Thursday, September 24, 2020

10 things I miss about Botswana

I was in Botswana during the academic year 2019-2020. I have been home for about a month. So, it is a good moment for me to reflect on the things I miss there. Here is a small list (order not important):

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Basic Tonal Analysis in Fieldwork

The purpose of this document is to outline a simple method for figuring out how to transcribe the tones of a tonal language. 

Monday, September 14, 2020

Field Methods 2020: A Case Study in Remote Learning

In this post, I will discuss our Field Methods 2020 class, focusing on the issue of teaching remotely. I will give weekly updates.

Sunday, September 6, 2020

Conjunction Adverbs (1988)

This is my very first graduate student paper written over 30 years ago. It is very rough in many ways, which is probably why I never tried to publish it, and I never presented it at a conference. I do not intend to post it on Lingbuzz.

Collins, Chris. 1988. Conjunction Adverbs. Ms., MIT.

Sunday, August 9, 2020

Gender Balance in a Syntax I Syllabus

This blog post addresses the issue of gender (im)balance in creating a syllabus for Syntax I, the first semester of the graduate introduction to syntax at NYU.

The History of Semantics at MIT

This blog post was inspired by a recent Facebook thread on my Facebook page discussing one of Barbara Partee’s talks on the history of formal semantics:

Sunday, August 2, 2020

Labeling Reading List

This is a compilation I made of (mostly published) papers and books concerning labeling in syntax. Most of the titles were sent to me after I posted a call on Facebook (on July 29th, 2020).

Sunday, July 26, 2020

ELAN Training Videos

ELAN is a program that allows you to transcribe audio and video recordings for linguistic research. In this post, I list some of the video resources on the internet for learning ELAN.

10 things I miss about NYC

I have been in Botswana for over a year now. Even though I love Botswana, there are a certain number of things that I can do in NYC that I cannot do in Botswana, and I miss them.

How to Review a Syntax Paper


The objective of a review for a linguistics journal is to evaluate whether a submission advances the scientific study of human language. If the submission makes such an advance, it should be accepted. If it does not, it should be rejected.

Embracing Failure in Linguistics

Working in linguistics can be mentally and emotionally challenging. The field is set up in a way to measure performance at almost every turn, and often there is a negative outcome. I will give a list of some types of failure and rejection, and then give general advice on how to handle them. I suggest that failure should be seen in a positive light, as an opportunity for growth. It should not be feared, but rather embraced, and it should definitely not lower your self-esteem.

Remembering Rahul Balusu

I have just learned that Rahul Balusu has passed away. 

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Workshop Announcement: Syntactic Approaches to Morphology

Venue: online (Zoom)
Registration: There is no registration fee, but attendees need to register. 
A registration link and further information will be posted at a later date.
Date: December 4-5, 2020
Organizers: Chris Collins (NYU) and Richard Kayne (NYU)

The purpose of this conference is to investigate the relationship between morphology and syntax, and in particular to investigate the extent to which morphological generalizations can be accounted for in terms of purely syntactic operations and conditions. Specific questions that could be addressed include the following:

Why a Working Grammarian need not be ordinary (by Henk van Riemsdijk)

(The following is a guest post by Henk van Riemsdijk responding to the following post:

Three Monographs to Write

Here are the next three monographs that I want to write, presented in the order in which they will be written. Most of the material has already been written up (and posted on Lingbuzz and on my blog OrdinaryWorkingGrammarian in various forms).

Capturing Oral Texts

The purpose of this blog post is to lay out the steps required to capture an oral text. I keep the commentary on each step brief, but in some cases provide a link to further discussion.

Sound Recording Set-Ups for Video in Linguistics Fieldwork

I outline some sound recording set-ups that I have used. I am definitely not an expert, but I have not found anywhere on the internet laying out these options, and their pros and cons especially in the context of linguistic fieldwork. I believe that there is no best method. The one you use depends on the requirements and goals for the particular video.

Transcription Mode in ELAN

ELAN has several modes: Annotation Mode, Media Synchronization Mode, Transcription Mode, Segmentation Mode, Interlinearization Mode

Transcription Tips

Transcription of oral texts is difficult and time consuming. It is made more difficult when the words are spoken quickly and softly, and when the audio is not optimal (e.g., too much wind, background noise). Adding to the difficulty, one may have several hours of oral texts to transcribe.

Monday, May 25, 2020

About Me (from website)

I started out in 1981 as an undergraduate math major at the University of Minnesota, and then transferred to MIT as a math major halfway through my sophomore year.

Monday, May 18, 2020

A Remark on Identity Conditions in Nominal Ellipsis

This short squib was triggered by the following joke that I saw on Facebook (in the group “I Love Mathematics”):

Wife: Please could you go to the shop and get a carton of milk, if they have avocados get six.
Husband: [Returning from the shop with six cartons of milk]: They had avocados.

Friday, May 15, 2020

The Beginning of Syntax (Version 3)

In this post, I argue that we, as a field, are at the beginning of the scientific study of natural language syntax. There are two aspects to this claim. First, work in generative syntax, even on a well-studied language like English, has just uncovered the tip of the iceberg in terms of documenting the relevant facts and generalizations. Second, we are also at the very beginning of understanding the mechanisms of UG that account for these generalizations.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Passive By-Phrases in Greek and English: Adjuncts or Arguments?

A heavily revised version of a paper on the Greek and English passive by Nikos Angelopoulos, Chris Collins and Arhonto Terzi. Lots of very interesting theoretical conclusions about by-phrases, VoiceP and the Theta-Criterion.

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Grammaticality Judgments versus Acceptability Judgments

In this post, I discuss the use of the phrases “grammaticality judgment” and “acceptability judgment”. I end the post by suggesting that the phrase “grammaticality judgment” should be used for the kind of data that syntacticians gather in a judgment task.

Monday, May 4, 2020

A Typical Middle Class House in Gaborone Botswana

In this post, I walk you through what a typical middle class house in Gaborone, Botswana looks like (the neighborhood is Block 6). This house is in no way unusual for Gaborone. In fact, there are many neighborhoods where the houses look more or less like this (e.g., Block 7 and Block 8). Of course, there is much more expensive housing in Gaborone too, especially in Phakalane. And there is less expensive housing too, in places like Mogoditshane (just outside of Gaborone, on the road to Molepolole).

Thursday, April 30, 2020

An Interview with Paul Postal

An Interview with Paul Postal
Chris Collins
April 2020

The following is an interview with Paul Postal on his career in linguistics. The interview took place via e-mail during the coronavirus pandemic, from Tuesday March 24, 2020 to the end of April, 2020. For readability, some of the questions and answers have been edited and the order of a few of the questions has been altered.

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Abstract for Contribution on Workspaces to CHM

Cambridge Handbook of Minimalism
Edited by Kleanthes K. Grohmann and Evelina Leivada

Chris Collins

In minimalist syntax, the syntactic objects formed at any particular step in the derivation occupy a workspace. This chapter will be about the role workspaces play in the minimalist syntax. The emphasis will be on the following questions:

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

When Grammaticality Judgments Differ (version 2)

What do we do, as syntacticians, when there are differing grammaticality judgments between two speakers for a particular sentence? How do we interpret those differences theoretically? In this blog post, I outline various alternatives.

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Advice for Surviving Linguistics Graduate School

Sometimes graduate students ask me for general advice on doing well in graduate school. I have compiled a list of tips that I give them. The points are not presented in order of importance. If you have other tips that I should add, let me know!

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Getting Oral Texts: Problems and Solutions

In this blog post, I will outline some problems that the field linguist working on highly endangered languages may encounter in trying to collect oral texts, and some possible ways around those problems.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Sasi Fieldwork 2020-02-19: Goals and Report

In the following post, I describe my research goals and results for the period from Feb. 18, 2020 to March 5, 2018. During this period I worked with two separate groups in Gaborone, Botswana.

Monday, February 17, 2020

Ten Cultural Differences between Togo and Botswana

These are things I noticed while living on and off in these countries (in the Peace Corps in Togo, and doing linguistic research in both Togo and Botswana) over the last 35 years. Many of these differences extend to other countries so that the difference might be really West African versus southern Africa. They are all rather superficial, since I am essentially a stranger looking from the outside in.

Friday, February 14, 2020

Proposal for a Fieldwork Lab

This is a proposal for a Fieldwork Lab that we are working on at NYU. If anybody has feedback, let me know.

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Pronominal Agreement and Bound Variable Anaphora

Abstract: In this squib, I explore the relation between pronominal agreement and bound variable anaphora in the framework of Collins and Postal 2012.

Monday, February 3, 2020

Life is Short

On February 1, 2020, at around 4:00pm, while driving home from the cattle post, my wife and I were involved in a horrible car accident. We had just gotten on to the gravel road, from the cattle post road, and I lost control of the car. The car spun 180 degrees to the right, and then flipped over 270 degrees onto the driver’s side. The top of the car is crumpled in, and the front windshield is completely shattered. The car is basically destroyed, and will be written off by the insurance company. Some pictures are at the end of the post.

Cattle Post Roads

In a previous post, I talked about cattle post roads. One reader asked for pictures, so here they are.

UCONN Talk (February 7, 2020)

Here is a rough draft of my UCONN talk to be given Friday February 7, 2020.

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Sasi Fieldwork 2020-01-25: Goals and Report

A report on fieldwork on Sasi conducted in Gaborone from Sunday January 26 to Friday January 31. Some pictures are included at the end of the file.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Statement of Purpose Examples

People from other countries often find writing a Statement of Purpose (SOP) for linguistics graduate school in North America to be frustrating and mystifying. To help address this issue, I am posting a set of example SOPs from current and past graduate students as examples.

Saturday, January 18, 2020

ELDP Work Package for Documenting Sasi (huc)

In case you are wondering what an ELDP project plan looks like, I am posting mine here. This award is under the category Small Grant.

ELAN Transcription and Translation Workflow

Below is a description of the workflow I follow for transcribing and translating oral texts into ELAN. 

Meta-Linguistic Awareness and Syntactic Fieldwork

Meta-linguistic awareness is an important concept in linguistic fieldwork, but as far as I know it has never before been discussed in that connection. In this blog post, I will define the concept, give several examples and explain why it is important for fieldwork.

Thursday, January 2, 2020

Biking in Gaborone

I have been coming to Botswana on a regular basis since 2011 to do research on the Khoisan languages. Usually, I live somewhere in Gaborone, and then make expeditions into the field. When in Gaborone, I try to bike every morning to wake myself up.

Grading E-Mail

Everybody knows somebody who is terrible at e-mail. Here is a system of e-mail grades for your colleagues, students and friends. At the end of each year (December 31), just send them their grade, and the description of what the grades mean. I guarantee that you will see a notable improvement in their e-mail performance the following year.