Monthly Archives: March 2012

Ergative-Absolutive 101

Languages differ in how they overtly mark functions and their arguments, if they overtly mark at all… This month’s iLanguage game shows an example of the “Ergative-Absolutive” system, present in Hindi-Urdu, Walpiri, Inuktitut among others. In reality, its not as complicated as its name might indicate, in fact, we argue its quite logical.

In 9.10.a and 9.10.c we see that the Experiencer of travel is rather consistently is marked with –aq, as is Experiencer of greet in 9.10.b and 9.10.d. What might surprise you if you speak English, French or any other “Nominative-Accusative” language is that the –aq is consistently on the Experiencer, regardless of whether its the subject or the object.

In 9.10.e and 9.10.g we see that 1st person Experiencers appear on the verb, not as pronouns. This might sound familiar if you studied/speak Spanish.

9.10.f is particularly exciting since we don’t have enough data to say what is going on. We recommend stopping the next Yup’ik Eskimo speaker you run into and asking them to give you a verb that ends in a consonant, they might put –aq on the end when you give them a context to bring them to say he xe-ed yesterday

Want to see more language data? Examples are taken from I-Language: An Introduction to Linguistics as Cognitive Science by Daniela Isac and Charles Reiss.

Functional Application in LaTeX

This month’s Guess the code shows an example of Functional Application which is an operation in compositional semantics. As you all know, in mathematics and in programming a function takes an input argument from some specified domain and yields an output value. Applying a function f to an argument x yields the value for that argument, which can be written as f(x). In beginner semantics, this same procedure is what happens when verb takes its object.

verb(object) ~ function(argument)

The only mystery in this example is the denotation double brackets which indicate that it is the denotation, not the orthographic word, which is being operated upon.

The code also gives us two trees to show that in English functional application applies to the right, and in Turkish it applies to the left.

In (41) we simplify things and pretend that “hug” is a function, which takes “Mary” as its object.” In reality, in most languages “hug” is a complex predicate, itself the return value of a Functional Application between a function (we call it “little v”) and its object, a root. Sound like Javascript anyone?

\begin{example}Typical example of Functional Appilcation (FA)\\
\K{(a) English}\\
& VP_{}\Below{$_\textsc{fa}$}\B{dl}\B{dr} && =\denote{hug}(\denote{NP})\\
{V}_{>}\Below{\denote{hug}} && NP_e\Below{\denote{Mary}}\\
\K{(b) Turkish} \\
& VP_{}\Below{$_\textsc{fa}$}\B{dl}\B{dr} && \hspace{-.2in} =(\denote{NP e})\denote{sardil-di}\\
NP_e\Below{\denote{Mary-e}} && {V}_{>}\Below{\denote{sarid-di}}\\

You can get the code here:

Don't let the vocabulary fool you, despite the article talking about Thor (the god of thunder), this language is Basque, a minority language of Spain.

Hope everyone enjoyed the first instalment of the language games.  Our second instalment is right around the corner! So without much further ado here are the long awaited answers!

The eLanguage is Basque!

Basque is a language isolate (surrounded by Indo-European languages). As you can hear from first video, Basque borrows a great deal of vocabulary from Spanish.

In this video you can hear Basque spoken in semi-natural context.

Stanford NLP Class registration ends soon!

If you’re interested in Natural Language Processing or you have been scraping and have lots of text data the Stanford NLP class a great opportunity to brush up on your regular expressions and learn some tricks. The professors are Dan Jurafsky and Chris Manning. Dan Jurafsky is a leading researcher on investigating the connection between Prosody and written text, and the co-author of Speech and Language Processing.

Natural language processing is the technology for dealing with our most ubiquitous product: human language, as it appears in emails, web pages, tweets, product descriptions, newspaper stories, social media, and scientific articles, in thousands of languages and varieties. In the past decade, successful natural language processing applications have become part of our everyday experience, from spelling and grammar correction in word processors to machine translation on the web, from email spam detection to automatic question answering, from detecting people’s opinions about products or services to extracting appointments from your email. In this class, you’ll learn the fundamental algorithms and mathematical models for human language processing and how you can use them to solve practical problems in dealing with language data wherever you encounter it.


We are hosting a small bi-monthly NLP get together to discuss and apply the Stanford NLP class to some local Montreal data. If you’re interested you can join us, leave us a comment below and we will tell you about our meeting times.

Giving robots Eyes and Ears with Android

iLanguage Lab members Theresa and Gina formed part of the Roogle Team at the Cloud Robotics Hackathon 2012. At the hackathon the team worked on two robots, a Darwin-OP robot, a humanoid robot running Ubuntu Linux, and a Rover robot with Arduino controlling movement and an Android as “eyes.”

You can get the code and the Android installer at

The Bacteria Detecto-Droid Team gets Featured in Montreal TechWatch

The Bacteria Detecto Droid team was recently featured in the Montreal TechWatch. The project was built for researcher John Feighery’s Portable Microbiology Kit by a team of 5, including iLanguage Lab members at  Random Hacks of Kindness Montreal back in December. For more updates, checkout the Montreal TechWatch article “Portable Microbiology Lab – There’s an App for That!

Android phones capable of taking these pictures cost less than 120$. Combine this with affordability of ‘Portable Microbiology kits’, that can be incubated using body heat, and we may end up with a sustainable solution to help fight water problems that plague many parts of the world.


The Portable Microbiology Lab featured on Montreal Tech Watch

Language Games

iLanguage is proud to present its first installment of its monthly Language games! Your first task is to identify the language in the first image.  Then in the next image you have several more tasks; guess the spectrogram, decipher the programming language and analyze data from a natural language. Post your answers in the comment section.  Enjoy!