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Colloquium Spring 2021

Linguistics Colloquium 

Schedule -- Spring 2021

Colloquia will be held on Fridays over Zoom from 3-4:30 (unless otherwise noted).

Denise Smith-Ali
Denise Smith-Ali is a member of the Noongar language group in South-west of Western Australia, which is a community of several thousand people in two clans, Kaneang and Wilman. Noongar has gone from being a language with almost no speakers left to being revived into one of the largest language groups in Australia. Denise will talk about her strategies to develop a dictionary for Noongar that draws on the historical sources for her language and present-day usage. She will also talk about restoring the original sound system of her language and guiding her people gently back to a more Noongar way of talking.
When does the brain care about the phonology of Mandarin tones, and when doesn’t it?
Stephen Politzer-Ahles

While models of word perception and production have been well articulated in psycholinguistics and neurolinguistics terms, one important step of these processes that has received relatively little attention is the perception and production of things that undergo systematic phonological alternation. Here I will discuss a series of behavioural and event-related potential studies taking Mandarin tone sandhi as a test case to examine how listeners deal with situations where, thanks to phonological alternation, inputs do not necessarily match the lexical representations they have to map onto. The counterintuitive results from this series of studies – some of which suggest that phonological knowledge influences brain responses during this process and some of which suggest it doesn’t – offer useful lessons about how we should think about and investigate brain responses.

Felicity Meakins
Power and Perspective: Australian History told in Indigenous Languages
The Gurindji people of the Northern Territory are best known throughout Australia for the Wave Hill Walk-Off, the landmark event of 1966 which precipitated the equal wages case in the pastoral industry and the establishment of the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976 (1986). The history of Gurindji country before the 1960s is less well known. Fragments of this history are buried in police journals, pastoralists' memoirs and anthropological studies, but a much greater portion is retained in the detailed accounts of events that Gurindji elders either witnessed or heard from their parents and grandparents. Stories of massacres, ill treatment at the hands of early pastoralists, details of the Gurindji resistance and other historically significant events continue to be told across the generations.
A number of anthropological descriptions from Rose (1991), Lewis (2012) and the Berndts (1948b) capture the Gurindji perspective, but these accounts are given in Kriol or pidgin English which is not the first language of Gurindji people. As a result, their accounts are often halting and fragmented, and require intense interrogation to be understood.
Yijarni: True Stories from Gurindji Country (Charola & Meakins, in press) is the book where the history of the southern Victoria River District is told by Gurindji people in the richness of the Gurindji language. The book is the result of an extensive collaboration between Gurindji knowledge holders, artists of Karungkarni Arts, the Murnkurrumurnkurru Central Land Council rangers, photographers and linguists (Through Our Eyes: Gurindji History Project, ABA 2014-16, CIs Penny Smith, Felicity Meakins)
This talk compares Gurindji language accounts of the historical events in Yijarni with pidgin English accounts given to anthropologists and historians by the same Gurindji people. The aim is to demonstrate the consequences of the use of different languages. The talk then examines the use of a number of linguistic devices including vocabulary, code-switching and, more subtly, bound pronouns (Meakins, 2015) to discursively construct kartiya or the non-Indigenous colonists. This talk argues that if we are to truly represent Australian history from an Indigenous perspective, the inclusion of Indigenous voices is not enough in and of itself, but historical accounts must be given in the first languages of Indigenous historians and witnesses.
Berndt, C., & Berndt, R. (1948b). Pastoral stations in the Northern Territory and native welfare. Aborigines Protector, 2(4), 13-16.
Charola, E., & Meakins, F. (Eds.). (in press). Yijarni: True Stories from Gurindji Country. Canberra: Aboriginal Studies Press.
Lewis, D. (2012). A Wild History: Life and Death on the Victoria River Frontier. Melbourne: Monash University.
Meakins, F. (2015). Not obligatory: Bound pronoun variation in Gurindji and Bilinarra. Asia-Pacific Language Variation, 1(2), 128-161.
Rose, D. B. (1991). Hidden histories: Black stories from Victoria River Downs, Humbert River and Wavehill Stations. Canberra: Aboriginal Studies Press.
Massimo Piatelli-Palmarini
Blunt Blunders (Le Smaccature): their linguistic and cognitive roots

I will present and analyze a special kind of real-life indubitable blunt blunders. These consist in fully self-confident assertions of falsehoods, made without the shadow of a doubt, in public, in spite of the ease of accessibility of potential rectification. The absence of correction and of learning has interesting linguistic and cognitive roots, which will be reconstructed. I will then present and examine the worrisome famous 1969 French episode of “la Rumeur d’Orléans” (but it also occurred in other French cities) evidencing antisemitism, antifeminism, bigotry and the willingness of many people to believe the un-believable. Possible analogies with present, equally worrisome, fake news will be suggested.

W. D. L. Silva, University of Arizona and J. E. Vargas Correa, Uniminuto, Mitú-Colombia 

Remote linguistic ‘fieldwork’: Collaborations via WhatsApp in language documentation and language vitality 


In early 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic swept across the world and people were required to stay at home, in-person work became inviable for health safety reasons. Linguistic work that is based on collaborations with members of Indigenous communities came to a halt. As a result, several methods and approaches for remote ‘fieldwork’ have emerged quickly. In this talk, we share how we have continued our collaborations for the documentation and vitalization of Mʉteã (also known as Karapanã, a Tukanoan language) using WhatsApp–a freeware that allows users to send and receive voice and text messages, to make voice and video calls, to share images, videos, and document files in several formats. Our primary goal with this remote collaboration was twofold: (1) to continue training on linguistics and language documentation, and (2) to compile a collection of Mʉteã language lessons that can aid in language teaching. All the language materials that result from these remote activities can also be used as data for linguistic analysis. We describe how we have used, in this remote modality, several tools for eliciting linguistic data, such as the questionnaires and stimulus kits, including storyboards methodology and board games as tools for engaging language learners and for (semi-)naturalistic linguistic elicitation. Finally, we discuss how some theoretical considerations, practices, and goals from in-person fieldwork are transferred to these remote fieldwork activities by employing a ‘collaborative consultation’ model (Leonard and Haynes 2010) to exchange knowledge through the documentation work for building long-term relationships.  

Suzi Oliveira de Lima

Ruth Kramer
Investigating the Syntax-Morphology Interface: Evidence from Gender Syncretisms


Syncretism occurs when the same morphophonological exponent appears in two different morphosyntactic contexts.  Understanding the morphosyntactic context is thus critical for understanding if syncretism has occurred.  If two superficially-different syntactic contexts are underlyingly identical, or if a syntactic operation has altered two contexts to become identical, then what seems like syncretism may turn out to be ‘garden-variety’ one-to-one exponence, and not true/morphological syncretism at all.

In this talk, I explore several different instances of (purported) gender syncretism, building on previous work on Amharic (Kramer 2019), Sidaama (Kramer and Teferra 2020), and Hijazi and Najdi Arabic (Kramer and Winchester 2018).  For each instance, I examine the syntactic context closely, attempting to determine whether the purported syncretism is truly morphological or whether it has a syntactic explanation. I argue that the gender syncretisms in Amharic and Sidaama are in fact morphological, and provide evidence against syntactic explanations.  However, I argue that the purported syncretism in Hijazi and Najdi is due to an unusual syntactic-semantic context, pointing up that research on syncretism cannot be limited to the (narrowly) morphological sphere.  I conclude by discussing the implications of these results for morphological theory (arguing that they likely support restrictive approaches to syncretism) and for the syntax-morphology interface in general.

Harold Torrence
Yadgar Karimi