Wednesday, October 18, 2023

Konstanz Working Cafés #13: Auszeit

Where better to find a nice café than in Paradies?


  • Guest wifi. Hallelujah!
  • Good range of stuff, including various coffees, vegan options, etc. etc.
  • Nice food, ideal if you want to stay there in the middle of the day. Pictured: a quiche with side salad.


  • Out of the way. Not to the same level as Heimathafen, but it’s not central: it’s about a 15-minute walk down dull but affluent residential streets from the city centre. The 9A bus goes past, but, still, unless you have the good fortune to live in Paradies, it’s not convenient.
  • Busy. I was there at 11:30 on a working Wednesday, hardly peak time, but the place was packed. I ended up sitting outside in distinctly autumnal weather.
  • Very expensive. Coffee + quiche worked out to over €14. Even city-centre places tend to be cheaper than this. Well, who needs to worry about money in Paradies, I suppose.
Ambience and coffee fall into the “neither advantage nor disadvantage” category.

Price of a regular black coffee: €4.00, the most I’ve seen. In fairness this is reasonably chonky (though not Pano chonky) and a smaller option is available for €3.30, but that’s still a lot of money.

Overall rating: ☕️☕️☕️ (3/5, actually more like 2.5).

Friday, October 06, 2023

Konstanz Working Cafés #12: Café Arôme

A hidden gem this week.

  • Concealed location. Although it’s central, you have to go through an unprepossessing parfumerie, down into a dungeon, and out the other side in order to find it. This makes it unlikely that it’ll ever be too crowded.
  • Open on Mondays. Many cafés aren’t.
  • Great cake. The Google reviews for this place rave about the cake, and boy, they weren’t wrong.
  • Lovely garden. The café opens out onto a peaceful, pleasant courtyard garden where you can sit. The inside part of the café is also nice, with bookshelves and art.
Said lovely garden.

  • No wifi. Par for the course but, still, sigh.
  • No savoury food. (But you could just have more cake.)
  • Okay coffee. It’s not bad, but there are better ones around.
Price of a regular black coffee (here “Café Schümli”): €3.20

Overall rating: ☕️☕️☕️ (3/5).

Monday, September 25, 2023

Konstanz Working Cafés #11: No. 11

Not a typo; it seemed appropriate to deal with the famous No. 11 at this point in the series.


  • Fantastic coffee. This is pretty much indisputably the most hipster place in town. You can get a delicious filter coffee here with your choice of bean (they usually have a darker one and a fruitier one on offer). Ideal if your taste in coffee is like mine.
  • Great location. Central and near the cathedral, with seats outside in good weather.
  • Nice sweets. Not many places in Konstanz do a pastel de nata. The banana bread is good too.
  • Good music choices.
Quaint on the outside, hipster on the inside

  • Small and popular. A lot of the time it just feels wrong to sit here taking up a table with a computer. (And the tables are so tiny that either your coffee or your computer is going to be on your lap.)
  • Expensive. You pay through the nose for the advantages above.
  • No savoury food. Not even a crumb.
  • No wifi. Not only that, but even the 4G signal here is pretty ropey; one of the disadvantages of an old building in a maze of streets.
Price of a regular black coffee (Americano): €3.80

Overall, it’s a great place to take visiting hipster friends, but not ideal for working. Rating: ☕️☕️☕️ (3/5).

Monday, August 14, 2023

Adam Smith’s sociolinguistic typology?

Adam Smith was an eighteenth-century Scottish Enlightenment philosopher and proto-economist associated with helping to lay the foundations of modern capitalism. His best known theoretical contribution is probably the invisible hand, and he’s lionized by right-wingers everywhere, especially in America – or rather a somewhat mythologized version of him is. One thing he is definitely not widely known for is his writings on language. But write about language he did! And, in particular, some of his ideas anticipate Peter Trudgill’s theory of sociolinguistic typology by 250 years.

Left hand side: the invisible hand. Right hand side: depiction of Smith.

His essay “Considerations concerning the first formation of languages, and the different genius of original and compounded languages”, or “dissertation on the origin of languages”, is tacked onto the end of the third edition of his much better known Theory of Moral Sentiments. It starts unpromisingly enough, with some rather loose speculations about the origins of different parts of speech in terms of their abstractness. But the second part of the essay becomes much more interesting.

Smith observes that languages can be divided into types according to whether they have more morphology or less. To put it in somewhat anachronistic terms (though not, I think, inaccurately), in those languages with less morphology, the function of certain morphemes will instead be performed by separate words. So, for instance, in English, French and Italian, what’s expressed by case suffixes in Ancient Greek and Latin is expressed by prepositions, and what’s expressed by synthetic verbal forms is expressed by periphrases involving an auxiliary have or be plus participle (these are Smith’s examples).

This idea foreshadows the morphological typology developed by Franz Bopp fifty years later, as has been pointed out before. We can call the English-French-Italian type “analytic”, and the Greek-Latin type “synthetic”. But what hasn’t been commented on, as far as I’m aware, is how Smith relates morphological types to language contact. Here he’s worth quoting in full.

Language would probably have continued upon this footing in all countries, nor would ever have grown more simple in its Declensions and Conjugations, had it not become more complex in its composition, in consequence of the mixture of several Languages with one another, occasioned by the mixture of different nations. As long as any Language was spoke by those only who learned it in their infancy, the intricacy of its declensions and conjugations could occasion no great embarrassment. The far greater part of those who had occasion to speak it, had acquired it at so very early a period of their lives, so insensibly and by such slow degrees, that they were [p468] scarce ever sensible of the difficulty. But when two nations came to be mixed with one another, either by conquest or migration, the case would be very different. Each nation, in order to make itself intelligible to those with whom it was under the necessity of conversing, would be obliged to learn the Language of the other. The greater part of individuals too, learning the new Language, not by art, or by remounting to its rudiments and first principles, but by rote, and by what they commonly heard in conversation, would be extremely perplexed by the intricacy of its declensions and conjugations. They would endeavour, therefore, to supply their ignorance of these, by whatever shift the Language could afford them. Their ignorance of the Declensions they would naturally supply by the use of Prepositions; and a Lombard, who was attempting to speak Latin, and wanted to express that such a person was a Citizen of Rome, or a benefactor to Rome, if he [sic] happened not to be acquainted with the Genitive and Dative Cases of the word Roma, would naturally express himself by prefixing the Prepositions ad and de to the Nominative; and, instead of Roma, would say, ad Roma, and de Roma. Al Roma and di Roma, accordingly, is the manner in which the present Italians, the descendants of the antient Lombards and Romans, express this and all other similar relations. And in this manner Prepositions seem to have been introduced, in the room of the antient Declensions. The same altera-[p469]-tion has, I am informed, been produced upon the Greek Language, since the taking of Constantinople by the Turks. The words are, in a great measure, the same as before; but the Grammar is entirely lost, Prepositions having come in the place of the old Declensions. This change is undoubtedly a simplification of the Language, in point of rudiments and principle. It introduces, instead of a great variety of declensions, one universal declension, which is the same in every word, of whatever gender, number, or termination.

A similar expedient enables men, in the situation above mentioned, to get rid of almost the whole intricacy of their conjugations. […]

Very similar ideas have been put forward this millennium by Peter Trudgill in his 2011 book Sociolinguistic Typology. There, the argument is that different language contact scenarios have different structural effects on the languages in contact. If the sociohistorical scenario is one of long-term societal multilingualism in which children are growing up as balanced multilinguals, then the languages in question are likely to become more (morphologically) complex by means of transfer of material. If, on the other hand, the scenario is a short-term one characterized by adult language acquisition, then (morphological) simplification of exactly the kind that Smith describes will likely take place. And the driver of simplification is exactly the same for Trudgill as it is for Smith: what Trudgill calls “the lousy language-learning abilities of the human adult”.

The parallel is of course not perfect. Contact-induced (morphological) complexification is a crucial part of Trudgill’s theory, but does not feature in Smith’s. And Trudgill and Smith differ on one very important point: the question of the overall complexity of a language. Smith writes (p470):

In general it may be laid down for a maxim, that the more simple any Language is in its composition, the more complex it must be in its declensions and conjugations; and, on the contrary, the more simple it is in its declensions and conjugations, the more complex it must be in its composition.

(By “composition” Smith has in mind certain aspects of syntax: in particular, the use of function words and the rigidity of word order.) In the 1950s, Hockett goes on record with a similar claim: “impressionistically it would seem that the total grammatical complexity of any language, counting both morphology and syntax, is about the same as that of any other”. This is a claim that Trudgill is at pains to disagree with in his book, describing it as “a propaganda ploy that was vital for combating the ‘some languages/dialects are primitive/inadequate’ view that has been widespread in our society” (2011: 16). On the other hand, the findings presented in Trudgill’s book do not really call the claim into question, since the vast majority of his evidence comes from morphology, and none of it from syntax (though he does cite work that fails to demonstrate a negative correlation between morphological and syntactic complexity).

Still, it’s fun to compare the two proposals, 250 years apart. As a final note: “naturally” is doing a lot of work in the chunky quote from Smith above! This underscores the need to actually establish how human language acquisition, and the language faculty, works (and ideally why it works that way) in order to have the full historical picture.

Monday, June 19, 2023

Good writers in linguistics

Back in 2021, I asked the following question on Twitter:

Linguists and people who read linguists: who do you consider to be good writers in linguistics? That is, independently of the merits (or otherwise) of the content, whose prose is pleasurable to read?

There were a lot of answers given! This post is just a summary. To avoid my own biases creeping in too heavily, I’m providing the answers in two lists.

List A

This is simply a list of people whose names came up more than once in the replies, I’m assuming independently.

David Adger

Alexandra Aikhenvald

Artemis Alexiadou

Felix Ameka

Mark Baker

Jonathan Bobaljik

Dwight Bolinger

Joan Bybee

Deborah Cameron

Wallace Chafe

Bernard Comrie

Greville Corbett

Niklas Coupland

David Crystal

Alexandra D’Arcy

Amy Rose Deal

Guy Deutscher

R. M. W. Dixon

Matthew Dryer

Penny Eckert

David Embick

Nicholas Evans

Nelson Flores

Liliane Haegeman

Michael Halliday

Heidi Harley

Martin Haspelmath

Ray Jackendoff

Roman Jakobson

Barbara Johnstone

William Labov

Bob Ladd

Peter Ladefoged

George Lakoff

Roger Lass

John McCarthy

Jim McCloskey

John McWhorter

Marcin Morzycki

Barbara Partee

Steven Pinker

Geoff Pullum

Ian Roberts

Edward Sapir

Anna Siewierska

Deborah Tannen

Sally Thomason

Larry Trask

Peter Trudgill

Bodo Winter

List B

This is everyone else who was mentioned.

Elzbieta Adamczyk

Uju Anya

Diana Archangeli

Dawn Archer

Laura Arnold

Jenny Audring

Kent Bach

Ad Backus

April Baker-Bell

Rusty Barrett

Michael Beißwenger

Emily Bender

Émile Benveniste

Ricardo Bermúdez-Otero

Katie Bernstein

Catherine Best

Jan Blommaert

Frederick Bodmer

David Britain

Penelope Brown

Siobhan Brownlie

Lyle Campbell

Anne Charity Hudley

Yiya Chen

Lisa Cheng

Andrew Chesterman

Guglielmo Cinque

Guy Cook

Ewa Dabrowska

Katrina Daly Thompson

Helen De Hoop

Hendrik De Smet

Ana Deumert

Jill de Villiers

Jean-Marc Dewaele

Gaston Dorren

Sebastian Dubreil

Rod Ellis

Stephan Elspass

Nick Enfield

Vyvyan Evans

Cathrine Fabricius-Hansen

Charlie Farrington

Esther Figueroa

Charles Fillmore

William Foley

H. W. Fowler

Elaine Francis

Gillian Gallagher

Ginny Gathercole

Anna Giskes

Lila Gleitman

Petra Goedegebuure

Karl-Heinz Göttert

Adele Goldberg

Ernest Gowers

David Gramling

Robert D. Greenberg

Lenore Grenoble

Hubert Haider

Michael Hancher

Jorge Hankamer

Jonathan Harrington

Rebecca Hasselbach

Stefan Hauser

Jeffrey Heath

Irene Heim

Monica Heller

Martin Hilpert

Charles Hockett

Nicole Holliday

Larry Horn

Susan Hunston

Jim Hurford

Nina Hyams

Larry Hyman

Dell Hymes

Mark Johnson

Brian Joseph

Laura Kalin

Noah Katznelson

Geoffrey Khan

Sharese King

Leonid Kogan

Claire Kramsch

Julia Kristeva

Dave Kush

Utpal Lahiri

Robin Lakoff

Howard Lasnik

Julie Legate

Sterre Leufkens

Beth Levin

David Lightfoot

Henning Lobin

Juri Lotman

Martin Luginbühl

Jack Lynch

Dave Malinowski

Peter Matthews

C. M. I. M. Matthiessen

Tony McEnery

Norma Mendoza-Denton

Simon Meier-Vieracker

Craig Melchert

Marianne Mithun

Koldo Mitxelena

Robert Moore

Akira Murakami

Lynne Murphy

Terttu Nevalainen

Marco Neves

Andrew Nevins

Corrine Occhino

Nicholas Ostler

Django Paris

Joe Pater

Aneta Pavlenko

Alison Phipps

Ingrid Piller

Lola Pons Rodríguez

Philomen Probert

Vladimir Propp

Malka Rappaport Hovav

Paul Reed

Timo Roettger

Jonathan Rosa

Deniz Rudin

Ivan Sag

Gillian Sankoff

Michelle Sheehan

Jesse Sheidlower

Michael Silverstein

Peggy Speas

Dan Sperber

Lauren Squires

Arran Stibbe

Sali Tagliamonte

Christine Tardy

Anne-Michelle Tessier

Erik Thomas

Steve Thorne

Susanne Tienken

Adam van Compernolle

Berthold van Maris

Marc van Oostendorp

Ariel Vasquez Carranza

Kai von Fintel

Rachel Walker

Henriette Walter

Chantelle Warner

Calvert Watkins

Andreas Willi

Deirdre Wilson

Martina Wiltschko

Tim Wolcott

Walt Wolfram

Marina Yaguello

George Yule

Ben Zimmer


Any list like this should come with an insane number of caveats! For one thing, the replies are skewed by who happens to be following me on Twitter, and who happened to retweet it. For another, the notion of “good writer” wasn’t defined (and quite possibly can’t be): I don’t personally even believe that it’s wholly possible to disentangle prose style and merits of the content. And, thirdly, famous people are more likely to appear on both lists by virtue of their fame.

And finally my own disclaimer: I don’t agree with all of the suggestions. In some cases, I think that they’re a good writer, but a bad person. Or a bad writer, but a good person. Or a good writer and a good person, but a bad linguist… or any combination of the above! But the point of the lists isn’t to represent what I think. Hopefully, instead, it’ll spread good vibes and encourage people to take a look at writing by people they haven’t checked out before.