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Department of Linguistics

Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology

Deutscher Platz 6
D-04103 Leipzig

phone: +49 (0) 341 3550 - 300
fax: +49 (0) 341 3550 - 333

e-mail: cissewski@[>>> Please remove the brackets! <<<]eva.mpg.de

Advances in Evolutionary Phonology

Evolutionary Phonology seeks to explain why certain sound patterns have the typological distributions they do. Why are certain sound patterns extremely common, while others are rare? What factors play a role in determining similar sound patterns across languages? And what is the ultimate explanation for the striking identity between recurrent context-dependent instances of sound change and recurrent alternation types across the world's languages? [more]

Language Areality in Ancient Eurasia

In the past decades much research has been done on areal patterns in the world. Were these areal patterns already present in the times of the ancient languages, especially in the second millenium B.C.? Did areal phenomena exist in that time that did not survive into recent times? If the observable and provable areal patterns changed, why did that happen? [more]

Animacy and mythology in Hantxa Kuin (Cashinahua)

Cashinahua – or Hantxa Kuin as it is called by its speakers – belongs to the Panoan family. All Panoan languages are concentrated in one geographic region, the Amazonian lowlands in Eastern Peru and in adjacent parts of Brazil and Bolivia. The project aims at building up a comprehensive documentation of the Cashinahua language and culture at its current stage in Peru and in Brazil. [more]

A text documentation of N|uu

The project documents the last South African San language and the only surviving member of the !Ui branch of the isolate family Tuu (a.k.a. "Southern Khoisan"). The team consists of three PhD students and the applicant. It is funded by the ELDP and starts in October 2007. [more]

Correlating Genes and Languages

The project aims at examining the putative correlations between certain genetic features and linguistic markers in various regions of the world, contact situations, and on different scales (dialects vs. languages). [more]

Cross-linguistic aspects of the structure of the nominal lexicon

A concept expressed by a monomorphemic word in one language may be expressed by a morphologically complex word (a compound, derivative, etc.) in another. [more]

The Acquisition of Subjects in English, Russian and Polish

This project investigates the well known phenomenon of subject ommision in early child language. The goal of the project is to find out whether the degree of overt subject expression in the target grammar of a language influences the pathways children take to learn this category. [more]

Comparison of the communicative environment of young language-learning children in two cultures

The communicative environments in which children grow up differ considerably across cultures. However, there are hardly any quantitative studies of the input children receive in non-western, rural societies. The goal of this project is to quantitatively assess and compare the communicative contexts of children growing up in two very diverse cultures, namely rural Nepal (Chintang) and rural Germany. [more]

A Grammar of Hinuq

The project aims at the description of Hinuq (Nakh-Daghestanian). The description will include the phonology, morphology and syntax of Hinuq as well as a couple of texts and a short dictionary. [more]

Marked Nominative/Absolutive Case Systems

In most languages, an accusative case will be longer than a nominative case. This is a well-known cross-linguistic generalization. In contrast, there are a few languages in which the nominative case is marked relative to the accusative. This project investigates these exceptional cases to learn more about the possibilities of human languages. [more]

Documentation of Enets: digitization and analysis of legacy field materials and fieldwork with last speakers

Our fieldwork-based project documents Enets, an almost extinct Northern Samoyedic language spoken on the Taimyr Peninsula, Siberia. It is funded by the ELDP for the period 01.02.2008 – 31.07.2011. [more]



An Acoustically-based Phonology and Morphophonology of Siwi (Berber)

The project aims at a phonological analysis of Siwi and an overwiev of its formal morphology. It was partially funded by Studienstiftung des deutschen Volkes. [more]



Endangered Moluccan Languages: Eastern Indonesia & the Dutch diaspora

This project aims to document five previously undescribed languages: Allang (Ambon Island), Haruku (Haruku Island), the language spoken in the villages of Amahei, Makariki, Ruta, and Soahuku (Seram Island), Nusalaut (Nusalaut Island), and the language spoken in the villages of Tenga-Tenga, Tial, Tulehu, Liang and Waai (Ambon Island). A cross-linguistic analysis of several grammatical aspects of Central Moluccan languages will also draw on four previously documented languages (Alune, Buru, Larike, Nuaulu). [more]

Traditional Jambi Malay

This project studies Traditional Jambi Malay, an endangered Malay variety spoken in Jambi Province in southeast Sumatra, Indonesia. The Malay language originated in Sumatra, and dozens of Malay dialects are spoken on the island, none of which have been well described. Most native speakers of Malay live in Sumatra, many more than in Malaysia, for example. Yet there is not even one thorough grammatical description of a Sumatran Malay dialect. One of the expected results of this project would be the first detailed description of such a dialect. [more]

Language and Thought: Universality and Relativism

Almost anybody who has taken part in interactions between native English speakers and Indonesian speakers has had occasion to observe striking differences in how people from both groups deal with the notion of time: how they conceive time, how they value time, and how they plan and execute their activities in time. In this project, we plan to study a variety of conceptual categories which are encoded in significantly different fashion in English and in Indonesian. [more]

Acquisition of Jakarta Indonesian

The goal of the Acquisition Project was to record, transcribe, and enter into a computerized database, a corpus of naturalistic data from a large sample of Jakarta Indonesian child language. [more]

Loanword Typology: Comparative Study of Lexical Borrowability

In this project, we studied lexical borrowing patterns in 41 languages from around the world. Each language was the responsibility of a single author, an expert of the language and what is known about its history and its contact languages. For each language, we assembled lexical data for a fixed list of 1460 meanings. [more]

Quantitative approaches to lexical comparison

Lexical material ("words") is one important source of information to establish genealogical relations between languages. We investigate quantitative methods to assist linguists in this kinds of historical-comparative research. [more]

A Pan-dialectal Documentation of Taa

The project aims at the documentation of the language complex Taa spoken in southwestern Botswana and central-eastern Namibia. The project is funded within the DoBeS framework of the VW-Foundation and is carried out by an interdisciplinary team of three linguists, one anthopologist, and two student assistants. [more]

Northwest Iranian Project

The project aims to describe how the 7 + 2 Northwest Iranian subgroups (henceforth NWI) are interrelated and to describe a possible scenario of how these branches developed. To conduct comparative work on NWI, some reference to SWI is necessary, but Eastern Iranian is for the time excluded from the scope of this project. The thrust of the project is synchronic comparative work, but reference to historical data will also of necessity be included. [more]

The African Lexis in Jamaican Creole and Its Historical Significance

This project undertakes the first comprehensive treatment of the African words which entered Jamaican Creole during the plantation era (1655-1838). [more]

Jamaican Lexicography Project (Jamlex)

The Jamaican Lexicography Project (Jamlex) aims to produce for Jamaican (Creole) an electronic dictionary on historical principles [more]

Description and Documentation of Khwarshi

The aim of the project is to write a comprehensive grammar of Khwarshi. The grammar will consist of several parts: phonology, morphology, syntax, plus a small lexicon and texts. [more]

Yurok Language Project

The Yurok language is spoken along the Klamath River in northwestern California, as it has been for centuries. The Yurok Language Project, started in 2001, combines fieldwork with Yurok elders, community work, and analysis of earlier fieldnotes. Its goals are to document and describe the language, create teaching and learning materials, and make as much information on the Yurok language accessible to those interested in the language. [more]

Documentation of Betawi

Betawi is the indigenous Malay dialect of Jakarta. The speakers were formed from the mixing of ethnicities coming to Jakarta during Dutch colonial times. The inflows were adequately gradual to let the constant stream of immigrants be absorbed into a distinct ethnic group. This ethnic group speaks with their own dialect called Betawi Malay which is different from other dialects of Malay. Nowadays it is only spoken by older people in certain villages on the outskirts of the city. The younger generation tends to speak Jakarta Indonesian. [more]

Documentation of Kenyah

The objective of this project, co-funded by the Culture Unit of UNESCO office, Jakarta, is to document and preserve two endangered Kenyah isolects, Lebu’ Kulit and Òma Lóngh. Few descriptive studies of Kenyah exist, and most of them are unpublished. No thorough description of any Kenyah isolect has ever been produced. The only existing documents in Kenyah are a few wordlists and a Bible translation in one isolect, Leppo’ Tau. [more]

The Phonology of Jakarta Indonesian

Given the importance of Jakarta Indonesian, it is surprising that its phonology has never been systematically described and analyzed. This new project aims to correct this situation. [more]

Maya writing and historical linguistics

Through comparative reconstruction and epigraphic work we try to track the development of Lowland Maya languages in the context of the cultural evolution of the area. The project also involves the build-up of a Pan-Chronic Mayan Dictionary containing not only cognate sets and reconstructions but also, ideally, all attested lexemes throughout the Mayan languages. [more]

The World Atlas of Language Structures - WALS

In 2005, the World Atlas of Language Structures (WALS) was published as a book and CD-ROM. Based on a core sample of 200 languages, WALS documents the geographical distribution of approximately 120 structural features in the world’s languages. WALS for the first time permits the rapid assessment of the areal spread of a wide range of linguistic features. [more]

Typology of Content Interrogatives

Every language has specific words that are used to ask for a specific answer. For example, the English word who asks for a human being, or when for a time. This project investigates what kind of different categorizations languages have in the structure of these content interrogatives. [more]

The Acquisition of Passive Voice in English and Indonesian

This study investigates how young children form passive sentences in English and Indonesian. When using the passive voice the grammar of English requires that a so-called passive form of the verb be used. In contrast to English, Indonesian passives are expressed without an auxiliary verb, by adding the prefix di- to the verb. [more]

Bilingual Child Language Acquisition

In this project the acquisition of bilingualism by various children in different linguistic environment is studied. One subproject investigates an Italian/Indonesian situation, and another a Indonesian/Javanese bilingual setting. [more]

A Reference Grammar of Ọ̀kọ

This project is on Ọ̀kọ̣, the language of the Ogori and Magongo communities of Nigeria. The main objective is to provide a reference grammar of the language. 

Language Contact in Sri Lanka

This project investigates the interaction between the languages of Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka has, among all linguistic areas, the decisive advantage of being rather small with regard to the languages concerned (half a dozen or less) and being geographically clearly defined, viz.. by the Indian Ocean. [more]

Electronic Grammaticography

Descriptive linguistic content is still usually presented in book form. This project explores ways how descriptive grammars can be published on the Internet. In a trivial sense, this can be made by publishing a pdf on the author's homepage. [more]

Ditransitive constructions in the world's languages

In this project, we are studying the grammatical properties of ditransitive constructions (i.e. constructions with an agent, a recipient, and a theme argument) in a broadly comparative perspective. We are compiling a database with relevant information on about 200 languages, and we plan to publish this database as well as a monograph that presents the results of our inquiries. [more]

The internal structure of person portmanteaus

In this project we investigate the world-wide diversity and universal structure of person portmanteaus. Person portmanteaus are markers which bundle the expression of person for subject and object of a verbal predicate into a single morphological unit. [more]

Infrastructure for Wordlists

Wordlists are used in various projects at our institute. This project provides the infrastructure for the organization, storage, and retrieval of all these wordlists. [more]

A comparative study of Word Final Devoicing

The phonetic and phonological status of final devoicing of obstruents has been for a long time a controversial topic. In the last 20 years numerous phonological as well as phonetic accounts of this topic had been made. However, the phonetic evidence relies only on acoustic data. In this project a variety of instrumental techniques, such as aerodyamics and electroglottography, are used for the first time to address the essence of the phenomenon. (Heriberto Avelino, Daniel Voigt, Leonardo Lancia, Bodo Winter)

Aerodynamics of Complex Nasal Segments

Descriptions of complex nasal segments in a number of languages families such Dayak, Otomanguean Dogon and Yuhup, include pre- and pos-nasalized sounds obstruents as well as pre- and post- occluded nasals. The goal of this project is to provide a phonetic account of the aerodynamics and kinematics of the gestures involved in producing these segments. Work in collaboration with Uri Tadmor (Berlin), Ana Maria Ospina(Universidad Nacional de Colombia) and Jeff Heath (University of Michigan). (Heriberto Avelino, Daniel Voigt, Leonardo Lancia)

Articulatory-Acoustic mapping of Coronals in American languages

Languages of the Americas (e.g. Pima (Uto-Aztecan) and Yalálag Zapotec (Oto-Manguean, Mixe (MIxe-Zoquean) have rich inventories of coronal consonants. This project aims to characterize the fine articulatory and acoustic properties of coronal consonants which reagardless of being compressed in a narrow space show a wide range of articulatory variability. Work in collaboration with Silke Hamman (U Düsseldorf). (Heriberto Avelino, Daniel Voigt, Leonardo Lancia)

Implementation and innovation of methods and techniques for phonetic data acquisition and analysis

Currently the Phonetics lab is developing the MPI-EVA Data Acquisition System for Phonetic Research. This project aims to create an open platform for phonetic data acquisition and analysis. The final product will be a hardware design and suite of scriptable applications. The full specifications will be open to the community so that scholars from around the world can run, copy, distribute, study, change and improve the system (project in consultation with Prof. Ing. Matthias Laukner and Prof. Ing. Andreas Hebestreit, Hochschule für Technik, Wirtschaft und Kultur School of Engineering). In addition, we are implementing cutting-edge methods such as ultrasound and high speed video in the research of natural languages.The goal of projects using this technology is to investigate in detail the gestures and actions of the vocal folds and laryngeal structures in phenomena such as phonemic phonation and tone contrast, complex segments that involve simultaneous laryngeal settings (e.g. post-/pre-aspirated, breathy voiced, slack stops) or airstream mechanisms (e.g. voiced/voiceless implossives, ejectives). (work in consultation with Dr. Michael Döllinger (Friedrich Alexander Erlangen-Nürnberg University).  (Heriberto Avelino, Daniel Voigt, Leonardo Lancia)

Intonational patterns of Topic and Focus constructions in Yucatec Maya

This project looks at the interface between information structure and prosodic cues. Yucate Maya is of particular interest as it is a language that allows a flexible order of major constituent and constrasts pitch and non-modal phonation. Nonetheless, each variation may differ in the pragmatic information it conveys, as well as in their prosodic properties. (Heriberto Avelino, Daniel Voigt, Leonardo Lancia)

Language Documentation

Yoloxóchitl, Guerrero knowledge in Tu’un ísaví (Mixtec) of Yolox (in collaboration with a major research funding supported by SOAS and NSF, P.I. Jonathan Amith). The particularity of this project is that the data will come from a massive corpus of natural speech, in addition to data recorded in elicitation sessions for more sophisticated analysis. This documentation project is a synergistic collaboration between an interdisciplinary team of researchers and an indigenous linguist who wrote his master’s thesis on the phonology of Yoloxóchitl Mixtec, his native language. It will create the first extensive, archival quality corpus of a Mixtecan language and establish a base for future linguistic studies, particularly in phonetics, phonology. This project will yield a large and diversified corpus of digital recordings; time-coded transcriptions with full, accurate representation of tone in four-line interlinear format (surface form, parse, gloss, free translation). (Heriberto Avelino, Daniel Voigt, Leonardo Lancia) 

Phonetic Documentation of Dogon and Bangime

A series of phonetic analysis will account for the properties of these languages. Topics include complex nasal segments; presence of high front rounded semivowel; possible ATR harmony; tone. Work in collaboration with Jeff Heath (University of Michigan). (Heriberto Avelino, Daniel Voigt, Leonardo Lancia)

Typology of Laryngeal feautures in Languages of the Americas

An orthogonal contrast between two laryngeal features: modal vs. non-modal phonation and tone has been reported in a number of languages from different Amerindian linguistic families. This project investigates the phonetics of laryngeal contrasts observed in four languages: Yalálag Zapotec, Yucatec Maya, Ocotepec Mixe and Yuhup. (Heriberto Avelino, Daniel Voigt, Leonardo Lancia)

Dialectal and cultural diversity among Ėvens in Siberia

Ėven is a Northern Tungusic language spoken over a vast area of northeastern Siberia, from the Lena-Jana watershed in the west to the coast of the Oxotsk Sea, Chukotka, and Kamchatka in the east. [more]