HistLing Seminars,
Centre for Research on Language Change, ANU

Series 1, June-August 2001

Wednesdays, 4pm. Room W1.08 Baldessin Precinct Building (no.110), Australian National University


6th June, 2001:

Paul Sidwell
(Post-doctoral fellow, Linguistics, RSPAS, A.N.U.)

How do we genetically classify morphologically impoverished languages?
Lexicostatistics, ‘distinctive vocabulary’ or comparative phonology?

Interesting insights into the relationship between linguistic encoding and cognitive construal (i.e. versions of the Whorfian Hypothesis) have been made on the basis of investigations into spatial 'frames of reference'--systems of relating figure and ground in space with respect to a language-specific reference point. Naturally enough, these studies have hitherto mostly been carried out using the subject's native language. But questions arise when we consider the situation of the bilingual. If it is true that language structure influences thought, how is it possible that two systems of linguistic encoding of space can coexist with (presumably) one non-linguistic spatial system? Structured elicitation experiments carried out with pairs of Chukchi-Russian bilinguals suggest that, rather than any cognitive adaptation, a common strategy is for a subtle semantic restructuring of the spatial domain in one of the speaker's languages to match spatial encoding in the other. This provides a robust mechanism for structural change in a bilingual language-contact situation.

If you missed this Seminar, email Paul for a handout or any questions: paul.sidwell@anu.edu.au

13th June, 2001:

Ritsuko Kikusawa
(Visiting Fellow, Linguistics, RSPAS, A.N.U.)
Determining the cognacy of two ‘similar’ grammatical forms: A case study

This paper consists of two parts. In the first part, the morphosyntactic features of two forms in Niuean and Sye, distantly related Oceanic languages, will be described and compared. It will be argued that the forms “came from the same source”, mainly based on their phonological similarity and the fact that they occur in the same syntactic environments. The second half examines relevant reconstructions and the morphosyntactic characteristics of potentially related forms observed in other Oceanic and non-Oceanic languages, to confirm this claim and to establish a hypothesis as to how the Niuean and Sye forms developed. Niuean aki is often described as a preposition ‘with’ that may be cliticized to the verb, while Sye ogi has been described as a verb ending, which has a corresponding alterable preposition gi ‘with, etc.’. I will show that a consistent analysis shows that the syntactic environments in which the two forms occur are the same, and the forms may be described as i) verb ending/suffix, ii) adverb, iii) preposition, iv) ending occurring on numbers indicating ‘~th’, having homophones. Although the correspondence k to g (eng) is not regular, it is not an impossible combination to assume a sporadic change. Furthermore, the two languages are spoken in geographically remote areas, and it seems to be fair to leave aside the possibility of (direct) borrowing from one to the other. Thus, it appears that we can safely assume that these forms in Niuean and Sye developed from the same source, and a question arises, can we reconstruct all the four listed above for a protolanguage, or if some of them occur as a result of independent parallel developments?

The second half of the paper is an attempt to answer this question. Some relevant facts will be discussed, which include i) aki-like verb endings indicating “instrumental” often show different morphosyntactic characteristics from those of other aki-like forms in the same language; ii) the aki-like forms indicating “intensive, confective” appear to be usually lexicalized; iii) “benefactive” use of the aki-like form may or may not be observed in related languages; iv) “causative” use of the aki-like forms is often observed in the combination with the “causative prefix”. To summarize, I will propose a (preliminary) hypothesis as to a (part of the) possible development of the aki-like forms in the Oceanic languages, and how the current situation of Niuean aki and Sye ogi can be explained in the proposed scenario.

If you missed this seminar and would like to obtian a handout or ask questions, write to Ritsuko: ritsuko@acoombs.anu.edu.au

27th June, 2001:

Harold Koch
(Linguistics, School of Languages, Faculty of Arts A.N.U.

Morphological reconstruction as an etymological method: lessons from reconstructing Proto-Arandic

The methodology of reconstructing inflectional morphology remains largely undefined. In practice the first step is usually to compare functionally equivalent forms between related languages displayed as comparative paradigms—determine which of these are cognate and propose for them the most likely proto-forms, and explain the non-matching forms by appeal to ‘analogical’ or pattern-induced innovations. This approach fails where there is an insufficient number of matching forms as well as where grammatical formatives have their origin outside of their current functional ‘slot’ in the same way that lexical reconstruction fails if we only work from comparative wordlists organised solely in terms of meanings, ignoring semantic shift, the formation of compounds and derivatives, etc. In lexical reconstruction this finer study is usually considered to belong to the practice of ‘etymology’. I propose that for more complete morphological reconstruction the method required is essentially that of etymology. The search for relevant comparanda needs to take into account the historical processes of:

(i) change in the distribution of allomorphs;
(ii) functional shift of formatives (Locative to Allative, Purposive to Future);
(iii) morphologisation of lexical items in particular syntactic constructions (person markers from pronouns, case markers from adpositions, aspect markers from auxiliary verbs); and
(iv) demorphologisation whereby former inflectional formatives (marking person, case, or tense) are absorbed into unanalysed lexemes, whence they need to be excavated as part of reconstruction.

Examples of morphological reconstruction along these lines will be given from my ongoing research on the Arandic subgroup of Pama-Nyungan (Australian) languages—from inflectional categories of person, case, and tense-aspect-mood and from the grammatical wordclasses of interrogatives and demonstratives.

If you missed this Seminar, email Harold for a handout or any questions: harold.koch@anu.edu.au

July 4th, 2001:

Patrick McConvell
(Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander studies)
Mike Smith
(National Museum of Australia)

This paper was given at ICHL Workshop on Linguistic Stratigraphy and Prehistory 2001

A Miller’s tale: the archaeo-linguistic stratigraphy of seed-grinding in Australia

The term ‘linguistic stratigraphy’ has been used in different senses in recent work. Here we follow the usage and diagrammatic conventions of McConvell (1990,1996, 1997,2001) These retain the tree-structures of standard comparative method (inverted to conform to archaeological practice) but emphasise that systematic changes in languages (such as sound changes) can define strata, whether or not these are shared innovations defining sub-groups. One of the major uses of the strata is to define the time-depth of lexical borrowings, which can indicate cultural diffusion. These paths of diffusion link the linguistic trees like vines, forming a complex network. The earlier work referred to above largely dealt with the stratigraphy of social institutions such as the diffusion of the subsection system across Northern Australia, but these leave no obvious trace in the archaeological record. The best way to convert the relative chronologies arrived at to absolute chronologies is to establish identity between the appearance of a datable artifact or distinctive material trace and the stratum of a linguistic borrowing. In this paper we deal with the stratigraphy of terms for grindstones in northern and central Australia. Grindstones and other seed-grinding terminology may be a good field to work in because stone is involved rather than wood which is generally not preserved; and while such technology has been found as far back as the Pleistocene, there was a significant expansion in the mid to late Holocene in arid zones. The top grindstone is referred to by a term for ‘hand’ or ‘hand’ plus a suffix in a number of languages in northern Australia. An old term for ‘hand’ in Pama-Nyungan and possibly in proto-Australian is *mara. In the Ngumpin-Yapa languages a regular sound change converting r to rl occurred in the proto-language, so marla is found instead. However a term for top grindstone in several of these languages is marang(u) indicating that this term was borrowed from a language where this change had not occurred, along with diffusion of the artifact, after the change r to rl had stopped operating. Earliest dates for appearance of such grindstones in the region allows us to date proto-Ngumpin-Yapa unity prior to these dates.

11th July,2001:

Claire Bowern
(PhD student, Harvard University & Visiting Fellow, Linguistics, Arts, A.N.U.

Nyulnyulan pronouns and pronoun-like things

It is a commonplace in grammaticalisation theory that verbal agreement markers tend to originate from cliticised and reduced forms of personal pronouns. However, we cannot automatically assume when reconstructing that this will be the case for any given set of forms, despite apparent similarities between the full, independent pronominal forms and the agreement desinences. In this talk I will examine the forms of pronouns and the various pronominal agreement markers that one finds on nouns and verbs in Nyulnyulan languages (Non-Pama-Nyungan), Southern Coastal Kimberley Region). We will see how many independent sets of pronominal paradigms it is necessary to reconstruct, and whether the pronominal clitics and affixes do in fact immediately go back to the same source as the independent pronouns.

If you missed this Seminar or would like more information, please contact Claire: bowern@fas.harvard.edu

18th July,2001:

Evershed K. Amuzu
(PhD Student, School of Languages, A.N.U.)

Code-switching among Ewe-English bilinguals

Basically, this will be a discussion of findings on aspects of grammatical structure in Ewe-English code-switching in my MPhil thesis (Amuzu, 1998) noting how structures of bilingual constituents support Myers-Scotton’s Matrix-Language Frame model and its associated claim that language production is lexically-based (Myers-Scotton 1993, 1995, Jake and Myers-Scotton 2000). After the presentation of the findings, I introduce the issue of my present concern (tentative for my PhD thesis work): an attempt to explain why some users of the fluent code-switching captured in the data may also be observed having problems expressing themselves fluently in Ewe, their L1, in contexts where ‘pure’ Ewe is desirable (Asilevi 1990, personal observation). There is very scanty data to illustrate this observation because earlier works on code-switching concentrated on recording in-group interactions among Ewe-English bilinguals since code-switching is the unmarked code choice in their in-group conversations. However, it will be noted that there is something in the nature of the language production processes involved in the code-switching between the two languages which may help explain (and even predict) how the L1 speech of a person who uses this bilingual speech form as an unmarked code choice over a considerable period of time may begin to show traces of the observable (but mild) L1 attrition and code-swiching=lexical borrowing under maintenance of the L1 (which may form the main body of switches in the data), relexification (in speaker’s L1 lexicon), and calquing under influence of English.


English is the official language of Ghana, where, as in many African countries, it enjoys high prestige as the language of modernity and contact with the outside world. It is also a symbol of education because it is the medium of instruction from primary four. It has become the nation-wide lingua franca among educated Ghanaians and is used actively even in their informal interactions. It is regularly mixed with each Ghanaian language in a wide variety of contexts in intra-ehnic conversations by educated speakers of these languages. This has brought English and each Ghanaian language into the kind of intensive contact that does not exist between Ghanaian languages themselves (except for cases of some minority languages) because they are scarcely mixed intrasententially.

If you missed this seminar or would like more information, contact Evershed Amuzu: evershed.amuzu@anu.edu.au

25th July, 2001:

Laura Daniliuc
(PhD in progress, Linguistics, School of Language Studies, Faculty of Arts, A.N.U.)

The History of the Compound Perfect in the Romance Languages

The aim of this seminar is to present the historical development of a periphrastic tense, the compound perfect, that did not exist in the Latin verbal system.

This new tense appeared as a result of the dual function of forms such as cantavit, which were used both as a present perfect (‘he has sung’) and as a past simple (‘he sang’). The latter meaning survived in Romance in the form of preterits (cf. Fr. chanta, Rom. cînta, It. canto, etc.), whereas the first meaning came gradually to be expressed through the grammaticalization of the periphrasis HABET CANTATUM, made up of the auxiliary ‘have’ in the present indicative plus a participle, cf. Fr. a chanté, Rom. a cîntat, It. ha cantato, Sp. he cantado, Sard. appo kantau, etc. It is worth mentioning that some Romance languages select, beside ‘have’, other auxiliaries to form the compound perfect. The most frequently used is ‘be’, especially with intransitive verbs, including basic verbs of motion. I will discuss the origin, meaning, and evolution of this Romance construction from a comparative perspective, trying to emphasize the importance of the auxiliary ‘be’ in the structure of the compound perfect. I will also suggest that the phenomenon of auxiliary selection can be given a historical explanation, contrary to the semantic and syntactic accounts, which have failed to solve the matter.

If you missed this seminar, or would like more information, please contact Laura Daniliuc: laura.daniliuc@anu.edu.au

1st August, 2001:

Anna Wierzbicka
(Linguistics, School of Languages, Faculty of Arts)

Right and wrong: a study in historical semantics and historical pragmatics

One of the most interesting phenomena in the history of the English language is the remarkable rise of the word right, in its many interrelated senses and uses. This paper tries to trace the changes in the meaning and use of this word, as well as the rise of new conversational routines based on “right”, and raises questions about the cultural underpinnings of these semantic and pragmatic developments. It explores the hypothesis that the “discourse of truth” declined in English over the centuries; that the use of “right” and “wrong” as parallel concepts (and opposites) increased; and it notes that the use of right as an adjective increased enormously in relation to the use of true.

To begin with, right meant 'straight', as in a right line ('straight line'). Figuratively, perhaps, this right in the sense 'straight' was also used in an evaluative sense: 'good', with an additional component building on the geometrical image: 'clearly good'. Spoken of somebody else's words, “right” was linked (implicitly or explicitly) with “true”. But in the course of the 17th and 18th centuries right appears to have begun to be used more and more with reference to thinking rather than speaking. The association of “right” with thinking seems to have spread in parallel with a contrastive use of “right” and “wrong” a trend apparently encouraged by the influence of the Reformation, especially within its Calvinist wing. The “right way” was originally conceived of not as opposed to the symmetrical “wrong way” (one of the two possibilities), but as a kind of ideal which one should seek to approximate, and which one may approximate to different degrees. The use of the superlative (rightest) and comparative (righter) seems very common in English up to the seventeenth century. But as the pair of opposites “right and wrong” spread, the use of “righter” and “rightest” appears to have decreased, the idea of a binary choice gradually replacing that of trying to approximate an ideal. Another interesting development is that over the last two centuries or so (with the rise of democracy), the discourse of “right and wrong” appears to have found a competitor in a discourse of “cooperation” and mutual concessions. Judging by both the frequency and range of its use, the word right flourished in this atmosphere, whereas wrong was increasingly left behind.

This paper traces the transition from the Shakesperean response “Right”, described by the OED as “you are right; you speak well”, to the present-day “Right” of non-committal acknowledgement. In Shakespeare's usage, the approval of someone else's words, expressed with “Right” refers, explicitly or implicitly, to truth; for present-day English, the approval of someone's else words expressed with “Right” refers to a successful act of communication.

If you missed this seminar and would like more information, contact Anna: anna.wierzbicka@anu.edu.au

8th August, 2001:

Professor Jerold Edmondson
(Ohio State University, Arlington and Visiting Fellow Faculty of Asian Studies, ANU)

Borrowing, Shift, and Convergence: Some cases of Asian Tone in Contact

The paper examines the development of tones in several East and SE Asian tonal languages, including Vietnamese, Thai, Zhuang, Kam, and a few others, as it has been impacted by contact with the Chinese or Han language. I will try to document some cases of each of these phenomena from language data, most of which I have gathered from my own fieldwork experience. I will also present example from several languages (notably Bai and E) that have had much more intensive contact with Chinese than those mentioned above with an eye toward discovering whether the tone language-to-tone language contact has resulted in increased complexity or increased complexity of the phonological system.

If you'd like more information about this seminar contact Jerry: Jerold.Edmondson@anu.edu.au

22nd August, 2001:

Professor Brian Joseph
(Ohio State University and Visiting Fellow, Research Centre for Linguistic Typology, La Trobe University)

On the Nature of Analogical Change: Regularization/Simplification/Optimization or Not?

The traditional mechanism of language change known as ‘analogy’ has long been connected with notions of regularization, simplification, and the like. This is true not only of the traditional view (rooted in Neogrammarian approaches to language change from the 19th century), but also of early Generative historical linguistics in which language change and especially analogy was subsumed under ‘grammar simplification’ (e.g. Halle 1962, Kiparsky 1965, 1968, 1971). With the advent of Optimality Theory, several attempts have been made, e.g. by Kiparsky 2000, to show that the traditional notion of ‘analogy’ can be accommodated into OT by the very strong claim of considering analogy to always be a process of ‘grammar optimization’. As attractive as this view may be for the cases Kiparsky discusses, it is argued here that this view, and any view in which analogy is seen as purely simplificatory in nature, is somewhat misguided in that there are clear cases -- such as the ones to be discussed here from Modern English, Old English, and Greek -- where analogy has led to complications in the grammar and thus to overall systems that are less than optimal. Further, it is claimed that the key to reconciling these cases with the cases in which optimization may seem to be called for lies in recognizing that analogy involves ‘local generalizations’, in the sense of Joseph & Janda 1988; the optimization, therefore, is very localized in nature. Viewing analogy as localistic in nature means that a number of types of changes that typically are treated as nonanalogical in nature can in fact be seen as having an analogical basis; this includes various instances of sound change and of syntactic change, thus allowing the claim to be advanced that analogy, understood in its broadest sense, is the single most potent force in language change and thus needs to be given accordingly a primary place in our understanding of how languages change.

If you missed this seminar and would like a handout, contact: pascale.jacq@anu.edu.au.
Any further questions can be directed to Brian: bjoseph@ling.ohio-state.edu

29th August, 2001:

Nick Riemer
(Centre for Cross-Cultural Research)

Meaning changes in verbs: The case of strike

Semantics has long been the poor cousin of diachronic linguistics, seemingly failing to demonstrate any of the regularity that characterizes other arenas of language change. This paper discusses the place of meaning change in historical linguistics, and proposes a model for the diachronic behaviour of the English verb strike. Although it is well understood that semantic change proceeds by way of an intermediate stage in which old and new meanings coexist polysemously, historical linguists have not yet explored the semantic mechanisms that lead to polysemy in the detail that has been devoted to the mechanisms underlying other aspects of diachrony. An understanding of polysemy is even more desirable given the fact that reconfigurations to the set of polysemous meanings of a lexeme, rather than tidy linear changes from one meaning to another, constitute the vast bulk of many lexemesâ historical behaviour. An account of historical semantics that does not privilege such reconfigurations is therefore ignoring the majority of its own subject matter. The model discussed in this paper considers polysemies of the verb strike, as evidenced by the 1000 yearsâ worth of attestations in the Oxford English Dictionary. These are analyzed as instantiating four processes of semantic extension which Îdeliverâ the verb's meaning from its core to its extended (or polysemous) sense. One of these processes is metaphor, understood in the ordinary sense conventional in the broad cognitive linguistics tradition; the other three are all metonymic in nature, and relate the core meaning of strike to three highly salient classes of event associated with it: effect, context and sub-part.

For further information please contact Nick: nick.riemer@anu.edu.au



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