A list of all the posts and pages found on the site. For you robots out there is an XML version available for digesting as well.



The point of a written language is not to record speech

17 minute read


What’s the point of written language (aka orthography)? Assuming it is a human invention, why was it created? A simple assumption is that it records spoken language, so that information can be transmitted in more permanent and replicable ways. A reader who sees the written text can reconstruct the speech in the physical absence of the speaker. This makes sense conceptually because we know that in a spoken language, information is generally transmitted through speech. Then any written form that captures the uttered sounds in speech can transmit the information. This idea also has its empirical support: all written languages in the world postdate their spoken counterparts, and are “glottographic” - they all record uttered sounds with symbols.

In this post I argue based on case studies of the English and Chinese writing systems that this idea is in fact wrong.

A hunch

6 minute read


I think a lot about what I call “coordinators” in natural languages. They are non-local elements that nevertheless must appear together (or even appear similar in form). One example of non-local coordinators is the English disjunction coordinators either…or… (as in (1a)).1 When a disjunction begins with either, or must also appear (1b) (* indicates ungrammaticality).

(1) a. Pat eats either rice or beans.
      b. *Pat eats either rice beans.

Coordinators fascinate me because they relate to each other at a distance (they are usually not adjacent to each other, being separated by other words). Linguists study these long-distance relations because they reveal a key property of human language - it often relies on non-local, non-linear relations. In the case of coordinators, how does the grammar ensure that when one of them appears, the other must also appear? As a metaphor, how does one element signal to the other: “I’m here, and you’d better also appear”? Under what conditions must they cooccur, and why? This post talks about my speculation about what conditions their cooccurrence.

  1. Although either and or do not look similar, the negated disjunction coordinators neither and nor do, both beginning with n-, which marks their negative property. In many languages, the disjunction coordinators are even identical. Polish is a language that showcases this property nicely. Its counterpart of “either…or…” is alboalbo…; its “neither…nor…” (the negative version of “either…or…”) is aniani…; and its “whether…or…” (the wh-version of “either…or…”) is czyczy…. 

LSA 2020 Highlights

9 minute read


I just came back from the LSA 2020 Annual Meeting in New Orleans, and here are some (but not all) of the talks / posters I found interesting and why.

What is Wrap-XP and why I think it is wrong

4 minute read


Wrap-XP is an important and influential notion in prosody (the study of how sounds in a sentence are grouped together). In this blog post I will explain what Wrap-XP is and why I think it is wrong.





Teaching experience 1

Undergraduate course, University 1, Department, 2014

This is a description of a teaching experience. You can use markdown like any other post.

Heading 1

Heading 2

Heading 3

Teaching experience 2

Workshop, University 1, Department, 2015

This is a description of a teaching experience. You can use markdown like any other post.

Heading 1

Heading 2

Heading 3