TWU Linguistics Colloquium Series

Trinity Western University is pleased to welcome guest lecturers for the linguistics colloquia series.  These are often alumni of the linguistics department or colleagues who have worked in various linguistics roles overseas.  Graduate students in the MA Linguistics program benefit from the field research, experience and advice of these linguists in colloquia, held 3 or 4 times per semester.

For more information on other linguistics colloquia in the Vancouver area, check the colloquium schedules at SFU and UBC.

mar. 9, 2017 ~ “English is Now Indeed the Language of the World”:

An Experiment with Critical Discourse Analysis to Investigate the Resistance to Mother Tongue Education in a Tanzanian Newspaper Article

Danny Foster

President of the Canada Institute of Linguistics

Doctoral Researcher at the University of Bristol

The international development community has affirmed mother tongue-based multilingual education as an important means to improving quality of education among minority language communities, especially for vulnerable groups in developing countries. Support comes from a number of organizations including (but not limited to) USAID, World Bank, UNESCO, UNICEF, DFID, British Council, Action Aid International, Research Triangle Institute, UNDP, Overseas Development Initiative, the Swedish International Development Agency and Save the Children.  But the high regard that the development community holds for indigenous minority languages in education is often not shared by the people who speak those languages. This paper seeks out a linguistic approach to exploring how people (re)conceptualise social reality, especially as it relates to language of instruction. Norman Fairclough’s Dialectical Relational Approach to critical discourse analysis is used to study a Tanzanian newspaper article that rejects an official proposal that Tanzanians would be better served by Swahili as the language of instruction in secondary schools.

FEB. 1, 2017 ~ A tale of two worlds:

A comparative study of language ecologies in Asia and the Americas

Stan Anonby

Asia Area Sociolinguistics Consultant

  • Language use patterns of individual speech communities are largely conditioned by the different language ecologies in which they are immersed.
  • We believe this ecological stance helps explain why minority languages of Asia are more likely to be sustainable than those in the Americas.
  • We have identified fourteen traits which characterize ecologies in general, describing how they play out differently in the Americas versus Asia.
  • Each trait is considered to be on a continuum, with opposing values that measure whether conditions are more or less favorable to language maintenance.
  • On one side of the continuum, we discuss the values in the Americas, and explain how these are more favorable to language shift.
  • On the other side of the scale, we talk about the values in Asia, and explain how these are more conducive to language maintenance.
  • We conclude with some comments about how these traits can be useful for those engaged in language development work.

Stan Anonby & David M. Eberhard. 2016. A tale of two worlds: A comparative study of language ecologies in Asia and the Americas. Language Documentation & Conservation, Volume 10. pp. 601–628. Free download:

Nov. 16, 2016 ~ Retroflexion in South Asia:

Typological, genetic, and areal patterns

Dr. Paul Arsenault

Canada Institute of Linguistics

& Tyndale University College

South Asia is widely recognized as a linguistic area – a geographic region in which languages of different genetic stock have come to resemble one another through a history of contact and convergence (Emeneau 1956; Masica 1976). Retroflexion has been identified as a defining feature of the area because most languages in the region have retroflex phonemes regardless of their genetic affiliation (Ramanujan and Masica 1969; Bhat 1973). Retroflexion in South Asia has been the subject of at least two previous typological studies: Ramanujan and Masica (1969) and Tikkanen (1999). Despite their many virtues, these studies are limited by the size of their data samples, their dependence on qualitative data without quantitative analysis, and their use of hand-drawn monochrome maps. In this talk, I present the results of an entirely new survey of retroflexion in South Asia – one that incorporates a larger language sample, quantitative analysis, and colour maps generated with a Geographic Information System (GIS) software. The study focuses on the genetic and geographic distribution of various retroflex subsystems, including retroflex obstruents, nasals, liquids, approximants and vowels. While it is possible to establish broad statistical correlations between specific types of contrast and individual language families (or sub-families), the study finds that the distribution of most retroflex subsystems is more geographic in nature than genetic. Thus, not only is retroflexion characteristic of South Asia as a whole, but each type of retroflex subsystem also characterizes a geographic area that cuts across genetic lines, marking out its own space within the broader linguistic area.

Nov. 2, 2016 ~ A linguistic cycle for quotatives in eastern Bantu languages

Dr. Steve Nicolle

Canada Institute of Linguistics

SIL International

Where do grammatical morphemes come from? How do new grammatical categories develop? Why do some grammatical categories disappear? These are questions that have intrigued linguists for centuries. For languages with long written traditions, linguists can investigate these questions using historical corpora. But for most of the world's languages, including the Bantu languages of sub-Saharan Africa, there are no historical records. Using principles of grammaticalization theory and data from narrative texts in a number of closely related languages, Steve Nicolle will show how one grammatical category - quotative - may have developed and declined in Bantu languages.

Oct. 12, 2016 ~ Pidgins and Creoles:

the Genesis and Features of Hybrid Grammars

Dr. James Hafford

Linguistics consultant, SIL International

The Ethnologue lists 17 pidgins and 82 creoles spoken world‑wide (Lewis, 2009).  This colloquium gives an overview of contact languages, including pidgins, creoles, jargons, creoloids, and koinés.  The study will examine the social contexts in which pidgins and creoles are birthed, as well as characteristic features of the lexicon, phonology, morphology, and syntax.  Various theories of creole genesis are presented, including foreigner talk, baby talk, superstrate and substrate models, monogenesis and polygenesis, universalist theory, the Language Bioprogram Hypothesis (Bickerton, 1981), and the Competition and Selection Hypothesis (Arboh, 2015).

Oct. 5, 2016 ~ My Experience Living Biblical Hebrew in Israel

Brittney Balfour

Master of Applied Linguistics and Exegesis student, CanIL 2016

Wycliffe Caribbean

Reflections on the approach of learning Biblical Hebrew in a useful, real and fun way through the use of the Total Physical Response (TPR) method.

September 21, 2016 ~ Participatory Approaches in Language Development:

An Introduction

Ian Lau

Master of Applied Linguistics and Exegesis, CanIL 2008

Participatory Approach Specialist, SIL International-Asia

Stakeholder participation is increasingly recognized as a key to effective and sustainable development, especially at the local level. Language development workers often seek ways to actively engage stakeholders, from thinking through issues to making program decisions and taking responsibility for next steps together. A participatory approach can provide a safe environment for sharing and a structure for such discussions to move ahead. This colloquium gives an introduction to participatory approaches, including the main ideas, current uses, and implications for language development work.

September 13, 2016 ~ Semantic universals, linguistic fieldwork, and translatability

Dr. Cliff Goddard

Griffith University, Queensland Australia

Professor in Linguistics, Fellow of the Australian Academy of Humanities

Research in the Natural Semantic Metalanguage (NSM) approach has uncovered evidence that a small number of concepts are universally expressible, via words or phrases, in all or most languages. These concepts include, first and foremost, 65  irreducible semantic primes (such as ‘do’, ‘say’, ’want’, ‘good’, ‘big, ‘because’), which are analogous to "atoms" of meaning. But the evidence also suggests that a smaller number of complex meanings, termed “semantic molecules”, may function alongside semantic primes as conceptual building blocks in all or most languages (examples include 'children', ‘hands’, ’mouth’, ‘long’, ‘round’, ’water’, ‘sky’). In this talk I outline these research findings and discuss how they can be applied in linguistic fieldwork, language documentation, and cross-cultural hermeneutics. 

August 4, 2016 ~ Linguistic theory as a useful tool – making sense of the morphophonemic allomorphs of the reflexes of Proto-Austronesian *<um> and *<in> in Bonggi

Brian Drinkall

SIL Malaysia Branch

Bonggi is a Western Austronesian language spoken by about 5,000 people on Banggi and Balambangan Islands in Sabah, Malaysia. Like in many other daughter languages of the Austronesian language family, Bonggi has reflexes of the Proto-Austronesian infixes *in and *um, which can occur as both a prefix and an infix. Likewise in Bonggi, both the position (i.e. prefix or infix) and the phonological shape (e.g. /i/, /n/, or /in/) of the forms are predictable. Linguists who have looked at similar alternations between prefixes and infixes in related Austronesian languages have focused on phonological explanations for both the position and variant forms of the alternations. In Bonggi, however, the alternate forms of the reflexes of *um and *in are conditioned by both the phonological context and the lexical semantics of the verb root. Any analysis that does not take into account the lexical semantics of verb classes will be unable to account for all the variations found in the language. 

July 28, 2016 ~ Chameleons and the Multi-Functional Nature of Morphology:

Moving Slowly Up, Away, Over, and Towards

Doris L. Payne

University of Oregon

SIL International

This presentation explores the multi-functional nature of so-called “directional” morphology in one African language, focusing primarily on the ITIVE (roughly, ‘away’) morpheme. In Maa (the language of the Maasai and several other self-identified ethnic groups), the ITIVE directional varies in meaning (or can be ambiguous), depending on what verb root type it combines with and various other constructional/contextual issues. Its meanings spread from ‘move away’ to ‘distributive’, ‘iterative’, ‘pluractional’, perhaps ‘continuous’, and ‘plural participant’. With certain verbs, it can affect the semantic role and number of arguments that the clause will have (i.e. it is edging into the APPLICATIVE domain). It demonstrates how the concept of SPACE segues into ASPECT. (In some other Nilo-Saharan languages SPACE is known to spread into TENSE interpretations.)

July 21, 2016 ~ Language Documentation:

Collecting language data and making it accessible through ELAN

Vijay D'Souza

 PhD student, University of Oxford, UK

The language data a field linguist collects may often be the only lifeline of an endangered language. However, if such data is to become useful for others, the field linguist must annotate and preserve it in accessible ways.  ELAN (EUDICO Linguistic Annotator) is a software that enables field linguists to add detailed, searchable and archivable annotations to their recordings. The most important capability of ELAN is the time-aligning of digital media (audio and video recordings) with linguistic annotations such as transcriptions of phonetic segments, morphemes, words, sentences, and gestures. This allows viewing of annotations with their corresponding media segments. ELAN’s powerful search function can scan hundreds of files at a time and gather precise data for linguistic analysis. The software can also export and import data to and from FLEx and Praat. Due to its wide-ranging functionality and versatility, this powerful software has become immensely popular among field linguists. In fact, it is increasingly becoming an indispensable tool for documentation and archiving of endangered languages. 

July 14, 2016 ~ Spatial Orientation in Yagua and Classical Greek Epic Narrative:

A Case Study of Grammar Emerging from discourse

Dr. Tom Payne

University of Oregon

SIL International

This presentation aims to show that Yagua, a typologically fairly typical language of the Peruvian Amazon region, folkloric narrative is structured more in terms of space than time. The two spatial orientations for Yagua Folkloric narrative: Eusynoptic orientation, and counter cartographic orientationwill be identified. These terms are used by Purves (2010) to describe the narrative structures of the epic Greek poems Illiad and Oddysey respectively. Like Yagua, Classical Greek folkloric narrative strongly favors spatial orientation rather than temporal orientation. This study provides an explicit case study of how grammatical structure "emerges" from community-specific habit patterns of discourse composition (Hopper 1987, Fox 2007, inter alia).

March 10, 2016 ~ The anaphoric expression of means, manner, and reason in Makary Kotoko

Dr. Sean Allison

Canada Institute of Linguistics

SIL Cameroon 

Makary Kotoko (Chadic, Cameroon) makes use of an anaphoric marker do to refer back to an entity previously mentioned which is understood to be either the means, manner, or reason for the situation described in the clause in which the anaphoric marker occurs; which of those three notions is to be understood is pragmatically/contextually determined. The paper compares that situation to other Chadic languages, to genetically unrelated languages spoken within the region, as well as to what is found typologically for the anaphoric expression of means, manner and reason.

October 8, 2015 ~ Towards Transcultural Training in Linguistics for Mother Tongue Translators

Dr. William Gardner

Canada Institute of Linguistics

SIL-Africa Linguistics Consultant

Abstract: Hundreds of languages in Africa are still unwritten or do not yet have Biblical literature translated into them.  To help meet this need, SIL and partners have developed translation degree programs for training Africans in linguistics in several countries across Africa, largely adapted from Western training programs.  However, for many African students, this formal training has not adequately prepared them for working in their own languages. 

I conducted three case studies of translation degree programs in two Anglophone African countries, using focus groups, archival research, participant observation and ethnographic interviews.  The purpose of this research was to develop new contextual approaches to intercultural training in linguistics for African mother tongue translators, to improve and facilitate the linguistic training process and improve the quality of mother tongue Bible translation and literacy. 

The findings of these case studies indicate the need for more than just revising the present programs.  Instead, because of significant cultural differences in dominant learning styles and preferred trainer-student relationships, and especially the distinct needs of those who study their own languages as insiders rather than as outsiders, there needs to be a new contextualized translation of the training program—transcultural training—in order to more effectively prepare African language speakers for their contribution to mother tongue Bible translation, literacy and Scripture use. 

This colloquia will summarize my Ph.D. dissertation (2010) in Intercultural Studies from Fuller Theological Seminary.

October 1, 2015 ~ A Tonology of Ganza

Joshua Smolders, 2012 M.A. Linguistics graduate, Canada Institute of Linguistics

Abstract: Ganza [gza] is a previously undescribed Omotic language of the Mao subgroup found in the Kurmuk district of Sudan and the south of the Benishangul-Gumuz state of Ethiopia. This paper gives an overview of the tone system of Ganza, representing part of nearly a year of phonological fieldwork on the language. Included are a description of Ganza tonemes, tonal behaviors, noun and verb tone melodies, and toneless and tone-bearing morphology. Some of the interesting features highlighted in this paper are the existence of "construct melodies" alongside "citation melodies", non-automatic word-internal downstep, and bounded rightward high tone spread.

August 7, 2015 ~ Aspects of Stau Phonology

Chantel Vanderveen, 2015 M.A. Linguistics graduate, Canada Institute of Linguistics

Abstract: This study describes aspects of the phonology of Stau, a Rgyalrongic language of the Tibeto-Burman family. Stau is spoken by approximately 23,000 people in the west of Sichuan Province, China. It is a relatively unstudied language, apart from a sketch of the phonology and grammar by Huang (1991). This presentation provides a more extensive study of Stau phonology. It focuses particularly on segmental phonology, acoustic analysis of stops, syllable structure, phonotactics, and pitch phenomena.

July 17, 2015 ~ Oceanic Migration:

Evidence from Archaeology, Oral Histories, and Historical-Comparative Linguistics

Dr. James Hafford

           SIL International

Abstract:  This study examines different types of evidence for the diaspora of Oceanic peoples across the Pacific.  The Austronesian languages form one of the largest language families in the world, with approximately 1200 members distributed over an immense area, stretching from Madagascar in the west to Rapanui (Easter Island) in the east.  About 500 of these languages form the Oceanic group, including the languages of Polynesia, Micronesia, Fiji, New Caledonia, and Vanuatu, as well as most languages of the Solomon Islands, and of coastal New Guinea and its island satellites.

March 19, 2015 ~ Revisiting markedness and dominance relations in tongue root harmony systems

Dr. Roderic F. Casali

          Canada Institute of Linguistics

Two common characteristics of ATR harmony systems are 1) asymmetric spreading of a particular [ATR] value, often referred to as dominance (Casali 2003), and 2) systematic restrictions on the distribution of particular vowels or [ATR] values, a topic often discussed in connection with markedness. Natural research questions that arise in connection with dominance and markedness include the following:

1. Which [ATR] value(s) give rise to assimilatory spreading in a language?

2. Which [ATR] vowel classes are marked? [+ATR] vowels (Stewart 1967)? [-ATR] vowels (Zsiga 1997)? Or is [-ATR] marked in high vowels and [+ATR] in non-high vowels (Archangeli & Pulleyblank 1994, Calabrese 1995)?

3. What, if any, relationship exists between marked and dominant vowels in a language? Do unmarked vowels assimilate to marked ones (e.g., Stewart 1967), or is assimilation from marked to unmarked (Bakovic 2000)? Or are the marked and dominant classes in a language simply independent (being determined by independent constraints), as implicit in much work in optimality theory?

November 21, 2014 ~ Non-Spatial Setting in White Hmong

Nathan White, 2014 M.A. Linguistics graduate, Canada Institute of Linguistics

Basic Linguistic Theory provides an excellent introduction to a framework for documenting a language’s grammar. One portion of this theory, as proposed by Dixon (2010a,b, 2012), is the marking of Non-spatial Setting, that is, the grammatical coding of marking of time, aspect, and other material in the verbal system. This framework will be discussed in reference to the grammar of White Hmong (Hmong-Mien, Laos). White Hmong possesses a robust system of Non-spatial Setting markers, including several classes of Lexical Time Words, two irrealis morphemes, one positive and one negative, that are intertwined with a system of modality marking, a set of Degree of Certainty markers, and a group of partially grammaticalized verbs that mark Phase of Activity. There are also five Completion morphemes—three of which mark distinct types of perfect and two imperfect—and two Completion-marking strategies—one type of serial verb construction for the perfect and reduplication for the imperfect. Finally, there is one Speed and Ease morpheme that marks slowness. Some observations and implications that the system of White Hmong has for this portion of Basic Linguistic Theory will also be briefly discussed.

November 6, 2014 ~ Borrowings but no Diffusion:

A case of language contact in the Lake Chad basin

Dr. Sean Allison

Canada Institute of Linguistics

SIL Cameroon

Makary Kotoko, an Afro-Asiatic (Chadic) language spoken in region directly south of Lake Chad in Cameroon, has an estimated 16,000 speakers. An analysis of a lexical database for the language shows that of the 3000 or so distinct lexical entries in the database, almost 1/3 (916 items) have been identified as borrowed from other languages in the region. The majority of the borrowings come from Kanuri, a Nilo-Saharan language of Nigeria, with an estimated number of speakers ranging from 1 to 4 million. This colloquium talk presents first an analysis of the terms from different grammatical categories that have been brought into Makary Kotoko from Kanuri. I then explore the limited evidence in Makary Kotoko for lexical and grammatical ‘calquing’ from Kanuri, resulting in almost no structural diffusion from Kanuri into Makary Kotoko. I finish with a few proposals as to why this is the case in this instance of language contact in the Lake Chad basin.

August 1, 2014 ~ Two Bees or not Two Bees:

Verb-less Clauses in English

Dr. Tom Payne

Senior Linguistics Consultant, SIL International

This qualitative study finds that the traditional grammar distinction between be as a lexical verb and beas an auxiliary is faulty. In particular, 'copular-be', traditionally considered to be a lexical verb, is in fact a prototypical auxiliary.  In the process of providing evidence for this claim, the paper challenges a major assumption of traditional grammar – namely that every English sentence requires a lexical verb. This assumption is replaced by the notion that every English sentence requires Inflection. The proposals in this paper bridge the gap between theoretical and applied linguistics and have the potential to simplify significantly the conceptualization, teaching and learning of English grammar.

July 4, 2014 ~ How can a language manage with only one vowel?

Dr. Jim Roberts

SIL Chad

Somrai, like a number of its fellow languages in the Chadic family, has been analysed as having only one underlying vowel, /a/. Yet on the surface we find a full array of seven phonetic vowels. The secret ingredient is the presence of prosodies (suprasegmental features) which blanket whole morphemes or words. This presentation shows how this analysis applies to the phonological shape of any Somrai verb (and its several morphological forms). Any given verb root may either have the underlying vowel /a/ or else no vowel at all, accompanied of course by consonants and optional prosodies.

April 2, 2014 ~ Morphophonemic alternations in the initial consonants of stems in Olunyole, a Luyia Bantu Language

Dr. William Gardner

  • Canada Institute of Linguistics
  • SIL International


Olunyole [EJ33, nyd, Kenya] is an understudied variety of the Luyia macrolanguage. The 
noun class prefixes for Classes 9 and 10, underlyingly /iɲ-/ and /(ɛ-)tsiɲ-/, trigger homorganic prenasalization of stem-initial consonants and also voice obstruents /k t tʃ/ to /g d dʒ/. 
In addition, they strengthen the fricative /β/ to /b/ and the lateral /l/ to /d/. 
Furthermore, by Meinhof’s Law, a prenasalized voiced stop simplifies to a nasal when followed by a nasal or prenasalized stop in the next syllable, e.g.

1a.       iɲ-kɔmbɛ à iŋmbɛ à iŋɔmbɛ     1b.       ɛ-tsiɲ-limi    à ɛtsindimi   à ɛtsinimi 
9-cow                                                              AV-10-tongue 

Similarly, the 1sg (subject or object) marker /n-/ before consonant-initial verb roots or object markers triggers homorganic prenasalization, voices obstruents /k t ts tʃ/ to /g d dz dʒ/ and strengthens fricative /β/ to /b/ and lateral /l/ to /d/. However, voiceless fricatives /ɸ/, /s/ and /χ/ and trill /r/ remain unchanged, i.e. neither prenasalized nor becoming voiced

Many of these morphophonemic alternations are similar to (while others contrast with) processes which occur with noun class prefixes in other Bantu languages, in particular Shona languages [S10, sna] of Zimbabwe and Mozambique.

Relevant data will demonstrate these consonant alternations in both Olunyole and Shona, and proposals will be presented on how to represent the underlying sounds and describe the morphophonemic changes. For example, the final nasal consonants of the class 9/10 prefixes also cause various changes (e.g. voicing, hardening, pre-nasalization and/or aspiration) where the phonemic inventory allows.

March 25, 2014 ~ The Function of Rhetorical Questions in Makary Kotoko (Cameroon, Chadic)

Dr. Sean Allison

  • Canada Institute of Linguistics
  • SIL Cameroon

Abstract:  This colloquium talk presents a corpus-based discourse-oriented analysis of the functions of rhetorical questions in Makary Kotoko (Cameroon, Chadic). The cross-linguistic functions of rhetorical questions are first discussed with special focus on their function within the Biblical texts, in particular the Greek NT. I then present the analysis of the corpus, distinguishing rhetorical and non-rhetorical questions, and focusing on the determination of the function of the rhetorical questions that occur within the corpus of natural (predominantly narrative) texts. I finish with a consideration of the implications of this analysis for the translation of rhetorical questions that occur within the Biblical texts into Makary Kotoko.

Nov. 14, 2013 ~ This and That:

Discourse Functions of Demonstratives in Eastern Bantu Narrative Texts

Dr. Steve Nicolle

  • Canada Institute of Linguistics
  • SIL International

Abstract:  This paper comes out of research for a discourse manual for Bible translators working in East Africa. All Eastern Bantu languages (including Swahili) use demonstratives rather than independent pronouns to refer to participants in narratives. What hadn't been documented before were some of the additional functions of demonstratives. In this paper, I show how narrators in different Eastern Bantu languages use demonstratives to maintain reference to participants and to reactivate participants, to distinguish actors from experiencers or patients, to characterise different episodes (orientation, inciting episode, developmental episodes, and denouement), and to highlight important developments in a story. It's clear that translators in East Africa need to pay attention to how 'this' and 'that' function in their own languages, and not simply copy what happens elsewhere.

August 2, 2013 ~ Why are we literally in love with literalness?

Dr. Doug Trick

Canada Institute of Linguistics

Abstract: This colloquium will be a thinking-out-loud, interactive session which explores the notion of "literal meaning." Linguists, especially those who focus on semantics or pragmatics, or who deal seriously with translation, have long recognized that "literal meaning" is a fiction. Furthermore, most people live and communicate in ways which demonstrate that they really do not value "literalness" to the extent that is claimed in much popular writing.  Why, then, is this notion so pervasive?  Come and hear some proposals, and contribute your own.

July 19, 2013 ~ Reduction of noun classes and the re-emergence of semantic classification in Bafanji (Grassfields Bantu, Cameroon)

Cameron Hamm

SIL International, Cameroon

Abstract: While it is widely accepted that semantics have little to do with the process of identifying noun class systems in West Africa, Aikhenvald, in her work on noun classifiers, states, “No system of noun classes is completely devoid of semantic motivation” (2003:25). Typically researchers use a combination of noun class affixes and concordial elements found on agreeing modifiers as criteria for establishing noun classes. However, Bafanji, a Nun language found within Eastern Grassfields, shows a distinct correlation between semantic feature and noun class. One of the general features that sets apart Eastern Grassfields languages from other groups within Grassfields are their reduced noun class systems (Watters 2003). Nun languages, of which Bafanji is one, have some of the most reduced noun class systems in all of Grassfields. Hyman (1980) reconstructs ten classes for Proto-Eastern Grassfields, while the Nun languages Bamun and Mungaka have six and five classes respectively (Hombert 1980). It is shown here that Bafanji has six noun classes, but only the possessive paradigm manifests the concord system fully.

The data in Bafanji reveals that the noun class system is currently undergoing a reduction from a system of six classes to a system of four classes. What is of interest is that as the traditional noun class system has undergone reduction, there is a corresponding emergence of semantic classification rising to the foreground. Younger speakers of the language tend to reassign nouns into different classes – based solely upon the semantic features of animacy and number. This paper shows that classes 1, 2, 6, and 7 are robust classes and that classes 3 and 9 are decreasing in number, partly due to the reanalysis of nouns into the robust classes based upon the semantic categories of animacy and number.

Data for this paper is taken from natural texts and elicited data from ten speakers residing in the village of Bafanji, three of whom are more than 60 years of age, and seven are aged 40 years or younger. A total of 576 nouns is the source of the conclusions in the analysis.

This paper shows an example of a language in process of reanalysis and contributes to the body of knowledge on Bantoid noun classes in displaying that when a language gets to a certain stage of reduction in noun classes, it is possible for a semantic system to displace formal systems used in the past. Perhaps there are other languages with reduced noun class systems that display similar features.


Aikhenvald, Alexandra Y. 2003. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Denny, J. P. and C. A. Creider. 1986. The semantics of noun classes in Proto-Bantu. In C. G. Craig, ed. pp 217-40. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Hyman, Larry M., ed. 1980. Southern California Occasional Papers in Linguistics (SCOPIL), Volume 8:179-210.

July 5, 2013 ~ Serving Scripture in Local Dishes

Michelle Petersen

SIL International

Abstract: Appropriate use of local drama forms in Scripture performance increases its clarity and emotional connection to hearers. When we tailor recordings and performances to the local styles of each unique audience, experiencers can engage more fully with unfamiliar Scripture content in familiar emotive genres than with the same content presented in foreign genres. This paper presents a new model for performance analysis using Seven Analytic Lenses (SAL) laid out by Schrag et al and applied here to drama. We identify categories and elements of a given culture's traditional dramatic arts using SAL: Space, Materials, Participants, Shape of the Event through Time, Performance Features, Content and Underlying Symbolic Systems. Looking at local drama through SAL prepares: 1. Arts Specialists to describe other cultures' traditions of drama in preparation for creating new performances and recordings of Scripture with local performers; 2. Translation Consultants to check and improve the texts of new performances and recordings of Scripture in each culture's unique forms; and 3. Scripture Engagement Specialists, Vernacular Media Specialists and Story Trainers to help story tellers and actors increase the impact of their performances on their communities. We will discuss examples from a variety of cultures.

January 16, 2013 ~ Inflectional vs. Derivational Morphology in Three Northern Songhay Languages

Carlos Benítez-Torres, Ph.D. Cand.

SIL International, Niger

Carlos BenitezTorres

Abstract: Tadaksahak, Tagdal and Tasawaq are three Northern Songhay languages located in the Republic of Niger, with Tadaksahak straddling the border between Niger and Mali. Benítez-Torres (2009) suggests that Tagdal, and by extension Tadaksahak, is a mixed language. In other words, they are the result of bilingualism between Tamashaq (Berber) and Songhay, with speakers at one time using their normal speech patterns to underline and establish a separate social identity.  (In this respect they are similar to  Kwarandzyey, a Nothern Songhay language spoken in Tabelbala, Algeria; Souag 2010). Lexically Songhay elements are core but are outnumbered by elements from Tamashaq (and to a lesser extent other languages such as Hausa and Arabic). In this paper, certain structures of all three Northern Songhay languages are compared. First, we discuss certain aspects of the inflectional morphological structures of the three languages - the pronominal sub-system, the TAM sub-system and negation. Then certain derivational structures - specifically, the Causative, Passive Voice and the Reflexive constructions – are discussed and compared. Afterward, we compare the three languages to other languages that were the result of contact. Finally, tentative conclusions are drawn concerning the origins of all three languages, and we suggest some possible theoretical implications for the formation of mixed languages as a whole.

Benítez-Torres, Carlos M. 2009. Inflectional vs. Derivational Morphology in Tagdal (Northern Songhay): a Case of Language Mixing. In Selected Proceedings of the 38th Conference on African Linguistics. ed. Fiona McLaughlin, Matondo Masungu, and Eric Potsdam. Somerville, Ma.: Cascadilla Proceedings Project.

Souag, M. Lameen. 2010.  Grammatical contact in the Sahara.  PhD dissertation, SOAS, University of London.

October 18-19, 2012 ~ Symposium on Bible Translation

Keynote Speakers:

James Maxey, Ph.D., American Bible Society

Edouard Kitoko Nsiku, Ph.D., The Seed Company

Along with various world leaders and practitioners in Bible Translation (including representatives of Wycliffe Bible Translators, SIL International, Seed Company, United Bible Societies).

More information can be found at

August 3, 2012 ~ The Verb Stem in Buamu:

Classes and derivations

Sharyn Thomson

MA in Linguistics Student, SIL International

Abstract: This presentation will explore the complexity of the verb stem in Buamu, a Gur language of the Niger-Congo family spoken in Burkina Faso and Mali. The focus of this study is the dialect spoken around the town of Ouarkoye in Burkina Faso. While Buamu prefers to indicate tense, aspect and mode by means of various auxiliaries, adverbs and serial constructions, the verb stem has its own complexity with multiple classes and derivational processes.

July 27, 2012 ~ Glottal stop inversion and harmonizing prefixation; Two verbal derivational processes in Dela-Oenale

Thress Tamelan

Mother Tongue Bible Translator Coordinator

Abstract: This presentation will discuss the forms and functions of two verbal derivational processes; ‘glottal stop inversion’ and ‘harmonizing prefixation’, in Dela-Oenale, a language spoken in Western Rote Island, Indonesia. An overview of verb structure will also be discussed to provide an understanding of how verbs are derived.

July 18, 2012 ~ The Role of Language Assessment in Language Planning and Development

Ken Decker

SIL International

Abstract: This presentation will discuss the role of language assessment and sociolinguistic research through the life of a language development program. Aspects of context, partnerships and strategies will also be described as they influence the contribution that can be made by language assessment specialists.

 June 22, 2012 ~ The Real Story About Quantifier Float

Thomas Payne, Ph.D.

SIL International

Abstract: The phenomenon of "quantifier float" is often described as the ability of certain predeterminers to "float" into the IP, either just before the inflected verb, or after the first auxiliary. This phenomenon is often claimed to occur only with all and both, and not to occur when the DP' that launches the predeterminer is functioning in any role other than subject of the sentence.
The following are some examples from the BNC:

(1) These people all live in Edinburgh. (c.f. All these people live in Edinburgh.) The staff should all be working in the same direction. (c.f. All the staff should be working in the same direction.) The Shergolds must both be under a great deal of strain. (c.f. Both the Shergolds must be under a great deal of strain.) The prisoners will both profess their innocence. (c.f. Both the prisoners will profess their innocence.)

This very restricted conceptualization of quantifier float excludes several related phenomena in whichall and both seem to float off of non-subjects, and situations where other special quantifier-like words, such as eacheitheralso, and then may also float from one position to another. For example:

(2) I adored them both. (c.f. I adored both of them.) It can come upon us all. (c.f. It can come upon allof us.) We gave the boys each/all/both a shilling. (c.f. We gave each of/all/both the boys a shilling.) I taught the girls each/all/both to play the piano. (c.f. I taught each of/all/both the girls to play the piano.)

In this paper, we show that:
- PDQs (PreDeterminer Quantifiers) form a continuum, with all and both at one extreme ("canonical" PDQs), and quantity nouns followed by of at the other, e.g., a truckload of, three tanks full of, two litres of, etc.
- This continuum can be understood as a consequence of the gradual unconscious reanalysis of quantified DPs, from a quantity noun (Qnoun) plus of to PDQ.
- Prototypical quantifier float, i.e., when a PDQ "floats" from a subject DP into an IP, is motivated by the general attraction of subjects, conjunctions and adverbial elements to that position.

Finally, various quantifier float phenomena are catalogued, and are shown to exhibit intriguing assymetries regarding which PDQs may float, and under what conditions. As quantifiers migrate out of noun phrases into larger structures (verb phrases and clauses), they tend to seek out positions where adverbial elements occur, thus creating additional paths for possible structural reanalyses.

Mar 9, 2012 ~ Microlectures in Linguistics and Translation

Come learn about current research themes in linguistics and translation being explored by Canada Institute of Linguistics faculty and graduate thesis students. Nine researchers will be allotted five minutes each to summarize some aspect of their current scholarship. The micro-lecture format spreads a broader awareness of current research efforts and challenges presenters to be vivid and concise. The following researchers and research themes will be featured:

Faculty Research

Keith Snider

Compounding in Chumburung

Rod Casali

ATR vowel harmony

Doug Trick

Optimizing translation training at CanIL

Dave Jeffery

Dialogue on Diglossia

Jamin Pelkey

A semiotic distinction for language variation

Nathan Niesley

Typological considerations in Christian glossolalia

Graduate Thesis Student Research

Anna Olson

Semantic issues in the analysis of English phrasal verbs

Rachel Aubrey

Embodied cognition and middle voice in Koine Greek

Johnny Walker

Tense-Aspect-Mood marking in Bantu JE40

Jan 25, 2012 ~ Cultural and Contextual Constraints in Translation:

Can Effective Meaning-Transfer be Guaranteed?

Michael R. Walrod, Ph.D.

Canada Institute of Linguistics

Abstract: Developments in Cognitive linguistics, Integrational linguistics, Neurolinguistics, Relevance theory, Hermeneutics, and Discourse analysis give fresh insight into how meaning is communicated and construed.  These insights have enormous implications for philosophy of language and for translation theory and practice.

There is a convergence of these insights around the notions of cultural and contextual constraints in communication.  Viewing these topics in light of discourse analysis leads to a theory of emergent text-level meaning.  Ideally our theory of meaning-based translation should be a theory of “emergent text-level meaning”-based translation.

The corollary of the preceding statement is that for translators to secure anything close to a guarantee that effective meaning-transfer has occurred, requires a high level of competence in source and target languages.  This competence must be over all the levels of linguistic organization, especially including text-level features and discourse markers.

Recommended reading before attending:  

Oct 26, 2011 ~ Phonological and Orthographical Issues in Dong Xiang

Stephen Kim

SIL International

Abstract: Due to the language contacts and over standardization in the Pinyin (national orthography) system, the Dongxiang faces difficult decision with regard to the question: whether to distinguish the syllable final “back nasal” and the “front nasal”.  The features of Northwest Chinese dialect which influence the Dongxiang and the rule of vowel harmony are presented as background for this phonological phenomenon. Two possible conclusions are drawn; treating them as two different phonemes or merging them into one phoneme. Different solutions for Dongxiang writing systems are suggested accordingly.

Sept 22, 2011 ~ The 'Split' Rainforest Bantu Hypothesis: 

Correlating Bantu Migration History with Vowel Harmony Patterns in Guthrie Zone C

Myles Leitch, Ph.D.

Tyndale University & SIL International

Abstract: This paper grew out of research presented originally at the Bantu Historical Colloquium held in Lyon in 1997. Thus it is embedded in larger research initiative, best captured in Hyman 1999’s analysis of the areal and historical characteristics of Bantu vowel harmony overall. The current study is more concerned with just the languages of the central Bantu zone C in Guthrie 1967’s classification. I will show that, based on the vowel harmony patterning evidence, Guthrie’s Bantu C can be seen as two distinct groups, (i) a northern band of languages that properly belong together with the B-20 and B-30 languages of Gabon (Van der Veen 2003), and (ii) a southern block with dramatically distinct properties. To accomplish my goals, in addition to relying heavily on Hyman 1999’s groundbreaking overview of Bantu vowel harmony, I bring together and consider evidence from: (i) empirical research on areal vowel harmony patterns of the so-called ‘rainforest’ Bantu languages (Leitch 1997), and (ii), archeological and historical research (D.W. Phillipson 1977, 1985 and Vansina 1984, 1990, 1995, and some of the work cited therein).

July 22, 2011 ~ Increasing Scripture Engagement: Reducing Cultural Distance between the Message and Today's Receptors

Michelle Petersen, M.A.

SIL International and the Graduate Institute of Applied Linguistics

Abstract: Scripture and the relevance of Scripture can be communicated through a variety of forms such as print, performance, and recordings, including local arts such as drama, story, song, dance, poetry, paintings, illustrations, or local proverbs relating to Scriptural principles. In this paper, I apply Wendell's model for scaling difficulty of literacy materials according to the cultural distance between author and receptors to our understanding of all forms of communication, including cross-cultural visual literacy and performance. I propose two ways by which the cultural distance of translated Scripture can be reduced for today’s audiences. I then present a model for working with local artists to perform or illustrate their local language Scripture or its applications. Prior to artistic co-creation, cultural research is needed to discover valued forms in which to present the message of Scripture. The framework presented in this paper is useful for developing Scripture-infused creations and distributing them via publications, performances, or recordings. This paper gives examples of a variety of Scripture-infused arts from different cultures around the world.

June 17, 2011 ~ Aspects of the Xibe Verb System:

Synchrony and Diachrony 

Taeho Jang, Kyungsook Jang and Tom Payne

SIL East Asia Group, SIL International and University of Oregon

Abstract: Xibe is a Manchu-Tungus language spoken by about 40,000 people in Northwest China. The Xibe ethnicity is one of the 55 officially recognized minorities in China. In this paper, we present selected findings of a language project begun in 1998 by Taeho and Kyungsook Jang. First, we provide a general typological sketch of this verb-final language. Second, we discuss a finiteness continuum in Xibe verbs, and note that the perfective/imperfective distinction is relevant at almost all points on the continuum. Third, we describe the complex system of auxiliary constructions. Xibe verb phrases may include up to three auxiliaries: 1) aspect/modal auxiliaries, 2) tense/aspect auxiliaries, and 3) the existential verb/particle bi. We note a grammaticalization cline between serial verb constructions and verb + auxiliary constructions, and finally verb + bound verbal suffix constructions. Fourth, we point out a distinction in Xibe verb morphology that is similar to Tibeto-Burman conjunct/disjunct patterns.

March 17, 2011 ~ The PAM System of Makary Kotoko

Sean Allison, Ph.D. Candidate

SIL International and the University of Colorado, Boulder

Abstract: Sean Allison provides a ‘progress report’ on the ongoing analysis of the Person-Aspect-Mode system of Makary Kotoko (Chadic, Cameroon). Makary Kotoko, a Central Chadic B language, codes aspectual and modal information on the subject-person marker which directly precedes the verb. Following the functionally oriented descriptive approach outlined in R.M.W. Dixon’s ‘Basic Linguistic Theory’ (vol. 1, 2, 2010; vol. 3 forthcoming) with input from the approach advocated by Z. Frajzyngier (e.g. Frajzyngier 1996, 2002, 2003, 2008), Allison describes the formation of the PAM markers and their various functions. Of note is the absence of any coding of tense within the system, with temporal reference being provided by context or temporal adverbials. As well, the functions of the aspectual and modal markers interact with the different persons such that the aspectual/modal functions expressed in a given sentence are conditioned in some cases by the coding for person.