Mechanising historical phonology

by Patrick Sims-Williams (Aberystwyth University)

The neogrammarian approach to historical phonology involves propounding sound-change laws and explaining exceptions by means such as sub-laws, rearranging the relative chronology, and appeal to special factors such as analogy, borrowing, incomplete lexical diffusion, and sporadic phenomena like metathesis. Progress is mostly made manually, but in the second half of the 20th century some linguists looked forward to the ‘triumph of the electronic neogrammarian’. Although this hasn’t been realized yet, I’ll argue that there are opportunities to make important advances with comparatively little effort.


This paper will be read at the Philological Society meeting in Cambridge, Selwyn College, Diamond Room, on Saturday, 10 March, 4.15pm.

Semantically driven grammaticalisation: the systematic pathways of Estonian polar question particles

by Mari Aigro (University of Tartu)

Seeing grammaticalisation as being analogically driven takes the explanatory power, which is frequently assigned to syntactic position, and assigns it to the semantic analogy between the source and the target. This case study focuses on the semantic cohesion patterns in the pathways of contemporary as well as historical Estonian polar question particles (PQPs). It will show that not only is the semantic component of function words much more relevant to grammaticalisation than is commonly thought, but also that the grammaticalisation network surrounding a functional category can in fact be semantically so uniform that one can devise a model based on a semantic map and assign it a certain degree of explanatory power regarding why certain markers become PQPs and others are much less likely to do so.

While the most frequently mentioned PQP sources are negation and disjunction markers (Heine & Kuteva 2002), a comprehensive literature review reveals altogether six source categories. In addition to disjunction and negation markers, this list also includes clause conjunction markers, embedded PQPs, conditional markers and pronominal interrogatives (König & Siemund 2007, Nordström 2010, Metslang et al. 2017). These sources appear to form a systematic set – all of the above could be classified as markers of polarity or truth values (see Payne 1985 for coordinators, Nordström 2010 for conditionals). To investigate, whether or not this principle would hold for additional data and other newly discovered source categories, an in-depth corpus study was carried out on Estonian, a language especially rich in both neutral and biased PQPs.

Nearly 2400 polar questions using the particle strategy (inversion and zero-marking strategies are used alongside) were manually encoded in the Corpus of Old Written Estonian (17th–19th century) and the Corpus of Standard Estonian (20th century). I found six different PQPs—four biased and two neutral—used between the 17th and 21st centuries. Three of them—kas, või, ega—are still in use in Standard Modern Estonian. The source of kas is either a clause conjunction (“also”) or an embedded PQP; või most likely originates from a disjunction (“or”); and ega from a clause rejection marker (“nor”). The three historical polar question markers are eks, eps and jo/ju; while the first two originate from negation, the source of the latter is an affirmative focus marker. Only three have given rise to new functional structures: eks became an affirmative polar tag question marker; kas gave rise to the disjunction marker “either”; and jo/ju, after its brief time as a PQP, became a marker of evidentiality when occurring sentence-initially (retaining the older focus reading in other positions).

Hence, the new source categories introduced by the corpus study were polarity-sensitive focus markers (for ju) and rejection markers (for ega), both of which confirm the hypothesis that polar question particles originate from non-interrogative markers, which already involve the semantic component of negation, affirmation or neutral (open) polarity. Table 1 depicts the pathways of Estonian PQPs on a semantic map, which links the two dimensions of polarity – interrogation and bias.

Table 1: Semantic map of Estonian PQPs

Markers in the neutral category are especially relevant. They leave the truth value unknown, assigning open polarity even without interrogation, and due to this share a close link with PQPs. PQPs are more frequently homophonous with disjunction markers than other particles and both of the non-biased Estonian PQPs, kas and või, originate from the neutral category. Additionally, all functional markers originating from PQPs belong in this category. However, although the fact that the map accommodates all known sources of PQPs implies causality, it can only constitute a probabilistic rather than a deterministic model.


References:

Aigro, M. 2017. A Diachronic Study of Polar Question Particles and Their Sources. MPhil thesis, University of Cambridge.

Heine, B. & Kuteva, T. 2002. World Lexicon of Grammaticalisation, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

König, E. & Siemund, P. 2007. Speech Act Distinctions in Grammar. In T. Shopen, ed. Language Typology and Syntactic Description, Vol 1: Clause Structure. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Metslang, H., Habicht, K. & Pajusalu, K. 2017. Where Do Polar Question Markers Come From? STUF – Language Typology and Universals 70(3).

Nordström, J. 2010. Modality and Subordinators, Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company.

Payne, J.R. 1985. Complex Phrases and Complex Sentences. In T. Shopen (ed.) Language Typology and Syntactic Description. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

In Memoriam Matti Rissanen

by Sylvia Adamson (University of Sheffield)

It is with great sadness that the Society has received news of the death of Matti Rissanen, Professor Emeritus of English Philology at the University of Helsinki, at the age of 80 on 24 January 2018.

varieng_matti_rissanen

A long-time member and supporter of the Philological Society, Matti Rissanen was a pioneer in English historical corpus linguistics, and the director of the project that produced the Helsinki Corpus of English Texts, which covers a thousand years of the history of English and has been used widely since its publication in 1991.

Matti Rissanen was one of the rare scholars to command the history of the English language from its early stages to the present, beginning with his PhD thesis (1967) on the Old English numeral ONE. His wide range of publications includes a number of original articles and several co-edited volumes of corpus-based research, such as Early English in the Computer Age (1993), English in Transition and Grammaticalization at Work (1997), as well as the much cited chapter on ‘Early Modern English syntax’ in The Cambridge History of the English Language (vol. 3, 1999). Also taking an active interest in early American English, he was one of the international team that re-edited the Records of the Salem Witch-Hunt (2009).

His retirement in 2001 did not mark an end to his research activities. His philological expertise made an important contribution to the publication project that resulted in a new Finnish translation of all Shakespeare’s works. One of his long-lasting research interests was the history of English connectives, on which he was working to the very last days of his life.

Active in numerous professional organizations, Matti Rissanen served as president of the Societas Linguistica Europaea and chaired the Board of the International Computer Archive of Modern and Medieval English (ICAME). He was the founder and first director of the Research Unit for Variation, Contacts and Change in English (VARIENG), an Academy of Finland Centre of Excellence from 2000 to 2011. He was also a driving force in the foundation of the Finnish Institute in London and the Language Centre of the University of Helsinki. In recognition of his achievements Matti Rissanen received many awards, including an honorary doctorate of the University of Uppsala, Sweden, and being elected to the Finnish Academy of Science and Letters. He was an Honorary member of the Modern Language Society, the International Society of Anglo-Saxonists, and the Japan Association for English Corpus Studies.

On the personal level, Matti was supervisor to several generations of undergraduate and doctoral students in Helsinki, while providing unfailing encouragement and support to many more students and colleagues both in Finland and abroad. He will be greatly missed by his wide circle of friends.

Anyone who would like to share their memories and recollections of him is invited to do so by adding them as comments (in English or Finnish) to this VARIENG blog post.


This notice has been adapted, with permission, from the notice posted by Matti’s colleagues in Helsinki.

Language, learning and usage-based theory: tackling nominal and verbal morphology in Slavic

by Dagmar Divjak (University of Sheffield)

Usage-based theories of language are built on the assumption that our ability to extract and entrench the distributional patterns available in the input enables learners to build a grammar from the ground up. This circumvents the needs for an innate universal grammar. But it does not tell us which patterns are relevant. And it remains customary for linguists to approach the data using linguistic categories—such as Case or Tense, Aspect and Mood—categories that were never intended to reflect the workings of the mind. In this talk, I will argue that it might be better to take the input as starting point and derive categories that resemble those native speakers might derive. Models from Learning Theory can help with this. I will present two case studies that capitalize on a merger of cognitive linguistics and cognitive psychology, and aim to infuse Usage-Based linguistics with insights from Learning Theory … with a little help from computational engineering.

The first case study uses insights from Learning Theory to challenge the idea that theoretical linguistic constructs such as tense, aspect and mood (TAM) predict best how native speakers of Russian read sentences containing verbs meaning to try in real time. Discrimination learning, as implemented in the NDL algorithm, proposes simple 3-letter usage-patterns and predicts the time it takes subjects to read and integrate these verbs into a sentence significantly better than all TAM markers combined.

table_divjak

Contrary to what mainstream (psycho)linguistic models assume, speakers do not (and do not need to) analyse verb forms in terms of abstract linguistic concepts such as tense, aspect and mood when they process language. Instead, they can rely on simple letter sequences that are linked directly to an experience and embed crucial information about that experience (i.e., is it over, ongoing, or coming up; was it something that they completed, or simply did for a while; was it an order). This demonstrates that honouring parsimony (naivety and simplicity) in the structures that are hypothesized to exist, and in the way in which behaviour is explained, is a powerful research stance, in particular for designing cognitively realistic accounts of language knowledge and representation.

The second case study demonstrates how biologically inspired machine learning techniques can pinpoint the essence of native speaker intuitions. Polish boasts fascinating examples of seemingly unmotivated allomorphy, and the genitive singular of masculine inanimate nouns (which can be -a or -u) is its prime example. Criteria for choice have been proposed that are semantic, morphological or phonological in nature, but most of these are unreliable, yielding conflicting predictions (Dąbrowska 2005). Furthermore, although -u occurs with at least twice as many nouns, -a is the default ending for new words entering the language. The NDL algorithm, that implements discrimination learning, predicts the choice between -a and -u better using simple sequences of 3 letters (letter triplets or trigraphs) than models running on richly annotated corpus data. In addition, it explains the unexpected preference of -a as genitive ending for new words in terms of the learnability of words taking the -a ending, their phonological predictability and their contextual (semantic) typicality.

On their own, linguists and psychologists would have approached these questions rather differently and, from within their disciplinary cages, would have arrived at answers that would necessarily have remained partial. Integrative interdisciplinarity, on the other hand, relies on a simultaneous, interspersed methodological endeavour to arrive at more encompassing answers that combine depth of analysis with breadth of explanation. It presupposes mutually complementary theories, shared testable hypotheses as well as compatibility of research methodologies. But what wins the game is a good dose of willingness to question your customary ways of doing things.


A video of the talk can be found below.

This paper was read at the Philological Society meeting in London, SOAS Main Building, Room 116, on Friday, 9 February, 4.15pm.

Conference announcement: mFiL 2018

by Sarah Mahmood (University of Manchester)

The Manchester Forum in Linguistics (mFiL) is an annual conference for early career researchers in all fields of linguistics. The aim of the conference, to take place on 26-27 April 2018 at the University of Manchester, is to share current work, results and problems and to provide information and advice for postgraduate students, post-doctoral scholars and others in the early stages of their scientific career. This includes the presentation of papers and posters, plenary talks and a careers panel, as well as a social programme including a conference dinner and informal drinks.

The mFiL, which is being organised now for the sixth time (last held in April 2017), is the successor of a postgraduate linguistics conference that ran in Manchester from 1992 until 2011 almost annually. The conference adheres to strict standards of scientific rigour: all abstract submissions are double-blind peer-reviewed by two experts, mostly professors and lecturers from various UK universities, and only submissions with a solid scientific contribution are accepted for presentation at the conference. Submissions that have implications for linguistic theory generally or that employ novel empirical methods are especially encouraged.

Submissions for oral and poster presentations in all areas of linguistics are welcomed.

Oral presentations should be no more than 20 minutes in length with an additional 10 minutes allocated for questions, comments and discussion. Poster presentations will be presented during a dedicated session on the schedule.

The deadline for submissions is 11 February 2018 (midnight GMT).

See the conference websitefor more details.

Syntactic microvariation in Romance – bridging synchrony and diachrony: the case of SI

by Sam Wolfe (University of Oxford)

Major syntactic differences between the medieval Romance languages and their modern counterparts have been noted for well over a century (Tobler 1875; Diez 1882; Thurneysen 1892; Meyer-Lübke 1889), with a body of more recent work highlighting important synchronic variation amongst the medieval languages (Vance, Donaldson & Steiner 2009; Wolfe 2015, forthcoming), and diachronic variation observable in texts from different stages of the medieval period (Ledgeway 2009; Labelle & Hirschbühler 2017; Galves forthcoming). In this talk, I focus on a particular aspect of the syntax of Medieval Romance: the grammar of the particle SI, which abounds across the early textual records, but eludes a satisfying analysis.

Based on a new hand-annotated corpus of seven Old French texts, I show that the numerous and frequently contradictory claims in the literature regarding SI (Marchello-Nizia 1985; Reenen & Schøsler 2000; Ledgeway 2008) can often be reconciled under an account where its formal characterisation, discourse-pragmatic value, and interaction with other areas of core clausal syntax varies markedly, both synchronically and diachronically, within the period conventionally referred to as ‘Old French’. Specifically, I sketch a grammaticalisation pathway where SI becomes progressively bleached through a process of upwards reanalysis (Roberts & Roussou 2002). This entails a change from SI (>SIC) as an adverbial encoding temporal succession, to topic continuity marker (Fleischman 2000), then two distinct expletive stages, where SI acts as a last-resort mechanism to satisfy the Verb Second constraint. The core empirical observation is that there is large-scale variation between SI in 12th-century and 13th-century texts and, furthermore, small-scale variation in the syntax of SI across texts which are conventionally considered contemporaneous.

In the second part of the talk I bring in data from a range of Medieval Italo-Romance varieties, showing that SI in Sicilian, Florentine, Piedmontese and Venetian texts mirrors almost exactly the distribution of SI in 12th-century French, but does not show the distributional properties of the highly grammaticalised element found in 13th-century French.

The core intuition behind the analysis of Medieval Romance SI is that the element in question can occupy distinct positions within an articulated left periphery (on which see Rizzi 1997, Benincà & Poletto 2004 and Ledgeway 2010) during different stages of the grammaticalisation process. Furthermore, throughout its history, SI cannot be understood in isolation from ongoing changes in the Medieval Romance Verb Second property and its correlates (Wolfe 2016), but may also have a previously overlooked role in shaping a number of the morphosyntactic isoglosses observable within Romance-speaking Europe today. In particular, I suggest that differences in the syntax of Old French SI and its Old Italo-Romance counterparts may account for major contemporary Italo- vs. Gallo-Romance differences in the syntax of topicalisation, focus and the null subject property.

Overall, although SI may seem like a small and parochial area of Medieval Romance syntax, its synchronic and diachronic significance for an understanding of the evolution of Romance grammar cannot be underestimated.


References

Fleischman, Suzanne. 2000. Methodologies and Ideologies in Historical Linguistics: On Working with Older Languages. In Susan C. Herring, Pieter Th. van Reenen & Lene Schøsler (eds.), Textual parameters in older languages. Amsterdam; Philadelphia, Pa.: John Benjamins. 33–58.

Galves, Charlotte. Forthcoming. Partial V2 in Classical Portuguese. In Theresa Biberauer, Sam Wolfe & Rebecca Woods (eds.), Rethinking Verb Second. (Rethinking Comparative Syntax). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Labelle, Marie & Paul Hirschbühler. 2017. Leftward Stylistic Displacement in Medieval French. In Eric Mathieu & Robert Truswell (eds.), Micro-change and Macro-change in Diachronic Syntax. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Ledgeway, Adam. 2008. Satisfying V2 in early Romance: Merge vs. Move. Journal of Linguistics 44(2).

Marchello-Nizia, Christiane. 1985. Dire le vrai: L’adverbe «si» en français médieval: Essai de linguistique historique. (Publications Romanes et Françaises CLXVIII). Geneva: Droz.

Roberts, Ian & Anna Roussou. 2002. Syntactic change a minimalist approach to grammaticalization. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Vance, Barbara, Bryan Donaldson & B. Devan Steiner. 2009. V2 loss in Old French and Old Occitan: The role of fronted clauses. In Sonia Colina, Antxon Olarrea & Ana Maria Carvalho (eds.), Romance Linguistics 2009. Selected papers from the 39th Linguistic Symposium on Romance Languages (LSRL), Tuscon, Arizona. (Current Issues in Linguistic Theory 315). Amsterdam: John Benjamins. 301–320.

Wolfe, Sam. Forthcoming. Redefining the V2 Typology: The View from Medieval Romance and Beyond. (Ed.) Christine M. Salvesen. Linguistic Variation (Special Issue: A Micro-Perspective on V2 in Germanic and Romance).

Wolfe, Sam. 2015. The Old Sardinian Condaghes. A Syntactic Study. Transactions of the Philological Society 113(2). 177–205.


A video of the talk can be found below. The accompanying handout is available here.

This paper was read at the Philological Society meeting in London, SOAS Main Building, Room 116, on Friday, 12 January, 4.15pm.

Obituary: Professor Randolph Quirk

by Ruth Kempson (King’s College, London)

Members of the Philological Society might like to record the death on 20 December of Professor Randolph Quirk, whose international reputation as a major linguist expert on the modern English language has been secured ever since his setting up of the survey of English Usage during the 1960s and 70s. This survey was, at the time, a unique annotated corpus collection of over 1 million words of both spoken and written English across a vast variety of styles, all text in each file classified with detailed category labelling, and in the spoken cases accompanied by annotations for intonation. It was then on the basis of these data that he and a group of colleagues wrote a considerable number of immense descriptive grammars of English, starting with A Grammar of contemporary English (1972), and culminating in the Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language (1985). During that period he became Quain Professor of English Language and Literature, and was elected a Fellow of the British Academy. Subsequently, he became vice-chancellor of the University of London, received a knighthood for services to higher education in 1985 and became President of the British Academy (1985-1989). He joined the Upper House as Baron Quirk of Bloomsbury in 1994, from which position he contributed in a wide-ranging way to education debates.

On a more personal note, he was a man who combined immense energy and speed with unstinting giving of his time in encouraging and helping junior colleagues, in ways to which he characteristically never drew attention. Witness to this generosity was his encouragement to myself, a young graduate who had become his secretary, to take his MA in linguistics, supposedly part-time but in fact in a registration which he backdated by one year so that I was able to complete the degree within a year, scampering between lectures and back to my secretarial duties. One year later I found that my life had been changed out of all recognition into an academic life with all the professional pleasures I have subsequently enjoyed. This generosity of his, both amazing in the first instance and sustained ever thereafter, has provided me with a role model for how to support graduate students and co-researchers I have tried to live up to ever since. The fact that we didn’t agree on all things was never a difficulty for either of us, not even as he accumulated titles and dignities, which he carried very lightly. He was a person one feels hugely honoured to have known.


The Survey of English Usage at University College London has created a facility for colleagues to write a tribute to Randolph Quirk.
Members’ memories of Randolph if they ever met him, worked with him, were taught by him, or attended one of his lectures across the world are also very welcome.