Can language identity be standardized? On Morey et al.’s critique of ISO 639-3

Since 2007, Ethnologue’s three-letter codes for languages have had the status of an ISO standard for languages. This has considerably enhanced their status in linguistics, and some linguists now use these codes (which were primarily intended as unique identifiers for technical and industrial purposes) in their prose texts, as additional identifiers of the language(s) they are talking about. But at the recent PARADISEC conference in Melbourne, Stephen Morey, Mark W. Post and Victor A. Friedman launched a direct attack on them (Morey et al. 2013). It seems to me that this is a very useful step, because it may lead to a serious public debate of what it is that we can expect from a standard language catalogue such as Ethnologue. (Some discussion of the issues has been taking place in closed circles or small workshops, e.g. at the Leipzig language catalogue workshop in 2007, but this is the first highly critical voice at a major conference, as far as I know.) Continue reading

Obituary: Alexander E. Kibrik (26.03.1939-31.10.2012)

Alexander Kibrik (Александр Евгеньевич Кибрик) passed away on Wednesday, 31 October 2012 after a long illness.

Alexander Kibrik was the head of the Chair of theoretical and applied linguistics of the Philological faculty of the Moscow State University from 1992  and until his death, and was involved with the department since its earliest days in 1960-ies. Continue reading

Towards Proto-Niger-Congo, a conference report

Last week, I attended an interesting and well-organized conference in Paris entitled Towards Proto-Niger-Congo: Comparison and reconstruction. The talks represented most of the major branches of Niger-Congo, as well as stock-level surveys, and some of the highlights from my own perspective were the following:

  • Gregory Anderson’s discussion of S/TAM/P (pronounced as “stamp”) morphemes in Niger-Congo where one often finds “portmanteau morphs that encode the referent properties of subjects in addition to various TAM and polarity categories”. Continue reading

Unusual borrowing patterns in Niger languages

Niger has about twelve indigenous languages, five major ones (Hausa, Songhay, Fulfulde, Tamajaq, and Kanuri) and seven minor ones (Arabic, Buduma, Gulmancema, Tadaksahak, Tagdal, Tasawaq, and Tubu). In Niger, Songhay is strongly differentiated into 3 major dialects, Kado Senni, Zarma Chiine, and Dandi. Tadaksahak, Tagdal, and Tasawaq are three mixed languages borrowing entire portions of their grammar and lexicon from Songhay and Berber languages (Benítez-Torres 2009, Sidibé 2010). Two important non-indigenous languages are French (the official language, inherited from colonization) and Standard Arabic.

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