New paper: Interjections (Oxford Handbook of Word Classes)

📣New! “Interjections“, a contribution to the Oxford Handbook on Word Classes. One of its aims: rejuvenate work on interjections by shifting focus from stock examples (ouch, yuck) to real workhorses like mm-hm, huh? and the like. Abstract:

No class of words has better claims to universality than interjections. At the same time, no category has more variable content than this one, traditionally the catch-all basket for linguistic items that bear a complicated relation to sentential syntax. Interjections are a mirror reflecting methodological and theoretical assumptions more than a coherent linguistic category that affords unitary treatment. This chapter focuses on linguistic items that typically function as free-standing utterances, and on some of the conceptual, methodological, and theoretical questions generated by such items. A key move is to study these items in the context of conversational sequences, rather than as a mere sideshow to sentences. This makes visible how some of the most frequent interjections streamline everyday language use and scaffold complex language. Approaching interjections in terms of their sequential positions and interactional functions has the potential to reveal and explain patterns of universality and diversity in interjections.

Anyone who writes about interjections has first to cut through a tangle of assumptions about marginality, primitivity, and insignificance. I think this is incoherent: linguistics without interjections is like chemistry without the noble gases.

Re-centering interjections is possible now because there’s plenty of cool new interactional work by folks like Emily Hofstetter, Elliott Hoey, Nick Williams, Kristian Skedsmo, Johanna Mesch, and many others.

A fairly standard take in linguistics is that interjections are basically public emissions of private emotions — a view that is remarkably close to folk notions about the category. However, corpus data suggests that interjections expressive of emotions are actually not all that frequent — interactional and interpersonal uses are much more prominent (yet they are the least studied). This is why re-centering is important.

In line with this, part of the chapter focuses on some of the most frequent interjections out there: continuers, minimal particles that acknowledge a turn is underway and more is anticipated (like B’s m̀:hm seen at lines 53 and 57)

I am always impressed by the high-precision placement of these items and by their neat form-function fit, a pliable template for signalling various degrees of alignment and affiliation, with closed lips signifying ‘keep going, I won’t take the floor’.

Traditional linguistic tools are ill-suited to deal with the nature of interjections. Perhaps this is why most grammars do little more than just listing a bunch of them & noting how they don’t fit the phonological system. Fortunately, interactional linguistics and conversation analysis offer robust methodological tools, ready to be used in descriptive & comparative work. One aim of this piece is to point folks to some concrete places to start.

In the NWO project Elementary Particles of Conversation, we undertake the comparative study of these kinds of items and their consequences for language; this chapter aims to contribute towards that goal by fostering more empirical & theoretical work.

Some further goals I set myself for this piece: 1) foreground empirical work rather than traditional research agendas; 2) elevate new work by junior & minoritized scholars; 3) treat matters in modality-inclusive & modality-agnostic ways.

I found that often, these goals converge & point to exciting new directions. For instance, including sign language data (as in this case from Norwegian SL Kristian Skedsmo, but also work by Joanna Mesch) shows the prospects of a cross-modal typology of interjections.

Originally tweeted by (@DingemanseMark) on June 30, 2021.

On gatekeeping in general linguistics

An exercise. Take 1️⃣️this paper on ‘Language disintegration under conditions of formal thought disorder‘ and 2️⃣ this Henner and Robinson preprint on ‘Imagining a Crip Linguistics‘.

Now tell us in earnest that only one of these contains “theoretical implications that shed light on the nature of language and the language faculty”. (That was the phrasing a handling editor at Glossa used to desk-reject Henner’s submission.)

The point here is not to hate on a published paper (though to be honest I think that paper is flawed at the very least because of its unexamined deficit-based view of autism). The point is also not to argue that a preprint should be published as is. It is to argue that desk-rejecting that 2nd paper as “mainly about language use” is incorrect, far from theoretically neutral, and problematic for a journal of general linguistics.

As Emily Carrigan wrote on twitter,

The difference is that paper 1 takes a disability-as-deficit approach, which is currently the status quo in linguistics/psychology/education, whereas paper 2 asks us to consider an alternative interpretation, at which point people aligned with the status quo shut down.

Figuring out the myriad ways in which the second paper interrogates, uproots, and respecifies the theoretical premises of the first is left as an exercise to the reader.

Originally tweeted by (@DingemanseMark) on July 9, 2021.

Titling scholarly work in anthropology: Signifying significance, enregistering erudition

Betwixt and between: structure and anti-structure in titular rituals (>600 papers with “Betwixt & between” in title)

Homo Imitatens: Ludic pretense as a cover for essentialist tropes in anthropological titling (>2000 papers with “Homo + Latin Participle”, excluding sapiens & erectus)

Beyond Colons: Towards subtitles as sites for ponderous prolixity (>600 papers with “Beyond X: Towards Y” in title)

Equivocation by punctuation: (Re)imagining parentheses and un/certain slashes

Originally tweeted by (@DingemanseMark) on March 13, 2021.

The sound of rain, softly falling (Tucker Childs, 1948-2021)

News just reached me that we have lost a dear colleague and one of the people responsible for introducing the world of linguistics to African ideophones: George Tucker Childs, 1948-2021.

Tucker was a cheerful presence in the field of African linguistics and a towering figure in the subfield that he and I had in common, ideophone studies. His groundbreaking PhD dissertation on Kisi in 1988 was chock-full of these sparkling words evocative of sensory imagery, and the topic would never lose his interest. He was one of the pioneers of the sociolinguistic study of ideophones and his 1994 review of African ideophones remains one of the most cited chapters of a famed volume on Sound Symbolism. One of his last academic publications was a chapter in the 2019 proceedings of an international workshop on ideophones in which he, characteristically, combined acute fieldwork-based observations with perceptive questions for future research.

We met several times over the years and corresponded quite a bit, sometimes about new work, sometimes about the future of African linguistics and how to ensure better representation of its diversity. “This is an issue I wrestle with all the time, how best to encourage young [authors], especially African, to submit”, he wrote to me in his capacity as the editor of one of the specialist journals in the field. In Tucker we have lost an adventurous colleague driven by a sense of wonder and by a passion for the documentation and revitalization of endangered languages.

Tucker’s emails often started with a salutation that included a description of his location and the weather conditions — which, when they came from Portland, often meant rain. I enclose a rendition by artist Joanna Taylor of an evocative Kisi ideophone that appears in Tucker’s PhD thesis: bíààà ‘the sound of rain, softly falling’. Words are a poor substitute for human contact, but I wish his loved ones the serenity evoked by the sound of nourishing rain.

Note: If you want to write your condolences or share your memories of Tucker, his family set up a special website here.

Bibliography of Tucker Child’s ideophone-related publications (see Google Scholar)

  • Childs, G. Tucker. 1988a. The phonology and morphology of Kisi. University of California, Berkeley. (PhD dissertation.)
  • Childs, G. Tucker. 1988b. The phonology of Kisi ideophones. Journal of African Languages and Linguistics 10(2). 165–190. (doi:10.1515/jall.1988.10.2.165)
  • Childs, G. Tucker. 1989. Where do ideophones come from? Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 19(2). 55–76.
  • Childs, G. Tucker. 1994a. African Ideophones. In Hinton, Leanne & Nichols, Johanna & Ohala, John J. (eds.), Sound Symbolism, 178–204. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Childs, G. Tucker. 1994b. Expressiveness in contact situations: the fate of African ideophones. Journal of Pidgin and Creole languages 9(2). 257–282.
  • Childs, G. Tucker. 1996. Where have all the ideophones gone? The death of a word category in Zulu. Toronto Working Papers in Linguistics 15. 81–103.
  • Childs, G. Tucker. 2001. Research on Ideophones, Whither Hence? The Need for a Social Theory of Ideophones. In Voeltz, F. K. Erhard & Kilian-Hatz, Christa (eds.), Ideophones, 63–73. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
  • Childs, G. Tucker. 2003. An Introduction to African Languages. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
  • Childs, G. Tucker. 2014. Constraints on violating constraints: How languages reconcile the twin dicta of “Be different” and “Be recognizably language.” Pragmatics and Society 5(3). 341–354. (doi:10.1075/ps.5.3.02chi)
  • Childs, G. Tucker. 2018. Forty-plus years before the mast: My experiences as a field linguist. In Sarvasy, Hannah & Forker, Diana (eds.), Word Hunters: Field linguists on fieldwork. John Benjamins Publishing Company.
  • Childs, G. Tucker. 2019. Ideophones as a measure of multilingualism. In Akita, Kimi & Pardeshi, Prashant (eds.), Iconicity in Language and Literature, vol. 16, 303–322. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company. (doi:10.1075/ill.16.13tuc)

APA but without auto-sorting of in-text citations: easy CSL fix

For better or worse, APA is one of the most widely used citation styles in the cognitive sciences. One aspect of it that always bugs me is that it prescribes alphabetical sorting of in-text citations. I’m not talking about the bibliography; of course that should be alphabetical. I’m talking about the order of names when you cite multiple sources in one citation statement, as in “(Harris 1952; Chomsky 1957)” — or, as APA would have it, “(Chomsky 1957; Harris 1952)”.

My own strong preference is to have the order determined by priority and relevance. For instance, if I were writing about transformations in early generative syntax, I might want to cite both Chomsky and Harris, but I feel it would be useful to cite them in chronological order. Of course if I wanted to highlight Chomsky’s original contributions I could also do sth. like “(Chomsky 1957; and see Harris 1952 for a precursor)” — but the point is, in neither case would I want the ordering to be determined by a meaningless style prescription. The order of in-text citations is meaningful.

Now, if you’re using Zotero like me, you can already manually drag citations in any order you want. But still the APA default will hit you every now and then. Fortunately, this is really easy to fix in the CSL style, so I’m using a version of APA in which this is fixed. You can use my file, which is based on APA 7, currently the latest version.

I’m posting this for my future self as much as for others, so let me just note the utterly trivial single change you need to make in CSL terms. All you need to do is find the <citation> block and remove the <sort> statement inside it. That’s it. You can do this on your own system or in the online CSL code editor; or if you are more comfortable with the Visual Editor, you can also do it there. Save your adjusted style under a custom name to use it in Zotero.

A rant about Elsevier Pure

I have other things to do but one day I’ll enlarge on the insidious effects of elevating this cursed little histogram of “Research output per year” as the single most important bit of information about academics at thousands of universities that use Elsevier Pure. Consider this mini-rant my notes for that occasion.

Most importantly, we DO NOT write per year. Our careers are too diverse and precarious to measure output that way. What we write is important, where to find it is key, but how much per calendar year is at best irrelevant.

You may object that it is informative. Ah yes, informative. For whom? Primarily for bean counters who care about ‘deliverables’, ‘outputs’ and other countable things. And of course for managers who care about ‘productivity’ and ‘volume’.

These cursed little histograms invite inferences about productivity, gaps, and publication volume that are guaranteed to be reductive and bias-ridden. One could make the case they are actively harmful, feeding into exactly the wrong kind of feedback loops. So why do unis do it?

Systems like Elsevier Pure are marketed to Research Managers, and every bit of their design shows that. Universities and institutions who use its "industry-proven data model" to create automated profiles for their researchers are making a big mistake (never mind @DORAssessment)

Above I wrote how these public-facing histograms invite inferences that may be harmful. Of course that's pretty much what Pure has been designed to do. Behind the scenes, there's a plethora of ways to track metrics, targets, and progress right down to individual researchers

But I digress; my main beef is with the public profiles, which thoughtlessly include these little plots wherever possible — even in search results! (here, @VU_Amsterdam). Fortunately @Radboud_Uni doesn’t use Pure (unless the VSNU deal with Elsevier forces it down our throat 😬)

Elevating this useless histogram to such a prominent place on every researcher's profile is the web design equivalent of "nerdview" (@LanguageLog ): an ill-thought-out choice that makes very little sense to end users and is telling of your own biases

Fellow academics are probably *the* key audience for institutional homepages. When we look up someone’s page we do it to find a specific paper, read what they’re working on, perhaps check out recent work. We don’t want to see this cursed little histogram.

BTW, one has to admire the efficiency of this screenshot, showing that three researchers whose output was “insufficient” are “former staff”, i.e. have been let go. This is straight from the MARKETING MATERIALS of Pure, in case you were wondering 10/9

Update: two universities (and counting) admit the output graphs violate the principles of @DORAssessment and the @devsnu #RecognitionAndRewards position paper, with @VU_Amsterdam already committing to remove them.

Update 2: @VUamsterdam takes the lead in removing the ouput-per-year graphs from their Research Portal. Not a coincidence that the change was spearheaded by @bosch_se and @LangData, who care about open science and @RecogRewards rather than senseless stats.

Originally tweeted by (@DingemanseMark) on October 26, 2020.

Team science is slow science

With Times Higher Education writing about citation gaming and hyperprolific authors (surely not unrelated) I hope we can save some of our attention for what Uta Frith and others have called slow science. On that note, consider this: Team science is (often) slow science.

Recently two team science projects I’ve been involved in since the early 2010s resulted in publications: a book on recruitments, edited by Simeon Floyd, Giovanni Rossi en Nick Enfield; and a paper on sequence organization led by Kobin Kendrick. Some of the first results for both projects were presented at the 2014 International Conference on Conversation Analysis (ICCA) at UCLA, and it is so great to see them out now.

The Recruitments volume address the question of how we use language to get others to do things. It presents the results of collaborative research on 8 languages around the world and is published as an open access book by Language Science Press, linguistics’ most visionary open access publisher. This volume has a long history, and we’ve written about the background and methods of the project for the ROLSI blog. In a thread on Twitter, Nick Enfield sets out some of the key findings:

The sequence organization paper studies a basic aspect of how social action is organized in everyday language use in 12 languages around the world. It is published in Journal of Pragmatics, and first author Kobin Kendrick sets out the main findings in his own Twitter thread:

Our team work on repair —as part of Nick Enfield’s ERC grant— was similarly systematic and slow-paced; the special issue of Open Linguistics we edited is in many ways the sister to the recruitments book now out. From the start in 2010 it took us several years of intensive work before the first publications started coming out. The recruitment and sequence organization projects, which got off the ground a little later, had the additional challenge of an increasingly distributed team of collaborators (to the point that no one currently has the same affilation they had when the projects started).

This kind of systematic comparative work, which takes years to carry out and bring to fruition, is perhaps the antithesis of the hyperprolific output valued by bean counters. In this lies both a risk and a reward. The risk is that contributions can take years to become visible, which is especially tricky for early career researchers. The reward is that results tend to be solid and substantial. We need institutions & funders that don’t reduce us to output counts, and instead help us manage the risks and reap the long-term rewards of team science and slow science.


This post originated as a Twitter thread. The Frith paper mentioned in the first paragraph is:

Large language models and the unstoppable tide of uninformation

Large language models make it entirely trivial to generate endless amounts of seemingly plausible text. There’s no need to be cynical to see the virtual inevitability of unending waves of algorithmically tuned AI-generated uninformation: the market forces are in place and they will be relentless.

I say uninformation against the backdrop of Bateson’s tongue-in-cheek definition of information as ‘a difference that makes a difference’. If we don’t know (or can’t tell) the difference anymore, we are literally un-informed.

It is likely that a company like OpenAI sees some of this and that they’re keeping, for instance, time-stamped samples of AI-hallucinated content to enable some degree of textual provenance — but given how hard it is to deal with content farms already I think there’s little reason to be optimistic.

Which has an important consequence. The web makes up a large chunk of the data feeding GPT3 and kin. Posting the output of large language models online builds a feedback loop that cannot improve quality (unless we have mechanisms for textual provenance) and so will lead to uninformation feeding on uninformation.

All ingredients for an information heat death are on hand. True human-generated and human-curated information —of the kind produced, for instance, by academics in painstaking observations and publications— will become more scarce, and therefore more valuable. Counterintuitively, there was never a better time to be a scholar.

  • Bateson, G. (1979). Mind and Nature. New York: E.P. Dutton.

Erkenning en waardering voor schapen met vijf poten

Terwijl er lustig gefilosofeerd wordt over het verlichten van de rat race mag de jongere lichting op 5 borden tegelijk schaken!

Een verbreding van hoe we erkennen en waarderen kan ik alleen maar toejuichen, maar ik heb nog niet vaak gehoord over één van de meest voelbare bijeffecten voor de jongere lichting academici nu: van ons wordt verwacht dat we op álle fronten goed scoren.

Dat zegt niemand zo natuurlijk maar is een eenvoudig gevolg van het feit dat we beoordeeld worden door senioren met verschillende referentiekaders. Tegenover elke Erkennen & Waarderen-adept staat een dinosaurus die watertandt bij publicaties in tijdschriften met een hoge impact factor (IF).

Tegenover elke team science-fan staat iemand die vraagt, maar waar zijn de first-author publicaties? De één waardeert goede onderwijsevaluaties, een ander knikt minzaam maar zegt dat ‘ie nog wel wat meer leiderschap wil zien. En waar is de public outreach?, zegt de volgende.

Dát bonte gezelschap reviewt onze artikelen, beoordeelt ons voor promoties, beurzen, en prijzen, geeft wel of niet groen licht bij vooraanvragen. Dus, terwijl er lustig gefilosofeerd wordt over het verlichten van de rat race mag de jongere lichting op 5 borden tegelijk schaken!

Instellingen mogen Erkennen & Waarderen dan beamen, maar bieden nauwelijks ruimte voor kwalitatief verschillende carrierepaden, want Uniforme Functieprofielen. Excellente docenten worden nog steeds onderworpen aan schadelijke flexwetgymnastiek, tenzij ze misschien excellent publiceren, want rankings.

Wie veel outreach doet mag shinen in het jaarverslag, maar het gaat wel af van je onderzoekstijd — niet je onderwijstijd natuurlijk want want we worden betaald voor het afleveren van studenten, niet het vergroten van begrip. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Om een beursaanvraag te mogen schrijven moet je ervaring naadloos passen bij onze onderwijsbehoefte. Maar om kans te maken op die beurs moet je vooral goed publiceren. En oh, vergeet niet die samenwerking met het bedrijfsleven in je narratieve CV, daar houdt de commissie zo van.

Het gevolg: waar eerder gezocht werd naar 5 high IF-papers is er momenteel vooral vraag naar schapen met 5 poten. En dat was volgens mij precies níet de bedoeling van Erkennen & Waarderen. Ik heb geen oplossingen, het is slechts een observatie.

(Oorspronkelijk gepubliceerd als draadje.)

New personal site

Almost 13 years ago, in 2007, this blog started as a sub-site on my personal web page. It soon took over most of my online presence and I moved it to its own domain. Now that I blog much less regularly, and have moved institutions, it’s useful again to have a personal academic web page. So I made one:

This is also fitting because I have, over the past decade, developed a line of research on social interaction that doesn’t really fit what I’ve mostly blogged about on The Ideophone (which is topics around iconicity, ideophones, perception, and the senses). I will probably always keep working on ideophones, and I may well keep blogging here on various topics; but it was high time to have a web presence separate from this that more fully represents my scholarship and science communication work.

I used to have a really useful page at the MPI for Psycholinguistics, but an institutional move to Radboud University and a site redesign make the publication list there a little harder to navigate than it used to be. The neat thing is that Zotero (with ZotPress) makes it really easy to display full publication lists on my new site, even organised by topic:

Give it a gander, a glimpse or a glance —!