HLK 2010

The Faculties of Humanities and Theology | Lund University

Keynote abstracts



Meta-documentation, sustainability and cross-disciplinary research: challenges for language documentation


Peter K. Austin

Endangered Languages Academic Programme

Department of Linguistics, SOAS


The past 15 years has seen the emergence of a new branch of linguistics called ‘Documentary Linguistics’ which is “concerned with the methods, tools, and theoretical underpinnings for compiling a representative and lasting multipurpose record of a natural language or one of its varieties”. This field is characterised by (Himmelmann 2006, Woodbury 2010):


  • attention to principles and practices relating to the collection, curation and analysis of primary data
  • an explicit concern for accountability and replicability of research results
  • application of principles and practices of data structuring, data management, workflow design, and computational tools to the multipurpose record
  • a  focus on long-term storage and preservation of primary data along with analyses
  • work in interdisciplinary teams
  • close cooperation with and direct involvement of the speech community whose language is being studied

Documentary Linguistics, and its application in language documentation, is an emerging field. In this talk I will outline what I see as some of the current challenges the field faces for the future, namely:


  • development of well-grounded theoretical concepts and practical applications of meta-documentation, the documentation of documentation practices and projects
  • creating sustainable documentations so that both the data collected and the project participants survive in an ongoing way
  • developing good models for inter-disciplinary research as promoted in the original foundations of documentary linguistics



Himmelmann, Nikolaus P. 2006. Language documentation: What is it and what is it good for? In Jost Gippert, Nikolaus Himmelmann, and Ulrike Mosel (eds.) Essentials of Language Documentation, 1-30. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Woodbury, Anthony C. 2010. Chapter 9: Language Documentation. In Peter K. Austin and Julia Sallabank (eds.) Handbook of Endangered Languages. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.




Language and music in the songs of Minto, Alaska


Siri G. Tuttle

University of Alaska, Fairbanks


In this paper I will present some of the more easily observed patterns in the matching of song lyrics to music in traditional Lower Tanana Athabascan songs of several types. The research on which this paper is based was supported by a grant from the U.S. National Endowment for the Humanities, by the Alaska Native Language Center at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and by the Yukon Kuskokwim School district.


There are at least nine distinct song types in the corpus of Minto music assembled during this project. There are love songs, lullabies and art songs, dance songs, songs that mimic animal cries – all types that might be easily found in many cultures. In addition, however, Alaskan Athabascan communities also create songs for performance at potlatches: dance songs, potlatch songs and mourning songs. Within stories and embedded in fragments of folklore, old shamanic songs are also partially remembered; they are called “ice‐cream songs” because they used to be sung during the preparation of nonathdlodi, or “Indian ice cream.”


In this project we worked with Minto elders to identify, translate and annotate old recordings of songs, and to record songs not previously recorded, with annotation, for archiving and transcription. In this paper, I would like to talk about the relationship between words and music as evidenced in the materials we worked on. Specifically, I will discuss matching of word types (lexical words vs. rhythmic vocables) to points in song structure; effects of rhythmic structure on lyric language; and effects of tonal prosody on melody.


Nearly all Minto songs use both lexical words and rhythmic vocables. With the exception of memorial potlatch songs, most songs have very short sentences as lyrics. To take one type as an example: in dance songs, as discussed by Lundström (1980), Pearce (1985), and Johnston (1985), the initial line of a verse is most likely to contain lexical material; vocables may fill in the remainder of the section. The lexical portion in such songs is also sung at the highest pitch, and the melody falls from that pitch to its lowest point at the end of a verse.


Rhythmic structure often affects the pronunciation of words in songs. Elders comment on this, and can explicitly identify the song‐pronunciation of a word within a translation. For example, sungha ‘my elder brother’ (two syllables in normal speech) was pronounced sunegha’a (four syllables) in the context of a strongly rhythmic memorial song chorus: the trochaic rhythm, X.X., seemed to fit better with the two full‐vowel syllables su and gha falling on downbeats, and the light vowel e and the added syllable ’a falling on offbeats. Likewise, the word goya ‘small’ (two syllables) was pronounced go (one syllable) in combination with segoya ‘my child’ in the same kind of rhythmic chorus, making the combination segoya go ‘my little child’ a foursyllable unit in some instances. In this case, vowel quality did not seem to play a role; the normally light syllable sebears the downbeat, and the stem vowel o in segoya inhabits an offbeat. The Minto language allows many adjustments of syllable number in longer words even in speech, let alone in music. Light vowels may be pronounced with audible duration, or extremely briefly, or simply elided, if they are not in a position of prominence (Tuttle 1998). This makes it possible for long Minto words to be adjusted to musical demands without much effect on their faithfulness to rules of speech pronunciation.


Effects of linguistic systems on melody and rhythm are harder to identify and to justify. As an example, one may consider the falling contour characteristic of the dance songs, and the particular pattern (noted by Lundström 1980, Pearce 1985) of repeated low tones at the end of a section. This is not easy to relate to intonational patterns – utterance‐final lowering is clearly present in Minto (Tuttle 1998) but the lowest point is normally completely final or post‐final, the end of a trajectory that may reach past the end of spoken segments. Nor is the repeated low tone a pattern common in lexical tone marking, since low tones are sparsely distributed in the lexicon, with many words not bearing tone at all. Repeated low tones are, instead, a pattern seen in tone sandhi in this language. A question is formed: can patterns, rather than pitches, in an Athabascan tonal system form part of melodic art? Comparison with song made by singers who spoke other closely related languages of Alaska (Koyukon, non‐tonal; Ahtna, non‐tonal; Tanacross, high‐marked; Upper Tanana, low‐marked) might provide some answers to this question.





The shaping of language of perception across cultures


Asifa Majid and Stephen C. Levinson

Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, Nijmegen, The Netherlands


How are the senses structured by the languages we speak, the cultures we inhabit? To what extent is the encoding of perceptual experiences in languages a matter of how the mind/brain is “wired-up” and to what extent is it a question of local cultural preoccupation? The “Language of Perception” project tests the hypothesis that some perceptual domains may be more “ineffable” – i.e. difficult or impossible to put into words – than others. While cognitive scientists have assumed that proximate senses (olfaction, taste, touch) are more ineffable than distal senses (vision, hearing), anthropologists have illustrated the exquisite variation and elaboration the senses achieve in different cultural milieus.


The project is designed to test whether the proximate senses are universally ineffable – suggesting an architectural constraint on cognition – or whether they are just accidentally so in Indo-European languages, so expanding the role of cultural interests and preoccupations.


To address this question, a standardized set of stimuli of color patches, geometric shapes, simple sounds, tactile textures, smells and tastes have been used to elicit descriptions from speakers of more than twenty languages—including three sign languages. The languages are typologically, genetically and geographically diverse, representing a wide-range of cultures. The communities sampled vary in subsistence modes (hunter-gatherer to industrial), ecological zones (rainforest jungle to desert), dwelling types (rural and urban), and various other parameters. We examine how codable the different sensory modalities are by comparing how consistent speakers are in how they describe the materials in each modality. Our current analyses suggest that taste may, in fact, be the most codable sensorial domain across languages, followed closely by visual phenomena, such as colour and shape. Olfaction appears to be the least codable across cultures. Nevertheless, we have identified exquisite elaboration in the olfactory domains in some cultural settings, contrary to some contemporary predictions within the cognitive sciences. These results suggest that differential codability may be at least partly the result of cultural preoccupation. This shows that the senses are not just physiological phenomena but are constructed through linguistic, cultural and social practices.





New directions in the prosodic typology: Prominence types and tonal rhythm


Sun-Ah Jun



One of the most well-known properties of prosodic typology is whether a lexical item in a language has tone, stress, or lexical pitch accent (Trubetzkoy 1939, Beckman 1986, Ladd 1996, Fox 2000 and references therein). But as shown in Jun (2005), a language can have both tone and stress (Mandarin) or pitch accent and stress (Chickasaw, Sweden, Papiamentu) or none of these (Korean, West Greenlandic). In the Autosegmental-Metrical (AM) model of intonational phonology (Pierrehumbert 1980, Beckman & Pierrehumbert 1986, Ladd 1996/2008), prosody is defined in terms of the prosodic structure of an utterance and the prominence relations within the structure, and these two aspects of prosody were marked by distinctive tonal categories (Beckman 1996, Shattuck-Hufnagel & Turk 1996). When marking prominence, languages can mark the head of a prosodic unit, called Head-prominence languages, or the edge of a prosodic unit, called Edge-prominence languages, or both (Jun 2005).


In this talk, I will propose new directions in the prosodic typology, especially by the way how prominence is marked in each language and by the tonal rhythm of a language, i.e., the regularity of sub-contour/tone pattern of an utterance. In Jun (2005), prominence marking was divided in three ways, Head- vs. Edge- vs. Head/Edge-marking. But, observations of lesser-described languages suggest that Head-prominence languages can be further divided into three sub-groups depending on the number of phrase-medial tonal contrasts and their regularity. Data also suggest that the Head/Edge-prominence languages (e.g., Dalabon, Farsi, Georgian, Kiche, Tongan) in general have much simpler head marking tonal categories than the typical Head-prominence languages (e.g., English, German). Combining the prominence types and the tonal rhythm categories, languages can be classified in one of the five types in prosodic typology.




Beckman, M. (1986) Stress and Non-stress Accent. Dordrecht: Foris.

Beckman, M. (1996) The parsing of prosody, Language and Cognitive Process, 11:17-67.

Beckman, M. & J. Pierrehumbert (1986) Intonational structure in Japanese and English, Phonology Yearbook, 3: 255-309.

Fox, A. (2000) Prosodic Features and Prosodic Structure: The phonology of Suprasegmentals. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Jun, S.-A. (2005) Prosodic Typology. Prosodic Typology: The Phonology of Intonation and Phrasing. Oxford University Press. pp. 430-458.

Ladd, D. R. (1996/2008) Intonational Phonology. Cambridge University Press. 

Pierrehumbert, J. (1980) The Phonology and Phonetics of English Intonation. Ph.D. dissertation. MIT.

Shattuck-Hufnagel, S. & A. Turk (1996) A prosody Tutorial for Investigators of Auditory Sentence Processing, Journal of Psycholinguistic Research, 25(2): 193-247.

Trubetzkoy, N. (1939) GrundzUge der Phonologie. Traveaux du Cercle Linguisticque de Prague 7. [Repr. (1968) Gottingen: Vandenhoek and Ruprecht].