Friday, August 22, 2014

Proto-Indo-European Hangman!

AllThingsLinguistic on tumblr just posted something brilliant: an online game of Proto-Indo-European Hangman!

So, language families are groups of languages with a common ancestor, that most old language is known as the proto-language. The word family is often used both to refer to the top-level-grouping and sometimes also lower levels. I prefer using it only for top-level, but hey that's me. There's been roughly 27 proto-languages reconstructed at that top-most level. It should come as no surprise that Indo-European is one that we know the most about.

The study of languages history and reconstruction is within the field of Historial Linguistics. It's an area where the debates can get unusually intense, for example like when Burushaski was suggested as being IE and not an isolate. (Isolate = language with no known living relatives.)

As an illustration of the field: Ethnologue counts 130 families, Campbell (2007) 350, Nichols (1992) approx 300, WALS 212 and finally Glottolog 244. In the case of Ethnologue and Glottolog I've tried to normalize by excluding sign languages, isolates, artificial, contact languages and types Ethnologue calls "unclassifiable". Isolates are also excluded in Campbell's count.

Let's get back to Hangman!

From AllThingsLinguistic:
This is a game of hangman where all of the words are reconstructed Proto-Indo-European words. I can’t claim it’s easy (in fact, it’s really quite hard), but it’s definitely an interesting way of learning more about PIE.


After a few rounds, you may get a better sense of which sounds are more versus less common in PIE, and after a few more, you may start noticing repeats, as it’s only drawing on a list of 18 words. Of course, you could also cheat and look up a list of Proto-Indo-European words to help.
 Fun, eigh?

Campbell 2007. How Many Language Families are there in the World, Really? Paper presented at the International Conference on Historical Linguistics, Aug 6-12, 2007, University of Quebec, Montreal.

Nichols, Johanna. 1992. Linguistic diversity in space and time. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 374pp.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Updated section on linguistic terminology!

A while ago I made a post helping people with the jungle of linguistic terminology by listing some resources and adding some commentary and reflections on the topic. It was in relation to AllThingsLinguistics tumblr-crowdsourcing-drive improving the linguistics-explaining resources of the internet, particularly on Wikipedia (you can read more about it on the tag lingcrowd).

I've now moved that post to the blog here, under a permanent heading called "Help! I don't understand linguistic terminology!" I've added more stuff, go have a look!

In particular I've added reflections on what "true definitions" are, framework/model/theory-neutrality, why this all matters to typology etc. In relation to those thoughts I feel compelled to repeat this first-world-problems-meme we made for an old tumblr post.

Happy terminology-defining and
critical-typological-thinking everyone!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Linguistic Olympiad-problems up on the internets, in 16 languages!

(Re-blogging from the blog of the IOL (International Linguistics Olympiad), with added gifs ^^! The IOL is a contest for secondary school students in linguistics, read more here.)

All the problems from the 12th International Linguistics Olympiad that took place in Beijing this July 2014 are now up on the official IOL-website!

The problem set is multilingual, as it has been since the start in 2003. This year we have 16 different languages: Bulgarian Czech, Dutch, English, Estonian, French, Hungarian, Japanese, Latvian, Mandarin, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Slovenian, Spanish, Swedish and Ukrainian.

We are, as always, extremely grateful to and impressed by the Problem Committee and the Jury.

The problems are not written wholly in one language, but in a kind of “solverese”. If you want to read more about how that works, read this:

Derzhanski, Ivan (2013) Multilingual Editing of Linguistic Problems, In Proceedings of the Fourth Workshop on Teaching NLP and CL August 2013 Sofia, Bulgaria Association for Computational Linguistics 27–34 

Ivan Derzhanski is one of the founders of the international contest, a constant member of the problem committee and jury and co-chair of the board of the IOL.

Remember, the contestants do not only receive the problem set in different languages, they also submit (in handwriting mind you) their solutions in different languages. The jury is not divided into different subsections by language, but by problem. This means that one jury member or a group of them grade all solutions for one problem, in all languages (no doubt with the help of those with more expertise in specific languages, but still).

This is pretty impressive, to say the least, and something that we in the IOL are very proud of.

Monday, August 18, 2014

When You Meet Some Natural Science/Engineer Person Who Says That Linguistics Seems Easy

Also applicable to when you yourself set up a research plan and devoted too little time to the phase labeled "data collection".

How Not To Do Linguistic Fieldwork

This is actually an old post by Suzanne back on tumblr, but since we've invited some more fieldworkers to join us here on blogger I figured this deserved a re-post :)!

Linguistic Olympiads all over internets!

There's this thing called the International Linguistics Olympiad, one of the authors of this blog - Hedvig - just so happens to be one of the organisers. It's for students of secondary schools in lots of different countries, they all compete in there national contests and then we all meet in the summer for the big international show-down. This years contest in Beijing recently finished. The problems are all based on insights of linguistics, it's kinda difficult to explain - why don't you just have a look-se

It's a cool contest, one of the cool things about it is that everyone competes in different languages. The problem set and the Jury's correcting work is all multilingual. You can read more about that here.

Well, well. Anyway. The news-worthy part is that IOL has increased its internet presence.

Now, there's

Puuh! So, if you guys enjoy us talking about linguistic diversity and description and you're a teacher or student - you'd probably like to follow the IOL too!

The contest of 2015 will take place in Bulgaria, you can read more about the local arrangements at their official web page and Facebook page!


p.s. In order to cover the different nationalities of the authors of this blog: för den Svenska gå hit, Nederlands - kijk hier, UK here and Americans&Canadians - go here. (The Finnish, Egyptians and Swiss ain't got none and I don't know the web page for the Greek one.)

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Academic humour from the Swedish West Coast!

I've got something for those of us who enjoy satirical linguistics (looking at you speculativegrammarian) and/or jokes based on adventures and anxiety during grad school (looking at you whatshouldwecalllinguistics & @researchinprogress). Two comedy gems from the Gothenburg!


First, we've got "Conversation as Paranoia" by Hugh Aelgh from 1976 (free original PDF here and digital specgram-version here). There we can learn the 11 principles of paranoia. It starts with:

This paper has arisen as a direct reaction to Allwood 1976. In his thesis, Allwood tries to show that human beings are rational and cooperative and that this is particularly true of them when they talk. This, of course, is utter nonsense. Such an absurd view can only be the result of the author’s complete neglect of all serious research in the study of human behavior, such as the work of S. Potter and C.N. Parkinson. I now want to show that human communication behavior is not guided by any principles of rationality and cooperation but rather by the UNIVERSAL PRINCIPLES OF PARANOIA.

Then there's the follow-up work by Öste.. I'm sorry Sam Ask in which s/he elaborates on the importance of the above principles, and a few more, on the topic of writing a doctoral dissertation. It's called "How to avoid graduation".
This text exists in three versions, SwedishGerman and English. One of the many ways to avoid graduation is by translating the text into another language, or perhaps illustrate it (the option I'm considering). Here we can learn things such as

Shorter periods of procrastination should not be deleted either. “At-This-point-there-is-too-little-time-left”-strategy can be mentioned as especially relevant here.


Yes, that's it. Enjoy!

Friday, August 15, 2014

These are linguistic trading cards that were made by Mikael Parkvall, there's a whole great collection of them. I'll put up some more under the tag "lingvistiska samlarbilder" ("linguistic trading cards").

They are in Swedish, but I think you don't need no Google translate to figure out "citat av X". I'll put up the ones that will be understandable to you (I'll leave the Swede-internal jokes ^^)!

These two features Noam Chomsky and Nim Chimpsky. Nim was one of many chimpanzees that we have tried to teach some kind of language similar to humans. You can read more about him, the studies and controversies here.

The name is, as you might have guessed, a pun on the name of the famous linguist Noam Chomsky who has, among other things, claimed that there are features of human language that other primates cannot acquire. In particular we are talking about the doubly articulated nature of the language system, i.e. the smallest meaningful units (words, morphemes) consist of sequences of units without meaning (phonemes).

Nim did not prove that he could master this. He did, however, talk a lot about fruit.
The linguistic trading cars are, as I said, the creation of Mikael Parkvall is a lecturer at the department of linguistics at Stockholm University. That's where I was educated, that's where I grew up as a linguist. It was a great place to grow up academically, I'm forever grateful to everyone there. 

Humans Who Read Grammars on blogger too!

We're on blogger now, too!

We've been at tumblr now for a while, as Humans Who Read Grammars (popularly misunderstood as "Humans Whore Ad Grammars", what ever that means ^^). Now we're going to move posting of originals to blogger, under the same name.

Posts here will still get to our tumblr and twitter. This is not a huge change, don't worry. It'll mainly make it easier for non-tumblrers to participate in discussions, and we get more formatting options.

If you're on the blogger site and what to read older post by us: go to the tumblr.
In particular, check out the tag Free Online Linguistic Databases and Goodie From Grammar Reading.
We'll continue writing posts about topics relating to linguistic diversity, documentation and description!


Thursday, August 14, 2014



In particular, we recommend checking out the tag Free

Have fun!