Using Language Invention to Teach Typology and Cross-Linguistic Universals

Matt Pearson received his Ph.D. in Linguistics from UCLA, and currently serves as Professor of Linguistics at Reed College (Portland, Oregon), where he teaches syntax, typology, morphology, semantics, and field methods. His research on word order and clause structure in Malagasy has appeared in Natural Language and Linguistic Theory and other publications. In 1996-97 Matt created the alien language for the NBC science fiction series Dark Skies. Matt’s naturalistic artlang Okuna, developed over more than 20 years, earned a Smiley Award from David Peterson along with a mention in his book The Art of Language Invention.

Abstract

Matt Pearson discusses a project where students learn about language typology by creating a naturalistic constructed language. Students review cross-linguistic variation in natural languages (in areas such as phoneme inventory, word order, case alignment, etc.), and then determine which properties their invented language will have. Decisions are made at random by spinning a wheel. Attached to the wheel is a pie chart, where the size of each slice represents the percentage of the world’s languages possessing a given setting for some structural parameter or set of parameters. Crucially, each decision constrains subsequent decisions in accordance with known implicational universals: e.g., in determining whether the language has prepositions or postpositions, the pie chart is adjusted based on verb-object order in the language, as decided by a previous spin of the wheel.

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Grammar and Lexicon of Okuna

Matt Pearson received his Ph.D. in Linguistics from UCLA, and currently serves as Professor of Linguistics at Reed College (Portland, Oregon), where he teaches syntax, typology, morphology, semantics, and field methods. His research on word order and clause structure in Malagasy has appeared in Natural Language and Linguistic Theory and other publications. In 1996-97 Matt created the alien language for the NBC science fiction series Dark Skies. Matt’s naturalistic artlang Okuna, developed over more than 20 years, earned a Smiley Award from David Peterson along with a mention in his book The Art of Language Invention.

Abstract

Matt Pearson’s Okuna has long been recognized as one of the premier artistic language created in the modern era. This is the full grammar and lexicon of Okuna presented in one document.

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Case Marking and Event Structure: One Conlanger’s Investigations

Matt Pearson received his Ph.D. in Linguistics from UCLA, and currently serves as Professor of Linguistics at Reed College (Portland, Oregon), where he teaches syntax, typology, morphology, semantics, and field methods. His research on word order and clause structure in Malagasy has appeared in Natural Language and Linguistic Theory and other publications. In 1996-97 Matt created the alien language for the NBC science fiction series Dark Skies. Matt’s naturalistic artlang Okuna, developed over more than 20 years, earned a Smiley Award from David Peterson along with a mention in his book The Art of Language Invention.

Here, Matt has written up his LCC1 presentation. You can view a video of that presentation here.

Abstract

This paper explores how arguments are distinguished using case marking in different languages, with particular reference to the ways in which case marking is affected by factors such as animacy, definiteness and specificity, the aspect of the clause (perfective versus imperfective), and the event-type of the predicate (including whether it is stative or dynamic, telic or atelic, durative or punctual). The paper includes both a typological and an autobiographical component. I begin by briefly illustrating how case marking interacts with argument and event structure in various natural languages. I then show how my own efforts at language construction have been informed by these phenomena, and how my attempts to invent a unique yet naturalistic case system have broadened my understanding of argument and event structure in natural languages.

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