Category Archives: Divers

Project completed! Looking back at the past 48 months, and forward to online grammars and more connected data

The project completion date is December 31st, 2016. This is the time to look back at the past 48 months, and forward to more and more connected data: online grammars with one-click links to data, and other improvements for the greater benefit of linguistic research.

The aim of this project was to build several types of corpora (traditional stories and dictionaries) for unwritten and endangered Sino-Tibetan languages spoken in Nepal and in Tibetan areas of China (Khaling, Thulung, Koyi, Japhug, Zbu, Khroskyabs, Na), as well as to produce tools to analyze and format these corpora. We were able to develop a dictionary interface on the Pangloss collection website (http://lacito.vjf.cnrs.fr/pangloss/dictionaries/), and an online tool of parallel corpus comparison (http://himalco.huma-num.fr/corpus/comparable/index.htm and  http://lacito.vjf.cnrs.fr/pangloss/dictionaries/). The Khaling, Thulung, Japhug and Na corpora of the Pangloss collection were also significantly enriched.

The software engineer Céline Buret collaborated with us during 24 months. She developed a python library called pylmflib (https://pypi.python.org/pypi/pylmflib/1.0) which implements in XML the lexicographical norm LMF, with conversion tools from the MDF format (used by many fieldwork linguists to make their dictionaries) to LaTeX, HTML and DOC. PDF versions of the dictionaries (available on the website http://himalco.huma-num.fr/dictionaries/index.htm and on HAL-SHS) have been generated using LaTeX, and a paper version of the Khaling dictionary has been derived from it.

In the wake of the HimalCo project, new tools are being developed for the pylmflib library (conversion of the LMF dictionaries to Android format, graphical interface) to allow the production of multimedia dictionaries in other languages studied by linguists from CNRS and other institutions, in France and abroad.

For the Khaling dictionary, a set of PERL scripts have been written to (i) automatically generate the conjugation paradigms (ii) automatically convert from API to Devanagari script.

To sum up, this project has made possible to realize three types of corpora :

  • Three dictionaries of unwritten and endangered languages: Khaling, Na and Japhug. In the case of Japhug and Na, these dictionaries are the first to be available for these languages. As for Khaling, it is the first dictionary in a reliable transcription, which provides in addition the complete conjugation paradigms, of crucial importance in this language.
  • A corpus of 64 hours of audio recordings (and in part video) transcribed and annoted in four languages (Japhug, Na, Khaling, Thulung) has been archived in the Pangloss collection, which is thus significally enriched by 555 new documents.
  • A pilot interface of parallel corpus comparator, using some of the traditional stories from the corpora of Kiranti languages.

Scientific publications based on these data can be looked up here (full-text, no login required).

We now look forward to further experiments and realizations in the publication and exploitation of the results of linguistic analysis.  The idea is to put together a complete set of linked electronic resources comprising grammars, dictionaries, text corpora, and multimedia documents. This work gradually consolidates the empirical basis of the formulations and models proposed in typology and language theory. We hope you will want to continue to follow us, now on other blogs and websites (see in particular Panchronica — in French — and of course the Pangloss Collection).

Alexis Michaud

I'm a linguist specialized in phonetics, focusing on un(der-)documented languages.

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“Tone in Yongning Na” is the first book to enter Open Review stage at Language Science Press!

The HimalCo project allowed for the completion of the linguist’s “three treasures” for the Yongning Na language: a dictionary; a collection of texts; and a monograph. This monograph was submitted in June 2016 to Language Science Press.

Language Science Press publishes high quality, peer-reviewed open-access books in linguistics. All publications are free for both authors and readers. General Editors are Stefan Müller (FU Berlin) and Martin Haspelmath (MPI for the Science of Human History). They are supported by a high-profile Advisory Board.

The book, entitled “Tone in Yongning Na: Lexical tones and morphotonology”, was accepted in October 2016. Anonymous reviewers provided a wealth of comments and suggestions, which were gratefully implemented. Now “Tone in Yongning Na” is the first book to enter Open Review stage at Language Science Press. I hope you will want to have a look!

Two quick notes for readers:
(i) The draft that is currently open for you to review has a few unsightly page breaks and line breaks: for instance, the word “construction” begins at the end of page 144 (“construc-“) and the ending (“tion”) is orphaned on page 147. Some examples are also split over two pages. And a few lines spill into the margins. Please kindly disregard these issues concerning page breaks and line breaks: we’re aware of those, but page breaks and line breaks will only be finalized at the very end of the typesetting stage.
(ii) It seems that the PDF made available on the reviewing interface, PaperHive, is not searchable. It makes it hard to navigate the volume. In case you struggle with this, you can download the (searchable) PDF at the following address:
https://www.dropbox.com/s/nekau4g6q91tg6t/109ToneInYongningNa_Draft_21Dec.pdf?dl=0
You can then EITHER provide your comments by logging in to PaperHive and locating the places you have comments about, OR send me comments by e-mail (alexis.michaud@cnrs.fr). All comments will be gratefully acknowledged whether transmitted through PaperHive or by e-mail.

Alexis Michaud

I'm a linguist specialized in phonetics, focusing on un(der-)documented languages.

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Nepal News

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Like anyone with a strong attachment to Nepal–and many more besides–we were heartbroken to witness from afar the two major earthquakes which devastated Nepal on April 25th and May 12th. Thankfully, the individuals we work with most closely have all reported that they are safe. While there was serious damage in Solu district, where the Rai languages are spoken, it seems that the number of casualties was not as high as was initially feared.
The French government is for the time being not allowing French civil servants (a status covering French academics) to travel to Nepal. As a result, we are working to bring a Thulung speaker to Paris during the summer, which will allow us to continue to work on these amazing languages while giving Nepal time to recover from its wounds.  We still hope to return to Nepal in the fall–Nepal has expressed that the best way to help is to travel to the country, as it relies so much on tourism–and will find ways to spread the word about these languages either way.

Project currently developing on GitHub — out of public view

The project blog has gone quiet in the past 5 months, as texts and dictionaries are in the making in a (nonpublic) GitHub repository. Tools for data migration from Toolbox / MDF format to XML and LaTEX are now operational. Painstakingly collected linguistic data and innovative technology make a heady cocktail: we were excited to see the very earliest professional-looking draft versions of our dictionaries.

Aimée Lahaussois made a field trip to Nepal earlier this year; Guillaume Jacques is beginning one in Southwest China; and this post’s author will visit again Yongning (also in Southwest China) in August. Lots of tasks are under way. In GitHub jargon: hundreds of ‘Commits’ (updates of documents and scripts), 9 Wiki pages, (currently) 33 ‘Issues’ (tasks to be done)… and high hopes of having great things to showcase here in due course.

Alexis Michaud

I'm a linguist specialized in phonetics, focusing on un(der-)documented languages.

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Third Workshop on Sino-Tibetan Languages of Sichuan: a brief report

Last month our team organised the third edition of the Workshop on Sino-Tibetan Languages of Sichuan, which followed a first workshop in Taipei organised by Jackson T.-S. Sun, and a second one in Beijing in 2010. The conference was hosted at the EHESS.

Alexis Michaud set up a lively website for the workshop. A Book of abstracts is available.

Nearly all fields of linguistics were represented during this conference, and the proportion of papers on phonology and phonetics vs. morphosyntax was relatively well balanced.

It may be unappropriate for me, as one of the co-organizers, to praise the success of our workshop. Yet, I think that it was noteworthy in at least one respect. The advantage of small-scale workshops like this one is that people working on closely related research topics can get together and interact with each other in a better way than in huge conferences. In this workshop, we established a record for the number of presentations on Naish (four) and Rgyalrongic (eight). The presentations on these languages also happened, for some of them at least, to be on related topics: all papers on Naish were about tonology, in particular. This allowed detailed and productive discussions both during the question sessions and during breaks, and it was quite a rewarding experience — at least for me.

Among the participants at the conference were three native speakers of the languages under investigation: Wang Shuangcheng (speaker of Amdo Tibetan and dialectologist himself), Skalbzang Phuntshogs (whose name is sinicized as Geiru Pincuo, a speaker of Northern Pumi collaborating with Henriette Daudey on language documentation) and bLobzang Nyima (a speaker of Rtau [rəsɲəske] who lives in Paris and collaborates with our team). Their presence was in my opinion an essential element of the success of this workshop: during discussions, it allowed for immediate reverification of data cited by participants. It is already a tradition, since 2008, for the Sichuan Workshop to include native speaker participants, and I hope that this tradition will continue in further instalments of this conference.

Zev Handel has expressed his interest to organize the next workshop in Seattle, and I look forward to it already.

Victor Segalen: an explorer who gave a bad name to foreign scholars in China

A Chinese friend doing archaeological work once asked me, ‘Have you heard about Victor Segalen?’ (謝閣蘭) And then, ‘What do you think about him?’

Before our discussion, my impression was positive. I liked Segalen’s literary works; and I believed that Segalen was equally serious about exploring China. Unlike others, he learnt some Chinese; and he went to faraway places, (re-)discovering major archaeological sites. His style of writing is decidedly on the romantic, passionate side, lacking the kind of matter-of-fact information that is required for serious scholarship, but poetic licence seemed OK on the part of an explorer from the last years of Imperial China. There are some obnoxious colonial overtones in some of his writings, but that too seemed OK if viewed in the context of his time.

My Chinese friend’s perception was different. As an archaeologist, he pointed out that Segalen had unearthed sculptures, taken pictures, and gone his own sweet way, leaving ancient art objects exposed to the elements and to depredation, without even reporting their location in sufficient detail. That was an eye-opener for me. Inspired literary works cannot serve as an excuse for leaving a mess behind. As an archaeologist, Victor Segalen simply did not do a serious job. When in a foreign country, one is seen, willy-nilly, as a representative of one’s own country; and so Segalen gave a bad name to foreign scholars in China.

The morality for linguists is simple. When we go and collect data, beyond our immediate interests it’s important to think in terms of stable repositories that guarantee long-term conservation and online availability for researchers and for the communities.

Alexis Michaud

I'm a linguist specialized in phonetics, focusing on un(der-)documented languages.

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Incentives for publishing text corpora and multimedia documents: About a recent discussion on the Tibeto-Burman list

In-depth language documentation is clearly a priority duty for linguists of our generation. This is what will remain as our most important legacy. It is also a major driving force for real advances in linguistics, as multimedia digital databases open up a tremendous potential for testing linguistic analyses and building computer models: a huge space opens up once we have a reliable, high-quality empirical basis for our studies.

This point has been made eloquently in various forums; it can now be considered a rather uncontroversial point of view. Realizations tend to lag behind somewhat, though. In addition to personal conviction, institutional recognition is required for academics to invest as much time as they should (and in many cases would like to) into the time-consuming tasks of preparing data for long-term preservation, online circulation, and further computer processing. There has been a vivid discussion about publications and publication venues on the Internet list “Issues and Announcements Related to Tibeto-Burman Linguistics” lately (Tibeto-Burman internet domain). Stephen Morey pointed out that:

“Here in Australia, the Australian Linguistics Society has set up a subcommittee to work out ways by which text corpora – annotated, analysed and curated – can be assessed and counted as research output just as articles in journals are. This follows on the recognition of the scholarly merit of Language Documentation by the Linguistics Society of America in 2010.
Once academics can get credit for this kind of work, we’ll be able to put more time into it and this will be of benefit to communities in the long run as well.”

This was a response to Guillaume’s suggestion: “I think that our community should value more the production of dictionaries and text collections including translations in the local national languages, not just in English (or even only in the local languages, without English), even if this kind of publication never get cited. Citation-based evaluation of academic productivity has a highly detrimental effect on the field, and evaluators should really make a special case for non-English publications intended for speakers of the endangered languages.”

To me, the exchanges over the Tibeto-Burman list conveyed a keen sense of the excitement of doing linguistics on under-resourced languages. This is an era for pioneers, and the frontier is… in our own gardens, which we must cultivate, following the motto of the Pangloss Collection! The framework is in place: long-term archiving and stable identifiers; open archives for consultation; CreativeCommons licenses… and it’s now a matter of getting one’s act together. In the long run this is well-invested time and effort, as the hours, days and months of manual weeding, pruning and trimming make for great documents, which always find an appreciative audience at some point.

Alexis Michaud

I'm a linguist specialized in phonetics, focusing on un(der-)documented languages.

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Talking dictionaries for Himalayan languages

In addition to parallel corpora, the main objective of this research project (HimalCo) is to create a set of online talking dictionaries, in particular from Japhug Rgyalrong, Khaling, Thulung and Yongning Na. We are still weighing our options concerning the structure of the platform (in particular, whether or not to use LexiquePro), but we have decided that all dictionaries will be encoded in a Toolbox-like format, either directly generated by Toolbox itself or exported from FLEX.

Files in Toolbox format are easily manipulable with PERL scripts. They can be easily converted to HTML and combined with sound files to produce a simple interface for web dictionaries, like the Arapaho talking dictionary (this could be an alternative to LexiquePro):

http://linguistics.berkeley.edu/~arapaho/arapaho_english.html

It is also easily convertible to LaTeX code, which can then compiled into a PDF file to produce a professionally typeset version of the dictionary with hyperlinks for cross-references. We place special focus on online tools, and on the web version of dictionaries, but it is also necessary to have printed versions accessible to the speakers of the languages.

Also, it is trivial to write PERL script to convert from one writing system to another (for instance, from IPA to Devanagari script in the case of languages of Nepal) and to automatically generate entire paradigms for either the complex verbal flexion of the Kiranti languages or the intricate tonal alternations of the Naish languages.

Within the three years time frame of this project, it would be irrealistic to work on lots of dictionaries at the same time. For this reason, we decided, in the case of the three Kiranti languages under study, to compile verb dictionaries only. These dictionaries will comprise all the verb roots, their derived forms, example sentences, and a complete list of automatically generated paradigms. This is also a better service to the communities, as many Rai (Kiranti ) intellectuals attempt at making dictionaries themselves, but experience diffculty with the complex verbal morphology of their languages.

I have finished a first draft of the Khaling verb dictionary (the example sentences were collected during my field trip in Solukhumbu last February), and I am bringing it to Nepal next week for proofreading, finishing the section on complex predicates and recording the examples for the web version. This dictionary will continue to improve over the years; on the other hand, a first publishable version is now in view, and I hope that it can soon be made available to native speakers as a practical, easy-to-use book.

On the notion of parallel corpora

We borrowed this idea from the field of translation studies, where translation equivalents are aligned and then stored as translation memory to be used during later translation tasks.  What interested us was the idea of aligning linguistic data across languages and retrieving aligned segments for the purposes of analysis and comparison.

One of the remarkable features of Kiranti languages in Eastern Nepal is that their mythology is surprisingly similar: in some cases, perfect calques of sentences are found across different language versions of a same story.  This seemed like a good starting point for building a corpus of aligned material based on resolutely native data, as opposed to more artificial (but still interesting) material such as Frog stories and Pear Stories.

We have set up a prototype for the aligntment of stories, and so far, it is quite promising:  we have aligned three different versions of the story of Kakcilip–in Thulung, Koyi and Khaling–in such a way that similar content across languages is tagged with a Similarity label.

The Similarity labels appear above the sentence numbers in the full-text versions of the story in the different languages. When a sentence with such a label is selected, it leads to a view of that same sentence in the languages involved in the similarity.

We had, of course, to define the notion of similarity for the purposes of this alignment: for the time being, our working definition is that it concerns a segment of text of similar narrative function or content.  This allows us to align, in addition to material sharing lexical and morphosyntactic features, sentences in different versions that outwardly have no connection (different names of protagonists, different actions, different objects involved) but that share narrative function, in being, for example, a turning point within the story.

The ability to see the same (or a similar) sentence across languages makes it possible to identify the individual languages’ available tools for expressing similar material.

We have also associated a concordancer with the aligned corpus, which means that we can look for specific morphemes or lexemes and then compare them across languages.

For more details on the technical set-up, you can see our paper presented at LREC 2012, in a workshop on Building and Using Comparable Corpora.

About Exploratory Field Trips

These days, the project team is busy finalizing administrative issues. One slight difficulty is that the funding agency, the Agence Nationale de la Recherche, does not have a separate category for exploratory field trips: trips to the areas where the languages we study are spoken, and where we collect the data which is then organized, made available online (in the Pangloss Collection) and analyzed. In the budget documents, they are pooled together with the budget items for attending conferences, workshops… As a result, linguistics project with a fieldwork component look pretty strange from the point of view of current administrative/accounting standards. It looks as if too much money were spent on international travel.

This administrative episode gives us an opportunity to emphasize the specificity of exploratory field trips, which are central to our work. Fortunately, the people at ANR are open to suggestions and interested in understanding how our work is actually conducted, so the odds are that we shall be able to carry out numerous field trips, as originally planned. Who knows–perhaps exploratory field trips will even come to be recognized as a special category of “mission” in administrative typology? At some research centres with a strong tradition of fieldwork, such as LACITO, the two (“Conferences/Workshops” and “Fieldwork”) are already distinguished, as a matter of course.

 

Alexis Michaud

I'm a linguist specialized in phonetics, focusing on un(der-)documented languages.

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HimalCo – Himalayan Corpora

This project proposes to build parallel corpora for three sub-groups of the Sino-Tibetan family, covering a total of 8 little-described oral languages. These corpora will be made up of texts and lexical data. Texts that share a similar (sometimes nearly identical) narrative frame will be selected, drawing from the strong mythological traditions of the Greater Himalayan region. One set of parallel texts will be assembled for each sub-group: Kiranti (from Nepal), and Rgyalrong and Naish (from China). (Note that “parallel texts” in the sense of our project does not refer to texts with aligned translation, as in “parallel Classical Greek texts”: Greek on one page and English on the facing page, but to traditional texts put in parallel according to the junctures of their narrative frames.) The alignment of texts on the basis of their narrative frame will allow for the cross-language comparison of highly similar native materials; among other benefits for research, the typologically salient features of each sub-group will thus come to the fore with greater accuracy than can be obtained through the type of elicitation often used for cross-language comparison, e.g. the Pear Story.
HimalCo includes the two essential steps of (i) first-hand data collection in the field (in Nepal and China) and (ii) state-of-the-art transcription, annotation and formatting of the entire data set. In addition to classical interlinear morphemic glossing, translation and sound synchronization as implemented in the LACITO Archive (to which the participants are regular contributors), the narratives will be organized into parallel corpora in each of the three language subgroups, and the lexical data will be serve as the basis for talking dictionaries: dictionaries combined with sound recordings of individual entries (words spoken in isolation) and of example sentences.
The team, which includes an IT specialist, will develop simple interfaces for the consultation of parallel corpora and talking dictionaries, allowing the comparison of material in individual languages, across languages of a subgroup, and across subgroups. This project will provide the solid empirical basis which has heretofore been lacking for research on these languages: all the materials will be made freely available online through the LACITO Archive, whose interface will be enriched to allow consultation of parallel texts and talking dictionaries. These objectively verifiable data will be available for the in-depth investigation of a broad range of issues that include topical issues in synchrony and diachrony (comparative morphology; reconstruction of Tibeto-Burman morphology; and study of the evolution of morphological systems) for which these languages have key evidence to contribute.

Alexis Michaud

I'm a linguist specialized in phonetics, focusing on un(der-)documented languages.

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