Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Phonology of Mandan vowels

For those of you interested in the phonology of Mandan, here's a summary of a presentation I recently sat in on.

Jonina Torres presented information about the way Mandan, a Siouan language spoken in North Dakota, differentiates its vowels. She had analyzed a recording of a Mandan speaker to see how the vowels varied in duration. Mandan appears to differentiate vowels in both length and nasalization. The inventory Torres investigaged is /a, a:, ã, ã:, e, e:, i, i:, ĩ, ĩ:, u, u:, ũ, ũ:, o, o:/.

Using a piece of software called Praat, she looked at sonograms and blocked off each vowel for duration. For the most part, short vowels were held for about 0.1s and long vowels were held for 0.2s. This doesn't surprise me given the describers long and short. Torres found two pairs that did not fit the pattern. The first is the distinction between /ã/ and /ã:/. The short /ã/ was held for about 0.25s, and the long /ã:/ was held for about 0.15s. This is odd, since the “short” vowel was in fact longer than the “long” vowel. The other surprise in her data was the variance between /ũ/ and /ũ:/. Short /ũ/ was held for 0.1s, which is in line with the other short vowels. On the other hand long /ũ:/ was held for 0.5s, which was more than twice as long as all the other long vowels, save /ã:/. Concluding, Torres suspected that these variations might be evened out if she sampled a larger data set.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Relatable presentation

The presentation went well. Or at least well enough that no one refuted my analysis. Here is the pdf of the presentation. If I get enough requests, I'll do an online version with voice and all.

Bottom line for non-academics: The word relatable has shifted meaning. It used to mean either "able to be retold" or "able to be correlated", but now it means "able to resonate with a person, usually emotionally". You will continue to see younger speakers of American English use it this way. Tough luck if you don't like it.


Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Wading into X'

I'd tell you I get X' syntax, but I don't (yet). I'm sure I'll muddle through to an understanding some day.

Until then, I'll blow the classicists' brains with the syntax of Latin.

In Horace's Odes 1.37, he says "contaminato cum grege".  Well, there's more to it, but that's where I want to focus. It looks like Latin gets to move adjectives in front of prepositions—at least that's the rule we're taught. And it looks like it holds. After all, summa cum laude and quam ob rem and a bunch of other things like that are up and down Latin literature. Adjective before preposition.

Let's call it adjective movement for now. (If only because it looks like wh-movement.)

Here's what the normal version looks like: cum grege contaminato. Here's its syntax tree:

(Well, maybe N' doesn't break into N and AP just quite where I show it, but it wasn't easy to get the software to cooperate once I had started.) But watch what happens when we go to contaminato cum grege. Presto, syntax tree!

See where contaminato moved to? That's right. It took over the spec position under PP. Now I've not looked at the corpus in detail, but I can't think of any instances of this sort of thing happening where adjective movement allows for any position other than immediately in front of the preposition. If I'm right (remember my caveat), this is why—the adjective moves into the spec position. Of course there could be something even uglier going on. If there is, I'll update this post.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Quid est hoc?

Just what is this anyway? I was recently asked if this passed grammatical muster.
Q: Quid est hoc?
A: Hoc est mensa.
My gut feeling is that it did, but why you wouldn't ask "quid est?" I don't know. The interesting thing that I've found is that in a Google search, it only turns up 85 times at—I know, not the greatest source, but it responds quickly and has zero extraneous garbage. You know who said "quid est hoc?" in antiquity? Cicero. And no one else. Or at least no one else bothered to write it down. The interesting thing is that when Cicero says it, it almost seems to be saying "Just really, what is this?" As if he were straining to believe.

So on that ground, "quid est hoc?" passes grammatical muster—but no one uses it in the sense of "what is this?" It is far more "WTF?"