What is a ‘Linguistic example’?


I realize that some of my posts haven’t been as clear as they could be. Specifically, I talked a lot about interlinearized texts, but what does that actually mean? Well, the thing about language is that when you are talking about specific aspects of language, it’s helpful if the reader actually knows what you’re talking about. Thus, examples are useful. When you’re discussing an unwritten language, this has to be taken to a whole new level.

When I’m discussing examples in Pnar, I need four levels of representation, as in the example below. On the left the numbered lines represent the local orthography (line 1), the phonetic/phonemic representation using IPA (2), the word-for-word translation or English gloss (3), and the free translation that actually tells you the English meaning (4).

1. lai u bru cha chnong Jowai

2. laj ˀu=bru ʧa ʧnɔŋ ʤwaj

3. go M=person ALL village Jowai

4. ‘the/a man goes to Jowai town’


So on the left we have the four levels of representation, but you notice that the items on each line don’t quite match up. This can be confusing, particularly if you’re dealing with long examples. Interlinearization allows each element to correspond to one in the following line.

One way linguists do this is by creating tables, which have to be individually edited for each example. This is what you have to do in MSWord, unfortunately. Another way is using a typesetting program called LaTeX - this is how I produced the nicely formatted example on the right. Another convention is to have the local writing system be italicized and non-interlinearized.

Notice that the glosses on the third line are not exactly a translation equivalent, sometimes they are grammatical abbreviations for function words. Here, ‘ALL’ is an abbreviation for ‘allative’, which is a traditional term for a marker on nouns that indicates the noun to be a ‘goal’ or what another noun is moving towards.

Hopefully that clear things up a bit. To read more about interlinearized linguistic examples, this Wikipedia page should help.