20 November: Juergen Bohnemeyer and bipartite indexicals

This week join us for a discussion session led by Juergen Bohnemeyer. We’ll be talking about bipartate inexicals in Tseltal and Yucatec, as per the following abstract:
A curious and under-researched property of some Mayan languages (I present data from Tseltal and Yucatec) is the bipartite morphology of space- and time-indexical expressions. These expressions combine an element that appears in the syntactic position in which the referent of the indexical is interpreted (i.e., enters the semantic composition) with a clause-final particle. Strikingly, it is this second element, the particle, that determines whether the bipartite indexical is interpreted anaphorically or exophorically. Clauses do not accept more than one such particle. In case of multiple triggers in a single clause, the particle that is realized is determined according to a hierarchy whereby exophoric triggers trump anaphoric ones. My goal is to develop a possible situation-semantic analysis in the framework of Kratzer (2014), inspired by  Kaplan’s (1989) dichotomy between ‘character’ and ‘content’. ‘Content’ refers to the classic Fregean sense meaning, for which Kaplan assumes the standard model-theoretic treatment in terms of a mapping from worlds to extensions. More specifically, contents map pairs of (extra-linguistic) contexts and possible worlds into extensions. ‘Character’, on the other hand, is a mapping from possible contexts into contents. In Kaplan’s terms, the first element of the bipartite deictics expresses their content, whereas the second, the clause-final particle, expresses their character.

Prep readings (the first two are on UBlearns):

Bohnemeyer, J. 2015. Deixis. In J. D. Wright (editor-in-chief), International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral Sciences, 2nd edition, Vol 6. Oxford: Elsevier. 52–57.

Bohnemeyer, J. 2012. Yucatec demonstratives in interaction: spontaneous vs. elicited data. In Andrea C. Schalley (Ed.), Practical theories and empirical practice. Amsterdam/New York: John Benjamins. 99-128.

Kratzer, A. 2014. Situations in natural language semantics. In E. N. Zalta (ed.), The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2014 Edition). URL = <http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/spr2014/entries/situations-semantics/>.

13 November: Randi Moore AAA dry-run

Join us this week for a dry-run of Randi Moore’s presentation at the Annual Meeting of the American Anthropological Association: ‘Interactions of Landscape and Language: Spatial Language in Three Communities of Zapotec Speakers’

What effect, if any, does local landscape have on the language and cognition of speakers around the world? This presentation explores the use of landscape terms in the lexical inventory and spatial descriptions of Zapotec speakers in different communities within the Isthmus of Tehuantepec in Oaxaca, Mexico. Each of three communities has notably different landscape features with which speakers habitually interact: strong North-South winds in the north, a cityscape in the central city, and the Laguna Superior in the south. A series of studies conducted in each community yields (i) lists of landscape terms showing salience of such geographic features, (ii) route descriptions showing salience of landmarks in direction giving, and (iii) descriptions of small-scale space showing landscape entities that are used to anchor such spatial descriptions. These descriptions also provide data on speakers’ use of spatial reference frames, which are strategies for locating or orienting objects based on the axes of speakers’ bodies, environmental features, or the objects themselves. This presentation focuses on the use of these exploratory methods to investigate the relationship between landscape and speakers’ spatial language and to determine what effect, if any, the existence of salient landforms in a community has on spatial language and cognition within that community. In this way, this presentation speaks to the neo-Whorfian debate about the role of language vs. environment on cognition.

6 November: Wilson de Lima Silva

 Wilson de Lima Silva will discuss his forthcoming paper written with Scott AnderBois: “Fieldwork Game Play: Masterminding Evidentiality in Desano”
I will discuss a methodology for collecting naturalisticly occurring data on evidentials and epistemic modals, using Desano (Eastern Tukanoan) as a case study. The methodology consists of having Desano speakers play a logic game: Mastermind. In this game one player (codemaker) places colored pegs behind a screen and the other player (codebreaker) tries to guess the code, receiving partial feedback/clues from the codemaker after each intermediate guess. There are several benefits in using this method. It provides naturalistic dialogue between multiple speakers, rather than just monologue; utterances naturally vary as to whether speakers in the scenario have access/interest in the kind of evidence itself as opposed to just the fact of the matter; finally, an important point is that speakers find the task enjoyable.