Boxing Day announcements

It is a well-known fact that linguistics is soothing for the digestive system,[citation needed] so in an attempt to help you and your stomach work through that enormous Christmas dinner from last night, here are some updates:

  1. The expletives paper that I talked about in this post is now available in an updated version. When compared to the previous version the changes aren't tremendous in size, but I feel they do make for a clearly improved paper.
  2. There's also a new version of this joint paper on idioms and phases. It's a paper that has come out of a joint project with Utrecht University, and we try to combine the findings of both parts of the project into a single, coherent and unified whole.
  3. A couple of weeks ago I was in beautiful South Africa, where I gave a talk (together with Marjo van Koppen) at CGSW. The handout of that talk is available here (careful: it's a 20MB download). The talk continues on the research path I described in a previous post of combining quantitative explorations of large datasets with formal-theoretical analyses.
  4. While I'm at it: CRISSP, the research institute that I'm a part of recently celebrated its ten year anniversary (with this workshop). As part of the celebrations we also updated the website and the logo; I encourage you all to go and have a look.

That's all from me for now. Happy holidays!

There might be something there here

If you're reading these words out of your own free will, I'm sure I don't have to explain to you that locative expressions such as here and there play a central role in the type of linguistic racket that I'm in, especially when they're used like the first instance in the title of this post. Not surprisingly, then, the time has come for me to venture into this red ocean and add some thoughts on the subject. I'd already dabbled in it—not in 'Nam of course—in a CGWS-talk in 2011 which I still have to write up as a paper—story of my professional life—but in this new paper I take a different approach. I focus on expletive data from one dialect of Dutch (my own) and try to make two points:

  1. Expletives behave exactly like regular subject pronouns in this dialect, in two ways. On the one hand, they show the same distinction between strong and deficient forms that subject pronouns do, and on the other, expletives can undergo pronominal doubling (and even tripling), like subjects, but unlike any other elements (including locative pronouns).
  2. Unlike what is often assumed and sometimes explicitly stated, it is not only the distal locative adverb (i.e. there) that can be used as an expletive. In this dialect, its proximate counterpart here can also display expletive-like behavior.

The paper is still very much work in progress (it's currently under review) and so any comments/thoughts/questions you might have would be most appreciated, but I think there might something there here. Plus, it has allowed me to continue my hobby of devising example sentences that, when judged by their glosses, look like there is no way they can be part of natural language. The winner this time is example number (64), which can be glossed as 'Here has there here here no-one with Jef talked.'

  1. As an aside, yes, I know that it's been ages since my last post. Turns out it's not easy to combine a heavy teaching semester with a vibrant blog.

  2. Obviously, the post-nominal element (modifier? suffix?) -like is pretty important here: it turns out that even in its use as an expletive, here doesn't lose it's locative meaning (unlike there); see the paper for details.

  3. Can you even say that in English?

  4. A previous favorite of mine can be found in my OUP-book, p.255, fn6: 'I think that that that that that must replace.'

amoebae are the new dinosaurs

Looks like I'll be going to Göttingen in early April, as the abstract Marjo van Koppen and I sent in for this year’s GLOW was accepted for a poster presentation. The abstract builds on earlier work Marjo and I did both separately and jointly, but (a) ties it together into a unified account, (b) provides a quantitative analysis of the data (along the lines of what I did with verb clusters), and (c) discovers some surprising correlations and anti-correlations among the phenomena we discuss. The title of the abstract, which—credit where credit is due—was Marjo's invention, basically says it all: a microparameter in a nanoparametric world. It's a play on words on the title of this excellent paper by Mark Baker, where he argues that it's not microparameters all the way down (or up?), but that some parameters by design have a broader reach or impact (and these are his macroparameters). Similarly, we claim that when you start looking at how microvariational phenomena pattern together, it's not just nanoparameters freely combining with one another; there too, some points of variation seem to target a higher level. The scale is quite different from Baker's paper, of course, but the principle is the same: he's saying that a diplodocus is bigger than a compsognathus, while we're comparing Chaos carolinense with Dicty the amoeba.

As an aside, it was funny how the reviews we got for this abstract reaffirmed my continued belief that no matter how good the intentions of the conference organizers or the quality of the material, having your abstract (or paper or project proposal or ...) accepted always remains something of a crap shoot. We received a total of 9 reviews, of which I suspect—on the grounds of having been a part of this committee before—that the final two were from the selection committee. Most of the reviews we got were informative and clear (though not always positive), one was even quite long and extremely helpful (and not hard to figure out who it was from). Reviewer number 5, however, merely wrote: "I find the paper weak." Now, just to be clear: I have absolutely no problem with people disagreeing with my work. On the contrary, some of the most informative and helpful exchanges I've had came from people who were very critical. It's just that this review is unhelpful on all fronts: it's of no use to the authors, who can't use the review as a basis for addressing the weaknesses in their paper, and it is also maximally uninformative for the selection committee, who don't know if this reviewer actually has a valid, critical point to make, or whether s/he hasn't even read the abstract and was just in a particularly bad mood or simply doesn't like the authors. All in all, I'd say that reviewing, in all of its shapes and forms, is another area that’s ripe for disruption.

  1. This is what you get when your four-year-old is obsessed with dinosaurs.

  2. This is what you get when you start googling for amoebae of different sizes.

  3. The abstract was anonymous of course, but it wasn't hard to guess who it was from.