Friday, April 25, 2008

the Spanish of Madrid, Barcelona and Seville

Many people may not know that besides Spanish, Spain has other languages such as Basque, a language isolate, and Catalan and Galician, other Romance languages. Catalan is spoken in eastern Spain, in cities such as Barcelona. Galician is spoken in northwestern Spain, in cities such as Vigo. In addition to these languages, Spain has many dialects of Spanish. Residents of Madrid, Barcelona and Seville all speak distinct varieties of Spanish.

Many residents of Barcelona are bilingual speakers of Spanish and Catalan. Their Spanish can be characterized as Catalan Spanish. Speakers of Catalan Spanish have a patal lateral, a sound which was once common in Spanish. They use a palatal lateral in words such as "llamar" (to call) and "silla" (chair). Other Spanish speakers use a palatal approximant in such words. Also typical of Catalan Spanish are the velarized alveolar lateral in words such as "sal" (salt), "sol" (sun) and "alto" (tall) and the devoiced dental plosive in words such as "Madrid" (Madrid) and "sed" (thirst). For other Spanish speakers these words are pronounced with a voiced interdental fricative. Note that the devoiced dental plosives occur word-finally.

Residents of Madrid use a pharyngeal fricative in words such as "jalea" (jelly), "jefe" (boss) and "general" (general). The "s" is either apico-alveolar or apico-dental as in northern and central Spain. The Spanish of Madrid is classified as Castilian Spanish and is considered standard.

Residents of Seville do not use the voiceless interdental fricative. In words such as "gracias" (thanks), "feliz" (happy) and "cielo" (sky), they use a lamino-alveolar or lamino-dental fricative as in Latin America. However, residents of the province of Seville who are not from the city of Seville use only the voiceless interdental fricative in all cases. For example, they pronounce the word "gracias" with two voiceless interdental fricatives. Residents of the city of Seville use a voiceless lamino-dental or lamino-alveolar fricative in this word. In other parts of southern Spain, speakers use a voiceless interdental fricative followed by a voiceless lamino-dental or lamino-alveolar fricative in the word "gracias", maintaining a distinction between the voiceless interdental fricative and the lamino-dental/alveolar fricative. In central and northern Spain, speakers also preserve a distinction but it is between the voiceless interdental fricative and the apico-dental/alveolar fricative.

Residents of Seville are known for the elision of intervocalic "d" in words such as "lado" (side) and "todo" (everything). The "r" is often elided word-finally as in "flor" (flower) and "mar" (sea). The pharyngeal fricative of northern and central Spain is realized as a velar fricative in words such as "jalea" (jelly), "jefe" (boss) and "general" (general). Also, the syllable-final "s" in words such as "fresco" (fresh) and "costa" is often pronounced as a glottal fricative or deleted. In word-final position such as "semanas" (weeks) and "restaurantes" (restaurants), the "s" is very likely to be deleted, especially if it sentence-final.

Spain is a country of many varieties of Spanish. As a result of this variety, it is often easy to tell which part of Spain a person is from. Residents of Barcelona, Madrid and Seville usually speak with accents which are relatively different from one another. Thus, the Spanish of Spain is spoken in many dialects.

Monday, April 21, 2008


TMP stands for Time Manner Place. The prepositonal phrase "in the morning" functions as an adverb of time; the prepositional phrase "by car" functions as an adverb of manner and "to my cottage" functions as an adverb of place.

In German the order of prepositions and adverbs is precise. Adverbs of time must come first followed by adverbs of manner and then adverbs of place. For example, "Ich fliege morgen mit Lufthansa nach Hamburg" means "I'm flying to Hamburg tomorrow with Lufthansa". The word-by-word translation of the German sentence is "I'm flying tomorrow with Lufthansa to Hamburg". In English this word order definitely sounds odd. In German, however, it is normal. Thus the two languages use a different word order here.

The German sentence "Ich fliege morgen mit Lufthansa nach Hamburg" uses the order Time Manner Place, also expressed as TMP. In English this is usually expressed with the order PTM. In the sentence "I'm flying to Hamburg tomorrow with Lufthansa " we have the prepositional phrase "to Hamburg" which expresses place, the adverb "tomorrow" which expresses time and the prepositional phrase "with Lufthansa" which expresses manner.

However, the English word order is not so rigid. It is also possible to say "I'm flying with Lufthansa to Hamburg tomorrow". This uses the word order MPT. The sentence "I'm flying to Hamburg with Lufthansa tomorrow" is also acceptable. This sentence uses the word order PMT.
In all of these sentences, we notice that adverbs of place precede adverbs of time.

If we put an adverb of time before an adverb of place, we have a sentence that sounds odd. For example, the sentences "I'm flying tomorrow to Hamburg with Lufthansa" and "I'm flying with Lufthansa tomorrow to Hamburg" are not used by native speakers of English. In the first example, the word order is TPM and in the second it is MTP. Thus it appears that adverbs of time cannot precede adverbs of place in English.

The word order used in English is the same as that used in French. The French equivalent of "I'm flying to Hamburg tomorrow with Lufthansa" is usually expressed as "Je vole a Hambourg demain avec Lufthansa". This is a PTM word order. However, "Je vole a Hambourg avec Lufthansa demain" is also possible. This sentence uses a PMT word order.

German adheres to a strict TMP word order in sentences such as "I'm flying to Hamburg tomorrow with Lufthansa". In English, the word order is not so strict. It is usually PTM but PMT is also common. The rule which must be followed in English is that adverbs of time precede adverbs of place. The word order used in English appears to be similar to that of other Romance languages such as French.

Friday, April 18, 2008


What is V2? It simply means that a verb must follow the first part of a sentence such as a noun phrase or other constituent. In other words, the verb is in second position in the sentence.

For example, the English sentence "Sometimes he comes late" does not have the same word order in other Germanic languages such as German, Dutch, Swedish, Danish and Norwegian. In Swedish the sentence is "Ibland kommer han sent". The word-by word translation is "Sometimes comes he late". The verb is in second position. The English sentence "At three o'clock I was here" does not have the same word order in German. In German the same sentence is "Um drei Uhr war ich hier". The word-by-word translation is "At three o'clock was I here". The sentence "Tomorrow we travel to London" is "I morgen rejser vi til London" in Danish. The word-by-word translation is "Tomorrow travel we to London". We see that V2, a verb in second position, is regular in all Germanic languages other than English.

However, English does have some sentences which follow the V2 pattern. They occur with the adverbs "rarely", "hardly", "seldom" and "never". The regular word order is one which starts with the subject but to add special emphasis, it is possible to put the adverb in subject position.

The sentence "She is never late" has a regular word order. However, it is possible to move "never" to the front and say "Never is she late". Other similar examples are "Rarely are they late", "Hardly did she eat" , "Seldom do they visit" and "Never have I seen them". Notice that with the examples "hardly" and "seldom", it is necessary to insert a do-verb in second position. The reason is that with these adverbs, it is more common to use a main verb rather than simply an auxiliary when they are moved to subject position. With main verbs, inversion is not possible, thus the auxiliary "do" must be inserted.

Why does English have V2 only in a few cases? I suspect that English used to have regular V2 as is the case in the other Germanic languages. It may have lost regular V2 due to the influence of French. In French, having the verb in second position in the sentence is not necessary. This can be seen in the sentence "Demain je vais a la piscine" which means "Tomorrow I'm going to the swimming pool". As in English, French places the subject "I" after the adverb "tomorrow".

The sentences with adverbs such as "never" and "rarely" which place a verb in second position when they begin a sentence must be from an early period in the development of the English language. In this earlier period of the English language, V2 must have been regular. Thus, we can say that the sentences with these adverbs reflect an earlier stage of the English language in which putting the verb in second position in the sentence was required as in other Germanic languages.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

analysis of Danish word-final consonants

When I studied historical linguistics, I learned that many languages have word-final devoicing which can be considered a weakening process. It is clear that the word-final position can be analyzed as a weak one. For example, many languages delete segments in word-final position but rarely do so in word-initial position.

The Danish language puzzled me. I was unable to explain the reason that voiceless segments in Swedish and Norwegian were often voiced in Danish word-finally. For example, the imperative "lose" in Swedish and Norwegian is "tap". In Danish it is "tab". The word "sick" is "sjuk" in Swedish and "syk" in Norwegian. In Danish it is "syg". The word for "out" is "ut" in Swedish and Norwegian but "ud" in Danish. The word-final "d" is a fricative in Danish. How could Danish have a voiced consonant in a weak position? Could that be called weakening?

One day I realized the solution. It occurred to me that all the Danish forms with word-final voiced consonants have intervocalic forms. For example, the infinitive of "to lose" is "tabe", the plural adjective of "sick" is "syge" and the stative adverb "out" (used to denote lack of motion) is "ude" as in "Han er ude" (He is out) as opposed to "Han gik ud" (He went out).

Thus the word-final Danish voiced consonants can be explained. The voicing occurred when the consonants were in an intervocalic position. As a result of word-final vowel deletion, they then surfaced word-finally. This is an example of two phonological rules which need to be ordered. The first is a voicing assimilation which occurs between vowels, a very natural phonological process, and the second is apocope, also known as word-final vowel deletion.

Obviously, these processes did not occur in Swedish and Norwegian, two languages which can be considered less innovative or more conservative from a linguistic point of view. A "t", "k" and "p" in Swedish and Norwegian often correspond to a "d", "g" and "b" in Danish.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Double Object Construction

The double object construction, also known as the ditransitive construction, has been the focus of much analysis in syntax. In English, this construction can be expressed in two ways: direct object + complement, and indirect object + direct object. This is exemplified by the following two sentences:

Peter gave the ball to Andrew.
Peter gave Andrew the ball.

Some syntacticians argue that the sentence "Peter threw Andrew the ball" is underlying and thus "Peter threw the ball to Andrew" is derived from "Peter threw Andrew the ball". However, an analysis of double object constructions in other languages makes it difficult to make this determination. Also, many syntacticians who argue that "Peter threw Andrew the ball" is underlying do not refer to historical linguistics nor to child language acquisition to support their claim.

I prefer to argue that both structures are common and serve different purposes. For example, the sentence "Peter threw the ball to Andrew" has a different semantic meaning from "Peter threw Andrew the ball". In the first sentence, it is not clear whether or not Andrew has caught the ball. The completeness of the action is not expressed. In the second sentence, the action has been completed. It is clear that Andrew has caught the ball.

With certain verbs such as "lift", English does not allow both double object constructions. We can use an asterisk to mark that one sentence is ungrammatical:

Peter lifted the box to Andrew.
*Peter lifted Andrew the box.

If forms such as "Peter gave Andrew the ball" are underlying, it is difficult to explain why "Peter lifted Andrew the box" is ungrammatical. We know that in Romance languages, the double object construction is expressed with the preposition "to" as in "Peter gave the box to Andrew". For example, in French this is "Pierre a donne la boite a Andres". In Hungarian, "to Andrew" is expressed with a postposition suffixed to "Andrew". Double object constructions can vary greatly from one language to another.

The construction that a person uses tends to be highly influenced by the form that the first speaker uses in a conversation. For example, if speaker A asks: "Did Mark give Linda flowers?", it is likely that speaker B will answer, "Yes, he gave Linda flowers" or if pronominalization is used, "Yes, he gave her flowers." Likewise, if speaker A asks: "Did Mark give flowers to Linda?", it is likely that speaker B will answer, "Yes, he gave flowers to Linda" or with pronominalization, "Yes, he gave flowers to her". This is because of the desire to establish solidarity with the first speaker.

In English, though, it is interesting that the question "Did Mark give flowers to Linda?" is never replaced with *"Did Mark give her them?" English does not like to place two pronouns next to one another. For this reason, it uses the structure "Did Mark give them to her?" If forms such as "Mark gave Linda flowers" are underlying, it is difficult to explain why this structure does not result when the direct and indirect objects are pronominalized.

In questions with the interrogative pronoun "who", only one construction is used. The question *"Who did he give them?" is ungrammatical. Only "Who did he give them to?" or "To who did he give them?" is possible. This also counters the theory that forms such as "Mark gave Linda flowers" are underlying in English.

I do not agree with syntactic analyses which claim that the English double object construction has one form which is underlying and that it is this form from which the other is derived. Rather, I prefer to state that the two forms serve different purposes and are both very common. One may be more common than the other but they are both frequently used in English. Many examples can be provided to counter the claim that forms such as "Peter gave Andrew the key" are underlying.

Friday, April 4, 2008

a chess game

I'm going to take a break from linguistics and post about chess this time. I enjoy playing chess games at You can also access the site at This is the shortest game I"ve every played on the site. I was white and my opponent was black. Here are the moves with my commentary.

1. d4 d5

At this stage we have a Double Queen Pawn Opening.

2. c4 Nf6

My second move is part of an opening known as the Queen's Gambit. I want black to take my pawn so that I can gain more control of the centre with e4. He doesn't take it, though, so this is known as the Queen's Gambit Declined.

3. Nc3 Bg4

Black's third move is unusual. Though my e-pawn is pinned (if I move it, I lose my queen), his bishop can be attacked easily. He brings out his bishop too early. A stronger move is e6, opening the diagonal for his dark-squared bishop and increasing his control of the centre. Also, by bringing out his bishop, the pawn on b7 is now undefended.

4. Qb3 e6

After moving my queen, the e-pawn is no longer pinned. My queen now attacks b7 and supports the c-pawn. Black is worried about his d-pawn which I'm attacking three times (queen, c- pawn and knight), so he decides to give it more support with his e-pawn. But b7 is undefended.

5. Qxb7 Nd7

I take the pawn. Black moves his knight so that his queen can defend his rook.

6. cxd5 exd5

I initiate the exchange with the intention of winning a pawn.

7. Nxd5 Qc8

Black wants to exchange queens. Since I'm on the offensive and my queen is clearly doing more than his, I don't want to exchange.

8. Nxc7+ Kd8

I put black in check. He loses his queen if she captures my knight, so he moves his king.

9. Qxa8 Nd5

Maybe black expects me to take his queen, but I make a better move. I take his rook. His queen can't move off the back rank because if she does, his king will be in check. I expect that his next move will be to capture my queen and then I'll capture his with my knight. But he moves his knight instead. This is a bad move because after I capture his queen with my queen and put him in check, he'll capture my queen and then I'll win his knight. A better move for him is to capture my queen.

10. Qxc8+ Kxc8

At this point black resigns. He knows that my next move will be Nxd5. At that stage I'll be up two pieces (two rooks vs. only one rook for him) and up three pawns, so he decides to concede.

Black makes a number of mistakes in this game but the worst one is probably 3... Bg4.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Hungarian Vowel Harmony

Hungarian is a language with vowel harmony. According to Gussenhoven and Jacobs (1998), it is a subclass of long-distance assimilation and excludes certain combinations of vowels in the word. In my MA thesis, I related the findings in the literature regarding Hungarian vowel harmony to the results of my sociolinguistic experiment with bilingual Hungarian speakers.

Part of my experiment involved the analysis of the neutral vowels. In addition to back vowels and front vowels, Hungarian has phonetically front vowels which for the purposes of vowel harmony are classified as neutral. This simply means that the front vowels "e" (low front vowel and mid front vowel written with an acute accent) and high front vowel "i" (long vowel written with an acute accent and short vowel) can combine with both front and back vowels. In a root with non-neutral vowels, they do not seem to trigger vowel harmony. Thus they are transparent (they let vowel harmony pass through them).

I also analyzed doublets, proper names and recent loanwords which allow either front or back suffixes. Doublets with back suffix variants have transparent neutral vowels because they allow vowel harmony to pass through them. On the other hand, doublets with front suffix vowels have opaque neutral vowels because they block the back vowel from spreading a back vowel to the suffix. In other words, they trigger a front vowel in the suffix. An example is the doublet "hotel". The phrase "in the hotel" can be "a hotelban" or "a hotelben". In the phrase "a hotelban", the neutral vowel "e" is transparent. The back vowel "o" triggers the back suffix variant -ban. However, in the phrase "a hotelben", the neutral vowel "e" acts as a harmonic front vowel. We can say it is opaque because it blocks the back vowel "o" from triggering a back vowel in the suffix. The suffix variant -ben has a front vowel.

Another part of my experiment involved toponyms with neutral vowels. These included "Los Angeles", "Seattle" and "Vancouver". Some linguists claim that the vowel "e" is no longer a neutral vowel but actually behaves as a front vowel. However, my results did not confirm this. They merely confirm that the neutral vowels exhibit different degrees of neutrality. The neutral vowel "i" is the most neutral and the low front unrounded "e" is the least neutral.

I tested the use of the inessive suffix -ban/-ben in 30 participants who attached a suffix to a toponym three times. This resulted in 90 tokens with each toponym. I obtained the following results with "Los Angeles", "Seattle"and "Vancouver":

Los Angeles -ben 87.8% -ban 12.2%
Seattle -ben 31.1% -ban 68.9%
Vancouver -ben 70% -ban 30%

In Hungarian magazines and newspapers, I had previously seen "Vancouverben" (in Vancouver), so I was surprised that in 30% of cases, participants used the form "Vancouverban". In the response "Vancouverban", the neutral vowel "e" is tranparent because a back vowel occurs in the suffix. However, it may be that in the response "Vancouverban", some participants used a schwa or a vowel similar to the mid front rounded vowel of French, i.e., "fleur" (flower). If this was the case, it is not surprising that they attached a back suffix variant to "Vancouver".

With "Seattle", a root which consists of a front vowel followed by a back vowel and front vowel, the back suffix variant was used 68.9% of the time. This is a very high percentage. If the vowel "e" is now a harmonic front vowel, the back suffix vowel should not have been used so frequently. However, it may again be the case that the final vowel of Seattle was pronounced by some participants as a schwa or a mid front rounded vowel. In such cases, the back suffix variant would be expected.

"Los Angeles" has two back vowels followed by two front vowels. Despite the presence of the front vowel "e" in the final two syllables, the back suffix variant -ban was used in 12.2% of cases. It may be that some participants pronounced one or both of these vowels as schwas, but nevertheless, I did not expect that the back suffix variant would be used to this extent. For the participants who attached a back suffix variant, the "e" vowel was clearly neutral.

How can we explain the reasons the neutral vowel "e" is either neutral or opaque? I offer a few possible explanantions.

In those cases in which the form "Vancouverben" (in Vancouver) is produced, the vowel "e" is a harmonic front vowel. Also, we can claim that recent cues predominate over earlier cues. Though the difference in the time of the utterance of the vowel "e" versus the earlier back vowels is in milliseconds, this may be significant for the purposes of vowel harmony. Another possibility is the adjacency condition which claims that the vowel of the suffix needs to share the same feature as that of the vowel in the adjacent syllable. In the form "Vancouverben", the vowel "e" of the final syllable and the vowel "e" of the suffix are both front vowels.

In those cases in which the form "Vancouverban" (in Vancouver) is produced, the vowel "e" is a neutral vowel. It is transparent because it does not participate in the vowel harmony process. Also significant may be the count effect which claims that the number of vowels in a word is significant. The word "Vancouver" has two back vowels and one front vowel. (The first vowel in "Vancouver" is a back vowel in Hungarian). It may be that a back suffix variant is more common in roots that have a greater number of back vowels. If this theory is correct, the back suffix vowel would be less common in a root that had the combination of one back vowel followed by one neutral vowel and more common in a root that had three back vowels followed by one neutral vowel. My experiment did not confirm whether or not this theory is correct. Another explanation may be stress. In Hungarian stress is fixed on the first syllable of a word. Since the stressed syllable is Vancouver contains a back vowel, this theory predicts that the suffix should contain a back vowel. However, my experiment did not confirm the accuracy of this theory and to the best of my knowledge, most linguists are not convinced this is valid.

To further my research, I would like to determine the reason the neutral vowels exhibit different degrees of neutrality. I would also like to determine the significance of the count effect and the role of stress in Hungarian vowel harmony. Also fascinating would be the answer to the question of why languages have vowel harmony.