Some Post Fund-drive Words and a Final Rising Star: Meet Anastasia Panova!

Dear Readers,

Thank you so much for your contributions this year. It is true that the fund drive is over but you can always donate by visiting our donation page here and searching for the the “Linguist List Discretionary Fund.”

As a post-fund-drive treat we have one final rising star to present. Meet Anastasia Panova! She is a 4th year BA student in the Linguistic Convergence Laboratory at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow and has done substantial work. She is involved in a field project for the documentation of Abaza, a Northwest Caucasian language, and has published a great journal article comparing morphologically-bound complementation in several languages of Eurasia and the Americas. She has also co-authored several talks given at international conferences. In her lab, she has assisted by compiling a corpus of Russian as it is spoken in Daghestan, developing a web interface for this data and also manages online access to the data. These are only a few of the many technical solutions that she has provided for the lab. On top of all this, according to her mentors she is also an excellent team worker. With all of that said… lets get to her piece.

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Anastasia Panova

What all linguistic theories as well as computational technologies face at some moment is linguistic diversity. A formal theory designed on the basis of well-described languages may be unable to adequately account for data from little-known languages whose good descriptions are either lacking or have appeared only recently. Likewise, NLP tools are hard to imagine working with all existing languages with equal ease. I am especially sorry for psycho- and neurolinguistics where all studies are still limited to a very small range of languages. Even typologists are not able to build databases covering more than half of all existing languages due to the lack of data, and usually their samples contain only about 200 languages. I think that if we want to do more than just investigate the most widespread or best described languages but rather to understand something about the boundaries of linguistic diversity (if any) and in the end about Language in general, then the first thing that we still need to do is high-quality language documentation and description.

Language description is not only extremely important but also really interesting. Perhaps we can compare linguists to astronomers who also are still able to study only a small part of the universe, and every new piece of data appears to be a discovery. A crucial difference is that linguistic fieldwork is mostly not about technical measurements but about interaction with living people. What will end up being written in the grammar of the language one is working on largely depends on one’s interaction with the native speakers and on one’s interpretation of the results thereof. That’s why any fieldworker has a great responsibility towards those who will rely on her data. I admire linguists who spend months and even years in the field and work on the documentation of the whole language alone, but I also really appreciate the Russian tradition of collective fieldtrips where students are allowed to work in the field on a par with professional linguists. For many of our students, the real interest in linguistics began with fieldwork.

Talking about my current research interests, I must admit that I certainly cannot name the closed list thereof. At the School of Linguistics of the Higher School of Economics (HSE) in Moscow, where I am finishing my BA studies, all BA students at some moment have to choose between two profiles: theoretical linguistics and computational linguistics. Forced to somehow define my research interests I have chosen theoretical linguistics, but, fortunately, I still have a lot of opportunities to learn computational tools for linguistic analysis and these skills help me a lot in my theoretical studies.

I also have been lucky to be involved in several scientific projects carried out at my university. First, I am working with great scholars such as Johanna Nichols at the Linguistic Convergence Laboratory, where I do corpus linguistics. We collect recordings of different varieties of the languages of Russia, compile spoken corpora of these varieties (some corpora are already available online at https://ilcl.hse.ru/en/corpora/) and then use them to investigate the processes and mechanisms of language contact. Second, I am a member of the research team studying Abaza, a polysynthetic language spoken by approximately 50,000 people in the Russian North Caucasus and in Turkey and currently the least studied language of the Northwest Caucasian family. We are indebted to the people in the village Inzhich-Chukun (Abazinsky district, Karachay-Cherkess Republic, Russia) where our team has been working on the description of Abaza during last three years thanks to their extraordinary hospitality and tireless efforts to facilitate our research. Recently, we have just returned from another field trip to Inzhich-Chukun, where I had been collecting data for my BA thesis. This thesis is the accumulation of the results of my fieldwork on the aspectual, modal and evaluative verbal suffixes of Abaza, whose order in the wordform presumably results from their scopal relations and compatibility restrictions. In my thesis, I elaborate this approach on the basis of my analysis of the interaction of the semantics of these suffixes, many of which are polysemous, with the event structure of verbs. I hope that my study of Abaza suffixation will contribute both to the description of this fascinating language and to the deeper understanding of the workings of polysynthetic morphology in general.

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Thanks so much for all of your support and donations during this year’s fund drive. Have a great summer!

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