Over the past year, the doctoral students of our department have been organizing a weekly journal club. For me as a linguist, the discussions of various research articles opened up a whole new perspective on science in general and linguistics in particular. I learned about the interests and viewpoints of my fellow doctoral students and other researchers in our department working on historical linguistics, language documentation, and cultural evolution. In addition, organizing a journal club also helped me learn how to spark and lead a discussion. I hope the following personal insights offer some ideas and guidelines on how you can organize a journal club of your own.
Semantic data are notoriously difficult to handle. In contrast to the form-part of the linguistic sign, meanings are not organized sequentially, but rather network-like (List 2014: 34f). As a result, we often encounter problems when trying to model complex relations between different meanings, specifically in those cases, where we have only tables as our base material. This blog post tries to summarize how major types of semantic data are handled in the Concepticon project and how they can be accessed in code.
I noticed that scientists deal with digital communication very differently: some avoid all sorts of platforms, others are much more present and involved in the discussions that are taking place in the online world. Digital communication as a linguist (or scientist in general) also includes sharing your research output. This does not have to be an article in a high-ranking journal. As a student, you can start by publishing your thesis, conference presentation slides, or a preprint. In this post, I’ll illustrate some of the possibilities that linguists and other researchers have to discuss and share their work.
In the last two weeks we had a renewed interest in colexifications, especially in the third generation of the “Database of Cross-Linguistic Colexifications” (Rzymski, Tresoldi, et al., 2020). The attention was due to two different and independent requests in few days. For those unfamiliar, the concept of “colexification” (François, 2008) refers to instances in which a language uses the same lexeme to express more than one comparable concept (e.g., Russian де́рево, which can mean both “tree” and “wood”). The CLICS project, first developed by List et al. (2014), is an offspring of the transparent approaches to standardization, aggregation, and curation of linguistic data that have been promoted within the CLDF framework (Forkel et al., 2018). It uses standardized lexical databases to identify “colexification networks”.
For a long time, I have been wondering about the origin of the German wordlist in the Intercontinental Dictionary Series (Key and Comrie 2016. Not only are many of the words given as translations for the large concept list of 1310 items very archaic variants, which are no longer in use, we also find many annoying problems, such as unusual spellings (consequently avoiding the letter “ß”, which is still in use, even if some people think differently), wrong translations, and, of course, no phonetic transcriptions. Already during my doctoral studies, I therefore started to work on a refined list, but I soon had so many other things on my plate, that I never really managed to finish this work. Recently, however, I realized that my previous work which I had done years ago was far more complete than I had thought, and I had even added information on potential borrowings, extracted from Kluge’s (2002) etymological dictionary. Given that this list can come in handy in various ways, I decided to finish the work and publish the list officially in a very first version.
Establishing a standardized annotation framework for communicating rhyme judgments identified in historical texts will both ease the use of computational tools for rhyme analysis, and hopefully inspire greater collaboration amongst scholars interested in historical linguistics. The framework we have proposed (List, Hill & Foster 2019), was designed with simplicity, exhaustiveness, and flexibility in mind (p. 30), with the intension of eventual inclusion in the Cross-Linguistic Data Formats initiative (https://cldf.clld.org). Further testing of the framework is desired to demonstrate its utility and identify areas requiring refinement. This study presents such a test on rhyming in the Cang Jie pian 蒼頡篇, an ancient Chinese scribal treatise only recently reconstructed from a complex corpus of surviving manuscript fragments. In a follow-up study, the proposal will be formally evaluated by providing code to test the annotations.
The body of most human beings consist of similar parts such as a head, arms, legs, and so on. Many body parts also occur in animals. The shapes and functions of body parts are universal across cultures, but speakers of various languages choose to categorize the body differently. For example, Vietnamese has a single word (tay) for the concepts HAND and ARM. The universality of the human body and its categorization into different parts have attracted attention across research areas such as lexical typology and cognitive science. Therefore, I present a comprehensive list of human and animal body part terms based on German which were mapped to the concepts in the Concepticon (List et al. 2020). The list is intended for investigations on cross-linugistic naming patterns of body parts.
Writing reviews for a journal is one of those things which most scientists never actively learn. For laypeople, this may be surprising, given how often the scientific method with its rigorous peer review procedure is being mentioned in the news nowadays. How can it be, one may ask oneself, that this procedure that is usually presented as the core principle of scientific reasoning, is never really actively taught? If the review by experts is the core of the scientific method and what decides about the acceptance of an article, how can it be that scientists do never take a course on article reviewing, and how can it be that reviewers are (as I have previously discussed in a German blogpost) themselves never reviewed or graded?
I cannot remember when I decided to become a linguist. I cannot even remember when I first called myself a linguist (as opposed to a student, a Sinologist, or a scientist). But I can remember when I wrote my first review for a linguistics journal, and I also remember that it came close to a catastrophe, since I maintained a very hostile tone, I didn’t like the paper, thought the authors were badly informed, and didn’t want to allow the paper to be published.
This post introduces a model of segmental/distinctive features for the symbolic representation of sounds, covering almost 600 segments from CLTS (List et al., 2019) mapped to unique sets of bivalent features. It is being designed as an alternative input to vectors of presence/absence built from BIPA descriptors, analogous to other feature matrices like the one by Phoible (Moran & McCloy, 2019). While still under development, it can already be used both for training models of machine learning and statistics, notably decision trees, and for bootstrapping language- and process-specific models, aided by an “universal” and concise reference. The complete matrix is available on Zenodo. Asupporting Python library, distfeat, is available on PyPI.
In lexicography, there are two commonly used types of semantic data categorization: semantic domains and semantic labels. The difference between the two approaches is simple: semantic domains presume that each lexical meaning belongs to one and only one group (or sub-group of a larger group). Semantic labels do not have such limitations.
STARLING is a software package, originally created by Sergej A. Starostin, which is designed for historical linguists who want to build their own etymological dictionaries. It is not only a database system that allows its users to set up a very straightforward relational database structure, but also a package full of surprises, since it contains many methods that are supposed to automate specific tasks in historical linguistics. These range from phylogenetic tree reconstruction via the preliminary identification of sound correspondences up to the comparison of elicitation glosses for their semantic similarity. While phylogenetic reconstruction and sound correspondences are now quite successfully handled in alternative software packages, I thought it would be interesting to discuss the routine for assessing concept similarity in more detail, since it offers interesting possibilities for those who practice historical language comparison.
Endangered language documentation and endangered language revitalisation have been two hot topics in recent years. For instance, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) declared the year 2019 as the International Year of Indigenous Languages. However, although the UNESCO and many other organizations (e.g. The Endangered Languages Documentation Programme or SIL International) urge the public to be aware of the rapidly decreasing number of languages in the world, it does not slow down the annual rate of language loss. For example, the total number of speakers of the Kusunda language, a moribund language spoken in Nepal, decreased to only one person in 2020.
This is a joint post by Uday Raj Aaley (independent researcher, Dang, Nepal) and Timotheus A. Bodt.
Between 29th July 2019 and 12th August 2019, we invited the then remaining two speakers of the Kusunda language to Kathmandu, where we interviewed them. One of these speakers, Gyani Maiya Sen Kusunda, unfortunately passed away early 2020. At the moment of writing this, there is only one Kusunda speaker left, Kamala Sen Kusunda.