Blog post based on an article in Journal of Germanic Linguistics, written by Robert Cirillo
A genitive construction involving the universal quantifier all, such as All John’s friends, is very natural and commonplace in English. The same can be said of the equivalent construction in Dutch, which would be Al Jans vrienden.
Until now, it has totally escaped the attention of linguists that the same construction is not possible in German, despite the close genetic and geographical relationship that German has with Dutch and English. The German phrase All(e) Johanns Freunde is simply not possible. The correct word order is Alle Freunde Johanns.
The purpose of this article is to offer an explanation for this discrepancy between German and its sister languages. It is argued that there are three principal factors that combine to cause German to behave differently from Dutch and German.
The first of these has to do with the nature of the Saxon genitive in the three languages. In German, it is a true case. It is different from the standard (non-Saxon) genitive, but it is nonetheless a true genitive case that is assigned in Spec, NP just like the standard genitive.
In Dutch and English the Saxon genitive is not a case but a determiner-like element that originates as the head of a Possessive Phrase in the same way as a possessive adjective such as my or his or our. Furthermore, unlike German, Dutch and English do not allow the assignment of genitive case in Spec, NP (without preposition insertion), which under some circumstances may necessitate the movement of a possessor to a higher position for case assignment.
The second factor that plays a role in causing the difference between German and the other West Germanic languages is the fact that in all the Germanic languages if a DP is definite either D or Spec, DP must be overtly occupied. If one of these positions is overtly occupied, and if genitive case has already been assigned in Spec, NP, the movement of a genitive phrase to D or Spec, DP is unmotivated and causes ungrammaticality.
The third factor is that the -e ending on the universal quantifier alle behaves like a D-element in German and Dutch. It is very possibly the phonetic realization of the definiteness feature on D.
This article shows how these three factors come together to create the discrepancy between German and Dutch/English in how a universal quantifier can combine with a genitive.
View and download Why all John’s Friends are Dutch, Not German: On the Determiner-Like Characteristics of the Inflection on the Universal Quantifier in West Germanic, by Robert Cirillo, for free during the month of August.
An American asking for bacon in Britain would be in for a (delicious) surprise, and vice versa.
Blog post based on an article in English Today, written by M. Lynne Murphy
In the most recent issue of English Today, I discuss some words of general English whose apparent similarities hide some subtle differences in meaning. Words like sandwich, soup and bacon might have similar dictionary definitions in the UK and US, but Britons and Americans have different expectations when they order these things in a restaurant.
The ‘prototype approach’ to meaning helps us to describe and explain these differences. According to that approach, meanings are organized around some idealized view of a ‘typical’ example of the category (a prototype).
So, for example, whether something is called a cup depends on the degree to which it matches the ideal of ‘cup-ness’ and whether it echoes ‘ideal cup-ness’ better than it echoes ‘glass-ness’ or the ‘bowl-ness’ ideals.
This is in contrast to a ‘classical’ view of meaning where something would be called a cup if it had all the properties that all cups have, and if those properties together are sufficient to distinguish cups from glasses, mugs or bowls. (That approach doesn’t work because there may be no properties (a) that all cups have and (b) that are collectively sufficient to distinguish cups from other vessels.)
This means that the things we call cups can be very different from one another (china teacups, disposable foam coffee cups, plastic beer cups, medicine cups), and that some things are more likely to be called cup than others.
When we look at cross-dialectal differences, as in the meaning of soup, the word initially looks like it has the same meaning across dialects because there are a lot of things that all English speakers would call soup. But at the boundaries of the category, there are things that Americans would call soup that Britons would call stew – because the prototype for soup in British English is ‘smoother’ than the prototype for soup in American English.
In the article, I mention the word boot, which Willett Kempton investigated in Texas and Britain. He showed that the two groups varied in their ideas of what constituted a typical boot, with the Texan prototype extending further above the ankle than the British one. The Texan prototype fits better with cowboy boots, the British one with walking boots or army boots.
This means that, say, if asked to draw a boot, the Texans would draw taller ones than the Britons would. But still, Texans and Britons still use the word boot to refer to ankle boots, riding boots, combat boots—mostly the same things, because they’re all ‘close enough’ to the boot ideal—which includes other properties like being closed (as opposed to gladiator sandals), sturdy (as opposed to slippers), weather-proof, etc.
Since writing the article, though, I’ve been struck by a particularly British use of boot: to refer to a certain style of Converse-brand footwear. The ‘Chuck Taylor’ or ‘All-Star’ shoe comes in an above-the-ankle style or the ‘low-cut’ or ‘Oxford’ style. In American English, when you need to distinguish between the two, the taller ones are high-tops. But in Britain, I’ve often heard them called Converse boots. Indeed, as I write this (28 July 2016), the News on the Web corpus (2010-yesterday) has 12 instances of Converse boots: 10 from Britain, 2 from Ireland. To an American ear, using the word boots for canvas high-top sneakers seems just weird. Converse high-tops comes into the corpus 7 times: 4 from the US, 3 from Canada.
The difference between my aversion to calling the ankle-high version boots and my English spouse’s everyday “Have you seen my grey Converse boots?” can be explained by our differing prototypes for boot. In neither dialect are Converses at the centre of the ‘boot’ category. If I asked the spouse to grab some boots for me to pack for a trip, he’d go for leather knee-high things before he’d go for the Converses, because the leather ones satisfy more ‘typical’ properties of boots: they’re sturdy, weatherproof, reach above the ankle, etc.
But when we get to a kind of footwear for which British English lacks the vocabulary, the Converses come close enough to the ideal category to be allowed into the category of “things that can be called boots”. It works for British because even though canvas shoes aren’t sturdy or waterproof or anything else that ‘typical’ boots are, they do reach the place on the leg the British ‘typical boots’ reach. For Americans, they’re just not booty enough to be called boots because, in addition to their non-sturdiness, they’re not particularly high.
And so Americans had to come up with a new word for shoe styles that are not-quite boots: high-tops. (This happened at least 20 years before the Converse started making shoes, because other shoemakers had ‘high-top’ and ‘Oxford’ styles.) Converse does make a version of the All-Star that comes all the way up to the knees. In my American idiom, I’d have no problem calling those boots because they better match the American idea of bootiness.
The more I think about names for human-made things, the more I find British/American prototype differences. They rarely cause interruptions to communication, but they do make one wonder: how often do we not-quite-communicate without noticing?
For more information, and to delve into detail on the differences between British and American bacon, read The differences behind the similarities, or: why Americans and Britons don’t know what the other is talking about from the latest issue of English Today. View and download the article for free through 31st August.
‘Pils’ is one German word that has become a part of the English lexicon
Blog post based on an article in English Today, written by Julia Schultz
While there is a multitude of studies on the influence English has exerted on German, the converse language contact scenario has been comparatively neglected. German borrowings which have recently been assumed into English have as yet received little attention in current research. The present paper intends to shed light on the impact of German on the English vocabulary in the 20th century, filling an essential gap in the literature of borrowings and constituting an important update to previous investigations of the German-English language contact situation.
Dictionaries available in electronic form have become valuable sources for linguistic research. For example, the digitalized form of the Oxford English Dictionary Online makes it possible to carry out a precise count of all the lexical items which show a German origin in their etymologies. The findings presented in this paper are based on the analysis of a comprehensive lexicographical corpus of 1958 German borrowings retrieved from the OED Online.
The German borrowings taken over into English in the last few decades have been grouped into manifold domains with their different subcategories in order to give a rounded picture of the different subject areas and spheres of life enriched by German in the recent past. These include, for instance, the fine arts, cooking, wine, beer, politics, war and the military, language and linguistics, entertainment and leisure activities, sports, people and everyday life, electronics, telecommunication and computing, mathematics and the humanities, the natural sciences, and others.
Vocabulary adopted from German into English in recent times is characterized by its great variety. It encompasses a considerable number of specialized terms, such as Waldrapp (specifying a variety of bird) and inselberg (a technical term in geomorphology for a type of mountain or hill), which are borrowings only known to the specialist, as well as words which have made it into common usage and relate to everyday matters. Some illustrative examples of 20th century German borrowings which appear to be on everyone’s lips are rollmop, bratwurst, Pils, angst, dirndl, autobahn, blitzkrieg, Third Reich, to abseil, Bauhaus and pH.
For more information, view and download the article from English Today with complimentary access (not even a single Deutsche Mark) through 31st August.
How do new words reveal the intricacies of our world?
Blends are combinations of two – or, more rarely, three – source words into one through concatenation of clipped morphological material and/or phonological overlap as in smog (< smoke + fog). Even though lexical blending is not a recent word-formation mechanism whatsoever, in the article entitled ‘‘Blended’ Cyber-Neologisms’ Amanda Roig-Marín argues that the coinage of blends in the semantic field of technologies uniquely responds to the speaker’s need to convey the blended realities that have begun to characterise present-day technological devices and related phenomena (e.g. Dronestagram (< drone + Instagram) ‘posts of aerial pictures’ or twimmolation (< Twitter + immolation) ‘the ruin of a person’s reputation because of insensitive Twitter posts’).
This study examines data collected over the period of fifteen years (2000-2015). Since dictionaries cannot keep up with the constantly increasing number of lexical items coined, the author made use of two online neologisms databases, namely Word Spy and The Rice University Neologisms Database, to retrieve truly novel blends. She firstly contextualises this type of cyber-blended words and explains why lexical blending is preferred over simple clipping or compounding. Subsequently, she offers a taxonomy of cyber blends according to the morpho-semantic patterns of these new words.
Likewise, she forecasts the formation of a paradigm akin to what Frath (2005) calls “hamburger type”, that is to say, that some word components such as those based on blog and twitter/tweet (as in vlog (< video + blog) ‘a blog in which the posting takes the form of videos’ or twitchfork (< Twitter + pitchfork) ‘an organised campaign on Twitter to express discontent or attack targets’) can achieve autonomy and thus start to be used productively, as it also happened with the sequel series (e.g. interquel and prequel) or the literati series (digerati, glitterati, etc.).
Access the full article for free through 31st August.
Post from the University of Maryland College of Behavioural and Social Sciences Blog The Solution
Many adults speak more than one language, and often “mix” those languages when speaking to their children, a practice called “code-switching.” An eye-opening study by researchers in the Department of Hearing and Speech Sciences has found that this “code-switching” has no impact on children’s vocabulary development. The study, “Look at the gato! Code-switching in speech to toddlers” appears in the Journal of Child Language.
Professor Rochelle S. Newman, chair of the department, and then-graduate students Amelie Bail and Giovanna Morini studied 24 parents and 24 children aged 18 to 24 months during a 15-minute play session.
•Every parent in the study switched languages at least once during a play session with their child; more than 80 percent of parents did so in the middle of a sentence.
•An average of 4 percent of parents’ individual sentences included more than one language.
•The children of parents who switched languages more often than average, or had more mixed-language sentences did not have poorer vocabulary skills.
•The researchers found no indication that the mixing of languages by the parents resulted in poorer vocabulary learning by the children.
“Parents tend to use very short sentences when talking to children this young—yet despite this, they often switched languages in the middle of sentences, saying things like, ‘el otro fishy’ or ‘can I have the beso?’ We were surprised that so many parents would use two languages in the same sentence when speaking to such young children,” Newman said.
The study was conducted in part to address parental concerns.
“A lot of parents worry that using more than one language in the same sentence might cause confusion for a young child. So it is reassuring to know that children whose parents mixed their languages more often didn’t show any poorer vocabulary skills,” Newman said.
Read the full article ‘Look at the gato! Code-switching in speech to toddlers’ here
Post written by Dr. Caroline Erdos based on an article from Applied Psycholinguistics
Students who struggle with oral language and literacy are at increased risk for dropping out of school. The gap between struggling students and their typically-developing peers is smallest early on and therefore, the chances of bridging that gap are greatest in the early grades. However, more and more students have had little or no exposure to the language of schooling until their first day of school and this makes it difficult for school personnel to disentangle true risk for learning disability from incomplete second language acquisition. The result is that identification and intervention is often delayed in the case of second language learners, even those in immersion classes (ex: native speakers of English attending French immersion school), thus placing them at a significant disadvantage as compared to native speakers of the language of schooling (ex: native speakers of English attending English school) who often begin to receive help with oral language or (pre)literacy as early as kindergarten.
A promising avenue is to use student’s skills in oral language and literacy in their first language to predict how they will eventually perform in these areas in their second language. It is crucial to fully understand the possibilities and limitations of this method, however.
A second related issue is the importance of providing help that is most likely to have the greatest impact on student’s academic success. Numerous studies and clinical experience have shown that the more targeted the help, the more likely students will make gains. Therefore, once a child has been identified as presenting with oral language or literacy difficulties, it is imperative to identify the specific area of difficulty within each domain — in the area of oral language: vocabulary, grammar, phonology, discourse, or pragmatics; and in the area of literacy: phonological processing, letter-sound knowledge, decoding accuracy, decoding speed, lexical knowledge, or reading comprehension. Targeted intervention is key to making gains. For example, a child who struggles to understand what he reads is not likely to benefit from intervention targeting letter-sound knowledge, unless poor letter-sound knowledge was the primary cause of his inability to understand what he reads. Exactly how to provide targeted intervention is better understood for some areas, for example decoding accuracy or decoding speed, than for others, for example oral language or reading comprehension. However, even in these less understood domains there is a general consensus that intervention that focuses on vocabulary (breadth and depth) and complex language skills would be useful.
Read the full article until July 31, 2014:
“Predicting risk for oral and written language learning difficulties in students educated in a second language” by Caroline Erdos, Fred Genesee, Robert Savage and Corinne Haigh
Post written by Dr. Cristina D. Dye based on an article in Journal of Linguistics
Since the early studies in language acquisition, scholars have noted that certain grammatical elements, among which auxiliaries and verb inflections, often appear to be missing in early child speech, with the result that child utterances sometimes exhibit verb forms with non-finite morphology in seemingly matrix clauses. This observation has led to a deprivationalist conception of child syntax.
In contrast with previous studies, this article explores the possibility that the child’s PHONOLOGY may considerably impact her overt realization of auxiliaries. Specifically, it examines the hypothesis that non-finite verbs in early speech are in fact attempted periphrastics (i.e., auxiliary/modal + non-finite verb) in which the auxiliaries are just reduced phonetically, often to the point where they remain unpronounced.
This study involved 28 normally-developing French-speaking children aged between 23 and 37 months. New observational data revealed a continuum in a given child’s phonetic realizations of auxiliaries. Children showed various levels of auxiliary reduction, suggesting that their non-finite verbs are best analyzed as being part of periphrastics involving an auxiliary form that represents the endpoint on this continuum, i.e. is (completely) deleted. Further examination of these verb forms showed that their semantics corresponds to the semantics of adult periphrastics. Additionally, the results of an experiment where children imitated sentences with either periphrastic or synthetic verbs showed that responses with non-finite verb forms were predominantly produced when the target sentence involved a periphrastic, rather than a synthetic verb.
These findings open the door to investigation of other factors that might affect auxiliary reduction (e.g., memory, sentential complexity, fine-grained syntax problems), other populations (bilingual children, SLI), and other grammatical elements (e.g., determiners, complementizers). They also invite new research into the specific aspect(s) of phonology that might account for child reduced/deleted auxiliaries (e.g., phonological realization processes, phonological representations, prosodic representations, production/articulation difficulties).
Read the entire article from issue 47/2 of Journal of Linguistics here.
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Written by John Edwards
Based on an article in the July 2013 issue of Language Teaching.
In the popular mind, constructing a language has always been seen as an odd activity, one that seems to fly in the face of ‘natural’ language dynamics. After all, languages evolve; they do not emerge from some sacred forehead, much less from a mortal brain. And yet interest in a divine – and therefore immediately fully-formed – language was once important (and, even today, remains significant in some rather curious religious quarters). Attention to this, and to later and more mundane projects aimed at improving upon natural languages in some way, is a neglected but important aspect of linguistic history – and, indeed, of modern scientific development.
The first stage here involved attempts (highly speculative, of course) to recapture the original lingua humana, as spoken in the Garden of Eden. Adam, we are told, named all the birds and beasts of the earth in this original language, a variety that – unlike all languages since – encapsulated a perfect correspondence between spoken words and the things they represented. As Milton wrote in Paradise Lost, Adam named the animals ‘as they pass’d, and understood their nature.’ Could this first language have been Hebrew – or perhaps Aramaic, or Arabic? If so, then speakers of those languages (or even of their post-Adamic descendants) might surely claim some higher moral ground than others.
By the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, however, these early speculations were set aside as essentially pointless. But the notion of a language more perfect than existing natural varieties still appealed, and, in a second part of our story, we find scholars trying to create entire languages ab ovo, motivated by the desire for a more logical and regular variety that would better reflect and channel scientific classification. It eventually became clear, however, that attempts to make a language that owed nothing to existing varieties were as fruitless as efforts to discover the language of Eden. So, in a third and still-existing stage, ‘artificial’ languages have been assembled from pre-existing rules and components; the most well-known example is Esperanto. This work has been underpinned by hopes for a more practical medium, but there have also been expectations that a language that was both regular and widely shared would contribute to international harmony and understanding.
You can read the entire article here without charge until 30th September 2013.
Bilingualism: Language and Cognition’s 2013 Special Issue features computational modeling studies of bilingualism and second language acquisition. Seven research papers illustrate seven different but highly related computational models designed to understand the workings of the bilingual mind from a cognitive science perspective. This Special Issue fills a large gap in the literature, in that the specific, algorithmically implemented, models of bilingualism provide a good variety of computational architectures, cover a range of theoretical issues, and analyze both spoken and written languages across different bilingual populations. Moreover, they integrate theories and mechanisms of learning, representation, and development in order to account for a variety of phenomena, in bilingual aphasia, lexical memory, word translation, grammatical acquisition, speech perception, and reading development.
Readers of this Special Issue will be convinced that computational models have much to offer to the understanding of the bilingual mind, over and beyond what general verbal, hypothesis-driven, models can do. Implementation of computational models forces the researcher to be very explicit about their hypotheses, predictions, materials, and testing procedures, and at the same time, gives the flexibility of parameter selection and reliability of testing that are often not found in empirical studies. Indeed, the potential of a bilingual computational model lies in its ability to identify gaps in experimental designs, and in systematic manipulation of variables such as age of acquisition (early vs. late), proficiency (high vs. low), and memory resources (large vs. small), variables that may be naturally confounded in experimental or realistic learning situations.
The seven models presented in this Special Issue demonstrate the advantages and the need for developing more computational models of bilingualism, as they deepen our understanding of the complex interactive mechanisms involved in the acquisition and processing of multiple competing linguistic systems. For example, the effects of dynamic interactions in the competing languages at different times of learning can be clearly simulated, providing alternative accounts of the critical period effects from the perspectives of competition, entrenchment, and plasticity. These models examine the extent to which early learning impacts later learning and the extent later learning can soften or even reverse early-learned structures. In addition to simulating known patterns in the empirical data, the computational models presented here will also inform theories of bilingualism by making distinct predictions under different hypotheses or conditions. In so doing, they will provide a new forum for generating novel ideas, inspiring new experiments, and helping formulate new theories.
Blog post written by Ping Li, Pennsylvania State University, USA
Read the entire special issue without charge until the 30th April 2013
South Africa is well-known as a country that has undergone enormous political, social, educational and economic change since the days of apartheid. Independence and democracy can only be said to have arrived as late as 1994, with the negotiated settlement that led to a new non-racial constitution. The constitution recognises eleven of the country’s languages as official; and multilingualism remains a strong force in South African life. Yet while indigenous languages like Zulu, Xhosa and Sotho continue to grow as the majority languages of the country, so too has English, as a first language and – to a larger extent – a second language.
A special issue of English Today focuses on the sociolinguistics and linguistic characteristics of the main varieties of English in the country. The initial article discusses English as a first language offshoot of British English and the role played by the gold-mining city of Johannesburg in the development of a distinct South African English in the late 19th C. Subsequent articles focus on the spread of English and its characteristic features in different communities.
Black South African English is the variety that has prospered the most since 1994, being a major variety to be heard in the media, in parliament, at public gatherings and so forth. The major grammatical characteristics of this variety spoken as a second language are discussed from the vantage point of corpus linguistics in two of the articles.
Social change evident in the deracialising schooling systems has brought about immense changes in young peoples’ speech repertoires. In this regard one article explores the attitudes of young Black students at high school in relation to cultural and linguistic diversity. Another documents a shift in dominance amongst young Coloured people in the Western Cape from a bilingualism that previously had English as a second language to one that plays down Afrikaans in favour of English.
Two studies focus on Asian migrants in South Africa. The first discusses lexicographical work pertaining to the country’s Indian community; the second discusses adaptations made by new Chinese migrants in South Africa, showing the importance of Xhosa as well as English in rural Eastern Cape settings. Other articles examine the nature of literary translation using South African English as a medium. Three short book notices on varieties of English in South Africa round off the issue.
Follow this link to read the entire special issue of English Today
Blog post written by Rajend Mesthrie.