A major new project at CASTL, led by Jason Rothman

Jason Rothman has been awarded a huge grant by Tromsø Forskningsstiftelse to conduct research into bilingualism in Tromsø. The project is called HELPING, which is an acronym for ‘Heritage-Bilingual Linguistic Proficiency In the Native Grammar’, and the project has a subtitle, ‘Charting and Explaining Differences’.

The project will run from August 2019 until August 2023, and has a budget of over 25 million kroner (about 3 million euros), and is bundled together with a permanent full-time position in Tromsø for Jason.

The following text comes from the project description:

The primary objective of HeLPiNG is to answer one of the most perplexing questions in bilingualism research today: Why is HLB characterized by such variation in grammatical knowledge and language use when this is not the case for monolinguals? by addressing these equally fundamental secondary objective questions:

  • (Aim 1when and why do developing monolinguals and HSs begin to diverge for the same language?
  •  (Aim 2) at what levels (under what modalities of testing) do HSs truly differ (introducing neuro (EEG/ERP) methods to this question)?
  •  (Aim 3what is the role of the (lack of) HL literacy in explaining (some) observed HS outcomes?

There are three work packages:

  • WP1 addresses the dearth of late childhood data issue, namely that most heritage bilingual research is conducted with young adults at an end-state of acquisition as opposed to development in real time.
    • It is the first methodology to address the developmental angle of heritage grammars with a unique  method that combines cross-sections tested over a 4 year period, capturing at the end data representing 15 years of development.
  • WP2 and WP3 use psycho-/neuro- linguistic methodologies (the very first brain study of its kind).
    • These methods will reveal the depth of “difference” by looking directly at how the heritage language is processed in real time and if predictive processing is qualitative similar in HSs.


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Comparative Germanic Syntax Workshop 34 in Konstanz, June 2019

The Comparative Germanic Syntax Workshop (CGSW) is a storied conference dating all the way back to 1984, when it was first held in Trondheim. Many a scholar young and old has presented there. In my first ever international conference presentation, I (Peter Svenonius) presented at the seventh meeting, in Stuttgart, in 1991, with a DP analysis of the Norwegian noun phrase. Tarald Taraldsen, who I had never met, had already worked out a DP analysis of the Norwegian noun phrase, and was in the audience. My first encounter with him was in the question period, when he challenged me to account for the double possessor in something like “Olavs faens kjerring” (literally “Olav’s devil’s old.lady”, but conveying something like “Olav’s damned wife”). That is the only question I remember as stumping me. (Marit Westergaard was there too, less scarily since she didn’t have a competing analysis of the Norwegian noun phrase.)

Since then, CGSW has been held in Tromsø twice, in 1992 (with Chomsky, Cinque, and Engdahl as invited speakers, and a parasession on Comparative Germanic Phonology) and in 2010 (with Kayne, Alexiadou, and Adger as invited speakers, and a special session on NORMS – Nordic dialect syntax).

Originally a European conference, in 1994 it started alternating between Europe and North America, and in 2016 it was held in South Africa.

It has been held on average once a year, and next year will be the 34th installment, taking place on June 14–15, 2019 in Konstanz (once known in English as Constance; still on Lake Constance, and the Rhine). Terje Lohndal (NTNU/UiT), Jon Sprouse (UConn), and Elly van Gelderen (Arizona) are invited speakers.

Two page abstracts are due by January 15th.

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GLOW in Oslo in 2019

GLOW will be coming to Oslo next year, and the abstract deadline is Friday!

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A whirlwind of activity

This week CASTL is hosting not one but two mini-courses! One on using software in OT analysis, and the other on experimental methods in the pragmatics-syntax interface. Each will be taught by an international team of guest experts.

For the OT software course, organized by Martin Krämer, our regular collaborator from Verona Birgit Alber will be back, along with recent guest Naz Merchant, and they will be joined by the legendary Alan Prince.

For the pragmatics-syntax interface course, organized by our Adjunct Professors Tanja Kupisch and Jason Rothman, we are lucky to welcome Petra Schumacher of Köln and Andreas Trotzke of Konstanz.

Naz Merchant, as you will recall, treated us to a colloquium talk on May 12th of last year, but the other four teachers will present colloquium talks in a colloquium talk madness session on Friday (madness in this case meaning four talks in one day). See the Events page for details.

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Linguistics and Poetry and speaking in someone else’s voice

Roman Jakobson wrote eloquently about the insights which linguistic analysis could bring to our understanding of poetry and of the importance of poetry to a full understanding of language (Jakobson 1960, apparently his most cited article ever).

These days many working linguists stick to analyzing more prosaic utterances, but a few still keep their hand in the game.

There was a recent kerfuffle at the American progressive political periodical The Nation when they published a short poem by a poet named Anders Carlson-Wee which imagines a homeless person in the first person, and uses turns of vernacular closely associated with African Americans (such as copula drop—as in, “if you a girl” for ‘if you are a girl’). Pockets of the internet erupted in indignation that a white poet was appropriating a black voice and the The Nation’s poetry editors prostrated themselves before the mob, disavowing the poem and appending a “trigger warning” to it for “giv[ing] offense and caus[ing] harm to members of several communities.” The poet apologized for the offense and harm caused.

John McWhorter, professor of linguistics at Columbia University, has published a thoughtful defense of the writer’s use of language in the poem in the periodical The Atlantic which seems to me to be very much in the spirit of Jakobson 1960. McWhorter trains a linguist’s eye on the poet’s use of African American Vernacular English or Black English, and comments on it in the broader social context. I think it’s a nice example of how linguistics can provide an informed perspective on matters of current public interest.

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Grammatical categories are used in animal cognition

According to Chris Golston, California State University Fresno, who will present this topic at Friday’s colloquium talk in room E-0105 starting at 14.15.

His abstract:

I show that thirty common grammatical categories are used in animal cognition and are in no way limited to humans or to communication. Based on this, I hypothesize that the semantics behind grammatical categories—including person, number, gender, tense and aspect—were fixed by the time of the human-chimpanzee split; that many go back as far as vertebrates; and that some are shared with plants.

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Syllable Structure and Sonority, May 11-12

This workshop investigates the role of sonority, the sonority hierarchy and the sonority sequencing principle in the internal organization of syllables. The current mainstream theory of syllable organization has often been challenged by language-specific instantiations of the sonority hierarchy or patterns that ignore sonority sequencing or other sonority-based principles of phonotactic organization. This workshop includes researchers working on typological aspects of syllable phonotactics, its acquisition, and its loss in attrition, as in aphasia for example.

Invited speakers:

  • Draga Zec
  • Janet Grijzenhout
  • Laura Downing
  • Anna Daugavet
 The program can be viewed here.
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Colloquium talk by Krzysztof Migdalski

This week’s colloquium talk by Krzysztof Migdalski (Wroclaw) addresses the relation between tense and second position effects, especially in Germanic and Slavic languages. It will be held in E0105 starting at 14.15.

Tense Dependency of Second Position Effects

In this talk I aim to establish a grammatical property that decides about the availability of the generalized V2 and second position cliticization. I argue that both effects are TP-dependencies. In the Germanic languages, V2 affects verbs with poor or no agreement as long as they are tensed. In Karitiana, a non-Germanic V2 language, the TP-dependency is even more prominent: V2 orders are possible only with tense-marked verbs in main clauses, whereas in subordinate clauses, which do not contain tense markers, the verb is clause-final. The cliticization patterns attested in the Slavic languages seem to be strictly related to the availability of tense morphology as well. Synchronically, Bulgarian and Macedonian are the only languages with verb-adjacent clitics, and they are also the only ones with simple tense forms, aorist and imperfect. Diachronically, in languages such as Serbo-Croatian and Slovenian we observe a shift from verb-adjacent cliticization to Wackernagel cliticization, which as I will show was contemporaneous with the loss of tense morphology. I propose to capture this correspondence by postulating that TP, the projection that enables verb-adjacent cliticization, is available only in languages with tense morphology. I will also refer to an alternative generalization proposed by Bošković (2016), which attributes the availability of second position cliticization to the lack of DP.


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The Price of Productivity

We just had a fun week grilling Charles Yang over his book, The Price of Linguistic Productivity. We discussed the mechanisms and principles in his framework, and how to apply to them to declension class and gender features, and to V2 and verb raising, how to formulate rules, the difference between contexts of applications and lists, and a slew of other topics. Here are some conclusions, as suggested by Charles.

1.  Everybody should read Aspects.

2.  Linguists should avoid overfitting the data: not every linguistic pattern is real, or worth theorizing over.

3.  Productivity is categorical, not gradient.

4.  There is no shame in achieving good data coverage.

5.  A theory of competence needn’t transparently yield a theory of performance — but it would be irresponsible to insist that it cannot.

6.  Third factor considerations require direct empirical motivations, not conceptual ones.

7.  Some linguistic principles cannot be regressed out of data.

8.  “Analogy” should be purged from linguistics.

9.  Indirect negative evidence is wrong; Bayesian packaging doesn’t make it better.

10. Inductive/abductive learning of language does not mean that there are no a priori UG hypotheses (i.e., “parameters”).

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Grilling Yang

This week we grill Charles Yang, focusing on his 2016 book ‘The Price of Linguistic Productivity.’ For those who haven’t experienced the Tromsø Grill, it’s basically something like an hour talk with seven hours for questions.


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