Online blogging has taken a backseat to this fall’s research projects.  One of them a nice piece of my thesis work.

Lexicalization of the –ish Suffix in English: A Change in Progress

Morphological change is one way that languages change over time. This research aims to identify and analyze a possible change in progress, reanalysis of the English derivational suffix ish as a free morpheme and as a bound morpheme with extended domain of application. Historically, in English, this suffix is a bound morpheme and functions to form a new word with a similar semantics but a different lexical category from the root.

The data for this study are comprised of a small set of examples from the Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA) and a larger set of roughly 600 tweets randomly selected via keyword search from social media site Twitter. These items date from 2006 to 2016. Examples drawn from this data set will support claims made in previous literature about the contemporary use of ish in (American) English and demonstrate new innovative uses of the morpheme, including possible lexicalization.

Keywords: morphology, affixing, lexicalization, corpus linguistics, derivational morphology

Fermented Beverage Terminology as Wanderwörter

As people and their languages come into contact with one another the words from their lexicons may be borrowed, shared, or changed.  A common semantic field for lexical borrowing is food and drink as the movement of people means regional or cultural beverages and dishes find their way to new places.

The main goal of this paper will be an attempt to construct a model of movement and change in the phonology and semantics of the lexical items which humans use to identify fermented alcoholic beverages intended for consumption.  Although some data has been collected on distilled spirits the main focus will be on beverages which undergo fermentation only.  These have been produced both purposefully and accidentally for a much longer period of human history.  I aim to answer the following questions about these lexical items; specifically beer, mead, and wine:

  1. Is it reasonable to consider any of these as Wanderwörter using the framework and criteria discussed in Haynie et al. 2014? If so, develop a map of the movement in time and place of any such terms, with information as to contact and social circumstances of the borrowing.
  1. How has contact and borrowing influenced the phonology or morphology of the items and have they influenced the phonology of the language they entered into? How and why have these words undergone any semantic shift, reanalysis, metonymy, degeneration, or elevation?

The collected linguistic, historical, and anthropological data for each lexeme are charted into an interactive map using the mapping tool VisualEyes which is maintained by the University of Virginia.  This tool allows users to engage directly with the material, visualizing the relationships of the individual data points and sets.

Keywords: historical linguistics, beer, mead, beer, fermented beverage, language change, map, lexicalization

Avoiding Reference Failure with E-type Pronouns in English

Direct Reference is a theory in the philosophy of language which states proper names and indexical in natural language are genuine terms.  A genuine term is one whose sole contribution in use is its semantic referent.[1] That is to say that the meaning of a term in this way is what it directly points to in the world.  There are some important consequences to reference failure. According to McKinsey the most salient of these is the implication that a sentence (utterance) containing a genuine term which fails to refer cannot have a truth value, as it is not a proposition.  An approach from neutral free logic is used to accommodate evaluation of these utterances.

There does appear to be a specific condition under which a genuine term can fail to refer and yet the utterance remains a proposition with a truth value.  These indexical genuine terms are special pronouns called anaphoric or E-type pronouns. E-Type pronouns are defined in linguistic literature as those which have a quantifier as an antecedent and are neither referential nor bound variables; rather they are definite descriptions with silent predicates.

It must then be the case that either E-Type pronouns in fact, do not refer and therefore make the utterances which contain them not propositions; or there is a set of conditions under which they are able to circumvent direct reference failure and its consequences. This paper will examine how E-Type pronouns avoid causing direct reference failure, thus allowing an utterance containing them to express a proposition and have a truth value.

I will make an argument from formal syntactic and semantic theory in linguistics that the ability of the E-type pronoun to avoid reference failure relies on the syntactic Theta-roles and semantic argument types of the verbs in the utterance which establishes reference for the E-type and the ones which contain it. I will state a consequence of this claim for syntactic theory and finally, explore the possibility for other types of lexical categories or constructions to avoid direct reference failure in this way.

Keywords: anaphora, reference failure, E-type pronouns, philosophy of language, direct reference

[1] McKinsey, Michael. 2015. Consequences of Reference Failure. Unpublished. p4.