Music and Language Revitalization

Music can takes us to exotic locales, different time periods, and acquaint us with foreign cultures. Art by Aeon Lux.


Hello Linguist Listers,

Previously my fellow colleagues wrote about Language Revitalization in the context of modern-day technologies and cinema. These are both powerful methodologies for galvanizing interest in foreign languages and subsequently assisting with language revitalization efforts. Today I would like to talk about language revitalization in the context of one more medium and that is music. As we all know music is one of the most powerful tools for evoking emotion in our fellow humans. From rousing classical symphonies like Beethoven’s 5th to more ambient, future-oriented electronic pieces, music can evoke, not only a wide range of emotions, but also specific times and places in the minds of listeners. These qualities make music a perfect vehicle for expressing oneself and also a great way of expressing one’s language and culture. As a matter of fact, music is so good at this that it has already shown results in sparking interest in foreign languages. “A desire to learn the lyrics of K-Pop hits like Gangnam Style has boosted the Korean language’s popularity in countries like the US, Canada, Thailand and Malaysia” reads the opening line of an article from the BBC. This article details the increase in interest in the Korean language as it has grown in recent years. It is true that Korean is not an endangered language but this is an example of the kinds of media that help to get people interested in languages and the cultures that they are tied to.

One more example of this is the current most-played song in the history of YouTube which is Despacito by Luis Fonsi. Its lyrics are written completely in Spanish and it is not just the most-played song on YouTube but it is also currently the most viewed YouTube video of all time. Period. I did not find articles detailing the impact of this song on Spanish language learning in my quick search but I suspect that it has a similar effect to what we see with Korean and K-pop music. To speak momentarily from personal experience, I have always had a latent interest in the Japanese language. This interest was almost undoubtedly sparked by my early exposure to anime which is a form of Japanese animation that has gained a large following in the West. When I was a child, my Father would watch the shows with my younger brother and I and we always thoroughly enjoyed the opening and ending themes to the shows. These musical pieces were frequently sung in Japanese and over time I began to enjoy the songs in their own right. The tools to learn Japanese were not quite as easily available at the time but, as my colleague mentioned, the technology of today is central to language learning and it has allowed me to indulge my interest in the language (when I have free time, which is a rare occurrence lol).

Example of the Anime Art Style

All-in-all, I believe that music and other art forms offer a powerful method for exposing people to foreign cultures and languages and that we should leverage these as much as we can in order to prop up, protect, and revitalize as many endangered languages as possible. These languages are disappearing at an alarming rate and this is just one of the many ways in which we can promote linguistic and cultural diversity in a world that definitely needs it.

Thanks so much for reading our blog and keep doing great work!


Everett G.

Rising Stars: Meet Elizabeth Pankratz!

Dear Readers,

This year we will be continuing our Rising Stars Series where we feature up and coming linguists ranging from impactful undergraduates to prolific PhD candidates. These rising stars have been 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 happily present to you the perspective of Elizabeth Pankratz. She is currently an MA student at Humboldt University, Berlin. She has published a paper on digital lexicography for endangered languages in Canada, she has work published in the Journal “Morphology” and she is currently working on a thesis on the diachronic development of morphological productivity. That’s a lot of achievement! Her excellent track record even allowed her to work at Freie Universität, Berlin and the Leibniz-Zentrum Allgemeine Sprachwissenschaft (ZAS) simultaneously as a student assistant. Furthermore, her work with the good people at ZAS lead to another high profile publication in the Journal of Memory and Language. She has received the highest of praise from her mentors and probably has a long list of accolades about which we could continue writing but that might take all day! Without further delay here is her Rising Star piece…


I see the field of linguistics becoming increasingly relevant, largely because of its applicability in modern technology. Our society is constantly encountering more and more opportunities to converse with machines, and these machines have to be able to recognise what we’re saying and respond in kind. My current interests lie in how our research into language is applicable in tech, both in deep learning systems and in language revitalisation work, and I’ll talk about these two points here.

First, for instance, many linguists (myself among them) believe that cognitive language processing happens probabilistically, and most machine learning techniques are also based on probabilistic assumptions. But how comparable are the two sorts of processing? I think that we will be asking ourselves this more as work on deep learning with language progresses. Can we create machines that actually have the same intuitions about language that we do? Should we? If we make machines that can generate language that, to us, sounds just like language produced by another human, can the way these machines conceptualise and use language tell us anything about the way that we do?

Making machines that use language in a way that reflects human intuition means that we need to understand human intuition in the first place, which is where our work as linguists enters the bigger picture. Discovering and understanding systematic behaviour of phenomena that look arbitrary or unpredictable at first glance is naturally valuable for the science of linguistics as a whole, but I find it so exciting that there are also applications outside of our immediate field. Some of my research aims to discover this kind of underlying systematicity. For example, together with Roland Schäfer at the Freie Universität Berlin, I showed that conceptual plurality in a German compound word makes the appearance of a linking element with the same form as the plural suffix of the first noun more likely (e.g. Bild ‘picture’ in Bildersammlung ‘picture collection’ is conceptually plural – you can’t have a collection with only one picture – while Bild in Bildrahmen ‘picture frame’ is not, and the pluralic linking element -er- is more probable in the first type of compound than the second). This finding indicates that German linking elements do contribute something to the semantics of compounds, which has been a point of disagreement among morphologists of German. This work has been published in Morphology as Schäfer & Pankratz (2018), a paper I’m incredibly proud of. We combined the automatic processing of large amounts of data with linguistic theory-building supporting a probabilistic approach, moving linguistic methodology forward. Another current project of mine investigates the conditions under which anaphoric reference to non-head constituents of compound words in English and German can succeed (like in the sentence “It’s deodorant season, wear it!”).

These are tricky and very specific phenomena, like much of what linguists deal with. However, machine models will only be able to generate, say, fully natural-sounding compounds in German or correctly resolve non-standard anaphoric reference if they can deal with these borderline cases. This is why our research into the fine details of language is incredibly important, not just for our field but for all fields that build on the study of language. The modern tech world doesn’t just need software developers and engineers, it also needs linguists.

I’ll just briefly touch on the second point about tech in language revitalisation, since it was also recently discussed on this blog by Nils Hjortnaes. Developing an understanding of these tricky phenomena in large, well-researched languages opens methodological doors to pursuing them in smaller, lower-resource languages, where the importance of high-quality language resources for teaching and learning is even greater, especially if the language in question is endangered. Again, we can extend our gaze outside of the doors of our field and use our knowledge about language to fulfill social responsibilities, too.

I look forward to being part of this really exciting field for hopefully many years to come, and I’m grateful for this opportunity to share my thoughts here with you!


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 its support of linguists around the world.

Challenges Update!

Week Four Challenges Update!

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

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

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

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

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

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

The LINGUIST List Team

Staff Letter: Peace Han

Dear LINGUIST List Subscribers,


Looking forward to spring!

This is Peace Han, the systems administrator and one of the student programmers here at the LINGUIST List. I hope this message finds all of you well and ready to greet the spring! It’s still a little chilly here in Bloomington, Indiana, but the flower buds have finally begun to bloom and all of us at the LINGUIST List are eagerly awaiting warmer weather.


In case you couldn’t tell by the barrage of fund drive messages being sent your way, we are currently running our annual LINGUIST List Fund Drive! As my colleagues and fellow graduate assistants have mentioned before me, all of us are indebted to you, our readers, for this opportunity to participate in and serve the global linguistic community. The LINGUIST List has been for all of us a place for personal and academic growth, as it has been for numerous linguistics students before us over the past 29 years and counting.

Working as the system administrator and programmer for the LINGUIST List has given me some interesting insight into the development of code and coding styles over the years. Because much of the code running the current site was first written many years ago at the dawn of the internet era, and because the LINGUIST List has changed and adapted so much to incorporate new technologies, idiosyncrasies and outdated conventions sometimes still persist in the code. It is always an adventure trying to track down exactly why certain features were written in one way rather than another, and I am often reminded of linguistic fieldwork as I read, write and interpret the legacy of code inherited from student programmers  who worked on this website and its various features before me. Still, the natural language comments left in the code by my predecessors are much more helpful to me than code language, reminding me that we have a long way to go before computers and AI can catch up to natural human language. This is why I believe the work we linguists do is so valuable, and why I am honored to be able to contribute to this field through the LINGUIST List and through my studies.


Programming, studying linguistics, and playing guitar as a side gig.

Outside of my job at the LINGUIST List, I am a student at Indiana University in the Computational Linguistics, joint BS/MS program, with a dual degree in Psychology. The Linguistics department at IU and the LINGUIST List both have been wonderful in supporting me throughout my academic career at IU, and I would not be able to complete the 5-year program without your support. I and all of my fellow student graduate assistants working at the LINGUIST List are grateful for the chance to support and give back to the linguistics community while also completing our studies.

So once again, thank you for your continued support of the LINGUIST List! If you think the LINGUIST List and the various services it offers are valuable, as all of us at LL do, or if you are a believer of free and open communication within the field of linguistics (or if you simply want to stop having to exit out of the fund drive page to reach our site), please donate here. We are all grateful for your support!


Peace Han

Systems Administrator | Programmer


Language, Revitalization, and Documentation… in the Movies!

Dear LINGUIST List Readers,

Hello again! Last year we wrote about language in pop culture, the movies, and other media, and this year we are writing about language documentation and revitalization in honor of our theme of renewal for the 2019 Fund Drive. I… I don’t have a lot of experience in this area of field linguistics, if I’m going to be honest. (My fieldwork courses start next semester, okay?)

Anyway so I’m going to talk about… language in the movies again! This time, language revitalization and documentation in the movies!


Are all Lang Doc efforts in film somehow involve aliens instead of human languages? (This is still a great movie, btw, Whorfianism aside.)

And the minute I started thinking about this blog post, it occurred to me that language documentation and revitalization are not really well-represented topics in most pop culture, film, and other media. The example that came to mind first was 2017’s Arrival, in which linguist Louise Banks performs a variation of Ken Pike’s monolingual demonstration in her efforts to bridge the language gap between humans and aliens. But surely we as a culture have more to say about our own human language gaps, right? As linguists, you are all aware of how fast the world’s languages are becoming endangered, in part as a consequence of increased globalization and the influence of a small handful of dominant cross-cultural linguae francae. So why isn’t this global phenomenon–crisis even–getting more attention?


By Source, Fair use,

In the movies, most instances of “language documentation” occur when explorers or even colonizers encounter indigenous peoples, and it’s more an instance of the explorers learning the language than an instance of someone trying to write it down to ensure its survival. A quick trip down Google lane yields, of course, The Linguists, a documentary about two linguists traveling to various homes of endangered languages and trying to find native speakers, sometimes when there are as few as nine or ten living speakers.



However, things are looking up for endangered languages in film–by now you may have heard of a Canadian movie that was made entirely in an endangered language, a film that aims to be a preservation effort for its language-subject. It’s language documentation/revitalization as art. Which is pretty cool.

The movie is called SGaawaay K’uuna, (‘Edge of the Knife’) and it is performed in Haida, a language spoken fluently by just twenty speakers, the Haida people of British Columbia. According to the article linked above, Haida is a language isolate.

Actor Tyler York in SGaawaay K’uuna. Photograph: Niijang Xyaalas Productions.

Director Gwaai Edenshaw says he is unwilling to accept Haida as somehow unavoidably moribund–and in my experience, many linguists agree. It’s not over for any endangered or sleeping language. Personally, it seems to me like creating Haida art, Haida film, is one of the best ways to vitalize interest in the preservation of Haida against the overwhelming odds of globalization. Read about the film in the link above–we think it’s something linguists the world over would love to see! It premiers in the UK in April.

But don’t let the use of Haida come off like a gimmick–check out the trailer to see how gorgeous the cinematography is (those sweeping landscape shots!) and what a strong sense of mood and place the film seems to have… and to hear some spoken Haida.

The film premiers in the UK in April, but I wasn’t able to determine a premier date for viewers from other parts of the world during my brief Google tour. Nonetheless, I’m going to keep my eye out for showings in my area, and I think all linguists should find a way to support the production of more Haida-language media by finding out where they can see SGaawaay K’uuna!

Thanks again for reading our blog, and for all your support of the LINGUIST List throughout the years! As you know, the 2019 Fund Drive is under way and we have reached just 20% of our goal! We rely on you, our readers and supporters, to keep this service available to the global linguistics community, so if you can, please consider donating here!

Thanks so much for all the support over the last 29(!) years–

The LL Team

Fun Facts: Career Search Page

Dear all,

It’s Tuesday again, and we are excited to present more fun facts about our new website.

We designed a brand-new, all-in-one career search page which gives you access to the most recent posts of jobs, internships, and support. Posts are presented in cards which demonstrate the highlights of each post. A handy set of filters are provided if you are looking for something more specific. Also, there is a search box for our readers to search for certain keywords.

You can check out the career search page (beta version) via the following link:

All of our web developers at Linguist List are graduate students in Linguistics and we are trying our best to revitalize the new website to improve the experience of our readers. Please stay tuned for more fun facts about our new site coming soon!


If you appreciate services provided by the LINGUIST List like book and job announcements, please consider donating to our annual fund drive campaign. We rely on your donations to continue operating and supporting our editors.

If you’ve already donated or just donated, thank you, we appreciate it.

Thank you to the University of Antarctica

Hello all,

Several of the consultants assisting researchers

We here at the LINGUIST List would like to give a shout out to the University of Antarctica for their extremely generous donation of $20,000. As the #6 top university in Linguistics in the world, with the #4 best graduate Linguistics program, their work is invaluable to the community, especially their latest project documenting the indigenous languages of Antarctica.

With such a large area and the difficulty of travel across the continent, it is no surprise that there are diverse dialects throughout Antarctica. The goal of the U of A’s most recent project is to document the features of these various dialects and, eventually, to create a dialectal map of the entire continent. It is a bold undertaking, but certainly a valuable one for any future researchers interested in the indigenous Antarctic populations.

For example, on the northern side of the continent, it is common to include only one squawk between trills. In contrast, on the northern side of the continent, they tend to reduplicate the squawks between trills. These are both totally different than the northern side of the continent where they lengthen the vowel on the squawk, a very unique feature.

So thank you once again to the University of Antarctica, both for your valuable work and your generous donation to our Fund Drive.

A graduate student of Linguistics at U of A involved in the project

If you appreciate services provided by the LINGUIST List like book and job announcements, please consider donating to our annual fund drive campaign. We rely on your donations to continue operating and supporting our editors.

If you’ve already donated or just donated, thank you, we appreciate it.

Featured Linguist: Patrick Honeybone

The following story was kindly written for us by internationally recognized linguist and editor of the Oxford Handbook of Historical Phonology, Patrick Honeybone!

I think I’ve been very lucky in my career in linguistics. I was lucky that I grew up in a family where it was normal and fun to speak other languages (even though we were landlocked in the East Midlands of England). I was lucky that the schools I attended were big enough and had enough resources to let me take several languages (I’m astonished when I think back that they ran an A-level class in German just for me – I don’t think that would happen in the UK right now). I was lucky that by the time I got to think about where to study, I’d just about figured out that some universities taught linguistic things as part of their languages degrees, and that I should apply to one that did. And I was lucky that, weeks after starting a BA degree in French and German at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne, I realised that I really didn’t want to study literature at all, but that Newcastle actually had the perfect degree for me – German and English Language – and they let me swap programmes without any problem.

In the UK, ‘English Language’ means something like ‘the synchronic and diachronic linguistics of English’, and this degree allowed me to study all kinds of things that still fascinate me now: the history and structure of varieties of English and German (and other languages), phonology, other areas of structure like syntax and morphology, sociolinguistics, dialectology, and even the history and philosophy of linguistics. I was lucky that my BA meant I got to spend a year studying in Germany (in Würzburg), where I got properly introduced to the wonders of Germanic-style historical grammars. I was lucky that Newcastle had some exciting lecturers, who showed me all sorts of interesting linguistic ideas, and I was lucky that they introduced an MA programme in Linguistics just as I was trying to figure out what I could do after my BA. I was lucky that I could get funding from the state for an MA, and then for a PhD, and that Newcastle offered the space to think, to combine theoretical and historical phonology, and to figure out that you can make a living out of it all.

I was also lucky that I had some great friends who did degrees at Newcastle at the same time as me, who went with me to my first linguistic conferences, and who made it seem normal to be interested in linguistics. I was lucky to get a job in academia before I finished my PhD. Lucky and stupid: it took another three years to get my PhD after that, but I was lucky to have a kind and helpful set of colleagues at Edge Hill College (now Edge Hill University), who – though we all had a lot to teach – created the space for me to finish my thesis. I was then absurdly lucky to get a job at Edinburgh, where I have found many fantastic colleagues, I have the luxury of teaching just what I want to teach, and where we have managed to set up a group of people interested in historical phonology that is as diverse and interesting as you could hope to find anywhere in the world. My mind is constantly fizzing from the ideas that I get to talk about with colleagues here, and I am also lucky that I’ve supervised some very smart postgraduate students – I’ve learnt a lot from them, too.

Professor Honeybone auctioning books for conference funds at the Manchester Phonology Meeting

Some visionary colleagues set up the Manchester Phonology Meeting just before I was beginning to awake to the marvels of phonology, and that has become a wonderful part of my life. I attended the conference in awe early on during my PhD and I was enthused to see what exciting discussions can take place at a linguistic conference (and how much fun can be had at them). I was excited that these colleagues allowed me to take over the running of the mfm in 2002 (when I was at Edge Hill, which while not in Manchester, was at least in the North-West of England). I have had the privilege to run the mfm (together with a large roster of colleagues from around the world) ever since, and I am constantly grateful that so many interesting people want to come and talk with us about phonology. I seem to run a lot of conferences, which might be a foolish thing to do, but I think that meeting to discuss ideas is crucial, and I like to think that getting the right atmosphere in an event (being open and welcoming, but also offering the chance for the serious discussion of ideas) is quite important. The series of Symposiums on Historical Phonology that we have set up at Edinburgh has also become a great aspect of my life, and I feel lucky that colleagues are interested enough to come to Edinburgh to talk about the many aspects of historical phonology that we all bring together (including: phonological theory, phonetics, sociolinguistics, dialectology, philology, reconstruction and acquisition).

I’ve been lucky that I have been trusted to edit a range of interesting things (like the Handbook of Historical Phonology, English Language and Linguistics, and Papers in Historical Phonology), and I’m lucky that I think (I hope!) that some colleagues have forgiven me if I have not delivered everything that I have promised when I took on too much. Most importantly, I’ve been lucky to have a fantastic family, who support me in all kinds of ways and who work things out so that I can go away for the kinds of trips that academics need to take (and who never cease to remind me that there is a lot to life outside of linguistics).

Professor Honeybone’s poster at the Edinburgh Symposium on Historical Phonology

So: yes – I think I’ve been very lucky. But I also think that you make your own luck. There have to be opportunities available to take, but you also have to figure out what the opportunities are and then how to grab them. And you also have to work out what might work as a new opportunity and then figure out how to implement it – that can be a lot of fun. Finally, I think that we are all very lucky that there is the LINGUIST List. I really don’t think that I could have done everything that I’ve done without it (it’s crucial to publicise conferences, for example, and I make a lot of use of the EasyAbs abstract management system). We are lucky that it’s a fundamentally free and entirely open access way of communicating with all colleagues who are interested in linguistics, anywhere in the world. We should all give what we can in this Fund Drive to keep the LINGUIST List going!

Saving Endangered Languages with Prescriptivism

Re-Printed from the Speculative Grammarian

Neil de Veratte
Director of Fieldwork Studies
Winter Academy of Language

All over the world, languages are being lost at an alarming rate. Field linguists do their best to preserve these languages, but find their speaker communities apathetic. “Why should I learn WotʃaKorlitt?” they ask, “It’s Spanish I need to get a job.” We need to look at successful languages, whose speakers are engaged with their language, to see what endangered languages can learn from them. When we do, we inevitably find that the most successful languages are those which possess a tradition of prescriptivist grammar. English has an army of armchair pedants who tell us all to never split an infinitive, that the passive should be avoided, and that prepositions must not be used to end a sentence with. French has the Academie Française to pronounce arbitrary bans on loanwords, and Spanish the Real Academia Española, which aims to ensure everybody talks like Cervantes. The Chinese are taught from an early age to regard all Sinitic languages as dialects of Mandarin.

…with prescriptivism?

All these languages were originally documented by their own speakers, who made up arbitrary rules to show off their own cleverness. The results are invigorating. Such rules are endlessly debated, denounced, defended and defied, and as a result, the speakers care about their language.

Contrast the situation with endangered languages. These are documented by outsiders, schooled in the descriptivist method, and content to simply record what they find. Their work may result in a Bible translation, but that is as close to arbitrary commandments as they’re likely to get.

A new approach is necessary. Fieldworkers should no longer passively describe a language. They must set out to create new rules for the language, so as to stimulate the debate that keeps a language alive. As such rules must be internally unmotivated, the researcher needs to think carefully about where to obtain them. A good strategy is to copy rules from a language that the speaker community considers prestigious, as English pedants do with Latin. In South America, Spanish or Portuguese would be the first choice, although it may be wise to base rules on the European form of the language rather than the local one. This approach has two advantagesthose who accept the new rule will see it as conferring the prestige of the dominant language on their own, whereas those who reject it will see the dominant language as tainted by association with the hated rule.

Other researchers may prefer to manufacture rules based on theoretical considerations. This raises the question of which framework to use for the purpose. On one level, it makes little difference, as they will all be equally incomprehensible to the speaker community, but I would recommend Metasyntactic Heuristics, since it is now understood only by two aging academics in remote English universities, and they haven’t spoken to each other for 25 years.

Our fieldworkers are now reporting back from the first trials of this method. We are still analysing their findings, but one has reported spectacular results from convincing an Amazonian tribe that they are not allowed to discuss abstract concepts.



This article was originally printed in SpecGram Vol. CLXXII, No. 4

Thanks for reading this special LINGUIST List announcement of this important April 1st news article re-printed with permission from the Speculative Grammarian. Check out SpecGram at

In seriousness, the LINGUIST List devotes countless hours to helping out the global linguistics community by managing thousands of announcements for journals, tables of contents, new book publications, reviews, jobs, internships, calls for papers, and conferences. We are managed by a small group of graduate students who work hard to provide these services. We rely on your donations to keep ourselves afloat! At this time we are at only 17% of our goal. If you use the LINGUIST List’s numerous services, please consider donating!

Syntax takes the lead in the Subfields Challenge!


Hello Linguists and Subscribers! Looks like its time for a challenges update!


Syntax shoots to the top with $1375.00

By Aaron Rotenberg – Own work, Public Domain,

Language Acquisition takes second with $795.00
Pragmatics, former leader, comes in third with $700.00

University of South Carolina climbs to the top with an awesome group effort and $600.00 (6 donors)
Southern Illinois University Carbondale falls to second but maintains a good lead–for now!– with $500.00 (1 donor)
Arizona State University arrives in third with $300.00 (1 donor)

North America expands its lead with 45 donors
Europe comes second with 30 donors and no memes
Asia follows up in third with 4 donors

United States of America (USA) 42 donors
Spain, Germany, and the United Kingdom make a three-way tie for second with 5 donors each!
Belgium takes third with 3 donors

As always, we appreciate all the support of our readers and donors. Thanks for three decades of being awesome and helping us serve the global linguistics community!
-The LL Team