Linguistics Colloquium - Abstracts

Tone, phonation, and vowel quality in Hainan Cham

Ela Thurgood 

The paper presents a study of Hainan Cham tonal pitches, phonation and F0 of high and low vowels. It shows that the F0 differences between high and low vowels in nonmodal phonations are considerably beyond what mechanics of speech production automatically produce pointing to a non-mechanical enhancement. Specifically, an association with falsetto results in an exaggerated F0 of a high vowel, and consequently, an exaggerated F0 difference between high and low vowels for high tones. An association with a laryngealized phonation enhances F0 difference by lowering the F0 of a low vowel found in Hainan Cham low and mid tones.

The uniqueness marker in Mandan

Sara Trechter

The internally headed relative clauses of Mandan (Siouan) have been previously described in the literature as marked by a number of diverse morphemes, whose meaning is undetermined (Mixco 1997). Among these is the relativizer {ko-}, which optionally occurs on the verb of an internally-headed relative clauses. The same morpheme also occurs with comparative/superlative meanings, non-optionally on third person possessive kinship terms, and in certain expressions. In this paper, I both differentiate and unite such disparate functions by demonstrating that {ko-} does not function as a relativizer or necessarily a nominalizer, but as a marker of uniqueness.

The formation of the Chinese locative "collostruction"

Chaofen Sun
Center of East Asian Studies, Stanford University

This paper proposes two conditions on the present-day Chinese locative construction on the basis of its syntactic distributions. Arguments will be given to demonstrate that there is neither postposition (Li & Thompson 1981, Ernst 1988, Wu 2006) nor circumposition (D. Liu 2003) in Chinese similar to the Amharic circumposition observed by Greenberg (1995). Second, there will be discussion on the importance of spatial nominals as a special type of Chinese nominals as part of the Chinese locative construction. Chinese is a language typologically behaving like a Mayan language Yukatek that has only two to four (one generic) spatial adpositions and many important spatial nominals (Levinson et. 2003). This paper proposes two conditions on the present-day Chinese locative construction on the basis of its syntactic distributions. Third, following the grammaticalization of zai as a renewal process emerged the two conditions: a selectional restriction and a multi-syllabic constraint that define the prototypical locative construction in the present time on a continuum. That is, the preposition zai heading the locative construction selects either a definite NP or a spatial nominal. The multi-syllabic constraint is primarily proposed for the spatial nominals. The so-called postpositions are actually NP enclitics (F. Liu’s 1998), functioning to signal a spatial meaning lacking in the preposition zai. Evidence gathered from historical maps produced by Tan (1982) reveals that the multi-syllabic constraint became dominant on place names in the Han dynasty (206 BCE-220CE). In analogy with the multi-syllabic place names that commonly occur in the construction, spatial nominals were derived from non-spatial morphemes with a spatial term such as shang “upside,” xia “downside,” etc. These spatial terms become an NP enclitic forming a phonological unit with its stem in present-day Chinese. These two conditions became dominant about the time of Yuan dynasty (14th century). Following Himmelmann’s (2004) characterization, in which three types of expansion (host-class, syntactic, and semantic-pragmatic) are essential to grammaticalization, special attention are given to the expansions of the two conditions in these three domains.

Phonological Cues Predict Gender of Unfamiliar Names

Saundra Wright
English, CSU, Chico

Investigations of first names in English demonstrate that male and female names differ according to phonological characteristics. I show that subjects rely on those same cues when determining gender of unfamiliar names. Subjects were presented with lists of novel names and asked to indicate whether they sounded more masculine or feminine. Results reveal that four phonological traits account for gender identification: syllable structure, coda segments, vowel length, and onset segments. These results support earlier studies suggesting a link between phonology and name patterns. Moreover, they suggest that phonological cues are salient enough to designate gender of names never encountered before.

The end of the sentence in Siouan? 

Sara Trechter
English, CSU, Chico

This paper reconstructs and traces the historical development of utterance-final particles in the Siouan languages, the basic meanings and subsequent grammaticalized development. Evidence from Siouan increases our knowledge of typical paths of grammaticalization in the little-studied area of discourse particles.

Name Popularity and Feminization Trends

Saundra K. Wright
CSU, Chico

Research on the association between gender and name popularity demonstrates that first names in English evolve from masculine to unisex to feminine (Barry & Harper 1993, 1982). My research expands on these findings and helps to account for why we see this particular trend. First, I analyze the 1,000 most popular names in American English for each decade from 1900-2000. My investigation confirms the feminization trend: over the past century, numerous names once popular for males have become more popular for females (e.g., Ashley, Lindsey, Kelly). Next I demonstrate that the male names most likely to become-and remain-popular as female names are those with phonologically female traits. Numerous researchers have shown that male and female names can be distinguished by different phonological characteristics (Wright & Hay 2002, Barry & Harper 1995, Lieberson & Bell 1992, Cutler et al. 1990, among others). My investigation indicates that these phonological traits are significant predictors of the types of male names likely to become feminized. In short, names that are characterized as having masculine features tend to remain popular male names (e.g., Scott), while names that are characterized as having feminine features are more likely to become popular female names (e.g., Ashley).

Discovering Burundi's Cultural History Through Language 

Ellen Eggers
CSU, Chico

How does one go about characterizing an entire country, past and present? Especially one that seems to include hundreds of years of one warring faction against another, one “ethnic cleansing” after another, one military coup after one political one. That was my task when committing to writing the Historical Dictionary of Burundi, the small, less-known sister to the now infamous Rwanda. The country’s Byzantine political system continually changes, and its royal dynasties would fit well in a Shakespearean tragedy. What’s the answer to making sense of all of this? Language, of course. I will discuss how the project unfolded as I discovered linguistic connections, which themselves helped to tell the long, sad story of a country and people divided by ethnic divisions and colonial intervention.

From Proto-Chamic to Tsat: Insights from Zheng 1997 and from Summer 2004 fieldwork

Graham Thurgood and Ela Thurgood
April 29, 2005
Taylor 210, CSU, Chico

This paper on Hainan Cham, that is, Tsat, does two things: based on the Zheng 1997 grammar, it clarifies the details about the reflexes of Proto-Chamic in Hainan Cham and based on the instrumental work on the language by Ela and Graham Thurgood it provides a much richer phonetic picture, not only of the synchronic tone system, but also on the diachronic patterns of change.

G. Thurgood (1999) provides a preliminary phonological and lexical reconstruction of Proto-Chamic [PC], the branch of Austronesian belonging to the Chamic branch of Malayo-Chamic, a group of Austronesian languages that includes the Acehnese of Sumatra, the Western Cham of parts of Cambodia, Thailand, and Vietnam, along with a number of languages of Vietnam (Northern Roglai, Cac Gia Roglai, Southern Roglai, Rade, Jarai, Haroi, Eastern Cham (=Phan Rang Cham), and Chru)). While the reconstruction of PC in Thurgood 1999 maps out correspondences between PC and the descendant Chamic languages for the majority of the languages, the reflex patterns in Tsat are sketchy, reflecting the lack of data. The 1999 analysis was based on the information available at the time (Ouyang and Zheng, 1983; Ni, 1988ab, 1990ab; and Zheng 1986), and it did not include Zheng 1997—a sizeable grammar of Tsat.

Aside from providing a database to confirm the then speculative conclusions about the reflexes of PC in Tsat, which had been based on the earlier limited database, the two new sources provide considerable insights into Tsat (Hainan Cham) tonogenesis: in fact, the summer 2004 instrumental fieldwork combined with the enlarged database in Zheng 1997 allow us to provide a phonetically much richer and more complex picture of the tonogenesis, one consistent with various accounts of Tsat tonogenesis found in the literature (Benedict 1984, Haudricourt 1984, Ni 1990a, Maddieson and Pang, 1993, Thurgood 1993, 1996, 1999) and still transparent but more complex and thus more insightful. Specifically, some of these developments suggest that the widely attested differential behavior of final glottal stops in tonogenesis—sometimes a final glottal stop causes the pitch to rise and at other times it causes the pitch to fall—is more likely to be attributed to the fact that sometimes the glottal final occurs as part of a co-articulated coda, in which cases the pitch falls, and at others it is part of a co-articulated final, in which case the pitch rises.

In addition, there are a number of general comments about the phonetic details of pitch patterns of what phonemically is treated by Zheng as the same tone: there is variation in the so-called 11 tone, in the 55 tone, in the 33 tone, and so on. a number of changes are reflected in our summer 2004 data, changes that have occurred since the Zheng and Ouyang data was collected in the mid 1980s (despite often later publication dates). The time frame for these changes parallels the time frames for change in Nadou and Jiamao, two other Tai-Kadai languages of Hainan, which we also collected data on. 

Finally, there is another change in progress is of some interest: The PC *-ay > *-a:y÷ > (variably) -a:÷ is fairly well-attested in the data, along with a more marginally but fully parallel *-aw > *-a:w÷ > (variably) -a:÷.

  • Benedict, Paul K. 1941. A Cham colony on the island of Hainan. Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies 4:129-34.
  • 1984. Austro-Tai parallel: A tonal Cham colony on Hainan. Computational Analyses of Asian and African Languages 22:83-86.
  • Haudricourt, Andre-G. 1984. Tones of some languages in Hainan. Minzu Yuwen 4:17-25. Also published in Bulletin de la Societe de Linguistique de Paris as "La tonologie des langues de Hai-nan." 79.1:385-394.
  • Ni, Dabai. 1988a. The genealogical affiliation of the language of the Hui people in Sanya Hainan. Minzu Yuwen 2: 18-25.
  • 1988b. The Kam-Tai of China and the Hui of Hainan. Bulletin of the Central Institute of Minorities 3: 54-65. 
  • 1990a. The origins of the tones of the Kam-Tai languages. ms.
  • 1990b. The Sanya (= Utsat) language of Hainan island: a living specimen of a linguistic typological shift. ms.
  • Maddieson, Ian and Keng-Fong Pang. 1993. Tone in Utsat. Tonality in Austronesian Languages. Edited by Jerry Edmondson and Ken Gregerson.          
  • Oceanic Linguistics Special Publication No. 24. Honolulu, Hawaii: University of Hawaii Press. Pp. 75-89.
  • Ouyang, Jueya and Zheng Yiqing. 1983. The Huihui speech (Tsat) of the Hui nationality in Yaxian, Hainan. Minzu Yuwen 1:30-40. 
  • Thurgood, Graham. 1993. Phan Rang Cham and Utsat: tonogenetic themes and variants. Tonality in Austronesian Languages. Edited by Jerry               
  • Edmondson and Ken Gregerson. Oceanic Linguistics Special Publication No. 24. Honolulu, Hawaii: University of Hawaii Press. Pp. 91-106. 
  • 1996. Language contact and the directionality of internal 'drift': the development of tones and registers in Chamic. Language 71.1:1-31.
  • 1999. From Ancient Cham to modern dialects: Two thousand years of language contact and change. With an appendix of Chamic reconstructions and loanwords. Oceanic Linguistics Special Publications, no. 28. June 1999, 6 x 9. ISBN: 0-8248-2131-9. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press. 403pp. 
  • Zheng, Yiqing. 1986. A further discussion of the position of Huihui speech and its genetic relationship. Minzu Yuwen 6:37-43.
  • 1997. Huihui Yu Yanjiu [A Study of Tsat]. Shanghai Yuandong Chuban She [Shanghai Far East Publishers].

Pronunciation and Phonology: A Survey of Gendered Typology

Sara Trechter
English Department, CSU, Chico

Nearly thirty years ago Anne Bodine (1975) published "Sex Differentiation in Language": a brief survey of the salient but few phonological, lexical, and grammatical differences in male and female speech. Bodine cited 10 languages with pronunciation differences based on the gender of the speaker. Since that time, the focus of linguistics has shifted from generating a generative global grammar market to one that expresses a renewed interest in the raw materials of third world languages. This increased attention to little-known or endangered languages has in turn affected the documentation of gendered phonological differentiation. New fieldwork and reanalysis of old data has sometimes re-interpreted "exclusively" gendered languages (see Trechter 1999). While detailed ethnographic (or sociolinguistic) analysis is vital to any understanding of the semiotic construction of gendered meaning, typological surveys merely specify the range of gendered pronunciation and highlights data from lesser-known languages.

The current study is a typological survey. We examine and reinterpret the languages offered in both Bodine's study and more recent work along four basic parameters: 1) phonological processes, 2) innovation and conservatism, 3) language family, and 4) geographical region. The primary focus on consonant and syllabic shifts illustrates common phonological processes such as deletion, nasalization, and palatalization. The innovation/conservatism pattern indicates the extent to which women in more traditional societies are more phonologically conservative because of variable access to education and new economic resources. Language family traces the historical depth of a feature of gendered phonology and if (when possible) it is reconstructible to an earlier stage, and geographical region is the extent to which a feature may be areal or the result of spread.

"Who is Yo' English Teacher?"

Tracy Butts
CSU, Chico

This presentation will provide examples of African American Vernacular English (AAVE) to facilitate a discussion of the various features associated with AAVE. Some of the examples to be discussed include the following constructions: negation ("I ain't step on no line"), copula ("He be all right"), agreement ("Tracy and Steph is ugly"), verb omission/deletion ("We funny looking").

The use of phonation types in Javanese

Ela Thurgood
English Department, CSU, Chico

The somewhat misnamed breathy voiced vowels of Javanese have been retermed "slack voiced" by Ladefoged and Maddieson (1996). This paper extends the analysis of Javanese vowels to a wider range of vowels, describes in precise detail what the acoustic characteristics of Javanese slack voice are, and then examines the acoustic characteristics of the 'emphatic' voice quality often used in Javanese. The acoustic qualities of this emphatic voice quality are the characteristics usually associated with what is more typically called breathy voice. Thus, it is necessary to extend the range of voice qualities found in Javanese from stiff and slack to include this breathy voice used for emphasis.

"First I unbuild it, ok?": Innovations in Un- Prefixation

Saundra K. Wright
CSU, Chico

Whorf (1956) describes the verbal prefix un- as attaching to a "cryptotype" category—a semantic category identifiable negatively in terms of its restrictions. It designates the reversal of an event, and its distribution is restricted to verbs with covering or surface-attaching meanings. This makes its acquisition difficult: children must determine its general reversative meaning and semantic verb restrictions. Thus, Bowerman (1982) argues that un- is acquired in stages, evidenced by many "violations" in early child speech (e.g., unshorten).

I look more closely at the acquisition of un- and conclude that violations in children's speech aren't specifically associated with stages of acquiring un-, or its cryptotype class, but reflect general error patterns common in language development. I present various speech samples containing children's innovative uses of un- and show that such innovations fall into three general categories: (1) use of un- with innovative verbs; (2) double-marking/overgeneralizations; (3) failure to learn exceptions.

Language Contact, Structural Shift and Structural Borrowability: Evidence from Oroqen, Qiang, and Tsat

Frank Li
CSU, Chico

Oroqen is a Tungusic language spoken in Northeast of China and Inner Mongolia. Qiang is a Tibeto-Burman language spoken in Sichuan province of inland China. Tsat is an Ausstronesian language spoken on Hainan Island in Southeast China. A considerable amount of data from those three genetically unrelated languages reveal patterns that shed light on our understanding of the complex interplay between language contact and structural change across languages. All three languages have undergone drastic restructuring over a relatively short time span of a few decades. I demonstrate that time depth and intensity of contact correlate very closely with the rate and extent of structural borrowing and structural shift that occurred in those languages. I argue that the determining factors are sociolinguistic in nature though some of the changes were initially internally motivated.

The Socialization of Taste

Margaret A. DuFon
English Department, CSU, Chico

This presentation focuses on the socialization of taste by American and Japanese study abroad students in Indonesia and explores the role of dinner table discourse in shaping their ways of thinking and talking about food. Using language socialization theory, this investigation builds on the pioneering work of Ochs, Pontecorvo, and Fasulo (1996), who compared how parents in two cultures socialized their children into the world of food. They found that whereas American culture emphasized food as nutrition, material good and reward, Italian culture emphasized food as pleasure. Because these cross-cultural differences exist, it follows that sojourners in another culture will need to learn new ways of thinking and talking about food if they are to be successful in social interaction, particularly in situations involving the eating of and talking about food. This presentation discusses an analysis based on 17 dinner table conversations containing NS-NS and NS-NNS discourse in Indonesian as well as data from learner journals in which they discuss their changing attitudes toward food during their sojourn in Indonesia. It was found that the Indonesians’ discourse with their foreign guests emphasized the identification of food, food as pleasure, food as an ethnic identity marker and food as gifts (but not as reward). The themes of food as material good and food and health were also present but less prominent. As a result of the emphasis on food as pleasure in the socialization process, at least some of the learners developed a greater respect and appreciation for food as well as new ways of talking about it.

Thai speakers of English in different language communities: A phonological comparison of word-initial stops

Kate Wray
MA student, CSU, Chico

This study documents and analyzes the speech production of English stops spoken by Thai Speakers of English in the US and Thailand. The Voice Onset Time (VOT) values of word-initial stops produced by a Thai group living in California and by a group in Thailand were compared and contrasted with a Native English-Speaking group. The two aims of the study were: 1) to understand what happened when Thai speakers, who have a 3-way phonemic stop contrast in their first language, are acquiring English as a second language, which has a 2-way phonemic stop contrast; and 2) to learn if there was a difference in production of English stops by Thai speakers in different communities in the U.S. and in Thailand. VOT measurements of the word-initial stops showed that both groups produced English /p/ and /t/ like Thai /b/ and /d/. The Thai groups produced English /kH/ and /k/ similarly, while VOT values for English /pH/ and /tH/ varied.

The sonority hierarchy and the typology of geminate consonants

Katsura Aoyama
Department of Communication Disorders, Texas Tech University

In Guinaang Bontok, all consonants (stops, fricatives, nasals, liquids and glides) can appear as short and long. Contrasts between short and long consonants are not as common as contrasts between short and long vowels (Ladefoged 1993), and not all consonants can appear as geminates even in the languages that have length contrasts. For instance, stops, nasals, fricatives and liquids can appear as both short and long in Finnish, but glides cannot. This study investigated geminate consonants in Guinaang Bontok in order to examine whether the uncommon length contrasts, such as the length contrasts in glides (see Thurgood, 1993), were less clear than the more common ones, such as contrasts between short and long stop consonants.

The participants were 4 native speakers of Guinaang Bontok (2 males, 2 females). The words were orthographically presented to the participants one by one. A frame sentence was also presented with the words. The participants were asked to say each word in isolation first, and then to repeat the word in the frame sentence twice. Thus three tokens (one in isolation and two in the frame sentence) were collected for each target word from each participant. A total of 32 words were acoustically analyzed for each participant.

Sixteen words included single consonants and the other sixteen words included geminate consonants. The target consonant always appeared intervocalically. The recordings were digitized and the data were analyzed acoustically. Wide-band spectrograms were produced for each target word and the durations of single and geminate nasals were measured in milliseconds. A total of 384 tokens (32 words x 3 repetitions x 4 participants) was analyzed.

The average durations of geminate consonants were clearly longer than those of single consonants in all consonants. The ratios between single and geminate consonants showed that geminate stops, nasals and liquids were twice as long as their short counterparts on average, whereas geminate glides were only 55% longer than their short counterparts on average. The average duration of short glides were 90 ms., which was about 10 ms. longer than short nasals and liquids on average (78 and 79 ms. respectively), and geminate glides were the shortest (139ms.) compared to other kinds of consonants.

It appears that the phonetic properties between single and geminate contrasts in Guinaang Bontok match with the crosslinguistic tendency; the results suggest that the durational contrasts are larger in more commonly found length contrasts (stops, nasals and liquids) than less commonly found contrasts (glides) in a language which has contrasts in all of them.


  • Ladefoged, P. (1993). A course in phonetics. Fort Worth, TX: Harcourt Brace.
  • Thurgood, G. (1993). Geminates: A cross-linguistic examination. In J. A. Nevis & G. McMenamin & G. Thurgood (Eds.), Papers in honor of Frederick H. Brengelman on the occasion of the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Department of Linguistics, CSU, Fresno (pp. 129-139). Fresno, CA: Department of Linguistics, California State University, Fresno.

Ditransitive constructions in the world's languages: Alignment types, alignment splits, and inverse patterns

Martin Haspelmath
Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig, Germany

In this talk I report on an ongoing cross-linguistic study of ditransitive constructions, based on over 200 languages. By "ditransitive constructions", I mean constructions of three-place verbs taking an agent, a theme and a (macro-)recipient (including addressee and benefactive) argument. I start with Dryer's (1986) observation that the grammatical behavior of recipient and theme is in many ways analogous to the behavior of (macro-)agent and (macro-)patient in monotransitive constructions, and I pursue the analogy further. The basic alignment types are defined by the argument-marking patterns, i.e. case-marking and indexing ("agreement") patterns (word order is largely ignored). Corresponding to the basic monotransitive types (accusative, neutral, ergative), there are three ditransitive types: indirective (treating theme like patient), neutral (treating both theme and recipient like patient), and sec¾ndative (treating recipient like patient). A further logically possible type (neither theme nor recipient treated like patient) is unattested. All types are found both in case marking and indexation, but case-marking heavily favors indirective alignment, whereas indexation favors sec¾ndative alignment. I will discuss explanations for the correlations, and I will show a world map of the different patterns, demonstrating that their geographical distribution is far from random. (This is based on a map forthcoming in the World Atlas of Language Structures, Dryer et al. (to appear).) Like monotransitive constructions, ditransitive constructions sometimes show animacy-based alignment splits. For instance, in Yimas and French first and second person pronouns show neutral alignment, whereas third person NPs show indirective alignment. Even more common are alignment splits depending on lexical classes of verbs, but other types of split which are attested in monotransitives (conditioned by tense/aspect or subordination) do not seem to occur. Again, I ask whether explanations proposed for monotransitive alignment splits can be extended to ditransitive alignment. Finally, I discuss a common type of ditransitive inverse pattern, where the "direct" construction, used when the recipient is higher than the theme on the person hierarchy (e.g. '(give) him to me'), cannot be used in the "inverse" situation, i.e. when the theme is higher than the recipient (e.g. '(give) me to him'), so that a different construction must be resorted to. Here too, explanatory models offered to account for monotransitive inverse patterns will be found useful for understanding the typological generalizations.


  • Dryer, Matthew S. 1986. "Primary objects, secondary objects, and antidative." Language 62: 808-845.
  • Matthew S. Dryer & Martin Haspelmath & David Gil & Bernard Comrie (eds.) (to appear) World Atlas of Language Structures. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Language Death and Native American Languages: The Case of Sauk Algonquian

Michael Reinschmidt
Department of Anthropology, CSU, Chico

This presentation gives a short overview on the state of endangered world languages before it will discuss selected details of the plight of Native American Languages. The main reasons for "language death" such as interethnic power dynamics, educational policy, economic requirements, and especially rapid progress in communication technology are now much better understood than 100 years ago. High levels of awareness, however, still have to be reached because informing the public at large was severely and purposely neglected until about the 1950s. While people have become highly sensitized on the endangerment of plant and animal species, it is surprising that language—one of the most important species—characteristics of humankind—is in such threatening decline.

Despite several successful attempts, revitalization of Native American languages will remain futile in the long run. Strong emphases should be placed on the maintenance of languages with sufficient active native speakers. As powerful as language eradication has caused a high death toll among Native American languages, as powerful an effort would be required to resurrect them to the point of first language status.

Argumentation of this paper will be informed and exemplified by case study material gathered during what I identified as the "last stage" of Sauk Algonquian, i.e., from about 1988 through 1995. However, because "language death" is a question of definition by perspective, this paper will be open-ended and invite the audience into a closing discussion on differentiating terms such as "functional Sauk," "spoken Sauk," "conversational Sauk," "traditional Sauk," "religious/ritual Sauk," or "ancestral/liturgical Sauk."

Phonetic realizations of geminate affricates: A study of production

Ela Thurgood
Department of English, CSU Chico

The phonologically geminate affricates of Polish can be manifested in phonetically distinct ways: by rearticulation of the affricate or by lengthening the duration of either the stopclosure or the release (including the aspiration, if present). This study compares the distinctmanifestations of the Polish voiceless affricate geminates (/ t˛t˛/, /tStS/ and / tsts/)acoustically, comparing the present findings with the findings of an earlier study of Polishgeminate / t˛t˛/ (Thurgood 2001).

Four questions are of interest:

  1. Are the durational patterns similar  for different places of  articulation? Do geminates derived morphologically differ from lexical geminates?
  2. It is well known that diverse speech styles of exhibit different phonetic characteristics.What effects did the different speech styles have on these geminates?
  3. Does the data show a new type of geminate manifestation? Specifically, can the geminate vs. singleton be manifested solely by fricative length?
  4. What sort of variation in manifestation exists both within individual speakers and across speakers?

Acoustic correlates of singleton  vs. geminate affricates are investigated in the disyllabic words / lEt˛E/ ‘summer (locative case)’ vs. / lEt˛t˛E/ ‘fly’; /grEtsˆ/ ‘the Greeks’ vs./grEtstsˆ/ ‘Greek (adjective)’; and, / utSE/ ‘teach (first person)’ vs. / utStSE/ ‘celebrate (first person, future)’. The geminates in / lEt˛t˛E/ and /grEtstsˆ/ are morphologically derived; the geminate in / utStSE/ is lexical.

The Tall and the Short of It: An Analysis of Children’s Ability to Acquire Gradable Adjectives

 Saundra K. Wright
Department of English, CSU, Chico

Acquiring a language is an extraordinarily feat, and one of the major goals of linguistics is to develop a better understanding of the intricate cognitive skills necessary for developing our linguistic system. Linguists have spent years attempting to “unlock” this code of communication, trying to discover the complex set of rules that govern our language system. But amazingly—and even perplexingly—children master these rules almost effortlessly. My project focuses on one particular complexity of this language development—the acquisition of gradable adjective constructions in English. 

Gradable adjectives, adjectives such as tall or long, are complex from both a linguistic and cognitive perspective. These adjectives are predicative expressions whose domains can be partially ordered according to some property that permits grading. The meaning associated with the interpretation of these adjectives can only be determined through comparison with some computed standard. For example, an adjective like tall has no clear-cut meaning; instead, it can only be interpreted through a comparison with some general notion of ‘tallness’. Gradability is a basic component of human cognition, and for adults, using gradable adjectives is a natural part of our ability to communicate. For children, however, developing this knowledge is by no means a trivial matter. To acquire the meaning of an adjective like tall, a child not only needs to gain information about the relevant dimension of ordering, but she/he also needs to acquire information about how the objects in question might be judged according to that dimension. Research in theoretical linguistics has addressed the complexity of these constructions from both a syntactic and semantic perspective but has yet to address how these constructions are acquired in the first place. 

In this talk I attempt to provide insight into this issue. I will first start with a linguistic explanation of gradability, following the account of Kennedy (1999). I continue with a general explanation of the linguistic and cognitive stages that children likely go through when acquiring adjective meaning, using the relevant background to support those stages. I then conclude by presenting a variety of empirical investigations (still in the planning stages) that are designed to look more closely at how children begin to categorize objects, compute standards for comparison, and eventually acquire gradable adjective constructions. Research on these types of child language studies has important implications for child development from the perspective of early childhood education. Psychologists have long been interested in how children acquire abstract thought, how they begin to categorize objects, and how they begin to understand the nature of meaning; linguists have been interested in determining how children acquire the patterns and structures of language and how they begin to develop the rules that inform adult-like competency of a language. My research is unique in that it looks at neither language nor cognition as primary but instead seeks to find the middle ground where language and cognition simultaneously inform one another as children develop over time.

Transitivity and Change of State Verbs

Saundra Wright
Department of English, CSU, Chico

One of the trademarks of externally caused change of state verbs (e.g., break, freeze) is their ability to participate in the causative/inchoative alternation:

  • a. The window broke.
  • b. John broke the window

This behavior has been contrasted with that of internally caused change of state verbs (e.g., bloom, corrode). As Levin & Rappaport Hovav (1995) argue, these verbs occur in the inchoative variant, but fail to occur in related causative forms:

  • a. The roses bloomed.
  • b. *The gardener bloomed the roses.

However, following work by McKoon & Macfarland (2000) and Wright (2001), I argue that this claim is not entirely accurate: some internally caused change of state verbs are found in transitive causative constructions:

  • a. The acid corroded the metal.
  • b. Early summer heat wilted the petunias.

Nevertheless, my survey data indicates that there is a wide range of acceptability judgments associated with transitive uses of internally caused change of state verbs; while some constructions are judged as being acceptable (3); others are uniformly judged as being unacceptable (2b).

In my analysis, I argue that semantic and pragmatic properties—as opposed to syntactic properties—are responsible for the range of acceptability ratings found across transitive uses of change of state verbs.  I claim that a variety of factors combine to determine the argument expression options associated with a particular verb. These factors include controllability (the degree to which an event can be externally manipulated)1, causer-type (whether it involves a human-driven or nonhuman-driven event)2, and subject-modification (whether the causer is in a modified or nonmodified form)3. Moreover, I argue that it is possible to predict how frequently a verb occurs transitively, as well how acceptable it sounds in a transitive construction, by a statistical model that combines and weights these different factors. In my rating tasks, subjects judged the acceptability of change of state verbs in a variety of transitive sentences. I demonstrate that these actual acceptability ratings can be predicted by a formula that combines the different semantic and pragmatic factors discussed above. Consequently, this analysis accounts for the syntactic similarities found across all change of state verbs, while accounting for the range of acceptability ratings found in their transitive uses.   

1The wind eroded the riverbank. / The heat bloomed the roses.
2Acid corroded the metal. / The scientist corroded the metal.
3Intense sunlight wilted the roses. / Sunlight wilted the roses.


  • Levin, B., and M. Rappaport Hovav (1995). Unaccusativity at the Syntax-Lexical
  • Semantics Interface. Cambridge MA: MIT Press.
  • McKoon, G. and T. Macfarland (2000). Externally and Internally Caused Change of
  • State Verbs. Language, 76, 833-858.
  • Wright, S. (2001). Internally Caused and Externally Caused Change of State Verbs. 
  • PhD Dissertation, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL.

The Value of "pi"

Sara Trechter
Department of English, CSU, Chico

Plurality in the Mississippi Valley Siouan languages is typically marked with a clitic in post-verbal position (Lakhota -pi). Although this morpheme has been traditionally translated as a distributive plural in association with either the agent or patient, its meaning is actually comitative, meaning that that action of the verb to which the morpheme attaches was accomplished "with others." This is exemplified by the fact that in Lakhota, in a few rare instances, the topical agent of the sentence is singular and the verb is "plural":

winyan ni-thawa kin phehinzhi-la thi el a-wicha-khiyagla-pe-lo

Your wife (with others) took them to Little Light-haired-one's place.

This paper traces the functional development of a reconstructed verb meaning "to be with" in the MVS languages as it grammaticizes in different discourse constructions to indicate verbal plurals and or topic.  As the comitative is used regularly with singular arguments such as in the Dhegiha languages, it comes to indicate the topic status of the singular agent or patient.

A Cross-Linguistic Examination of Causative, Intensive, and Reciprocal

Frank Li
Department of English, CSU, Chico

Cross-linguistic typological studies of causative constructions demonstrate that languages typically utilize one or more of the generally recognized causative types: morphological, analytical, and lexical (Shibatani 1975, Comrie 1981, Comrie and Polinsky 1993, Song 1996). In this paper, I focus on morphological caustives from a cross-linguistic perspective using the GRAMCATS sample put together by J. Bybee et al. Specifically, I examine the polysemous morphemes that mark causation, intensity, and reciprocity, and attempt to ascertain the direction of change of the functions of the markers in question. I accept the view that the semantic features of FORCE and CONTROL are central to a causative construction, and argue that the weakening of those features determines the path of change. Evidence is provided to show that Intensive--->Causative--->Reciprocal form a chain of grammaticization as the semantic feature FORCE is bleached and the degree of CONTROL residing in the participants of an event is weakened over time. 

The influence of Chinese on Tsat, an Austronesian language of Hainan

Graham Thurgood and Fengxiang Li

Tsat is an Austronesian language located on Hainan Island. The 1982 census lists 4131 Utsat people largely in the villages of Huihui and Huixin near Sanya on Hainan Island (which has recently been designated as a province), 3849 of whom still speak Tsat. Virtually all the Tsat speakers also speak one or more Chinese dialects, typically Fukienese or Cantonese, the languages of business, and Mandarin, the language of school. 

Genetically the closest language to Tsat is the Northern Roglai of Vietnam, a Chamic language (Austronesian) which it split off from first around 982, with a second migration probably around 1471. Despite the genetic closeness, Tsat is now radically different both phonologically and syntactically from N. Roglai. Phonologically, Northern Roglai is sesquisyllabic and atonal whereas Tsat is monosyllabic and fully tonal. Structurally, Northern Roglai is much, much more like the other Chamic languages of Vietnam which, in turn resemble the Mon-Khmer languages of the region, while Tsat, not surprisingly, is much like the Chinese dialects that surround it. Increasingly, all that remains of Tsat is the vocabulary, with the structure being Chinese, albeit with Tsat lexical items. Thus Tsat provides some exceptionally clear examples of contact-induced syntactic variation and change. Work has been done on genetic affiliations of Tsat (Benedict 1941), the history of the Chamic languages including Tsat (e.g. Thurgood 1999, 1996), and on the description of Tsat itself, Ouyang and Zheng (1983), Zheng (1986, 1997), with the later work by Zheng including numerous valuable observations on the influence of Chinese on Tsat, both identifying Chinese borrowings and commenting on Chinese structural influence.

Tsat contact 

Changes in Tsat resulting from contact with neighboring languages of Hainan are quite obvious. Phonologically, it has gone from sesquisyllabic and registral to monosyllabic and tonal. Lexically, it contains four layers of borrowings reflecting contact patterns since the Tsat arrival in Hainan: a Hlai (= Li) strata, an early Chinese level reflecting early contact with speakers of Min dialects such as Hainanese and various Cantonese dialects, a later layer of contact with the Mandarin spoken by the army and officials, and most recently the Mandarin of the schools. The intensity of the last layer of contact looks to have initiated rapid and through restructuring of the language.

Comments will be made on contact-induced variation in the phonology, but the focus will be on the syntax. Here we will restrict our detailed examination to four constructions with extant variation, two involving word orders that do not correlate with VO order (Dryer 1992) and two involving word orders that do correlate: genitive constructions, demonstratives and head nouns, adjectives and head nouns, and comparative constructions. All show the structural influence of Chinese. In addition, comments will be made on other constructions borrowed from Chinese, including prehead relative clauses in Tsat, a language that is SVO, and including a number of related grammatical borrowings.