Rising Stars: Meet Sarah Lapacz!

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.

For today’s post we proudly present the thoughtful work of Sarah Lapacz. She is currently an MA student at the University of Bonn in Germany. Her research interests range from forensic linguistics to teaching English as a foreign language and she is very active in the community. Sarah has already co-authored a published article, written blogs on various linguistic topics and presented papers and posters at several conferences and workshops. As a member of the LETS (Linguistics of English and Translation Studies) team, she is also currently assisting with research on sociocultural impact on recent language change in the UK, US and Germany. As is always the case with our Rising Stars, Sarah’s list of accomplishments is much longer than we have room for in this post so let’s move on and hear what she has to say!

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I have always been fascinated by languages other than my mother tongue, German. Whenever we went on vacation, I was puzzled by the local languages and the people who spoke them. All these strange sounds and melodies intrigued me. Even though no one in my family spoke the local language, my mother was able to converse with people in English to order food, buy medicine, or ask for directions. Only later, during my BA studies, did I realize that I was indeed not fascinated by languages, but rather by language itself and how it works, or sometimes simply just does not work.

I was fortunate enough to have been accepted into the MA Applied Linguistics program at the University of Bonn where I found myself in the position to answer my questions while receiving the best support and guidance. It did not take long for me to identify my research interest in taboo language and forensic linguistics. While one field is hopefully finally able to overcome its own taboo status, the other one is a rather young field, that is increasingly gaining importance though.

Taboo language makes a lot of people feel uncomfortable. Yet it can be found in every culture and language and is part of daily life, as it is, e.g., a means of venting our emotions. Taboo terms and their effect intrigue me. Most of my research projects so far have focused on these terms and their use and perception, which took me from looking into responses to insults from a cross-cultural viewpoint, to the use, perception, and code-switching of taboo terms by English as Lingua Franca speakers, or the translation of taboo terms by language learners. Previous research by Jean-Marc Dewaele, Jonathan Culpeper, and Benjamin Bergen has greatly inspired me along the way. I was able to present my research at various conferences, nationally and internationally, something for which I am most grateful. All this made me realize that there are so many more questions to be answered.

As I mentioned, I am also interested in the area of forensic linguistics. At the start of my MA studies, I was introduced to the Germanic Society for Forensic Linguistics (GSFL) which led me to become more actively interested in the field. The GSFL has also enabled me to participate in the Continuing Professional Development (CPD) course in Forensic Speech and Audio Analysis at the University of York on a scholarship. This experience has sparked an additional interest in forensic phonetics in me. I will investigate taboo language in a legal context for my PhD project where I will have a closer look at hate speech at the intersection of forensic linguistics and forensic phonetics.

My current MA thesis under the supervision of Gaby Axer and Prof. Svenja Kranich, however, focuses on another matter close to my heart. As we linguists are aware, language shapes our world. With this in mind, it becomes clear that this could pose a problem when an extralinguistic context depends on the language we use to describe an action or situation. This is the case in legal settings. For my MA thesis, I try to gain some more insight into the linguistic side of the phenomenon of victim blaming in rape cases and the effect it might have, especially when it appears in witness statements.

I think that with current movements such as #metoo and the overall political climate, research in the areas outlined above will increasingly gain relevance and importance. The goal with all my research projects is to raise more awareness towards the complexities of taboo language (especially its perception), the influence of specific linguistic behavior which discriminates others and puts them at a disadvantage, and the need for a more reliable and effective framework when it comes to hate crimes. I hope that I will have plenty of opportunity to get immersed in the necessary research and I am excited about the amazing insights the future may bring.

After another cup of tea.

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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.

An Upset in the Universities Challenge!

Dear LINGUIST List readers and supporters,

It’s time for your weekly challenges update! Syntax still leads in the subfields challenge, but there’s been an upheaval in the universities challenge! Can old competitors rise to the challenge?

Syntax defends its lead with $2050.00
Semantics comes in second with $1859.00
Sociolinguistics heads up third with $1195.00

…where are the P-Side subfields? Will they change the trend?

Stanford University takes an awesome lead with $1205.00 (11 donors)
University of South Carolina heads up second place with $835.00 (12 donors)
Southern Illinois University Carbondale takes third with $500.00 (from 1 donor!)

And the leader is…?

The winner of the last two years, University of Washington, has yet to appear in the top three… will they allow Stanford to take the crown?

North America remains in the head with 105 donors
Europe comes second with 81 donors
Asia takes a solid third with 14 donors

United States of America (USA) remains in third with 97 donors
Germany in second boasts 19 donors
Spain comes third with 11 donors

Thanks for playing, and thank you SO much for your consistent support throughout the last (almost) three decades. The LINGUIST List relies heavily on donations in order to keep our services available to academic linguists all around the world. We love our supporters!

–The LL Team

Staff Letter: Nils Hjortnaes

Hello all,

This is my face

My name is Nils. You may recognize it from some of the fun facts or the Antarctica post, and while I enjoyed the latter in particular, my main role here at the LINGUIST List is to work on the new website. Because we are all grad students, it’s been a slower process than I’d like, but it’s coming along, and worth checking out! Go see for yourself and let us know what you think.

Besides working at the LINGUIST List, I am a PhD student at Indiana University, our host institution. My primary interest, in a very broad sense, is computational methods for under-resourced languages and language documentation. I’ve still got a lot of work and a long ways to go before I even think of defending, but it wouldn’t be possible at all without my job at the LINGUIST List.

Me pretending to be good at climbing

In terms of my life outside academia, my primary hobbies are rock climbing, fencing, and video games. They do a good job of keeping me sane while I work on projects and classes. I’ve also been playing violin for 18 years, though I don’t play as much as I’d like anymore, and I’m fluent in German thanks to attending an immersion elementary school. I took a class on Danish in college because that’s where my ancestors came from, but I admittedly don’t speak it very well.

As I mentioned, all of us here at LL are graduate students in Linguistics at Indiana University. By working here, we get our tuition paid as well as a small stipend, allowing us to contribute to the community directly while learning to contribute to the field academically. We are committed to keeping LL free, especially since a not insignificant portion of our readers are (we’re pretty sure) graduate students or recent graduates seeking jobs.

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

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

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!

Sincerely,

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…

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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!

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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!

Sincerely,
The LINGUIST List Team

Staff Letter: Peace Han

Dear LINGUIST List Subscribers,

peace_car_mirror

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.

guitar_shot

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!

Best,

Peace Han

Systems Administrator | Programmer

The LINGUIST List

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, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=21656942

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:

https://new.linguistlist.org/career/search

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!

Yiwen

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.