Tuesday, December 31, 2019


Here is a step by step procedure for generating a FLEx file from an ELAN file, and then generating an ELAN file from the FLEx file.

Friday, December 27, 2019

Writing a Statement of Purpose for Linguistics Graduate School

All linguistics graduate schools require prospective students to write a Statement of Purpose (SOP). And faculty members of those schools place great weight on them. From personal experience, I can say that the SOP is the most important document that I read when evaluating a student application.

So what exactly is a SOP and why is it so important?

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Two Kinds of Data in Syntactic Fieldwork: Experimental and Non-Experimental

[This is a revision of an earlier post (October 9, 2019), responding to feedback that I received at that time.]

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Two Poles in North American Linguistics Departments

In this post, I will lay out the contours of two evolving poles in North American linguistics departments: psycholinguistics/computational versus fieldwork/documentation. I am not claiming that any particular department exactly matches the descriptions I have given below. Many departments are a mix of the two basic types, but my feeling is that things are changing very rapidly and departments are tending to gravitate toward one of the two poles (more frequently toward the psycholinguistics/computational pole).

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Remembering Sam Epstein (by Chris Collins)

Sam Epstein was professor at Harvard from 1988 to 1997. During this time, he directed the thesis work of a string of stellar syntax students, including (amongst others) Hisa Kitahara, Geoffrey Poole, Dianne Jonas, Erich Groat, John O’Neill and Marylse Baptista. These students were all an integral part of the Cambridge syntax community. I often saw them at MIT talks, and when I went to Harvard to attend a talk. Some of them are still close colleagues today (most notably Erich Groat, with whom I have had the pleasure of collaborating in recent years).

Monday, December 16, 2019

Summary of OWG Blog (December 16, 2019)

My blog recently passed 20,000 page views (not including my own page views). In honor of that occasion, I have decided to summarize the statistics for my blog as of today.

Basic Consultant Skills for Transcribing and Translating Oral Texts

Recently, I had the pleasure of transcribing and translating some oral texts with the help of my consultants. I took the opportunity to jot down some consultant skills that are useful when dealing with oral texts. As skills, they need to be learned and practiced.

Monday, December 2, 2019

Kua Fieldwork 2019-12-02: Goals and Report

The goals and report of the following blog entry will give you a somewhat gritty low-level view of the kinds of things that I am doing nowadays in my fieldwork and why I am doing them. It will also allow you to see the kinds of issues that face me in working with consultants.

Friday, November 29, 2019

Monday, November 25, 2019

Writing a Conference Abstract in Syntax – Some Practical Advice

It is that time of year again, and I have been doing some abstract reviews. I have quickly written up the following advice to help abstract writers.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Papers that I would love to write (but do not have time for right now)

Here is a list of papers that I would love to write, but do not have time for right now.

Rate of Transcription in Syntactic Fieldwork

As I have discussed in previous blog posts, non-experimental data, such as transcribed oral texts, is an excellent source of syntactic data.

In this blog post, I outline some of the factors that affect the rate of transcription of recorded oral texts when doing syntactic fieldwork. If anybody knows of relevant literature on this topic, please let me know. A systematic survey amongst fieldworkers would probably be useful in helping to understand the process, and maybe to help make it more efficient.

Friday, November 1, 2019

Fieldwork Tip of the Day

June 24, 2022
Don't be afraid to explore. 

June 24, 2022
If you elicit a sentence, take the time to ask the question: "Is there another way of saying it?" or "Can this be said in another way?". It is often possible to elicit interesting and unexpected variants using such a technique.

June 24, 2022
If you elicit a sentence, if often helps to have the consultant repeat it at a slower rate. It is often the case that when a sentence is repeated at a slower rate, certain interesting details pop out.

June 24, 2022
Record everything: words, sentences, texts. Even if you are doing syntactic elicitation, record everything. There are two reasons for this: First, if you record, you or other people can verify your data later. Second, by having a recording, you can revisit the data from another angle. You never know what you might find interesting or important in the future.

January 17, 2020
Any fieldwork task can take at least twice as long as the best estimate (and maybe much longer). Therefore, you should set realistic goals, and give yourself plenty of time to accomplish them.

December 10, 2019
Your consultants on a particular language will all have different strengths. Learn to find and develop those strengths. For example, even if two consultants are both fluent native speakers, they may differ in their abilities to do certain tasks (e.g., folk tales, syntactic elicitation, lexical elicitation, tone matching, etc.).

November 16, 2019
Test all equipment (including cables, batteries, chargers, adaptors) before going to the field.

November 15, 2019
Try to have a backup of all equipment (two recorders, two mics, two cables of each kind, two more SD cards). Include backup equipment in the budget.

November 14, 2019
Avoid recording in a room with cement walls. There will be echo. If you must do so, hang blankets on the walls.

November 2, 2019
You can learn as much about the syntax of a language by trying to learn how to speak it as you can by any other means (e.g., elicitation, texts).

November 1, 2019
Download e-copies of all your manuals and put them in one place on your computer, including manuals for cameras, mics, speakers, audio recorders, etc. These are searchable, and might come in handy in the field.

4x4 Break Down (October 27 2019)

In this post, I narrate my vehicle breakdown and the lessons I learned from it.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Introduction (Belletti and Collins 2019)

This paper is the introduction to the volume on Smuggling to appear (OUP) edited by Adriana Belletti and Chris Collins.

Belletti and Collins 2019

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Thought as Syntax

Abstract: In this paper, I outline an approach to the study of thought from a syntactic point of view. I propose that sentences (in the sense of generative syntax) are thoughts. Under that assumption, I use natural language syntax as a probe into the structure of our thoughts, and show how such a probe sheds light on how we make deductions and our capacity for imagination.

Keywords: thought, syntax, logic, semantics, imagination

Monday, October 21, 2019

A Smuggling Approach to the Adjunct/Argument Asymmetry

In this mini-squib, I sketch an approach to the adjunct/argument asymmetry that is based on smuggling. 

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Syntactic Tip of the Day

May 11, 2022
When you discover a paper relevant to your topic, study it. But then look at the references in that paper, and track down those references that are also relevant to your topic. In this way, you build a kind of web/net of references and ideas. If you are a grad, don't wait for your advisor to serve up each relevant reference for you, track them down on your own.

May 11, 2022
I want to know what the alternative positions are. To the extent I understand them, I can argue against them. Even if I think a position is completely wrong, I want to really absorb it, to master it, and to know what it would be like to believe such a position. Then, I can argue against it.

March 7, 2022
The best way to strengthen your analysis is to be able to discuss it at length with a critic. If you get this opportunity, be grateful for it.

November 12, 2021
If you are having problems with a construction, think it over just before going to sleep at night. In the morning, when you wake up, you might have a new perspective on the construction.

April 1, 2021
The specific technical proposals in Chomsky's thesis, LSLT and Syntactic Structures are far less important than the kinds of questions that Chomsky started to ask that led him to those proposals. Those questions where roughly: What is the generative system that we need to postulate to account for the data? How can we argue for one generative system over another? What is the relation of this generative system to the speakers's ability to use language? These were completely new questions (as I understand it). The analysis of the auxiliary system in Syntactic Structures was a kind of proof of concept showing the value of this shift in research questions, but the shift itself was the most important thing. And of course, the important discoveries of the subsequent years were a direct consequence of the shift in the questions asked.

March 31, 2021
If you cite a reference in the text, use page numbers (e.g., Clements 1975: 140). Doing so helps the reader look up the information that you cite. If the whole book or paper is relevant, the page number can be omitted (e.g., “Chomsky 1957 marks the beginning of generative syntax.”).

December 12, 2020
Get your hands dirty! When faced with a syntactic problem, turn it inside out. 
Generate a large number of sentences and test them for acceptability. 
Be adventurous, and you might discover something really interesting.

November 13, 2020
Don't be afraid to say "I don't know." These words will liberate you,
and pretending you know something when you don't will imprison you.

October 26, 2020
Be prepared to be perplexed by simple and obvious facts.
Be willing to admit that you do not have an explanation for those facts.

September 8, 2020
Writing syntax papers takes lots of practice. It may take you four or five attempts (in trying to write different papers) to catch on, and even then there will be lots of room for improvement.

April 23, 2020
The secret to getting grants in linguistics: If you apply for four grants (including reapplications), then on average three will be declined and one awarded.

April 7, 2020
Here is a skill syntax students should know: Suppose there is an analysis involving A'-movement of an empty operator. Show that the proposed A'-movement is subject to island constraints.

December 29, 2019
If you are looking for a syntax topic, go to the border wars. For example, there are many interesting problems at the syntax-semantics interface (implicit arguments, anaphora, negation), that have alternative syntactic and semantic analyses. And the other borders are just as volatile: syntax-morphology, syntax-phonology and syntax-pragmatics.

December 25, 2019
Grammaticality judgments should be given in context. A sentence judged as marginal or ungrammatical out of context (out of the blue) might seem better in context. A skill that syntacticians develop is to find contexts that render a sentence grammatical, if there are any.

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Basic Consultant Skills for Linguistic Fieldwork

I have recently had the pleasure of working with a number of new consultants. I took the opportunity to jot down some of the basic skills that they needed to learn in my sessions with them.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Training Program: Linguistic Fieldwork on the Khoisan Languages of Botswana

Training Program: Linguistic Fieldwork on the Khoisan Languages of Botswana
(Supported in part by NSF Award BCS-1760980)

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Some notes on the EPP (by Jeffrey Punske)

The EPP can be a vexing principle for early practitioners of Chomskyan syntactic theories. This is, in part, because the theoretic apparatus that underlie the EPP have been shifted away from. Yet, the EPP in some form generally remains. Thus, the goal of this blog post is to sketch a brief history of the EPP and outline its current status. I will also discuss some remaining potential issues with the EPP.