Sunday, October 10, 2004


Only a huge nerd could fall in love with a bibliography, but since discovering it (through a helpful post to LinguistList) I have gone head over heels for the Morphology at Bologna bibliography (BIBLIO), by Sergio Scalise. I am amazed and impressed that such a hugely useful resource is available on the web with no subscription fee.

Thursday, October 07, 2004

Sound-Change Non-Compositional

It turns out that my students do not really believe that sound-change is regular. I didn't figure out why until today. Why didn't they believe in the regularity hypothesis? Because we talked a great deal about analogy, which clearly changes the sounds in words without phonological conditioning. This was indisputable evidence, in the minds of several of my brightest students, that sound change could not be purely regular. The problem is that we typically use the word sound-change to refer to something more confined than “changes in sounds,” rather, it refers to a specific phenomenon (one of many kinds of formal changes that can occur in language). We of a neogrammarian bent actually tend to define this phenomenon as a kind of regular, phonologically conditioned change. This is, as one especially bright student pointed out, completely circular--it renders the statment “all sound-change is regular” vacuous or purely terminological.

It is amazing how long a discussion can continue, each side disagreeing with the other, before both sides realize that they have been using the same term in different ways. I assumed a technical (and non-compositional) interpretation of the compound "sound-change" while my students read this compound compositionally. I thought they were nuts and I can only imagine what they thought of me.

Those Old IE Sound Laws

I've spent the better part of the last two days (or so it seems) either explaining to students how Grassman's Law can possible explain exceptions to Grimm's law when it didn't even occur in Germanic or trying to convince them that there is some reason that they should learn what Grimm's Law, Verner's Law, Grassman's Law, and the Great English Vowel Shift are. It isn't as easy as you might think. Undergraduate students can be stubborn debaters, particularly when testable material is at stake.

What I have told them, more listlessly than would be ideal, is that a knowledge of these sound changes is part of the shared intellectual tradition of historical linguistics and that they're also good examples of particular kinds of sound changes. They didn't seem convinced.

I hope that has less to do with my rhetorical skills that their desire to avoid memorizing Greek and Sanskrit examples.

Monday, October 04, 2004

Introducing Xtone

I haven't been blogging much lately, partly because I've been spending most of my time trying to teach undergraduates historical linguistics and partly because I've been spending the remaining time either working on my dissertation prospectus or helping assemble Xtone: a Cross-Linguistic Tonal Database, a collaboration between David Allison, Larry Hyman, and myself (that felt like a Condition A violation, although my inner syntactician tells me otherwise).

We hope that this database will turn into a useful research and bibliographic tool for phonologists of various kinds working on tone. The initial response has been positive, with great entries contributed by Jeff Good and Jie Zhang. While the amount of data currently available is small, we hope to add much more (and to receive much more) in the coming months.