Imitation of the header of the Abralin lectures

The Abralin lectures

Love Linguistics in the time of cholera coronavirus.

In a time where most institutions of most countries (yay Taiwan!) have closed during the Spring semester, the Brazilian Association of Linguistics, a.k.a. ABRALIN ( Associação Brasileira de Linguística), have invited lots of linguists across the world for online lectures that are freely available. I thought it would be a good idea to document here the ones I have seen, and liked enough to share. I will categorize them by linguistic subfield and shortly elaborate. The full programme is accessible here.

AS A DISCLAIMER, I do want to point out that this blog reflects a number of observations and in general recommend everybody to watch all of the lectures. You can agree or disagree but I am mostly positive about the talks, because this is a great initiative. Also, the categorization in domains is just a tendency, often the talks fall in more specific categories.


Felix K. Ameka - Linguistic Marginalia and “Grammars of Use”

I was so happy to see Ameka included in the list of speakers as I know him from my literature review on ideophones. Interestingly, Ameka starts his presentation by referring to Joseph’s (1997) paper on linguistic marginalia. And then, unsurprisingly, the talk slowly shifts to ideophones and of course his old student Mark Dingemanse. While Ameka unfortunately misquotes Dingemanse’s (2011; 2012; 2019) cross-linguistic definition, what follows is a detailed case study of ideophones in the African Kwa languages he is most familiar with, Igbo and Ewe, and what we can learn from them. Ameka rightly argues for the obliteration between core vs. periphery. For the most part I agree with his approach, although I do hold some reservations about resorting to Natural Semantic Metalanguage to describe meanings. The last part of the talk is devoted to interjections, very interesting. This talk is highly recommended.


All linguistic subfields are equal but some are more equal than others. Lexical semantics is the most equal.

Dirk Geeraerts - Word meaning research, its scope and development

This lecture is largely a copy of one of the basic texts that lexical semanticists should read: Geeraerts, Dirk. 2010. Theories of Lexical Semantics. One of Geeraerts’s greatest hits is the historical overview of different approaches to lexical semantics in the last 150 years or so. Highly recommended if you’re interested in this, especially because it becomes more interesting towards the end when he incorporates more recent trends that concern methodological choices that can be made when investigating words.

Ray Jackendoff - The Texture of the Lexicon: Relational Morphology in the Parallel Architecture

This presentation was relatively good. I browsed through Jackendoff’s books in the past and it is undeniable that he has had a lot of influence in the fields of morphology and lexical semantics. The main points of his talk are that 1) schemas are better than rules; and 2) (formal) syntax can learn a lot from looking at the special features of the lexicon, phrased in terms of schemas.

These insights are not that much of a bombshell to me, as the benefits of a schema-based approach rather than a rule-list fallacy are well-known within Cognitive Linguistics, cf. Bybee’s works since the 1980s. However, it is good that Jackendoff plays this intermediary role between formal and cognitive-functional approaches.

One point of concern is that Jackendoff keeps talking about how * louden and * safen do not occur in the English lexicon, but Ms Merriam Webster disagrees with that ( louden and safen). Arguably, these are not super prototypical but even as a non-native speaker I had at least heard of loudening. This thus strongly suggests that maybe a usage-based approach is better than a purely intuition-based one.

I do recommend the talk if you want to see Jackendoff and know more about his work.

Barbara Partee - Formal Semantics Pragmatics: Origins, Issues, Impact

Ahh, Formal Semantics, field that I do not understand. I liked Partee’s overview, not in the least because she is a big name in that field and has lived through most of its history. This talk succinctly summarizes a number of issues that have driven a plethora of inquiries into formal semantics, especially in the foundational stages. It was revealing, and I applaud her for stressing that formal semantics only does / can discuss a small section of natural languages (most of which are English).

I deplore, however, that in America, this is largely seen as the only way of doing semantics (see also Geeraerts’s talk). Maybe it’s time for lexical semantics to spread further, but that may be my own bias.

I loved her Q&A: she for instance stresses that the deep structure semantics differ across languages. She is acutely aware that formal semantics and lexical semantics are two different beasts.

Highly recommended!

Louise McNally - Meaning: for Others, and for Ourselves

This talk starts out by trying to unify the worlds of formal semantics and lexical semantics, which made me feel excited. However, throughout the talk it becomes clear the paradigm she is working in is what Geeraerts refers to as Neo-Structuralist approaches to lexical semantics, which of course are somewhat relatable to the formal semantics enterprise. McNally spends a large amount of the talk on the comparison of figurative expressions of to sweep and barrar (Spanish), which I found very interesting, and I would recommend mostly this part of the talk, even though it is almost devoid of the huge – and I mean HUGE – amount of literature on metaphors as it is done in Cognitive Semantics, which I find a missed opportunity. On the other hand, during the Q&A McNally really shows a passion for semantics which is highly contagious. Good talk.

Howard Lasnik - Levels of Representation and Semantic Interpretation: a Brief History and a Case Study

This is a pretty standard talk that gives the standard narrative of the different incarnations of generative grammar. Check it out here if that’s new for you and you feel compelled to know.

K. David Harrison - Environmental linguistics

This is a talk that is focused on how indigenous peoples use language to talk about their environment. It features case studies on peoples from Vanuatu, Bolivia, Siberia, as well as other hot spots of dying languages [sad reacts only]. Interesting for me is that it starts with this discussion on botanical terms and folk terminology. Of course, such case studies played important roles in the proposal of basic level taxonomies. Linguistic knowledge is largely cultural knowledge. And that is the reason why I think that this talk belongs in the category of semantics.

After this Harrison does a tour of typical topics of phrases and vocabulary that give some insight in the worldview of these peoples: flora, fauna, time (months etc.), counting systems, way-finding and orientation. It seems that Environmental Linguistics is highly compatible with Cognitive Linguistics.

Interesting given current events in the US with waves across the globe is his discussion on strategies to decolonize linguistics:

  1. Take encyclopedic knowledge of indigenous peoples seriously.
  2. Respect indigenous ways of pedagogy.
  3. Treat consultants as co-authors, respect their intellectual property.

As a bonus, Harrison mentions the Talking Dictionaries App. Go check it out y’all.

Highly recommended:

Pius ten Hacken - The Nature of Compounding

From this talk, which is very fundamental in nature and based on Standard Average European languages, I will remember that piano trio ‘piano accompanying violin and cello (not pianos)’ is a form of onomasiological coercion.

Constructions / Language change

Martin Hilpert - Diachronic Corpora, Culture, and Constructional Change

I was looking forward to this talk by Hilpert, having seen him present last year at ICLC 15 in Japan on Causation, Culture, and Constructional Change, click here for the handout. However, it turns out that his Abralin talk is the same talk! Now I’m happy to see it again, and also for a broader audience and his three linguistics problems, or rather, things to watch out for, are definitely something that all linguistics should take into account:

  1. Fillmore’s screwdriver: our linguistic corpora do not really reflect language usage proportionately, e.g., screwdrivers (or as I had heard it before, toothbrushes) are things we use ‘daily’, yet you don’t find them that much in corpora. Or as Hilpert summarized it: Cultural features cannot be indexed by word-use frequencies.
  2. Flach’s grammar lesson: Word-use frequencies have to be controlled for grammatical contexts.
  3. the rising sea levels of Koplenig and Müller-Spitzer: Correlations in time-series data can be spurious if they are not controlled by correlating changes, rather than absolute values.

Hilpert then shows a number of interesting observations and studies about the English Causative.

Problematic in his talk are his definitions of semasiological frequency (“How often do speakers verbalize a given concept?") and onomasiological frequency (“How often do speakers experience a given concept?"). I’m sorry but that is just wrong. Semasiology deals with the mapping from label to meaning, so its frequency asks questions about how often does a particular meaning occur with a label. For example, a word like paint, how often does the meaning PAINT A PORTRAIT occur vs. the meaning PAINT A WALL, arguably two different kinds of painting. Onomasiology, on the other hand, takes the mapping from meaning to label into account and consequently its frequency asks about how often do labels co-occur with a given meaning. For example, the meaning of FATHER that can be expressed by dad, father, papa, pops, daddy etc. It is actually quite baffling that almost a year after his talk in Japan, where this issue was also raised, his presentation still contains these issues. I hope he can improve it the next time he gives this presentation.

I highly recommend this talk!

Spike Gildea - Diachronic Typology of Alignment Constructions: Reanalysis Vs. Analogical Change

This was an amazing talk. Gildea, who I was only indirectly familiar with, really knows his stuff and takes us through the well-known cases of (split) ergativity etc. to then show how diachronic comparative syntax can (and maybe should) look like. Amazing talk and highly recommended!

During the Q&A he discusses Joseph’s talk (below) who stated that grammaticalization is not a process. For Gildea is absolutely is a process, driven by the mechanisms of reanalysis and analogy. I tend to agree with that as well – it’s also in the term itself: -ization indicates processes.

Brian D. Joseph - What Grammaticalization Is and What it is Not: Some Observations

Joseph is a quite well-known grammaticalization guy who views it as “the embedding into grammar (the taking on of grammatical status) of once-non- (or less-) grammatical phenomena”. Rather than as a process, grammaticalization is a product (result, state) of regular sound change, borrowing, and analogy (metaphorical shift in meaning). He goes through many case studies, focusing on internal reconstruction, which is making the best of imperfect data and which offers a hypothesis, trying to deduce the historical events that led to a synchronic state. Interesting case studies include one on the adverbial marker -mente/mente in Spanish (or other Romance languages) or Greek meli ‘honey’ and onoma ‘name’. In the end he links grammaticalization back to what the Neogrammarians were doing in the 19th century, which is not really new for me (that is how we were taught Linguistics 101 in Leuven), but it may be new for American-oriented linguists who typically get a lot of generative linguistics as the supposed starting point of linguistics.

I love his Q&A as well, very informative!

Bert Cornillie - Latin Influence on The Languages of Europe and The Pace of Syntactic Elaboration

In another life, where I would have studied Romance languages at KU Leuven, I probably would have taken Cornillie’s classes. I really enjoyed this talk about a case study, threaten to fall (and cognates in other Western-European languages) construction that previously was argued to arise from contact with French, but which Cornillie gracefully shows to have come from Latin. Which Latin? Exactly, that is what a large chunk of this talk is about. Don’t want to spoil it for you.

Karen Lahousse - Word Order In French, Spanish and Italian: Syntax, Information Structure and Grammaticalisation

This talk is kind of weird for me, because I almost had Lahousse’s class back when I did my MA in Linguistics at KU Leuven in 2014. However, because she was pregnant at the time, we had a guest lecturer, who was in direct contact with her. So we still got her course, just not taught by her. I still recognize a number of topics that we had to read about, and I worked on topics of Chinese and Japaense for my term paper.

This talk is recommended if you are interested in the study of a number of Romance languages and how they form a continuum. I does bother me a bit that it’s only French, Spanish and Italian, when there are all of these other languages that are in between. Maybe that would really provide an even more fine-grained continuum in the typology of Romance languages. I enjoyed the talk though.

Johannes Kabatek - Discourse Traditions and Grammar

More Romance languages! This talk shows that discourse traditions are important when doing historical linguistics.

Gillian Sankoff - Linguistic Change: Speaker Trajectories and Language History

This talk is actually a long case study of Montréal French. Sankoff and colleagues find that the auxiliary être is being replaced by avoir (insert shock face); a change in the speed of the adoption /ʀ/, coming from /r/; the replacement of the periphrastic future (aller + infinitive) to the detriment of the inflected future. Cool talk!

Corpus linguistics

Confession: I have a huge respect for the work of Gries and have used a number of his studies in my dissertation. This presentation shows quite well what quantitative corpus linguistics can be used for, and does a good job in instilling with the listener a sense of wanting to know more about this approach.

The part about using a firearm at the end of the talk (starting around minute 52) was highly relevant to current events and extremely interesting: what is the ordinary meaning of a word?

Mark Davies - Using Large Online Corpora to Investigate (Historical, Dialectal, and Genre-Based) Variation In Language

Davies talks about the importance of corpora and the amount of data. He supports the idea that corpus linguistics is a methodology rather than a field, and I tend to agree with that. Corpora provide data, the theoretical conclusions that are drawn based on it depends on frameworks, fields and persuasions.

Most of the talk is a basic overview of what phenomena you can study with corpus data (mostly COCA), how to do it. Interesting is the typical case study of the semantic change of gay. In terms of statistics, it is mostly phrased in terms of simple absolute frequencies rather than association measures. A good first step, but maybe not enough.

Good talk!

Prosody and Corpora Compilation

This talk features Marianne Mithun talking about intonation units from the interaction between theory and case study. Amina Mettouchi presents a corpus that can help study prosody, with special focus on Afro Asiatic languages. Alessandro Panunzi presents yet another corpus for studying prosody. The talks are recommended and can be found here.

Cognitive Linguistics

Mark Turner - Conceptual Blending as a Central Process of Grammar, Language, and Communication

Turner turns out his greatest hit of conceptual blending theory and does so well. Note that he’s about 60 slides in before the moderator interrupts the talk to have him put on the slides as well. Recommended talk.

Linguística Cognitiva: O que é? Para onde vai?

If your Portuguese is up to standard and you’re interested in what Cognitive Linguistics is / does, this can be the talk for you. Check it out here.

Generative Linguistics

The Minimalist Program: Achievements and Challenges

“The Minimalist Program is not a theory” is a mantra that is well-known within linguistics. But then, what is it?

In this talk Marcel den Dikken (literally: Marcel the fat one – he is not). For him, the quintessence of the Minimalist Program, after unmerging all of the principles from the Principles and Parameter program, contains five notions: Features, which need to be checked; Merge, to add stuff to the trees; Agree for feature evaluation; a notion of Locality (‘phase’); and a notion of Economy. But all of these are argued to be somewhat problematic. Note that if you aren’t used to the abbreviations of generative approaches (“GenSpeak” / “FormSpeak”?), you will find this talk to be moving too fast, as the comments also suggest.

The next speaker is Norbert Hornstein, who is clearly a major proponent of the Minimalist Program. He also highlights that this theoretical framework program is not a competitor to Government and Binding, but rather assumes that it is theoretically correct, only to move away from it. This was a point I didn’t really know, so it is good that this was emphasized. But what then remains is the question if Government and Biding indeed is correct. Further in the talk, there is a very long bit on some technicalities of the Merge operation. It strikes me that there is almost no language material in these talks. Almost as if the explanandum is not the data but the theory…

The last speaker is David Pesetsky, who shares “some impressions and anecdotes”. The Minimalist theory Program is described as exhortative speculative fiction: we are called to build this futuristic linguistic descriptive world. There are some anecdotes of the well-known core phenomena, leading Pesetsky to argue that the grammars in our heads are not constructions grammars, but follow principles and parameters. I guess it’s agree to disagree on this one then. Then there is of course the familiar “we found this in language after language, thus it must be correct”, which I have always found problematic: normally you want your scientific paradigm to be based on falsification, especially if you’re working with a minimal (pun intended) amount of data.

Steven Pinker - Language, Cognition and Human Nature

This is not a presentation but an interview with Pinker, famous for his The Language Instinct, a popsci book that was extremely influential in the last 20 years or so, and now infamous for the letter asking for his removal of the media expert panel of the LSA and the subsequent twitter storm (I don’t even know where to link because there is just so much). While I admire the acumen of Pinker and agree with a lot of things he found out – for instance, I love his style book (The Sense of Style) – I still disagree with many of views on language with parameters, and completely innate. A glimmer of hope shines through this talk near the end, where he advises us to become eclectic, as opposed to adhere to 1 school of thought, “because assumptions get in the way”. But of course, every theory or framework makes use of a number of assumptions; you just need to become or stay aware about them. However, this awareness is not equally present across frameworks. Recommended!

Enoch O. Aboh - Universal Multilingualism: Contact, Acquisition, and Change

This is a talk that unexpectedly liked a lot and highly recommend. Aboh’s main point is that most people are multilingual, and that our models of studying should reflect this, not just in terms of code-switching (although he devotes most of his efforts to this situation), but also in terms of familiarity with different genres etc. Also unexpected then, is that this is definitely wrapped within generative / formal linguistics, a group of frameworks I thought focuses mostly on monolingual situations.

Luis Miguel Rojas-Berscia - An Introduction to Dynamic Linguistics: Capturing Fluidity In Language Change

I mistakenly first categorized this as a form of Cognitive Linguistics (see Soares da Silva below), but make no mistake, Dynamic Linguistics is an offshoot of Generative Semantics. Rojas-Berscia takes us on a tour of what this framework entails. It’s interesting to see how a different approach to variation (with lects and all) than the one I’m used to plays out.

Pieter Seuren - Essentials of Semantic Syntax

Any alternative to traditional Chomskyan grammar deserves a closer look, and Seuren’s Semantic Syntax model is quite interesting, as it rejects the neo-positivist nature of the former, and does not treat syntax as a “random sentence generator”. I did not know about Semantic Syntax, but I like how it clearly includes speech acts, lexical choices etc. However, it does seem to fall into the rule-list fallacy? I need to follow up on this model. It is also quite interesting to see how Rojas-Berscia’s presentation follows this model, which makes sense in hindsight. Lastly, the Q&A is highly recommended as well.

Anders Holmberg - Verb Second, But Not As We Know It: The Case of Estonian

Wow, I did not know that Estonian was the only V2 language of the Uralic languages. Holmberg argues that this is because of language contact with Germans who migrated to Estonia and became dominant in the past. If you were ever curious of seeing trees made with Finnish and Estonian data, this is your chance.

Violeta Demonte - Variation and Interfaces. A Spanish Modal Evidential at The Syntax-Semantics-Pragmatics Interface

This talk is what I thought Adger’s would be like. Demonte introduces the Minimalist Program, while focusing on variation and Spanish. Revealing for me, even though I think the notion of interface has it backwards: in language, it’s not a combination of different fields that has more real status; the fields are abstractions from something highly multimodal. I also think that it’s hard to study variation without quantification. In this paradigm things are phrased in terms of passing or failing a certain (syntactic) test…

Noam Chomsky - The Delphic Oracle: Her Message for Today

Unsurprisingly, this one is the first guest in this series of lectures on linguistics. Very surprisingly, however, this one is not about linguistics. Disappointing.

You can find it here.

Popularizing linguistics

Gretchen McCulloch & Lauren Gawne - Emoji as Digital Gesture: Why Internet Linguistics Matters

I recently read McCulloch’s book Because Internet, because how could you not; it has been appearing on all the blogs I follow. Tbh, sometimes I think her style on her blog is a bit too unacademic, but I guess that’s the point: she wants to get people more interested in language in general, and does this through the topic of internet usage. This talk is actually wonderful and I really enjoy her passion of her research object and I wish we had more people who do the popularisation of linguistics well.

David Adger - Language Invention and Language Structure

This was a somewhat unexpected talk; I had expected Adger to go full on minimalist program on us (which I actually would have liked – I think the people that watch these Abralin lectures are presumably quite well-versed in linguistic theories), but I will never say no to conlangs. Cool talk.

David Crystal - Let’s Talk: How English Conversation Works

Crystal is a household name in the popularization of linguistics and I have enjoyed a good number of his books. This talk is a bit different than the other ones, however, in the sense that this is an interview and it is kind of linguistics-light. I do not really recommend it (read: I took one for the team), as they are somewhat prescriptivist in their positions. For example, both parties agree that social distancing is a bad term “because it’s physical distancing”. You can’t go to war with those kinds of observations.

You can find it here, should you be interested.

Anthropological linguistics

Okay maybe the category of Anthroplogical linguistics isn’t the best term but it is a bucket category of important aspects of language and linguistics that do not readily fit with the other ones.

Daniel Everett - How Language Began: Archaeology, Semiotics and the Origin of Language in the Lower Palaeolithic

This is an interesting talk by Pirahã-famous Dan Everett. If you are into the archeology of homonids and the phenomenon of languages, this is highly recommended. There are lots of Peircean semiotics in this talk. You can find it here.

Emmanuel Ngue Um - Social Linguistics: Making Social Sense of the Discipline of Linguistics in Multilingual Africa

Ngue Um starts his presentation with the well-known trope that “you linguistics is not about speaking many languages”, by asking: Why not? Why can’t linguists be assumed to speak multiple languages? Is it “pure science” advocacy? Is it a disregard to social engagement? Is it a historical bias? Is it neoliberalism? The talk is largely focused on arguing for more sociolinguistic approaches to the ‘languaging’ in Africa, rather than purely theoretical analyses. And it is quite convincing.On the other hand, some abstraction when sciencing does remain necessary.

Sinfree Makoni - Southern Multilingualisms: Toward Decolonizing the Sociolinguistics of Africa

This talk mentions languaging (see Ngue Em) and multimodality as two keyterms for a better understanding of the sociolinguistics of Africa, but Makoni then goes beyond that by identifying underlying metaphors to uncover the epistemology and ontology of such approaches, e.g., “the lay-person”. The presentation is quite hard to follow because the slides aren’t shared.

Friederike Lüpke - The Language(S) of Multilingualism: Atlantic Perspectives on Conceptualising Small-Scale Multilingualisms

I thought this talk would be on a very similar vein as the ones by Ngue Um and Makoni, but actually Lüpke treats a whole range of issues that were not touched upon before. For instance, the issue of naming a language, the cultural value of speaking many languages (more is better, except in certain cases). I would recommend this talk after the previous two to form some kind of trilogy of African multilingualism and the lessons we can learn from it.

Alexandra Aikhenvald - The grammar of well-being: How to talk about health and illness in tropical societies

I was looking forward to seeing and hearing Aikhenvald, a well-known typologist (#evidentiality) but this talk is unfortunately delivered in Portuguese (with English powerpoints), so not really accessible to me. Talk available here.

Acquisition / Gesture / Multimodality

Aliyah Morgenstern - The Multimodal Roots of Language

Pretty good introduction to the multimodality of the acquisition of language, how children go about languaging Gestures, pointing, gaze. I must confess that despite its importance in studies on ideophones, I never really got into it and thus just follow key findings. But I think this video showcases the importance of the multimodality in acquisition. Go see it here.

Eve Clark - How Repairs in Conversation Guide the Acquisition of Language

This talk was interesting for me because I finally got into what repair actually is. Basically it’s asking for clarification, with a huh?, a what?, a who? etc. These are very frequent in adult conversation. Not surprisingly, learning how to do this is an important part of acquisition, but also the adult checking up on the acquiring child is important. Clark goes into great detail on both sides of this coin. Great talk!

Michael Tomasello - Communication Before Language

Within Cognitive Linguistics, Tomasello has this status of being the acquisition guy, since he started working with usage-based data and proposed theories that make uses of schematization quite early on. I once saw a talk by him back in Leuven, which was very interesting, and have read a number of his books on acquisition, which were very insightful.

This talk goes further along his research axis in talking about the multimodality of acquisition, by focusing on gestures (pointing but also gaze), and comparing humans with primates. Recommended.

Tom Roeper - The Explanatory Power of Language Acquisition In UG, Cognitive Science, and the Evolving Notion of Thought

This talk is the opposite of the body of work that Tomasello represents and I would have expected a serious alternative to Tomasello, couched in UG and Generative Grammar, to address issues that were maybe lacking in Tomasello’s work. But it’s just not there. This was not my cup of tea.

Marilyn Vihman - First Steps In Language Development: The Role of Production and the Emergence of Lexical Systematicity

This talk looks at the acquisition from a mostly phonological point-of-view. There is some attention for Mandarin, which was particularly interesting for me, although I don’t know if I’m convinced by the idea that Mandarin infants mostly hear syllables rather than words… Check it out here.

Language and Literacy Development: Global and Local Issues

This group talk looks at how children acquire reading skills. Important, because reading is fundamental.

Sociolinguistics / society

Sali A. Tagliamonte - What’s Sociolinguistics Good for?

Tagliamonte is a well-known sociolinguist, so I was looking forward to hearing this talk. She did deliver a large number of case studies performed in her career, with a big focus on Ontario dialects, which was quite interesting. She takes word frequencies as clues for further investigation and I guess that’s how it often goes: you learn a bit about something which prompts you to dig deeper. Good talk!

Michel DeGraff - Black Lives Will Not Matter Until our Languages also Matter: The Politics of Linguistics and Education In Post-Colonies

Perhaps one of the most important talks in this series, or at least one of the most relevant ones. DeGraff relates his talk also to the situation of Haiti.

In the beginning of the talk there is a screenshot with Black lives matter translated into different languages, including Chinese, where it says 「黑命无价」 hēi mìng wú jià ‘black life have.not price’, “black lives are priceless”. However, to me the negation in wú jià seems kind of negative. I would not translate it that way, even though the composite expression means ‘priceless’. Maybe a yě suàn 也算 ‘also count’ is a better way of translating? I’m curious to see other opinions.

H. Samy Alim - Refusing the “White Gaze”: Language, Race, and the Disruption of White Supremacist Ideologies

Yet another great talk on the social issue that grips the world right now. It forces us to think about the white gaze (also in academia). Highly recommended!

Sarah G. Thomason - Deliberate Language Change: Why, How, and Does It Matter?

The traditional view is that deliberate linguistic change is not something that is at all likely to have more than minor influence on a system. Thomason’s view, however, is that speakers can change anything in their language they can become aware of. What follows is a colorful display of (mostly phonological) examples of different factors that can induce deliberate change, such as: accommodation, distancing, secrecy, standardization, censure or ridicule avoidance, and identity construction.

I particularly enjoyed her demonstrations of Salish demonstrations. Also interesting is the story behind the debate of possible pulmonic ingressives in Tsou. Thomason’s student Michael Fuller argued he found them (1990), but when Ladefoged & Zeitoun went to investigate (1993) they couldn’t find them. Thomason gives a plausible reason why the latter could not find them…

A recommended talk!

William Labov - Justice as a Linguistic Matter

This talk takes a while to get going, but it shows Labov’s eminence and longstanding status within the field of sociolinguistics. Especially in times of #BlackLivesMatter this is an important talk, because it goes in depth into AAVE.

Antonella Sorace - The ‘Native Monolingual Standard’ In Language Research (and Why It’s a Problem

Based on the title of this talk I thought it would be “just another talk on the weirdness of monolingual standards”, and it is that for sure, but it’s also so much more. I think especially near the end of the talk, when Sorace starts talking about economy and efficiency I was really hooked. Note, this presentation has some technical problems of some duration, so don’t be put off by the long initial lecture time. Very good!

Augusto Soares da Silva - Bases cognitivas e letomátricas para o estudo da variação pluricêntrica do português

This talk, which is in Portuguese, represents the sociolinguistic approach that I’m mostly familiar with, i.e., well-grounded in Cognitive Linguistic tenets. I have been following Soares da Silva’s work in the CLR series during my PhD, and have liked many of his papers. Unfortunately this talk is in Portuguese, so I couldn’t fully enjoy it. But I hope it inspired more members of the Brazilian target audience to follow in his footsteps.

Shana Poplack - Code-Switching

I like the way Poplack has outlined ‘code-switching’, a phenomenon that is well-studied yet defined or approached in wildly different ways, in this talk. She shows that most code-switching is not composed of multiword phrases, but rather single words, and the bulk of these are established loanwords. Most of these words are content words, mostly nouns.

Gregory R. Guy - The (In)Coherence of Linguistic Communities

Decent talk on a number of sociolinguistic issues, mostly America-focused. Watch it here.

Ryuko Kubota - Epistemological Racism and Language Studies: Decolonizing Knowledge

I wanted to like this talk but it just didn’t speak to me. Check it out here.

Endangered languages

Bernard Comrie - Resurrecting the Linguistic Past: What We Can Learn from Akabea (Andaman Islands)

If one mentions Comrie you might think of aspect or tense, among many other works. In his talk he introduces the grammar of Akabea (Andaman). Recommended if you want to learn more about circumstantial fieldwork that resulted in a grammatical understanding. There is a large case study of the semantic extensions of aka ‘mouth’. Check it out here.

David Bradley - Resilience Linguistics: What Is to be Done With Endangered Languages?

This talk goes through some case studies of what has worked in terms of strategies to make endangered languages less endangered. You can find it here.

Pragmatics and discourse

Elizabeth Traugott - A Constructional Perspective on the Rise of Discourse Markers

Grammaticalization expert Traugott discusses a number of discourse markers from a construction grammar perspective, e.g., by the way, which she analyzes brilliantly in the way that she is known for throughout her career. Curiously, she frames her study somewhat by stating that early Cognitive Linguists did not pay much attention to discourse (markers), referring to Fillmore (1988), Langacker (1987) or Goldberg (1995, 2006, 2019), and that it is odd because Sweetser (1990) talked about discourse markers. I find this a weird starting point, because it certainly is not the goal of Fillmore’s Frame semantics to talk about this phenomenon, so I don’t know why she would expect to find it there. Langacker’s Cognitive Grammar (1987) outlines the basic foundations of his theoretical apparatus, but in (2008) we find a whole section on discourse, which also has played an important part in Cognitive Grammar over the years, albeit from a introspective data approach. Goldberg’s work is also mostly focused on constructions that usually feature a verb; it seems that the discourse markers Traugott is interested in are not really of that nature. So it is strange that this is the point against which she frames her talk. BUT, a good talk nonetheless. Highly recommended!

Andrej A. Kibrik - Cognitive Discourse Analysis

This lecture provides a decent overview of issues related to studying discourse from a Cognitive Linguistics perspective. I disagree with the starting point (also in the abstract) that states that “On-line phenomena, such as discourse processes unfolding in real time, can and should be explored from a cognitive perspective as well” (emphasis mine). Already in the second book in the CLR series, scholars have been dealing with issues like activation, reference etc. That is not to say that that treatment was sufficient – it was not – but we should also not pretend that CL has never looked at discourse. Recommended talk.

Emanuela Cresti & Massimo Moneglia - Speech Acts, Prosody and the Analysis of Spontaneous Spoken language.

This talk focuses mostly on the utterances and information units. It features examples with special prosody that are very reminiscent of a certain fellow student of mine… Find the talk here.

Phonology and phonetics

Jane Setter - Your Voice Speaks Volumes

This is more of a comprehensive talk about a relatively well-understood topic: dialects and accents in the UK. Later on Setter also talks about forensic linguistics, which was quite interesting. So it’s a recommended talk.

Joe Salmons & David Natvig - Sound Change

This talk show how different approaches to sounds and sound change can work together to get a more comprehensive picture of what’s going on. Not my field, but very interesting!

Marc van Oostendorp - Calculating With Sounds. The Legacy of Roman Jakobson

Well-known Dutch linguistic van Oostendorp (who is very active online) talks about his admiration for Roman Jakobson. He conveys his passion about one of Jakobson’s works that focuses on featural analysis of phonemes. However, I found the presentation format extremely unclear. Check it out if you’re interested.

Caleb Everett - Newfound Global Phonetic Patterns and What They Tell Us About Language

This is a cool talk and one of the clearest phonetics presentations I’ve ever seen. This talk seems to be on the cusp of linguistics (more so than many other talks that take a more historical overview of a field as their topic).

The Interplay Between Speech and Singing

This multiple people presentation is a bit more traditional in terms of phonetics presentations. It was interesting.

Katarzyna Dziubalska-Kołaczyk - Explaining Clusters Using Net Auditory Distance and Morphonotactics

This talk, grounded in Natural phonology principles, talks about clusters.

John Esling - The Larynx Is an Articulator, Not Just a Glottis: We Need a New Vocal Tract Model

This talk talks about the larynx.

Biological Linguistics

Martin Haspelmath - How Evolutionary Adaptation Explains Language Structures

Haspelmath is a well-known linguistic typologist. I have made use of his research in my research, especially when making the important distinction between cross-linguistics comparative concepts and language-particular categories. In this talk this is called the difference between g-linguistics and p-linguistics. This talk is about parallels between biology and linguistics, focusing on how evolutionary adaptation as an important factor for explaining phenomena. In biology such explanations are quite common, but in linguistics they are not. It is a good talk and recommended, although I remain skeptical about many of the issues raised during the Q&A and Haspelmath’s adaptability in terms of explanations.

Kind of weird is that there are lots of references to Haspelmath (2021) and Haspelmath (2021a). Did he come back from the future? Also weird is Haspelmath’s lumping together of Chomsky (1965) and Jackendoff (2002) with Langacker (1987) under the heading of complete bio-cognitive explanations of so-called p-languages, as opposed to cultural explanations or comparison with other languages (g-language). I think Cognitive Grammar, while focusing on cognition, is very much compatible with cultural types of explanation and tries to uncover a number of important features of language usage in general. This lumping together seems unwarranted.

Andy Wedel - The Role of Communication Efficiency In Shaping Language

I like this kind of thinking, where efficiency factors are studied in the production and reception of language usage; it’s very attractive, and I think it needs to become more widespread. This talk fits in well with a Cognitive Linguistics approach to sounds, although I’m not sure Wedel would see it like that as well. One interesting finding mentioned in this talk is that earlier segments have a higher cue validity than later segments, which we also know from other studies, but which can also be demonstrated with predictive text when texting. But of course, it also depends on how unique certain combinations are, I guess. And that is where the end of the talk goes towards: less probable words tend to have more segments (as in Zipf’s work), but less predictable words also have segments that more quickly distinguish them from competitors. I am quite curious if I can integrate some of the insights of this talk into my research on ideophones.

Contact, pidgins, creoles

Salikoko S. Mufwene - How Pidgins Emerged? Not as We Have Been Told

This talk on pidgins shows the importance of historical context in the study of languages. I think the main point is that ‘pidgin’ is a very British colonization kind of term; while there was no Pidgin Portuguese, Pidgin French or Pidgin Dutch. The talk reminded me of Nicholas Ostler’s Empires of the Word: A language history of the world, which discusses the language policies of colonizers and colonized across time. Of course, Mufwene tells a story that ties in closer to current research into the emergence of the terms ‘pidgin’ and ‘creole’ and does so convincingly.

I recommend this talk:

Peter Bakker - The Birth of New Languages In Multilingual Situations

This talk presents a more traditional view of pidgins and creoles, compared to Mufwene’s talk, but does make the main basic (and correct) claim that creoles are real languages (not just mixed languages). Good!

John H. McWhorter - What Adults do to Language and How They Create New Ones

To be honest, I went into this talk with a negative view of McWhorther, stemming from my bad experiences with his The Language Hoax ( see academic review here) and hearing him on other platforms where I often find myself disagreeing with many of his opinions because the logic often seems flawed (at least in the moment). However, I did like this talk. McWhorter mainly advocates against the idea that creoles are just mixtures of languages (‘uniformitarianism’), positions advanced by Mufwene and DeGraff. Instead, they come into being by converging some features of the donor languages, mediated by the effects of adult acquisition and the creation of non-native pidgins. Later in the talk he argues both that the genesis process of two languages (Tok Pisin and Sranan) is the same, even though we don’t have any historical traces of the pidgin stage of Sranan. The way he presents it is at most a conjecture, not a full deduction, so this is a weak point in his talk for me. But then later he addresses the issue of representativeness: how representative is the well-known case of Haitian creole for different creole languages, and I think that amounts to asking a very important question to which I don’t have an answer, but one that apparently should be answered asap in that field. Unlikely recommended.


Evelina Fedorenko - The Language System In The Human Mind and Brain

I like these “intro to neurolinguistics” talks. This one is very thorough and intuitively (I say intuitively because I am not familiar with all of the intricacies of this subfield) is taking the right approaches to brain and language, although I don’t know about the conclusions (such as in 1). The main contributions of this talk / her program are that 1. brain regions that support language processing are selective for language (as opposed to supporting other abilities, e.g., music, arithmetic); 2. brain regions that support word meanings vs. syntactic processing are the same; 3. the primary driver of the language regions' responses is semantic composition (and not structure building).

Peter Hagoort - The Core and Beyond In The Language-Ready Brain

I am not well-versed in the world of neuro- /psycholinguistics but I do enjoy the presentations that have found their way to me in the past few years. This talk is very much in line of that. There are lots of specifics of this subfield that are touched upon in this talk, but I remain unconvinced of the usability of generative grammar within this field, and while that still seems to be dominant, the field seems to become more and more aware of culture as well. Check it out y’all.

Mark Liberman - Clinical Applications of Linguistic Analysis: Opportunities and Challenges

Mark Liberman, well-known from Language Log introduced a number of clinical applications of linguistics. Interesting talk with good future avenues of extension. Check it out here.

Michael Ullman - Language Learning Relies on Brain Circuits that Predate Humans: Evidence from Typical and Atypical Language Development

Another talk on neurolinguistics with three main case studies. It can be found here.

John E. Joseph - The Geographical and Cognitive Mapping of Multilingualism

This is the dialectology / dialectometry talk you didn’t know you needed, at least for the first 20 minutes. After that it turns, curiously, to the world of neurolinguistics. I thought this talk was very interesting.

David Poeppel - Rhythms of Speech and Rhythms of Brains

The brain has rhythms - and so do music and speech. In his talk, Poeppel takes us through a number of experiments that show this.

Ellen Bialystok - Does Bilingualism Affect Cognitive and Brain Structures? Facts and Fictions

In this talk we learn that bilingualism is indeed a source of neuroplasticity that increases the attention systems / span in brain and behaviour. As a side note, coming from Belgium, it is hard to imagine anybody being completely being monolingual, although I probably know a few people like that…


Frieda Steurs - Language Technology: What Is Next?

Steurs, who I have had meetings with when I was the student representative of the Faculty of Arts at KU Leuven, gives a quite comprehensive history of the translation technology in the last 70 years or so. Then she discusses some recent issues and tools. Really good talk if you ever wanted to know about this!

Sign language

Christian Rathmann - International Sign In Interactions: Revisiting the Concept of ‘Foreigner Talk’

Cool talk, in sign language (don’t worry, there’s a vocalizer next to it) about how deaf people sign when coming into contact with other sign languages.

Sign Languages and Linguistics

This panel also delves deeper into the role the study of sign language can play in our conception of language.


Isabel Trancoso - Speech as a Health Biomarker

This talk shows how big data studies can help us interpret linguisitc cues as markers of (deteriorating) health. Interesting.


Arran Stibbe - Ecolinguistics: the Search for New Stories to Live by

This talk shows that framing and reframing is important. Stibbe discusses newspaper narratives: how immigrants had been framed as invaders in The Sun, but now are portrayed as the heroes (doctors, nurses etc.) fighting against COVID. At about minute 38 he talks about haiku, which was quite interesting, although I dislike the kind of “Japanese is so mysterious, so exotic” attitude that is displayed in this lecture.

More to come later…

Postdoctoral assistant (Linguistics)

My research interests include ideophones, (Premodern) Chinese, historical linguistics, Cognitive Linguistics, and lexical semantics.

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