Interview with Thomas Payne


Professor Thomas E. Payne is a research associate at the University of Oregon, international linguistics consultant for SIL International, and author of several books, including Describing Morphosyntax, Exploring Language Structure, The Twins Studies, and Perspectives on Grammar Writing.

We discuss Dr. Payne’s work with SIL International in its efforts to preserve endangered languages, conlangers’ use of Describing Morphosyntax, phonosemantics, what constitutes a language, and more.

I found this post rather inspiring, for personal reasons.
For conlangers, there are several important things to remember and consider here. For example, there is such a thing as phrasal meaning (i.e. areas of languages where the meaning is not the sum of its parts). This can be with something as small as a compound, or as large as an expression. It’s not easy to replicate, but it’s worthwhile to pursue, if your aim is a naturalistic conlang.

Another thing to think about are the phonosemantics of a language. If a conlanger doesn’t pay specific attention to the non-morphological relationships between words, there’s a good chance something from one’s L1 will creep in. For those not listening right now, what I mean is the phenomenon that has, for example, resulted in the following English words: glossy, glass, gleam, glow, glisten…

Thomas Payne’s Describing Morphosyntax has done a lot for conlanging, and this post kind of adds to his legacy as…what to call him? The unwitting honorary conlang linguistic consultant? Whatever it is, there’s something to be got from Thomas Payne’s work—something that we’re able to use profitably. That’s a really nice thing.

(P.S.: “Snerdy” sounds plenty negative to me!)

Edited by Sai Emrys and Arnt Richard Johansen; music by Gary Shannon, and Dr. Thomas Payne leading the Northwest Sacred Harp Singers.

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2 Responses to “Interview with Thomas Payne”

  1. Arlyne Moi Says:

    Hi–not a linguist here, but really enjoyed listening to the interview with T. Payne. It widened my horizon and gave me new categories in which to think about language. I appreciated that the interviewer and the interviewee talk about the issues in a way that can be understood by non-specialists.

  2. Sai Emrys Says:

    Glad to hear it! We try to ensure that the podcast walks the fine line of being both completely accessible to people who don’t have significant linguistics background, yet interesting to people who do.

    It widened my horizon and gave me new categories in which to think about language.

    Could you elaborate?