the virtual present.

ABOUT THE LINGUIST

David Stifter is Professor of Old Irish at the Maynooth University Department of Early Irish, Ireland. His research project Chronologicon Hibernicum has received funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (grant agreement No. 647351). The project aims at developing methods for the dating of Early Irish language developments.

 

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Meet our 2017 Interns!

This summer we have been joined by seven new interns, who are working on projects like redesigning our website, developing new speech corpora, learning the ropes of editing, and more! Learn more about them below. If joining the ranks of these brilliant young interns interests you, watch out for the opening of the 2018 application cycle next spring! In the meantime, you can learn more about getting involved with the LINGUIST List here.

 

Taitum Caggiano, who is pursuing her Linguistics B.A. at Indiana University, has been working on a few different annotation projects at the LINGUIST List this summer ranging from sibilants in Heritage Polish to voicing in Chatino. She is mostly interested in subjects related to Second and East Asian languages and is planning on teaching English through the Peace Corps after graduation. When she isn’t in the office or busy with other commitments, Taitum enjoys hiking, baking bread, and painting.

 

 

 

Julian Dietrich is joining us for his second year interning at the LINGUIST List. He is currently developing an application for our new website using Django. He’s excited about familiarizing himself with this technology, because he is entering his second year as an informatics major in the fall. In his free time, he likes to hike, travel, and listen to music.

 

 

 

Paige Goulding is working on the redesign of the LINGUIST List website. She is originally from outside Philadelphia, but is in Bloomington pursuing her Master’s in Computational Linguistics from Indiana University. Outside of academia, Paige enjoys writing, baking, dogs, and anything to do with Harry Potter.

 

 

Jacob Heredos is a second-year intern who has worked with LL-Map, MultiTree, and San Juan Quiahije Chatino. This summer he is applying updates to MultiTree and annotating the Chatino corpus. Jacob earned his BA in Anthropology, International Studies, and Spanish with a minor in Linguistics from Indiana University in 2016 and will be traveling to Oaxaca, Mexico, after leaving the LINGUIST List in September. In his free time, Jacob enjoys running, cooking, hiking, reading, camping, and learning languages.

 

 

 

 

Katharina Suhr is working as an intern for the Linguist List from July to October. She studied Information Management in Hannover, Germany. Before starting her Bachelor degree she finished an apprenticeship in a library and was part of a one year exchange from Germany to the US. During her internship Katha is working on the new webite and GeoLing. In her free time she enjoys reading, travelling and taking photos.

 

Daniel McDermott is working at LINGUIST List on the Texas German Dialect Project. He graduated with a BA in Linguistics from California State University, Fullerton and is looking to pursue graduate studies in the near future. His primary interests involve the study of language change, language contact, and historical linguistics. His research pertains to the Germanic languages, namely German and Norwegian, as well as other languages with which these tongues have come into contact. By aiding in the study of Texas German, Daniel hopes to glean insight into the world of dialect studies from a computational perspective, so as to apply this knowledge to future research efforts. In his spare time, he enjoys reading, writing, and drumming.

 

Sarah Robinson is a new editor at LINGUIST List, having started her training in spring 2017. She hails from Northern Nevada, where she attended the University of Nevada, Reno and graduated with a BA in English with an Emphasis on Linguistics. She is currently working on an MA in General Linguistics at Indiana University, Bloomington. Her research interests are mainly in the realm of historical phonology, as well as philology and manuscript studies. In her spare time, she loves to read, hike, learn interesting new things, and play video games.

 

 

 

Melanie Smith is also contributing to the Texas German Dialect Project. She is from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and will return to the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee in the fall to start her third year pursuing her BA in Linguistics and German, and minor in Japanese. She plans to spend the spring semester studying in Germany, and to eventually pursue graduate studies in Linguistics. Her main areas of interest are sociolinguistics, language acquisition, and language pedagogy. In her free time, she enjoys playing the piano, baking, and visiting museums.

The Spring 2017 LINGUIST List Fund Drive is over! Thank you!

Dear Colleagues, Linguist List supporters, linguistics and language lovers,

The Spring 2017 LINGUIST List Fund Drive is over! With more than $ 40,000 donated by 814 of you, we’ve decided to close the Fund Drive for this season. We are so grateful for all of your donations, big and small, for all your support and letters of encouragement during this time — and the rest of the year, too! We could not keep operating without your enthusiasm and generosity. There is no Linguistics Online Community without Linguists actively involved.

This year’s Fund Drive received some amazing contributions from the crew at Speculative Grammarian. To them we are especially grateful! When we contacted the Chief Editor, Trey Jones, shortly before the Fund Drive, the whole team immediately jumped by our side and contributed riddles, puzzles, jokes and prizes, most of which you’ve encountered in our great Geoling Treasure Hunts! If you’ve enjoyed the fun they provided, there’s a lot more to be found on their website which is really worth a read (trust us): http://specgram.com/

We’d also like to thank our Advisors, who have collectively donated more than any institution in the challenges! They contributed with their donations, and also with their advice, and by cheering on the competitions. Thank you, also, to those of our supporting publishers who have generously donated the prizes for our lotteries, among others Edinburgh University Press, John Benjamins, Morgan & Claypool Publishers, Multilingual Matters, Springer and University of Nebraska Press!

Now after all these special thanks, we really want you, readers, to know how much we appreciate your donations, because without them, we wouldn’t exist. This support shows us that we are not alone in our cause. We believe that in today’s world, with the rising importance of social media and news at the center of our societies, maintaining a free, neutral scientific platform is truly crucial, it is in fact an obligation for all those who can contribute. In this age more than ever we need to, we have to use this great opportunity to be united as Language Scientists across the world.

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Announcing the 2017 Fund Drive Champions!

Dear Subscribers,

We did it!! We’ve met our Advisor’s Challenge, with $40,102.55 donated collectively by 805 of you!

Congratulations and thank you for helping us meet this Challenge! With the end of the Advisor’s challenge, also comes the closing of our Universities, Subfields, Countries and Regions Challenges! We’re now pleased to announce the 2017 LINGUIST List Fund Drive Champions:

University Challenge: Indiana University is the winner!
This was a VERY tight competition, so we’d like to express special congratulations to the Univeristy of Washington, our 2016 Champions, for such a close second place!
The Third place is held by Stanford University!

Subfield Challenge: For the second year in a row, the first place goes to Syntax!
Runners up: Computational Linguistics and Sociolinguistics! Congratulations!

Region Challenge: North America is in first place, followed by Europe and Asia!

Countries top 10:

After a long running tie, Germany and Canada have passed the UK!

United States of America (USA)
Germany
Canada
United Kingdom
Netherlands
Spain
Japan
France
Switzerland
Italy

Thank you to all for your participation in the Challenges, and Congratulations to the winners! In addition you’ve all won our sincere gratitude.

There are still a few days left to donate before the end of the Fund Drive, so if you would like to contribute to our cause, head over here: http://funddrive.linguistlist.org/donate/

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Challenge Update – The Countdown has begun!

In our last week of the Challenges, here is the latest update on who is in the
lead! Donate before Sunday to support your team, and invite your colleagues to
do so as well! http://funddrive.linguistlist.org/donate/

Subfield Challenge:

1) Syntax, leading with $5121.00
2) Computational Linguistics with $4035.00
3) Semantics: $3087.00

You can check how close behind your field is here:
http://funddrive.linguistlist.org/subfield/

University Challenge:

1) University of Washington $2495.00 (38 donors)
2) Indiana University $2386.00 (21 donors)
3) Stanford University $1670.00 (21 donors)

Indiana and Washigton are in pretty close competition! You can check where
your university stands here: http://funddrive.linguistlist.org/university/

Regions Challenge:

1) North America 335 donors
2) Europe 173 donors
3) Asia 28 donors

http://funddrive.linguistlist.org/region/

Countries Challenge:

1) United States of America (USA) 307 donors
3) Germany 49 donors
3) United Kingdom 36 donors

For the Regions and Countries challenges, the amount of your donation does not
matter! Everything can be turned around just with a lot of small donations.

Since you’re already a competitor by falling into our different categories,
please donate to make your field, university, region and country shine to the
Linguistics community – on top of contributing to a very good cause! Your
donation only counts in the competition if you donate before Sunday, April
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Thank you for your support, and Good Luck!

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Fun Fact: Donors so Far

Hey everyone!

Thank you for the support you’ve shown for us! Here is a graph showing the number of donors versus the number of job posts on the listserv.

Full Map

The colors come from the ratio of number of donors and the number of jobs in a given country. We’ve still got some ground to cover before we reach our goal. If you’d like to show your support please donate at funddrive.linguistlist.org.