Returning from the Algonquian Conference

We were well-represented at the 44th Algonquian Conference in Chicago this weekend, with a group talk by Carol, Sarah, Mary-Beth and Elise about the summer Mi’gmaq language course, in addition to individual linguistics talks by Mike, Elise, Gretchen, Erin, and Conor. For more details on the individual talks, check out the Research page, which already has abstracts but will hopefully have handouts soon.

It was a great trip and we met a lot of people. Here are some pictures!

Obviation and Intransitives

Mi’gmaq is a language with obviation – that is, a way of telling animate third persons apart. The first third person (or the proximate third person) is not marked, while the other third persons (or obviative third person or fourth person) is marked with the suffix -l or -al, as in Mali nemiatl Piel-al, ‘Mary sees Peter’.  The verb also receives an ending indicating that a proximate person is acting on an obviative person: -atl. These endings can also vary for the number of people involved, like so:

  • -aji, as in nemiaji, ‘he or she sees them (obviative)’
  • -a’titl, as in nemia’titl, ‘they see him or her (obviative)’
  • -a’tiji, as in nemia’tiji, ‘they see them (obviative)’

This is really useful, since it helps us keep track of who is doing what and allows the word order in Mi’gmaq to vary. So, whether we say Mali nemiatl Pielal or Pielal nemiatl Mali or Nemiatl Mali Pielal, etc., we have a way of knowing who is seen and who is doing the seeing that is not based purely on word order, like in English.

But this isn’t the only way obviatives are used! If, say, we’ve already been talking about someone in the obviative person, we can continue referring to them in the obviative person with other verbs – even with intransitives. For example, if we’ve already said Mali gesalaji mui’naq, ‘Mary likes bears’, we could then say Wigulti’niji nipugtug, ‘they (the bears) live in the forest’, where the ending -ulti’nij means that it is them (obviative) that are living there, and not any other group.

Here are a few questions I have about this topic:

  • For Researchers: Has anyone else seen any 4th person marking on AI verbs? If so, would this information need to be included in AI verb paradigms on our wiki page?
  • For Speakers: Does the above example using wigulti’nij sound right to you? If so, how would you say “they (the two bears) live in the forest” or “it (the bear) lives in the forest” in a similar situation? Also, if you spot any errors, I will be happy to fix them!

Update 2 from CoLang

In the second week of CoLang, I took courses on Archives/Databases, Strategies to Reintroduce Languages, Pedagogical Grammars, and Internet/Multimedia.

Archives/Databases: In this course, we learned how to use SQL and OpenOffice Base to make databases, which are basically like inter-connected spreadsheets where the information can be presented in a variety of different ways. If anyone is interested in learning how to do any of this, there are very detailed slides available for the first and second weeks of this course.

Strategies: This was a class about using archived and written material for language teaching, particularly for languages without many fluent speakers anymore. We talked about a variety of sources for language learning materials and things you can do with them. Some things that other language communities have done include an iphone app for learning YatiWunderkammer, a project for making spelling dictionaries on mobile phones (so you can text in a language more easily), a list of lesson plans for language-learning in general, and some audio/video lessons that have been made in Mohegan. Other ideas are playing games like I Spy and Simon Says, and the “Where are my keys?” game that I posted about earlier.

Pedagogical Grammars: This class looked at lots of different types of grammars and discussed what makes a grammar effective for teaching (syllabus here). is a website with audio Cree lessons that goes with a series of textbooks on the Cree language. A great quote from Jacob Manitowa-Bailey, who has done a lot of work with the Sauk Master-Apprentice program:

“Concrete, contextualized, varied, modern, and repeated sentence length examples are better than charts, explanations, or isolated examples in longer narratives.” -Jacob Manatowa-Bailey

Internet/Multimedia: In this class, we discussed a variety of ways to use Internet resources to promote and use language. A few examples of interesting things we were shown: Indigenous Tweets, which lists people who tweet in indigenous languages. Navajo Word of the Day, a website (also on Facebook and Twitter) that gives a new Navajo word each day. We also learned how to put QR codes on posters to send people to a website on their smartphone. I have a demo of this that I can show if anyone’s interested but I don’t think I want to put it up online at the moment.

Update 1 from CoLang

Hello from Kansas everyone! I’ve been here for just over a week now at CoLang, a six-week institute on Collaborative Language research on endangered languages. I’m really excited to be here and I’ve been learning a lot in all my courses and meeting a lot of great people. The courses I took last week were XML, Lexicography, FLEx, and Grantwriting. I’m going to give a short summary of some useful things from each below. If anyone is interested in learning more about a particular topic, just let me know and I can send you notes or links!

XML: This is a formatting language that allows you to mark parts of a text as having a certain relationship to each other. You can mark the text directly, or use various programs that create this type of markup (like FLEx, see below) or format it into a particular type of output (like only the sentences in one language, or a comparison table, or a webpage, using tools like XSLT).

Lexicography: This class was all about making dictionaries. Although there are several Mi’gmaq dictionaries, it was still useful to learn about some of the decisions that dictionary-creators make and the software that can be used to do that, particularly since some of these can also be used to organize language data more generally. There’s a great list of pros and cons of various software programs in one of the presentations from the class.

FLEx: This is one popular database program that many linguists use or are familiar with. We learned how to import and backup data, how to do glossing, editing the lexicon, categorizing and linking terms with each other, and doing statistics on how many times a word occurs and in what contexts. I feel like at this point I probably know enough that I could figure out basically anything else I want to do by clicking around or reading help documents.

Grantwriting: This class was taught by two profs who were experienced in applying for grants and reviewing other people’s grants. We learned about different granting agencies and got to see some examples of both accepted and rejected grants and reviews. The most important things that they identified in grantwriting are: having a good idea, being believable that you will accomplish it, and doing so in an ethical manner (more detailed notes about how to do this that I’ll pull out in grantwriting season). Although we’ve applied to SSHRC before, there were also a few international granting agencies that I wasn’t already aware of, such as the Endangered Language Fund and the Endangered Languages Project, so these might be other things to consider at some point.

In week 2 I’m taking Archives/Databases, Strategies to Reintroduce Languages, Pedagogical Grammar, and Internet/Multimedia, which are also going well, so I’ll give a summary of those next week!

An Update from iLanguage Lab Team

As many of you may know, we are building a database for all of our Mi’gmaq data! To those who do not…we are building a database! 

The big picture:
We have been working with iLanguage Lab LTD to create an open source (free!), easy to use app that will run online and offline. There are plenty of database applications out there, but they tend to be difficult to use and either run online OR offline (not both). The idea is to create something that will be used not only by linguists, but by whoever is interested in doing language research (for non-programmers by non-programmers). Thus, we are making the code for it as intuitive as possible, which will be easy to change and fit specific needs in the future. More features and other info here.
What do we mean by database? It will essentially be like Word or any other word processor, but more organized. We will have sessions, where data from elicitations can be entered directly into a series of fields (orthography, gloss, translation, etc.). Researchers and consultants will be able to collaborate with each other on projects in groups and will be able to have discussions via comments. Ultimately, it will be a place to store all of the data collected thus far in a way that is accessible to those involved in the project but also secure (maintaining consultant confidentiality and reducing the number of errors that inevitably occur during research). 
Why is this useful? It is organized and accessible, which is great for people trying to learn the language as well as for project purposes. The flexibility of the program will also allow linguists and speakers together to decide who has access to what data.

The nitty gritty:

So far the project is still in its skeletal stages (literally..we are using a JavaScript framework called ‘Backbone’). We have been working on things that are mostly ‘under the hood’ (things like defining what ‘Users’ are, how we want things to look, etc.) In addition, we have been running tests to make sure that the code we are writing is working. You can check out the progress by installing a google chrome extension called “Drag and Drop FieldLinguistics” (name to be changed soon) in the Chrome Web Store. The goal is to have most of these tests done by the end of this week so we can start building up to the ‘View’, which is what people will actually see when they use the app. The Beta Testing Target is July 1st 2012, at which point we will actually test out the finished app. 

If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions, please feel free to post them here (or if you are technically oriented, you can post on the github project page:! We really hope that this will be used by people who have previously found themselves frustrated by the obscurity of other web applications.

Report from OWNAL

I’ve been learning a lot here in Oklahoma at the Oklahoma Workshop on Native American Languages (OWNAL) this weekend that I think could be really relevant for our projects. I’ve been exchanging contact information with a lot of people so hopefully we may be able to share ideas with some of them. I’m planning on writing a series of blog posts over the next week or so describing some of the specific ideas, and I’m especially hoping to get digital copies of some of the handouts or presentations that I can share with everyone. So stay tuned for this!

In the meantime, the program of events for the weekend can be found as part of the 40th Symposium on the American Indian program (scroll down to the bottom for the OWNAL-specific portion). If you’re interested in how I tried to present what I’ve been doing on indefinites for a broad-ish audience, here is also my Mi’gmaq Indefinites handout for OWNAL.


Mi’gmaq goes to Harvard!

This weekend, April 14th-15th, a few of our members will be going down to Boston to present their research at the 10th Annual Harvard Undergraduate Linguistics Colloquium. Yuliya will be presenting her research on obviation and number marking in Mi’gmaq . I will also be presenting on a topic, though unrelated to Mi’gmaq (Affrication across word boundaries in Canadian and American English, co-written with another fellow McGillian undergraduate, Thea Knowles). We are looking forward to meeting with another one of our group members who is at Harvard, Dave!

Presenting on Mi’gmaq Indefinites at OWNAL

This weekend, I (Gretchen) am going to be presenting about Mi’gmaq indefinites at OWNAL, the Oklahoma Workshop on Native American Languages at Northeastern State University, Tahlequah, Oklahoma. More information about the workshop can be found here. If I can figure out how to post attachments, I’ll try to post a copy of my handout later, but in any case, my next project will be reformatting the information in it for the wiki.

Mi’gmaq Research Updates

So far Mike has been working on how to represent the syntactic structure of Mi’gmaq, in particular, what arguments can be made for hierarchical structure by using diagnostics like scope, indefinites, weak cross-over, binding, ellipsis, etc… (See glossary of linguistics terms in side bar for definitions)

Yuliya has been working on obviation in Mi’gmaq (wikipedia definition of obviation here). There is an asymmetry in the way obviation is marked with respect to gender (animate/inanimate) and number. She is looking into whether there is in fact obviation in Mi’gmaq. Here is a paper from U of T that claims there is no obviation She is currently trying to find evidence for or against this in Mi’gmaq.

Gretchen is continuing her work on preverbs in Mi’gmaq. She has also been working on indefinite pronouns which she is presenting at the TOM 5 Semantics workshop.

I am working on cleaning up my section of negation that I did last semester for our field methods class.