Monash Linguistics Seminars 2013, Semester 1

Tuesdays, 11.00am-12:30pm
Room E561, Building 11 (Menzies)
Followed by lunch & coffee in the Staff Club
(You can also bring your own food to the club).
All welcome!


12 March  
Jonathon Lum & Isabelle Burke (Monash University)
Annual honours prizes and presentations 

26 March
Mike Balint (Monash University)
The puzzle of mental representations in language use

10 April
Victor Friedman (University of Chicago) *Special Wednesday afternoon seminar*
Evidentiality, Narrativity, and the Balkan Sprachbund                                   

30 April    
Howard Manns (Monash University)
Resolving the ideological tensions of commodified form and function 

14 May
Ruth Singer (University of Melbourne)
The more things change, the more they stay the same: multilingual practices at Warruwi Community 

28 May
Simon Overall (La Trobe University)
Multiple and Differentially Marked Objects in Aguaruna (Jivaroan): What’s up with that?


March 12, 2013

Special Honours seminar
(Monash University)

This is an opportunity for the linguistics program to showcase its top students of 2012.  Firstly, the program will present the annual Linguistics Program Honours Prizes.  These will be presented to our two top-performing students at the Honours level.  Secondly, these students will present the findings of their theses. Jonathon Lum and Isabelle Burke were 2012’s Honours Prize winners.

Isabelle Grace BURKE

This thesis is an overview of syntactic negation strategies in modern Australian English. The phenomenon of the Jespersen Cycle of negation is well known: minimisers such as French pas ‘step’ are recruited for emphasis and subsequently reanalysed as the negator, eventually triggering the old negator’s omission. Recently, efforts have been made to align developments in British and American English negation with this model, such as Cheshire’s description (1998) of the punctual never (e.g. I never went to school today) and Hoeksema’s investigation (2009) of the reanalysis of taboo ‘minimisers’ such as jack all as negators. Anderwald (2002) has also examined forms such as invariant ain’t and don’t and negative concord in British English, arguing that they are functionally motivated, as well as being efforts to move towards greater typological normality. As yet, Australian English negation has been unexamined. 

This study investigates these constructions and others in Australian English using the conversational data of the Griffith, Monash and ICE-Aus corpora, analysing 5749 tokens of negation in total. A picture of surprising conservatism emerges: multiple negation and invariant forms are rare, as is the punctual never, contra Kortmann and Szmrecsanyi (2004). This paucity indicates not only the stigma attached to some of these constructions, but also prompts a reimagining of the two schools of thought on the Jespersen cycle, informed by Yaeger-Dror’s findings on the contraction of negation being less face- threatening in conversational contexts (1998). While taboo ‘minimisers’ have been reanalysed in some cases, the data shows that the role of multiple negation is less prominent than has been claimed, and also suggests that the absence of an article is especially propitious for syntactic reanalysis.   

Jonathon Lum

Studies of euphemism and its counterpart, dysphemism, have typically stressed that a range of linguistic devices are used in the creation of new ‘X-phemisms’ (e.g., Allan & Burridge 1991: 14-20); however, these studies have focused almost entirely on lexical and semantic techniques rather than morphosyntactic ones.

I defend Allan and Burridge’s (2006: 90-111) claim that non-discriminatory or ‘politically correct’ (PC) language is euphemistic, and argue that the grammatical constructions promoted by PC guidelines (e.g., Pauwels 1991) are therefore euphemistic too, while non-PC morphosyntax is dysphemistic. In particular, I examine the morphosyntax of labels for a range of stigmatised minority groups (including minorities of sexuality, religion, disability, and others). Data is drawn from a corpus of transcripts of Insight, a popular television discussion program, as well as from an online survey investigating the perceived (im)politeness of various labelling constructions.

 The survey results reveal that regardless of the minority group being labelled, postmodifying constructions (e.g., person with a disability) are considered the most ‘polite’ or euphemistic, followed by premodifiers (e.g., disabled person), nouns (e.g., the disabled), and finally shortened or diminutive forms (e.g., crips, oldies), which are the most likely to be considered offensive. However, the Insight data suggests that in polite, public discourse, speakers tend to focus on avoiding the most dysphemistic constructions rather than actively using the most ‘polite’ forms available. Nonetheless, the Insight and survey data together show that X-phemisms for minority groups are characterised as much by morphosyntactic choices as by lexical or semantic ones.  

March 26, 2013

Mike Balint
(Monash University)
The puzzle of mental representation in language use

What can we safely infer about the nature of mental representations in language usage? The talk will walk us through the processes of producing and comprehending utterances and connected discourse, pausing along the way to consider (1) the nature of cognitive plausibility and the role of cybernetics in modelling mental representations in language usage; (2) the relationship between linguistically nonencoded (or ‘wordless’) thought, executive intention, the utterance, and its context; (3) the processes of encoding the mental representation of an intended utterance into the mental representation of a sentence utilising the mental representations of common ground, discourse context and the structures and networks of the mentally represented lexicon – or lexicons in the case of multilinguals; (4) the processes of converting the mental representation of an intended sentence into a physically transmissible and mentally interpretable string of language signals; (5) the processes of parsing and decoding the physical string of language signals into a mental representation of the intended sentence and then into a reasonable facsimile of the originally intended utterance; and (6) the role of complex translation – and of complex writing in general – in facilitating insight into the puzzle of mental representations in language usage.

April 10, 2013* Wednesday afternoon

Victor Friedman
(University of Chicago)
Evidentiality, Narrativity, and the Balkan Sprachbund

This talk will contribute to the discussion of how so-called universals (typology) and language contact (areal linguistics) can be used in a nuanced fashion, and without conflation, to account for language change. Features of the Balkan languages, some from my recent field work and not described in standard Balkan linguistic handbooks, will serve as examples. 

April 30, 2013

Howard Manns
(Monash University)
Resolving the ideological tensions of commodified form and function

This talk explores the mobilisation of non-standard language styles as marketable commodities and how this results in socio-cultural tensions (cf. Heller, 2010; Agha, 2011).  I then outline how these tensions are resolved among Indonesian media outlets and audiences, with a particular focus on linguistic form and function.   

This talk begins by reviewing the use of language styles to sell lifestyle formulations (e.g. ‘coolness’, ‘rebellion’) (Agha, 2011).  I briefly outline how this comes into tensions with standard language ideologies and next establish how this problematizes language and authenticity (Heller, 2010).  

I then explore how these tensions emerge and are resolved in a shifting language situation in urban Java.  I focus on the commodification of language at three local radio stations as well as the perception of this language by targeted audiences.  Interviews and an analysis of the broadcasts reveal tensions along two dimensions.  Firstly, stations see a commercial need for non-standard language but realise this comes into tension with standard language ideology.  Secondly, stations use language styles linked with ‘outgroups’ (e.g. English speakers) but grapple with how this comes into conflict with a local sense of Javanese identity. 

Resolving these tensions entails a careful focus on the selection of forms and their perceived functions within the local community.  This talk positions this focus and resolution at the nexus of pragmatic salience (cf. Errington, 1985), indexicality (cf. Silverstein, 2003) and the notion of the ‘commodity register’ (Agha, 2011).


Agha, A. (2011). Commodity registers. Journal of Linguistic Anthropology, 21(1): 22-53

Errington, J. (1985). On the nature of the sociolinguistic sign: Describing the Javanese speech levels. In E. Mertz (Ed.), Semiotic Mediation: Sociocultural and Psychological Perspectives (pp. 287-310). London: Academic Press.

Heller, M. (2010).  The commodification of language. Annual Review of Anthropology, 39: 101-114.

Silverstein, M. (2003). Indexical order and the dialectics of sociolinguistic life. Language and Communication, 23(3-4): 193-229. 

May 14, 2013

Ruth Singer
(University of Melbourne)
The more things change, the more they stay the same: multilingual practices at Warruwi Community

Warruwi Community, Arnhem Land is one of the few places left in Australia where children grow up speaking numerous Australian Indigenous languages. This situation, which was apparently the norm before White contact, is often referred to as traditional multilingualism (Brandl & Walsh 1982, Wilkins & Nash 2008,). However, the term traditional multilingualism has also used to describe the linguistic practices of highly multilingual communities in Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu and South American (Aikhenvald 2002, de Vries 2012, Francois 2012). What all these communities seem to have in common is:

  • Community members each speak a number of Indigenous languages
  • Each Indigenous languages has a small numbers of speakers (<5000)
  • Marriages between people with different main languages is common
  • Multiple languages are used within each family 

Traditional multilingualism has come into the spotlight of international debates addressing questions such as: Why do smaller languages seem to have higher levels of complex linguistic features than larger features? (Lupyan & Dale 2010) and Were processes of language change in human prehistory different to those we can observe now? (Trudgill 2011). Some of the claims made in these debates rest on the nature of traditional multilingualism, thought to have been the norm in the small-scale human societies that existed througout much of human history. However we have very little detailed information about the practice of traditional multilingualism. In addition, it seems to be rapidly declining around the world, in tandem with the decline in the world’s linguistic diversity. This talk discusses the language practices associated with multlingualism at Warruwi Community with a view to developing a more sophisticated account of ‘traditional multilingualism’.

The term traditional multilingualism lacks a precise definition and is often used in relation to fairly anecdotal reports. The term egalitarian multilingualism suggested by Francois (2012) in relation to accounts of some Vanuatu communities could form the basis for a more precise defintion. The term egalitarian multilingualism contrasts the relatively equal social status of small Indigenous languages to one another with the more commonly studied situation of diglossia. Diglossia is a term that refers to languages in an unequal power relationship; one language such as English is tightly connected to institutional power, whereas another language such as Italian as spoken in Australia, is not connected to institutional power.  The term diglossia encompasses the vast bulk of studies on multilingualism to date: relations between national languages and languages used by minorities, be they migrants or Indigenous people. The term ‘egalitarian multilingualism’ provides a neat opposition to diglossia. The connections between Indigenous languages to institutional power where they occur in Australia, tend to be relatively informal. A focus on egalitarian multilingualism reveals a need for work that ignores the national language and looks instead at the relationships that Indigenous languages have with one another.

This talk looks at the relationships between Indigenous languages at Warruwi Community. Although the set of languages spoken at Warruwi Community has changed since White contact, the way that multilingualism is practiced seems to reflect long standing practices underpinned by persisting language ideologies and attitudes to multilingualism. Refinements are proposed to Francois’ (2012) definition of egalitarian multilingualism to make it a more useful term. This refined definition may not apply to all the communities that have been said to practice ‘traditional multilingualism’. 

Aikhenvald, Alexandra (2002). ‘Traditional Multilingualism and Language Endangerment’, pp. 24-33 of Language Maintenance for endangered languages: an active approach, edited by David Bradley and Maya Bradley. London: Curzon Press.

Brandl, M. M. & Michael Walsh (1982). Speakers of many tongues: toward understanding multilingualism among Aborginal Australians. International Journal of the Sociology of Language 36: 71-81.

De Vries, Lourens (2012). Speaking of clans: language in Awyu-Ndumut communities of Indonesian West Papua. International Journal of the Sociology of Language 214: 5-26.

Di Carlo, Pierpaolo (forthcoming). Multilingualism, solidarity and magic: new perspectives on language ideology in the Cameroonian grassfields.

Francois, Alex (2012). The dynamics of linguistic diversity: egalitarian multilingualism and power imbalance among northern Vanuatu languages. International Journal of the Sociology of Language 214: 85-110.

Lupyan, G. & R. Dale (2010). Language structure is partly determined by social structure. PLoS One 5.1: e8559.

Trudgill, Peter (2011). Sociolinguistic typology: the social determinants of linguistic complexity. Oxford: OxfordUniversity Press.

Wilkins, David P & David Nash (2008). The European ‘discovery’ of a multilingual Australia: the linguistic and ethnographic successes of a failed expedition. In McGregor, William (ed.) The history of research on Australian Aboriginal languages. Canberra: Pacific Linguistics. 485–50. 

May 28, 2013

Simon Overall
(La TrobeUniversity)
Multiple and Differentially Marked Objects in Aguaruna (Jivaroan): What’s up with that?

Simon Overall, La Trobe University 

Aguaruna is a Jivaroan language spoken mainly in Amazonas, Peru. Morphologically it is suffixing and agglutinating and shows both head and dependent marking. Unmarked constituent order is predicate-final, and clause-chaining is pervasive. Grammatical relations centre on Subject and Object, and basically follow accusative alignment. Morphological (case-marking and verbal indexing) and syntactic properties of Subject are uncontroversial, but Object is less clear. Two phenomena in particular stand out as typologically interesting: (i) status of multiple objects and (ii) split marking of objects. 

Multiple objects

Case marking of all objects (notional direct and indirect objects as well as those added by applicative derivation) is identical. Syntactic processes are even less selective, simply contrasting Subject with “non-Subject”, which may include locations and other oblique participants. This suggests that Aguaruna is a symmetrical language, in the sense of Bresnan & Moshi (1990). 

Split marking

There is a scenario-conditioned split in accusative case marking (see Witzlack-Makarevich 2011 §8.6 for discussion), whereby third person objects remain unmarked if the subject is first person plural or second person. Differential object marking (DOM) is a well-documented phenomenon, and perhaps the Aguaruna pattern could be labelled as such; however the conditioning in Aguaruna is based entirely on the person of both subject and object, and not on animacy or definiteness. In other words, the conditioning of Jivaroan object marking is entirely based on referential properties and not discourse properties. And the object symmetry described above runs counter to the typical DOM pattern, where a case marker is used for all indirect objects but only some direct objects (cf. Spanish preposition a). 

In this talk I will show why the Aguaruna data presents analytical problems, and suggest some solutions.


Bresnan, Joan & Lioba Moshi (1990) ‘Object asymmetries in comparative Bantu syntax.’ Linguistic Inquiry 21: 147–85

Witzlack-Makarevich, A. (2011) ‘Typological variation in grammatical relations’ PhD dissertation, Universität Leipzig, Germany

Further information