By Abby Kaplan author of Women Talk More Than Men and Other Myths about Language Explained
For years now, observers have been alert to a growing social menace. Like Harold Hill, they warn that there’s trouble in River City — with a capital T, and that rhymes with P, and that stands for Phone.
Mobile phones are a multifaceted scourge; they’ve been blamed for everything from poor social skills to short attention spans. As a linguist, I’m intrigued by one particular claim: that texting makes people illiterate. Not only are text messages short (and thus unsuited for complex ideas), they’re riddled with near-uninterpretable abbreviations: idk, pls, gr8. Young people are especially vulnerable to these altered forms; critics frequently raise the specter of future students studying a Hamlet who texts 2B or not 2B.
The puzzling thing is that none of these abominable abbreviations are unique to text messaging, or even to electronic communication more generally. There’s nothing inherently wrong with acronyms and initialisms like idk; similar abbreviations like RSVP are perfectly acceptable, even in formal writing. The only difference is that idk, lol, and other ‘textisms’ don’t happen to be on the list of abbreviations that are widely accepted in formal contexts. Non-acronym shortenings like pls for please are similarly unremarkable; they’re no different in kind from appt for appointment.
Less obvious is the status of abbreviations like gr8, which use the rebus principle: 8 is supposed to be read, not as the number between 7 and 9, but as the sound of the English word that it stands for. The conventions for formal written English don’t have anything similar. But just because a technique isn’t used in formal English writing doesn’t mean that technique is linguistically suspect; in fact, there are other written traditions that use exactly this principle. In Ancient Egyptian, for example, the following hieroglyph was used to represent the word ḥr ‘face’:
It’s not a coincidence, of course, that the symbol for the word meaning ‘face’ looks like a face. But the same symbol could also be used to represent the sound of that word embedded inside a larger word. For example, the word ḥryt ‘terror’ could be written as follows:
Here, the symbol has nothing to do with faces, just as the 8 in gr8 has nothing to do with numbers. The rebus principle was an important part of hieroglpyhic writing, and I’ve never heard anyone argue that this practice led to the downfall of ancient Egyptian civilization. So why do we think textisms are so dangerous?
Even if there’s nothing wrong with these abbreviations in principle, it could still be that using them interferes with your ability to read and write the standard language. If you see idk and pls on a daily basis, maybe you’ll have a hard time remembering that they’re informal (as opposed to RSVP and appt). But on the other hand, all these abbreviations require considerable linguistic sophistication — maybe texting actually improves your literacy by encouraging you to play with language. We all command a range of styles in spoken language, from formal to informal, and we’re very good at adjusting our speech to the situation; why couldn’t we do the same thing in writing?
At the end of the day, the only way to find out what texting really does is to go out and study it in the real world. And that’s exactly what research teams in the UK, the US, and Australia have done. The research in this area has found no consistent negative effect of texting; in fact, a few studies have even suggested that texting might have a modest benefit. It seems that all the weeping and gnashing of teeth about the end of literacy as we know it was premature: the apocalypse is not nigh.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that we should all spend every spare minute texting. (I’m a reluctant texter myself, and I have zero interest in related services like Twitter.) There are plenty of reasons to be thoughtful about how we use any technology, mobile phones included. What we’ve seen here is just that the linguistic argument against texting doesn’t hold water.
View the Women Talk More Than Men…and Other Language Myths Explained Book Trailer or by clicking on the image below…
Cambridge University Press and Studies in Second Language Acquisition are pleased to announce that the recipients of the 2016 Albert Valdman Award for outstanding publication in 2015 are Gregory D. Keating and Jill Jegerski for their March 2015 article, “Experimental designs in sentence processing research: A methodological review and user’s guide”, Volume 37, Issue 1. Please join us in congratulating these authors on their contribution to the journal and to the field.
Post written by Gregory D. Keating and Jill Jegerski
We wish to express our utmost thanks and gratitude to the editorial and review boards at SSLA for selecting our article, ‘Research designs in sentence processing research: A methodological review and user’s guide,’ (March, 2015) for the Albert Valdman Award for outstanding publication. The two of us first became research collaborators several years ago as a result of our mutual interests in sentence processing, research methods, research design, and statistics. With each project that we have undertaken, we’ve had many fruitful and engaging conversations about best practices in experimental design and data analysis for sentence processing research. This article is the product of many of our own questions, which led us to conduct extensive reviews of existing processing studies. Our recommendations are culled from and informed by the body of work we reviewed, as well as our own experiences conducting sentence processing research. Stimulus development and data analysis can pose great challenges. It is our hope that the information provided in our paper will be a useful resource to researchers and students who wish to incorporate psycholinguistic methods into their research agenda and that the study of second language processing will continue to flourish in the future.
Blog post by David McNeill author of Why We Gesture: The Surprising role of the hands in communication
Why do we gesture? Many would say it brings emphasis, energy and ornamentation to speech (which is assumed to be the core of what is taking place); in short, gesture is an “add-on.” (as Adam Kendon, who also rejects the idea, phrases it). However,the evidence is against this. The lay view of gesture is that one “talks with one’s hands.” You can’t find a word so you resort to gesture. Marianne Gullberg debunks this ancient idea. As she succinctly puts it, rather than gesture starting when words stop,gesture stops as well. So if, contrary to lay belief, we don’t “talk with our hands”, why do we gesture? This book offers an answer.
The reasons we gesture are more profound. Language itself is inseparable from it. While gestures enhance the material carriers of meaning, the core is gesture and speech together. They are bound more tightly than saying the gesture is an“add-on” or “ornament” implies. They are united as a matter of thought itself. Thought with language is actually thought with language and gesture indissolubly tied. Even if the hands are restrained for some reason and a gesture is not externalized, the imagery it embodies can still be present, hidden but integrated with speech (and may surface in some other part of the body, the feet for example).
The book’s answer to the question, why we gesture is not that speech triggers gesture but that gesture orchestrates speech; we speak because we gesture, not we gesture because we speak. In bald terms, to orchestrate speech is why we gesture. This is the “surprise” of the subtitle—“The surprising role of the hands in communication.”
To present this hypothesis is the purpose of the current book. The book is the capstone of three previous books—an inadvertent trilogy over 20 years—“How Language Began: Gesture and Speech in Human Evolution,” “Gesture and Thought,” and “Hand and Mind: What Gestures reveal about Thought.” It merges them in to one multifaceted hypothesis. The integration itself—that it is possible—is part of the hypothesis. Integration is possible because of its central idea—implicit in the trilogy, explicit here—that gestures orchestrate speech.
A gesture automatically orchestrates speech when it and speech co-express the same meaning; then the gesture dominates the speech; syntax is subordinate and breaks apart or interrupts to preserve the integrity of the gesture–speech unit.Orchestration is the action of the vocal tract organized around a manual gesture. The gesture sets its parameters, the order of events within it, and the content of the speech with which it works. The amount of time speakers take to utter sentences is remarkably constant, between 1 and 2 seconds regardless of the number of embedded sentences. It is also the duration of a gesture. All of this is experienced by the speaker as the two awarenesses of the sentence that Wundt in the 19th C. distinguished.The “simultaneous” is awareness of the whole gesture–speech unit. It begins with the first stirrings of gesture preparation and ends with the last motion of gesture retraction. The “successive” is awareness of “…individual constituents moving into the focus of attention and out again,” and includes the gesture–speech unit as it and its gesture come to surface and then sink again beneath it.
The gesture in the first illustration, synchronized with “it down”, is a gesture–speech unit, and using the Wundt concepts we have:
“and Tweety Bird runs and gets a bowling ba simultaneous awareness of gesture–speech unity
starts[ll and ∅tw drops gesture–speech unity enters successive awareness it down gesture–speech unity
leaves successive awareness the drainpipe]simultaneous awareness of gesture–speech unity ends.”
The transcript  shows the speech the gesture orchestrated and when – the entire stretch, from “ball” to “drainpipe” is the core meaning of “it down” plus the image of thrusting the bowling ball into the drainpipe in simultaneous awareness. The same meaning appeared in successive awareness, the gesture stroke in the position the construction provided, there orchestrating “it” and “down”together.
The “drops” construction provides the unpacking template and adds linguistic values. Its job is to present the gesture–speech unit, including Tweety’s agent-power in the unit. Gesture–speech unity is alive and not effaced by constructions. To the contrary,Sylvester-up/Tweety-down conflict in socially accessible form. This unit must be kept intact in the speech flow. What is striking and why the example is illustrative, is that “it down” was divided by the construction into different syntactic constituents (“it”the direct object, “down” a locative complement), yet the word pair remained a unit orchestrated by the gesture. In other examples, speech stops when continuing would break up a gesture–speech
it controls them. A gesture–speech unity dominates.
How did it all come about? It occurred because “it down,” plus the co-expressive thrusting gesture, was the source (the “growth point”) of the sentence. The growth point came about as the differentiation of a field of equivalents having to do with HOWTO THWART SYLVESTER: THE BOWLING BALL DOWN. It unpacked itself into shareable form by “summoning” the causative construction (possible because a causative
meaning was in the gesture–speech unit from the start of the preparation – the speaker’s hands already in the shape of Tweety’s “hands” as the agent of thrusting). Thus “it down”and its stroke were inviolate from the start: the stroke orchestrated the two words as a unit, and the gesture phrase the construction as a whole. I believe the situation illustrated with “it down” permeates the production of speech in all conditions and different languages.
1 Participants retell an 8-minute Tweety and Sylvester classic they have just watched from memory to a listener (a friend, not the experimenter). Using Kendon’s terminology and our notation, the gesturephrase is marked by “[” and “]”. The stroke, the image-bearing phase and only obligatory phase of the
gesture, is marked in boldface (“it down”). Preparation is the hand getting into position to makethestrokeandisindicatedbythespanfromtheleftbrackettothestartofboldface(“ba[lland∅twdrops”).Preparation shows that the gesture, with all its significance, is coming into being – there is n oreasonthe hands move into position and take on form than to perform the stroke. Holds are cessations of movement, either prestroke (“drops”), the hand frozen awaiting co-expressive speech, or poststroke
(“down”), the hand frozen in the stroke’s ending position and hand shape after movement has ceased until co-expressive speech ends. Holds of either kind are indicated with underlining. They provide a precise synchrony of gesture-orchestrated speech in successive awareness. Retraction is also an active phase, the gesture not simply abandoned but closing down ( “the drainpipe,” movement ending as the last syllable ended – in some gestures, though not here, the fingers creep along the chair arm rest until this point is reached). In writing growth points – a field of equivalents being differentiated and the psychological predicate differentiating it–we use FIELD OF EQUIVALENTS:PSYCHOLOGICAL PREDICATE (“HOW TO THWART SYLVESTER: THE BOWLING BALLDOWN”).
A “strong prediction.” Our arguments predict that GPs in successive awareness remain intact no matter the constructions that unpack them. This follows from the expectation that unpacking will not disrupt a field of equivalents or its differentiation. Belonging to different syntactic constituents – the “it” with “drops” and the“down” with “the drainpipe” – did not break apart the “it down” GP. Instead, syntactic form adapted to gesture. The example shows that gesture is a force shaping speech not speech shaping gesture. Gesture–speech unity means that speech and gesture are equals, and in gesture-orchestrated speech the dynamic dimension enters from the growth point. In a second version of the “strong prediction,” speech stops if continuing would break the GP apart. The absolute need to preserve the GP in successive awareness then puts a brake on speech flow, even when it means restarting with a less cohesive gesture–speech match up that doesn’t break apart the GP.
Gestures of course do not always occur. This is itself an aspect of gesture. There is a natural variation of gesture occurrence. Apart from forced suppressions (as informal contexts), gestures fall on an elaboration continuum, their position an aspect of the gesture itself. The reality is imagery with speech ranging over the entire continuum.It is visuoactional imagery, not a photo. Gesture imagery linked to speech is what natural selection chose, acting on gesture–speech units free to vary in elaboration. As what Jan Firbas called communicative dynamism varies, the gesture–speech unit moves from elaborate movement to no movement at all. To speak of gesture–speech unity we include gestures at all levels of elaboration, including micro-level steps.
An example of the difference it makes is a word-finding study by Sahin et al of conscious patients about to undergo open-skull surgery, from which the authors conclude that lexical, grammatical and phonological steps occur with distinctive delays of about 200 ms, 320 ms and 450 ms, respectively. We hypothesize that gesture should affect this timing for the 1~2 seconds the orchestration lasts(no gestures were recorded in the Sahin study). If the idea unit differentiating a past time in a field of meaningful equivalents begins with an inflected verb plus imagery,does the GP’s on flashing wait 320 or 450 ms? Delay seems unlikely (although would be fascinating to find). It may be no faster (and perhaps slower) to say “bounced” in an experiment where a subject is told to make the root word into a past tense than to differentiate a field of equivalents with past time gesturally spatialized and the gesture in this space.
To see gesture as orchestrating speech opens many windows—how language is a dynamic process; a glimpse of how language possibly began; that children do not acquire one language but two or three in succession; that gestures are unique forms of human action; that a specific memory evolved just for gesture–speech unity; and how speech works so swiftly, everything (word-finding, unpacking, gesture–speech unity, gesture-placement, and context-absorption) done in a couple of seconds with workable (not necessarily complete)accuracy.
Blog post written by Herb Colston, author of, Using Figurative Language.
Many people think figurative language is special or unusual somehow, used only or mostly in poetry, song lyrics or other creative outlets, or just when a speaker/writer is being flamboyant. Some people even think it’s a bad form of language, used to baffle or mislead people, or to be uncooperative in some way, or that it’s incomprehensible (or just hard to comprehend) and thus not how we ought to communicate. Even if people are more appreciative of figurative language they still often acknowledge its presumed higher potential for being misunderstood.
A common question thus posed about figurative language is why it even exists. Why do people speak (write) figuratively when more direct ways are available? Or, put most pointedly, why don’t people just say what they mean?
Using Figurative Language attempts to address this question. It reviews and discusses several decades’ worth of interdisciplinary research and theorizing which show first that the question itself is a bit odd. Many people don’t realize that speakers have been using figurative language as long as we’ve had language, and that on some level, there isn’t even a principled way to distinguish figurative from other supposedly nonfigurative language. Figurative language is also way more prevalent in normal everyday talk and writing than most people recognize. Although many of its instances can be creative and colorful as in song lyrics etc., most of it shows up right under our noses in ways we may not notice as figurative. By way of example, although Linguists and Psycholinguists would certainly argue over this specific quantity, one could readily claim the text I’ve used thus far in this blog post has well over three dozen figures in it, far more than the perhaps more obvious, ‘colorful’ and, ‘under our noses’. Figurative language is stealthy.
As for the misinterpretation likelihood, true, figurative language can be and is misunderstood occasionally, but so is purported non-figurative language in all the ways it can be unclear. Figurative language can also provide incredibly rich meaning. I’ve often described it as, “Meaning in concentrate—just add brain”. So the above question presumes we have the option of just omitting figurative language from talk and text to improve communication when doing so would be effectively impossible.
Despite the oddity of the question, though, the book also gives us the general answer to it— we use figurative language because it does things for us, things not as easily done with other kinds of language. These ‘things’ include meaning enhancement (for instance, by metaphor – “That job interview was a root canal”), negativity management (by rhetorical questions – “Are those your dirty dishes?”, or verbal irony – “Yeah right, just hysterical”), persuasion hyperbole – “Doing it that way will take forever”, or idioms – “That’s a tough row to hoe”), compliance improvement (by indirect requests – “Could I ask you a question?”), as well as social engineering, humor, bonding, tantalization and many, many others. The book not only documents that figurative language does these things, it also explores how it does so. For this the book gathers explanations from psychology, linguistics, evolutionary biology, anatomy, neuroscience, the history and variety of communication methods, semiotics, philosophy and other fields interested in figurative language.
The book also goes beyond the general usage answer though to show that understanding what figurative language accomplishes requires thinking about more than just language or communication. Figurative language is intertwined with our senses (seeing, hearing, touching, etc.) how we move physically (walking, jumping, reaching, etc.) our emotions, our broader concepts, our mind-reading and memory abilities, the actual physiology of pronunciation and many other diverse aspects of human life.
Figurative language is perhaps especially intermingled in our social interactions with other people. It can function as social honey, glue, lubricant, a lever, a ladder, a weapon, a pedestal, a pillow, a trap, a Trojan Horse, territory marking, handcuffs, a Band-Aid and perfume, among many other things. As just one brief concrete example, speakers use more figurative language when interacting with people they like, admire or wish to impress in some contexts, and using figurative language for this succeeds generally for speakers—other people like you back or are impressed if you use it right. Poetry and romance are connected for a reason!
The book also deals with many other questions one can ask about figurative language. How should we study it? How has it changed over time? Have we exhausted its potential? How might we best explain it? How does it arise in children? Why is there occasional resistance to it? How prevalent is it out there in the world?
Finally, the book treats all these issues concerning figurative language with many examples taken from authentic recorded talk and text by speakers as well as from diverse instances in popular culture (e.g., movies, television, advertisements, news sources, cartoons, novels, commercials, the internet and others). It thus provides a treatment scholarly readers can appreciate, but also might be enjoyed by broader audiences as well.
Thanks to Cambridge for publishing it and future-thanks to everyone who reads it. I hope you find it enlightening and enjoyable.
Blog post by James McKellar, Retail Marketing Executive for Linguistics at Cambridge University Press.
I wanted to share a post with our linguistics followers about a few exciting new textbooks we have recently published here at Cambridge. For lecturers looking for inspection copies please follow the links through to the relevant books pages to order. Enjoy!
5) Introducing Morphology 2nd edition by Rochelle Lieber
Morphology is the study of how words are put together. A lively introduction to the subject, this textbook is intended for undergraduates with relatively little background in linguistics. Providing data from a wide variety of languages, it includes hands-on activities such as ‘challenge’ boxes, designed to encourage students to gather their own data and analyze it, work with data on websites, perform simple experiments, and discuss topics with each other. There is also an extensive introduction to the terms and concepts necessary for analyzing words. Unlike other textbooks it anticipates the question ‘is it a real word?’ and tackles it head on by looking at the distinction between dictionaries and the mental lexicon. This second edition has been thoroughly updated, including new examples and exercises as well as a detailed introduction to using linguistic corpora to find and analyze morphological data.
Find out more about Introducing Morphology 2nd Edition by Rochelle Lieber
4) El Español de los Estados Unidos by Anna Maria Escobar & Kim Potowski
How long has Spanish been spoken in the US and how many people speak it today? Is Spanish being passed down through generations? What role does Spanish play in US Latino identity? Analysing and synthesising data from a wide variety of sources, Escobar and Potowski explore these questions and more in this up-to-date textbook for students of Spanish language, linguistics, bilingualism, sociolinguistics, culture, and history. • Over 150 exercises help students engage with the linguistic characteristics of Spanish, Spanish-dialect contact, bilingualism, and Spanish communities in the US • Exercises and examples refer students to external, online sources so they can experience Spanish through a range of media • Concepts are clearly defined with detailed examples for readers who may not have a background in linguistics • Misconceptions about Spanish varieties and Latino communities are addressed, ensuring readers will emerge with a clear understanding of how Latino communities vary linguistically and socioculturally.
Find out more about El Español de los Estados Unidos
3) Second Language Speech by Laura Colantoni, Jeffrey Steele & Paola Escudero
Second language acquisition has rapidly grown as a field over the past decade, as our knowledge of the ways in which children and adults learn and use a second language has become crucial for effective language teaching. In addition to this important ‘applied’ function, research into second language acquisition has also informed the fields of linguistics and psychology in general, as it has shed light on the differences between native and non-native models of human language and cognition. The focus of this accessible new book is second language speech – that is, how speakers perceive, process, understand and pronounce the sounds of a second language. Each chapter includes review questions, and most chapters include ‘tutorial’ and ‘lab’ sections with practical exercises based on the University of Toronto Romance Phonetics Database (available online for free). The book also has a companion website, containing illustrated answers to the exercises, scripts for running acoustic analyses and useful weblinks.
Find out more about Second Language Speech Theory and Practice
2) Exploring Language and Linguistics by Natalie Braber, Louise Cummings & Liz Morrish
Exploring Language and Linguistics considers the key concepts of linguistics and the application of these concepts to real-world settings. The first eight chapterscover the standard topics of introduction to linguistics courses, while subsequent chapters introduce students to applied topics such as media discourse, literary linguistics and psycholinguistics. Each chapter has been written by a subject expert and experienced teacher, ensuring that the text is both up-to-date and clearly presented. Numerous learning features provide extensive student support: exercises allow students to review their understanding of key topics; summaries encourage students to reflect on the main points of each chapter; figures, photos, tables and charts clarify complex topics; and annotated suggestions for further reading point students to resources for self-study. A companion website, with 170 self-test questions, suggested group exercises, audio files and links to additional web resources, completes the learning package.
Find out more about Exploring Language and Linguistics
Click the video below to watch an interview with Natalie Braber on Exploring Language and Linguistics…
Natalie Braber Author Interview
1) Pragmatics and Discourse Disorders by Louise Cummings
An essential study aid for students of speech and language pathology, this highly practical workbook includes short-answer questions and data analysis exercises which help students to test and improve their knowledge of pragmatic and discourse disorders. The book contains a detailed examination of the causes, language and cognitive features of these disorders and includes frequently encountered clinical populations and conditions that are overlooked by other texts. The use of actual linguistic data provides readers with an authentic insight into the clinical setting. • 200 short-answer questions help students to develop and test their knowledge of pragmatic and discourse disorders • 67 data analysis exercises provide readers with real-life clinical scenarios • Fully worked answers are provided for all exercises, saving the lecturer time and allowing the reader to self-test and improve understanding • A detailed glossary of terms makes the text a self-contained reference tool • Carefully selected suggestions for further reading are provided for each chapter.
Find out more about Pragmatics and Discourse Disorders
For more information on our new and forthcoming textbooks from Cambridge please visit www.cambridge.org/linguisticstextbooks
Blog post written by Louise Cummings author of Pragmatic and Discourse Disorders.
The clinical education of speech and language therapy (SLT) students in the UK is a tightly regulated process. No less than three bodies have SLT education within their purview. These bodies are the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists (RCSLT), the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA) and the Health & Care Professions Council (HCPC). Each of these bodies has a particular role to play in SLT education. The RCSLT provides curriculum guidelines and sets good practice guidelines for the education and training of SLTs and for their continuing professional development. The QAA provides subject benchmarks for SLT. These benchmarks stipulate baseline outcomes which a graduate in SLT will have achieved at the time of graduation. The HCPC is the statutory regulatory body for SLTs and other healthcare professionals. It specifies standards of education and training for SLTs among a range of other standards (e.g. standards of conduct, performance and ethics). Linguistics is so integral to SLT education that each of these bodies makes reference to it within their respective requirements for education providers. Within its guidelines for pre-registration SLT courses in the UK, the RCSLT states that:
‘The content of the linguistics and phonetics strand of the curriculum should facilitate an understanding of those concepts and constituents of Linguistics which underpin speech and language therapy theory and practice. The curriculum should address both typical/atypical patterns and processes of linguistics and phonetics. Study in this area must include linguistics (phonetics/phonology, semantics, lexicon, morphology/syntax and pragmatics), psycholinguistics, neurolinguistics, sociolinguistics and multilingualism’. (2010: 34)
However, when one examines these guidelines in depth, it becomes clear that not all branches of Linguistics are afforded the same significance. The phonetics provision of SLT curricula is specified in considerable detail across the areas of articulatory phonetics, acoustic phonetics, hearing and speech perception. The requirements to provide a clinical education to SLT students in conversation and discourse analysis are addressed within just two bullet points.
Students must have an understanding of:
• Theoretical models and frameworks of conversation and discourse
• Current approaches to analysis of pragmatics, conversation and discourse
It was with a view to redressing this imbalance in the Linguistics education of SLT students that I wrote Pragmatic and Discourse Disorders. This workbook sets out from the position that pragmatic and discourse disorders have been marginalized for too long in the clinical education of SLT students and that it is now time for these disorders to have the same status as speech sound disorders or disorders which affect the syntax and semantics of language (e.g. specific language impairment). There are two reasons why this should be the case. Firstly, it is pragmatic aspects of language which are most closely associated with social communication between speakers and hearers. The importance of social communication to psychological well-being and social functioning is increasingly being recognized. This relationship is acknowledged by the inclusion of Social (Pragmatic) Communication Disorder for the first time in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (American Psychiatric Association, 2013). Secondly, if the ‘development and consolidation of skills in practical phonetics […] entails a considerable investment of time over an extended period’, as the RCSLT guidelines state, then the same is true of skills that are needed to assess pragmatic aspects of language. A workbook which has those skills as its focus is the place to begin that development.
American Psychiatric Association (2013) Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association.
Cummings, L. (2015) Pragmatic and Discourse Disorders: A Workbook, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists (2010) Guidelines for Pre-Registration Speech and Language Therapy Courses in the UK, London: Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists.
Blog post written by Asya Pereltsvaig author of Languages of The World & co-author of The Indo-European Controversy.
Missed part one? here’s the link: Exploring the Indo-European Roots (Part 1)
Image: www.flickr.com/photos/pasukaru76/3595826459 via Creative Commons.
Bones and pots found in archaeological digs do not talk. Yet, as discussed in detail in our book, The Indo-European Controversy: Facts and Fallacies in Historical Linguistics, we can use the tools of paleo-linguistics to search for the PIE homeland. The general idea is simple: the reconstructed vocabulary of the ancestral language is examined for clues as to its speakers’ physical environment and modes of subsistence. Thus, speakers of a language that has words for ‘snow’, ‘sleigh’, ‘reindeer’, and ‘seal’ must live in a very different place from those of a language with words for ‘palm’, ‘coconut’, ‘rice’, and ‘elephant’. Based on the consensus reconstructions of PIE, its speakers must have lived in a temperate environment, where snow, birch trees, beech trees, and wolves were common features, but salt-water bodies were not. Reconstructions of words for ‘rye’, ‘barley’, ‘sickle’, and ‘to plough’ tell us that PIE speakers had agriculture, while words for ‘sheep’, ‘goat’, ‘pig’, and ‘cattle’ mean that they raised animals. But perhaps most revealing, and at the same time most controversial, are the reconstructed roots *ek’wos- ‘horse’ and *kwekwlo- ‘wheel’ (which survived in English in equestrian and wheel). Since the earliest archeological evidence of wheels and horses dates from about 3500 BCE, the logic of the paleo-linguistic argument tells us that PIE could not have been spoken earlier than that—a timeframe compatible with the Steppe but not the Anatolian theory. The steppe zone is also the most likely place in which humans first came into close contact with wild horses and eventually domesticated them. Other clues, which likewise strengthen the Steppe theory, can be found among loanwords from neighboring languages such as Proto-Uralic, the ancestor of today’s Finnish, Hungarian, and Samoyedic languages, spoken in northwestern Siberia.
But words alone, Martin Lewis and I argue, cannot tell the whole story and sometimes can be highly misleading. Approaches to the Homeland Problem relying exclusively on lexical data—from glottochronology, which was first explored in the 1950s and has since been discredited, to the Bayesian phylogenetic methods employed by Russell D. Gray and his colleagues in recent work—produce notoriously unreliable results because words are subject to speakers’ conscious choices and are easily and frequently borrowed from one language into another. Grammatical structures offer more reliable evidence of family relationships but they are harder to convert into workable binary input for Bayesian calculations. For example, models that rely on lexical data usually show Romani, the language of the Gypsies, as much more distinctive within the Indo-Aryan branch than it actually is, dating its divergence to 2,500-3,500 years ago. In reality, Romani gained a distinctive lexicon not because it diverged from its “sibling languages” a long time ago but rather because it was in contact with, and picked numerous words from, other languages on its path from northern India to Europe, such as Persian, Armenian, and Greek. A look at its structural properties, such as its gender and case systems, indicates that Romani must have split off from the other Indo-Aryan languages only about 1,000 years ago. This more recent date of the Roma exodus from northern India is now confirmed by genetic studies.
Rapid migrations, such as the trek that the Roma made at the turn of the second millennium CE, are key to understanding both population distribution and the spread of languages. In the historical record of the Indo-European language family, such swift population movements, almost instantaneous at the relevant time scale, happened many times: Latin spread with the growth of the Roman Empire, Russian advanced east with the colonization of Siberia, and Norse speakers settled the previously uninhabited Iceland (and for a while also Greenland), to give just a few examples. Yet, recently proposed computational models often take into account only one mechanism of language spread: demic diffusion, a slow and random population movement in all directions, impeded only by water. Such models cannot handle quick migrations, and hence necessarily postulate a much slower spread of Indo-European languages and, as a result, a much earlier date for PIE.
The preceding discussion of the importance of migration, however, should not obscure another well-known fact: although languages often spread through the movement of the people who speak them, they do not always travel with genes. Consider, for example, English, Spanish, Portuguese, and Russian. In addition to the physical descendants of the Anglo-Saxon invaders, Roman soldiers stationed in Iberia, and East Slavs from the Kievan Rus’, these languages are spoken today by millions of genetically-unrelated individuals—and entire indigenous groups—found in such regions as in Alaska, the Andes, the Amazonian rainforest, Australia, the Caribbean, and Siberia. Consequently, genetic studies that reveal patterns of migration and admixture of various groups sometimes help us figure out certain pieces of the Indo-European puzzle, but they cannot provide conclusive evidence of the PIE homeland.
As the book unfolds, Martin Lewis and I take the reader through a maze of findings from historical linguistics, archaeology, historical geography, and genetics, allowing one to interpret and reconcile these findings within a coherent narrative. Thus, the book is as much about methodology and epistemological issues—how we acquire or fail to acquire knowledge of the human past—as it is about the location of the Indo-European homeland itself. At the time when scientific research becomes increasingly collaborative and interdisciplinary, and when the general public increasingly needs to be able to assess scientific findings on a broad range of issues—from genetic history to climate change and genetically-modified foods—rethinking such epistemological issues becomes ever more critical.
Blog post written by Asya Pereltsvaig author of Languages of The World & co-author of The Indo-European Controversy.
Image: www.flickr.com/photos/paulsimpson1976/3629546523 via Creative Commons.
In 1767, the year when the British first sighted Pitcairn Island and visited Tahiti in the Pacific Ocean, another monumental discovery was being made back in London, in the study of one James Parsons. Comparing the numerals ‘one’ through ‘ten’ in various languages of Europe, Parsons “was insensibly led on to attempt following them to their source”. The book in which this phrase first appeared, The Remains of Japhet, being Historical Enquiries into the Affinity and Origins of the European Languages, was as long-winded as its title, and Parsons himself retired shortly after its publication. As a result his work remained obscure and largely neglected by subsequent scholarship. But his key idea—that languages as varied as Latin and Sanskrit, Greek and Gothic, Persian and Irish share a common ancestor—was rediscovered three decades later by another Englishman, Sir William Jones. He too noted that similarities among many Classical Greek, Latin, Sanskrit, and Gothic words, such as patēr, pater, piter, and fadar for ‘father’, are non-accidental and indicate that these languages “have sprung from some common source, which, perhaps, no longer exists”. Similar word comparisons between Hindi, Bengali, and Romani, the language of the Gypsies, a semi-nomadic group first attested in southeastern Europe in the early 14th century, led the German scholar Johann Christian Christoph Rüdiger to conclude in 1782 that the Gypsies came to Europe from northern India, a discovery that was confirmed some 220 years later by genetic studies.
By the mid-1800s, the German scholars Franz Bopp and August Schleicher worked out a method of reconstructing a common ancestral language on the basis of its known descendants, dubbing the ancestor of Indo-European languages “Proto-Indo-European”, or PIE for short. For example, based on the words for ‘father’ cited above, the PIE word for ‘father’ was reconstructed as *pətér-. (Reconstructions are indicated by the asterisk and the hyphen means that endings were attached to this and other words to indicate grammatical meanings like case and number.) Painstaking reconstructions of the PIE sound system, and its vocabulary and grammar allowed philologists to create texts in this long-forgotten language, the first and most famous of which was written by August Schleicher in 1868. (In the nearly 150 years since, several versions of Schleicher’s tale appeared, reflecting our changing understanding of PIE.) In the late 1700s and early 1800s, scholars discovered other language families, such as Dravidian and Austronesian (discussed in my book, Languages of the World: An Introduction). Soon afterward, work began on reconstructing the ancestral languages of these and other language families.
Although we know a great deal about the words and structure of PIE, the twin questions of where and when it was spoken remain hotly debated to this day. In a recently published book, The Indo-European Controversy: Facts and Fallacies in Historical Linguistics, Martin Lewis and I review different answers that have been proposed to these questions and, more importantly, assess the validity of the different types of evidence that have been brought to bear on these issues. The book opens with a historical overview of the scholarship: over the past two centuries, the Indo-European question left the confines of historical linguistics and attracted experts from so many different fields—archeology, anthropology, genetics, and others—that James P. Mallory once compared “the quest for the origins of the Indo-Europeans” to “the fascination of an electric light in the open air on a summer night … attract[ing] every species of scholar” like moths to a flame (In Search of the Indo-Europeans, p. 143). Postulated locations for the PIE homeland range from the Baltic Coast to the Balkans, from Anatolia to Armenia, and from southern Russian steppes to northern India, while speakers of PIE have been described alternatively as sword-brandishing chariot-riding warriors, peaceful peasants, or even cannabis-consuming proto-hippies. Despite the profusion of PIE homelands postulated since Parsons’ and Jones’ discoveries, two groups— Neolithic agriculturalists from Anatolia and Bronze Age horse-riders from the steppes—have become the “front runners” in the contest for the title of the “original Indo-Europeans”.
Here’s a link to Exploring the Indo-European Roots (Part 2)
Blog post written by Yellowlees Douglas author of The Reader’s Brain: How Neuroscience Can Make You A Better Writer
Journalists, particularly those writing for American audiences, practically have transitions drilled into their heads from their first forays into writing for the public. Where’s your transition? their editors persist, as they linger over each sentence. However, those editors and newsroom sages handed on advice with well-established roots in psycholinguistics—and with particularly striking benefits for the reading public. I explore what linguistics, psychology, and neuroscience can teach us about writing in my forthcoming The Reader’s Brain: How Neuroscience Can Make You a Better Writer. And using an abundance of transitions is perhaps the simplest advice you can follow to make your writing easy to read, in addition to bolstering your readers’ speed and comprehension of even complex, academic prose.
As a species, we evolved to learn from observing cause and effect—and from making predictions based on those observations. For example, your everyday survival relies on your ability to predict how the driver to your right will behave on entering a roundabout, just as we predict hundreds of events that unfold in our daily lives, all of which dictate our behavior. But we feel relatively minimal cognitive strain from all these predictions, mostly made without any conscious awareness, because we can make predictions based on prior experience. We expect the familiar.
Similarly, in reading, we expect sequential sentences to relate to one another. However, most writers assume that their readers see the ideas represented in one sentence as inherently connected to the preceding sentence. But sentences can become islands of meaning, especially when writers fail to provide explicit linguistic cues that inform readers how one sentence follows another.
Take, for example, your typical university mission statement, the kind invariably featured in American university catalogues and websites:
Teaching—undergraduate and graduate through the doctorate—is the fundamental purpose of the university. Research and scholarship are integral to the education process and to expanding humankind’s understanding of the natural world, the mind and the senses. Service is the university’s obligation to share the benefits of its knowledge for the public good.
Chances are, even if someone offered you the lottery jackpot for recalling this content in a mere half-hour, you’d fail—at least, not without some serious sweat put into rote memoriziation. Why? Despite the mission statement containing a mere three sentences, nothing connects any sentence to the others—aside from the writer’s implicit belief that everyone knows that universities focus on teaching, research, and service. Unfortunately, only an academic would understand that research, teaching, and service form the bedrock of any research university. As a result, we can safely guess that the writer was an academic. Sadly, the actual audience for the mission statement—the family members tendering up their retirement savings or mortgaging the house for tuition—fail to see any connections at all. As studies documented as early as the 1970s, readers read these apparently disconnected sentences more slowly and with greater activity in the parts of the brain dedicated to reading. In addition, readers also show poorer recall of sentences lacking any apparently logical or referential continuity.
Because prediction is the engine that enables readers’ comprehension, transitions play a vital role in enabling us to understand how sentences refer to one another. In fact, certain types of transitions—particularly those flagging causation, time, space, protagonist, and motivation—bind sentences more tightly together. When you use as a result, thus, then, because, or therefore, your reader sees the sentence she’s about to read as causally related to the sentence she’s just read. Moreover, when writers place transitions early in sentences, prior to the verb, readers grasp the relationship before they finish making predictions about how the sentence will play out. These predictions stem from our encounters with tens of thousands of sentences we’ve previously read. But put the transition after the verb, and your readers have already completed the heavy lifting of prediction. Or, worse, they’ve made the wrong predictions and need to reread your sentences again.
You might think that a snippet like too or also or even flies beneath your readers’ radar. Think again. Transitions are your readers’ linguistic lifelines that link sentences and ideas smoothly together, making your reading easy to understand and recall. You can discover more about not only transitions but also of how your readers’ brains work through every facet of your writing—from the words you choose to the cadence of your sentences in The Reader’s Brain: How Neuroscience Can Make You a Better Writer.
Blog post written by Liz Morrish co-author of Exploring Language and Linguistics
When we contemplated producing a new introductory textbook in Linguistics, we wanted to offer students something different. Engagement and learning gain are hot topics in higher education circles at the moment, and we feel this book is ahead of the curve. Introductory textbooks can sometimes leave the curious student unsatisfied. They can open up a subject, and then leave the reader wondering where to go next. We decided that students should begin their experience of linguistics with high-quality chapters written by internationally-recognized experts in each of the different fields. The authors have been selected for their experience in writing for an introductory undergraduate audience, to present each sub-discipline of linguistics in an accessible manner. Universities should offer research-led teaching right from day one, and we wanted to capture that aspiration in this textbook.
We also wanted to make sure that students were as engaged by theoretical chapters as much as by chapters in applied linguistics. To ensure this, we have asked authors to structure their chapters around text-box summaries, and frequent exercises (yes, the answers are in the back of the book). There is also an interactive website to support the book, with even more exercises for students to confirm understanding and get feedback. In response to an excellent suggestion by a reviewer, we have also included a group exercise for each chapter.
We were aware that linguistics courses in the US tend to emphasize more structural approaches (phonology, syntax etc.), while those in the UK feature more applied and discourse analytical approaches. In the introductory module which we as editors have co-taught for many years, we have always treated these two approaches equally. We know that students need a thorough grounding in the levels of linguistic description and the tools of linguistic analysis before they are fully prepared to progress to more advanced courses and apply their learning to real-world settings.
To give some examples of how we offer students engaging and challenging exercises:
The phonetics chapter explains the articulation of consonants and vowels, and leads students to a group exercise in making sociophonetic observations. Students will be able to confirm their understanding in the sociolinguistics chapter where the group exercise asks them to make judgements drawing on concepts in phonology, grammar, lexis and discourse in investigating data from the archive of the British Library’s website Sounds Familiar? The language and ideology chapter introduces students to analytical techniques which uncover ideologies in texts, and their relationship to power structures. In the web exercise on language and the media, groups of students are invited to bring these concepts to an examination of a website of a news organisation and critically evaluate the meanings inherent in choices of language, attribution and even pictures as they affect the reading of stories.
It could be argued that the authors of the structural chapters have had a tougher challenge in engaging students, but this has been fully met with some excellent resources and exercises:
The syntax chapter invites students to solve problems by playing with word order in noun phrases; the pragmatics chapter presents data of children with pragmatic disorders so that students can use concepts such as presupposition to diagnose clinical problems; the semantics chapter requires students to question the basis of antonymy and contrast in the lexicon.
This book is fascinating and accessible. It will structure the learning of all students, and extend the conceptual abilities of the most able. We are definitely expecting to see great results in our own modules.
Find out more about this textbook written by Natalie Braber, Liz Morrish & Louise Cummings here