Water is Life Addendum: The Diné Bizaad (Navajo) Verb

As noted on Episode 42: Water is Life, the verb in Diné Bizaad is quite complicated. For example:


‘someone jerked me outdoors’

This verb is made up of a stem (-dazh) and a bunch of prefixes (things attached to the front of something).

                                                                                                         verb stem

ch’í                             shi       di                       ni          ɫ                     dazh

out horizontally     me       arms and legs  modal  causative    move in a jerky manner

You can see from this example that verbs can be internally very complicated. Young and Morgan (1987) provide us with a template* with up to 17 slots:

Screenshot 2019-03-13 12.08.05

However, the maximum number of prefixes on a stem appears to be 8 (so 9 slots).

Does this template make your eyes cross? Mine too, and I’ve looked at it for over 20 years. It’s not very transparent. Which is maybe why the Japanese were unable to crack Navajo Code.

One thing to remember is that Diné verbs must be at least two syllables long, and so the verb stem on its own is not enough, but the verb stem doesn’t need every slot to be filled.

For example:




‘I cry.’





‘I’m dragging or towing it along.’

Our first example had 5 prefixes, and 6 is easy to find as well




‘someone jerked me outdoors’





‘I lean him standing against it.’

You get the point. It’s complicated! Which is all the more reason to love Diné (and all Athabaskan languages).

* There are non-templatic ways to analyze the Diné verb, but I don’t know enough about them to even attempt to describe them.

** WordPress is messing up the tone on nasalized vowels, so this data is not quite right.


Second Addendum: “Injun” English

In our latest episode (On the Basis of Voice), we read an email from a listener, Ed Evanson. He sent us the paper he wrote on “Injun” English. Abstract below. If you’d like to email him for a copy of the paper, you can do so at ed.evanson96 AT gmail.com



Academic interest in the media’s misrepresentation of Native American people has analysed gender discrimination (Oshana, 1981; Deloria, 1998; Adams, Keene & Koella, 2011; Coward, 2014) and linguistic discrimination (Meek, 2006) though never their intersection. Meek analyses Hollywood Injun English (HIE) as a linguistic simulacrum, i.e. a variety of English meant to imitate (though inaccurately) the speech of Native people. Her work further shows, that HIE has particular features which are used to index certain stereotypes ideologically associated with Native people in the United States. Table 1 lists the correspondence between the features and the themes. She shows that HIE is thereby a tool to maintain and reproduce certain ideologies about Native People that exist in dominant-produced media (Hall, 1980). I conducted a constructionist, theoretical thematic analysis in order to answer my research question: How do Native women engage with HIE in western films pre-Red power? My analysis attempts to expose how ideologies about Native women as old as the 1850s at least (Coward, 2014) have been maintained and reproduced as late as 1960. Since HIE is regularly used in modern media as well (Meek, 2006), it is crucial we understand its role in the fight against discriminatory ideologies about Native women.


Addendum: On the Basis of Voice

On the latest episode of The Vocal Fries, Megan and Carrie talk with Kelly Wright, PhD student at the University of Michigan, about housing discrimination via dialect discrimination.

You can find more information about Kelly on her website, and you can follow her on Twitter @raciolinguistic.

Listen to her speak about accent and advancement in the American workplace on BBC World Service Weekend Program in August 2018 here.

Watch her 5-minute Linguist breakdown of Covert Segregation: Dialect Discrimination in the Housing Market (She starts at 29:40!)

Here are her slides for her talk about the same topic at the Chicago Linguistics Society.

Finally, here is a link to the results of her survey about attitudes toward African American and Standard American English.

She has shared some book recommendations with us:

Raciolinguistics (Alim Editor)

The Everyday Language of White Racism (Jane H. Hill)

Talkin’ and Testifyin’ (Geneva Smitherman)

Articulate While Black (Smitherman and Alim)




Addendum: Bilingualism isn’t just for white kids

This week we chat with Dr. Abby Bajuniemi about Heritage language speakers. Dr. Bajuniemi has a PhD in Hispanic linguistics from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. She is a former professor who has worked directly with heritage language speakers and we were thrilled to have her on the show.

Dr. Bajuniemi shared some resources with us that you might find helpful/educational, whether or not you work directly with heritage language speakers.

Dr. Bajuniemi especially recommends the work of Dr. Kim Potowski, Professor of Hispanic linguistics. Dr. Potowski has a list of helpful resources.

Make sure to check out Dr. Bajuniemi’s website for more information on her work. You can also find her on twitter @AbsP. Finally, she has a book coming out in 2019! It’s on designing and researching natural language interactions for digital products, with a focus on sociolinguistics/sociophonetics/conversation analysis and ethics of working with language. When more information is available, you can find it here.

And please remember that labels are complicated and messy and “heritage language speaker” will have different connotations for different people and those connotations are dependent on a myriad of historical and personal factors. But we should all remember that bilingualism isn’t just for white kids and everyone’s language is valid and important.

Happy New Year!


Addendum 31: Bat Signals

If you listened to our episode about bat communication, you might want to read the actual science behind animals and animal communication. (And don’t forget to subscribe so you never miss an episode!)



Episode 31: Todos/Todas/Todes Addendum

In our latest episode, we chat with Dr. Santiago Kalinowski, the Director of the Linguistics Department at the Argentinian Academy of Letters. We get into the topic of lenguaje inclusivo/inclusive language in Spanish.

Spanish is a “morphologically rich” language… That is to say, unlike English, nouns encode grammatical gender–masculine and feminine–so, any modifying adjectives or articles must conform to the noun’s grammatical gender.

Mesa = a feminine noun that takes a feminine article, la

La mesa = the table.

And adjectives conform to mesa’s feminine gender:

La mesa bonita = the pretty table

But what about with people?

If there were a group of 12 women, 3 non-binary folks, and 2 men, you have to use the masculine ‘default’ to say “They are students”:

Ellos son estudiantes. (Ellas is the feminine plural, but can only be used if everyone in the group is female/female-identified.)

Lenguaje inclusivo, in part, is using a THIRD option, the new Elles. Or todes, or bonites. Non-binary gender? No problem.

Here is the video of the amazing young girl who tells her teacher what’s up.

Here is the video of the protester using lenguaje inclusivo, like a boss.

Since we talked with Santiago, I’ve seen so many articles about ‘Latinx’, here are a couple: Love it? Hate it? ‘Latinx’ points to the future and ‘Latinx’: An offense to the Spanish language or a nod to inclusion?

Santiago also shared some information with us, which I will share here.

For further reference, you can check any of the following links to interviews and articles written by me or where I’ve been quoted:

  1. First take on the issue
  2. Shorter version of the same article published as op ed in an actual media outlet (that I could translate to English if necessary)
  3. Interview in that same outlet (with two video clips).
  4. Piece in the fairly popular magazine “Noticias”, where I’m one of the sources.
  5. Full length video (1 hour and 40 minutes) of the debate that was held at the Institute of Linguistics of the University of Buenos Aires where I intervened.

Finally, remember these wise words: “I’m not a lawyer, but I don’t necessarily need to be a lawyer to defend others’ rights.”


Episode 29: Neaux French Left Behind/Bonus 9 Addendum

If you listened to our episode about varieties of French in Louisiana, you might have some questions. And if you listened to our bonus, you might have even more (unless you know a lot about French). (And don’t forget to subscribe so you never miss an episode!)

How many people speak Louisiana Creole? fewer than 10k

How many speak Louisiana regional French? probably around 150k

Why does it matter if French is no longer spoken in LA? Because it matters to the people of LA.

What were the differences between Louisiana Creole and Louisiana Regional French mentioned by Dr. Dajko?

She mentioned a few that weren’t totally clearcut:

  1. The high front rounded vowel (/y/) is usually unrounded in Louisiana Creole, less so in Louisiana Regional French (/y/ → /i/) so tu ‘you (sg)’ /ty/ becomes /ti/ (although, it also seems to have become /to/, which is nice and confusing)
  2. post-vocalic r (/ʁ/) is more often dropped in creole (like Boston or London r-lessness, where ‘car’ is pronounced ‘cah’): bonjour becomes bonjou

She mentioned more that were better diagnostics:

  1. There’s no gender marking in Louisiana Creole; gender maintained in Louisiana Regional French
  2. The pronominal systems are different. Louisiana Regional French has a system much closer to standard French. For example, moi became mo in Louisiana Creole, and it is used in subject position (moi, je + verb became mo + verb).

Mo té kourí ô Villaj.

I past travel to village

“I went to Lafayette.”

  1. In French, there is a process called liaison, where a consonant is only pronounced when the following word is vowel-initial. For example, les tables [letabl] (~lay tahbl) (no /z/) ‘the tables’ vs. les ouiseaux [lezwazo] (~lay zwahzoh) (/z/ shows up) ‘the birds’. In many creoles (and Michif), the /z/ gets reanalyzed as part of the noun. So ouiseau ‘bird’ often becomes zwazo. For example, in Michif, the word for ‘egg’ oeuf got borrowed as zaf (where the /z/ comes from the liaison from the article les). Same with ‘tree’ arbre, which becomes zarb. In Mauritian Creole (another French creole), ‘almond’ is zamann (the /z/ comes from liaison originally. In Louisiana Creole, the word for ‘bird’ is zozo. Louisiana Regional French maintains a more regularized liaison process.
  2. The article follows the noun in Louisiana Creole: maison la instead of la maison. This is also common in French creoles (and likely isn’t a reversal, but comes from a different morpheme).
  3. In possession, Louisiana Creole uses gagner ‘to win’ for ‘to have’ (as do some other varieties of French). Louisiana Regional French uses avoir ‘to have’. She provided us with a test sentence to distinguish between the two varieties:

I have 5 dollars = mo gen senk pyas (Louisiana Creole) vs. j’ai cinq pias (Louisiana Regional French)

(senk pyas sounds exactly the same as cinq pias, so the only differences are the pronouns mo vs. j’ and gen (from gagner) vs. ai (from avoir).)