Presenting data

When presenting data in blocks or datasets in a linguistics paper (or, for that matter, presenting definitions or lists in inset blocks), it is important to keep in mind two basic principles:

  1. the data must be presented first, as soon as possible after first mention, before being discussed in detail;
  2. the data must be introduced in a general way alerting the reader as to why they are there, what they are intended to illustrate, and what the reader should look for in the dataset, and they should be immediately explicated afterwards, highlighting the specific details in the dataset that are of interest, and how these contribute to the paper.

The first principle ensures that readers do not have to flip back and forth between the data and the text, and that they do not have to follow a discussion of something hitherto unseen. The second principle prepares the reader ahead of time for what is coming and makes it easy to find the salient features of a dataset, and afterwards ensures that readers understand the examples and how you are interpreting them for the purposes of your writing.

An example for this type of writing might be drawn from a discussion of causative constructions, where the aim is to illustrate the morphological causative and introduce to the reader to the idea that there are some typological problems with the traditional distinction drawn between the semantic roles of Agent and Causer. We would want to begin this discussion by giving an example of a simple verb, followed by a sentence containing its causative derivative, as in (1):

(1) a. kit naḭkskúxa čuːwá waːtsá
kit na–ḭk–skúx–a čuːwá waːtsá
I FUT1SG.SUB–work–IMPF now here
‘I’ll work here now’
b. liːla̰ʔapuːcíː akšní ḭškintamaːskuxúː a̰ːxcananú
liː–la̰ʔapuːcíː akšní ḭš–kin–ta–maː–skux–úː a̰ːxcananú
INST–be.sad when PAST1OBJ3PL.SUBCS–work–CS back.then
‘it was sad when they made me work back then’

(1) contrasts the monovalent verb skux- ‘work’ with its causative derivative, maːskuxúː ‘make sby work’, which is bivalent. The new semantic actant in (1b) becomes the subject, and the “displaced” subject of the base — generally referred to as the causee — is realized as a direct object. The new semantic actant has the role of Causer, which differs from Agent by virtue of being the initiator of an unspecified event that in turn triggers the event expressed by the verbal base (Langacker 1987). In languages with morphological causatives, verbs whose subjects express prototypical Agents tend to be underived stems whereas those whose subjects are clearly Causers tend to be derived. However, both within and across languages there is a certain fuzziness as to where the line between the two roles is drawn, and which predicates are derived or underived.

How not to present data in a paper

Do not discuss data that you haven’t presented yet

WRONG

Upper Necaxa Totonac displays some apparent irregularities in the expression of subject and object agreement in cases where the subject is first- or second-person and the object is second- or first-person, and one or both is plural, as seen in (2). These forms are three-way ambiguous; the 1 > 2 form in (2a), for instance, which consists of the first-person subject prefix ḭk-, the plural object marker kaː-, and the second-person object suffix -n, has not only the expected 1sg > 2pl reading, it is also used in situations where 1pl > 2pl and 1pl > 2sg. Likewise, the form in (2b) has three readings, 2sg > 1pl, 2pl > 1pl, 2pl > 1sg, although in this case it consists of a non-compositional configuration of affixes, the first-person object prefix kin-, the first-person plural subject suffix ‑w, and the reciprocal prefix laː-.

(2) a. ḭkaːtṵ́ksnḭ
ḭk–kaː–tṵks–nḭ
1SG.SUBPL.OBJ–hit–2OBJ:PFV
‘I hit you guys’ or ‘we hit you guys’ or ‘we hit you’
b. kilaːtṵ́kswḭ
kin–laː–tṵks–wḭ
INSTRCP–hit–1PL.SUB:PFV
‘you hit us’ or ‘you guys hit us’ or ‘you guys hit me’
RIGHT

Upper Necaxa Totonac displays some apparent irregularities in the expression of subject and object agreement in cases where the subject is first- or second-person and the object is second- or first-person, and one or both is plural. These forms are three-way ambiguous, as seen in (3), which shows a verb expressing action of the first-person on the second (1 > 2):

(3) ḭkaːtṵ́ksnḭ
ḭk–kaː–tṵks–nḭ
1SG.SUBPL.OBJ–hit–2OBJ:PFV
‘I hit you guys’ or ‘we hit you guys’ or ‘we hit you’

The form in (3) consists of the first-person subject prefix ḭk-, the plural object marker kaː-, and the second-person object suffix -n. This is the form expected for the 1sg > 2pl reading, but it is also used in situations where 1pl > 2pl and 1pl > 2sg.

In a similar vein, the form in (4) expresses action of 2 on 1 and has three readings, 2sg > 1pl, 2pl > 1pl, 2pl > 1sg:

(4) kilaːtṵ́kswḭ
kin–laː–tṵks–wḭ
INSTRCP–hit–1PL.SUB:PFV
‘you hit us’ or ‘you guys hit us’ or ‘you guys hit me’

Unlike (3), however, this form consists of a non-compositional configuration of affixes—the first-person object prefix kin-, the first-person plural subject suffix ‑w, and the reciprocal prefix laː-.

Do not concentrate all your data into a single long set then discuss it

WRONG

Upper Necaxa Totonac has a total of six valency-increasing morphemes, two causatives and three applicatives:

(5) a. kimaːɬkaːkníːya̰
kin–maː–ɬkaːk–niː–ya̰
1OBJCS–hot–CSIMPF:2SG.SUB
‘you are making me hot’
b. ma̰ʔajikwánlḭ tsa̰má ʔawá̰ča̰
ma̰ʔa–jikwán–lḭ tsa̰má ʔawá̰ča̰
STM–afraid–PFV that boy
‘he frightened the boy’
c. na̰kšo̰ʔonḭyáːn ḭštapáɬ
na–ḭk–šo̰ʔó–nḭ–yaː–n ḭš–tapáɬ
FUT1SG.SUB–pay–BENIMPF2OBJ 3PO–boy
‘I’ll pay you its price’
d. šuːnúːk naliːʔeːchiːkán ša̰ː
šuːnúːk na–liː–ʔeː–chiː–kan ša̰ː
bark FUTINST–back–tie–IDF sweatlodge
‘they will tie it onto the sweatlodge with bark’
e. nakinta̰ːpína̰
na–kin–ta̰ː–pin–a̰
FUT1OBJCMT–go:2SUBIMPF:2SG.SUB
‘you will go with me’
f. tala̰ʔá̰ɬ ja̰ː ḭštamaːkiːnḭ́ː ḭšluːwa̰ká̰n
ta–la̰ʔ–a̰n–ɬ ja̰ː ḭš–ta–maːkíː–nḭː ḭš–lúːwa̰–ka̰n
3PL.SUBALTV–go–PFV where PAST3PL.SUB–keep–PF 3PO–snake–PL.PO
‘they went to where they kept their snake’

The first two valency-increasers are causatives. (5a) shows the cross-linguistically typical causative that adds a volitional agent to the event expressed by the verb; (5b) shows the stimulus morpheme ma̰ʔa-, which typically adds a non-human or inanimate causer, or is used to form verbs expressing caused internal or psychological processes. (5c) illustrates the benefactive suffix, -nḭ which adds a beneficiary, maleficiary, recipient, or experiencer to an event. The instrumental applicative, liː-, shown in (5d), typically adds an instrument, but can also add motives. The comitative ta̰ː- seen in (5e) adds a co-actor that performs the action described by the verb along with the subject. The final applicative, the allative la̰ʔ-, adds a goal to a limited set of motion verbs, mostly those based on the verbs a̰n ‘go’ and min ‘come’.

RIGHT

Upper Necaxa Totonac has a total of six valency-increasing morphemes, two causatives and three applicatives. The causatives are maː- -niː ‘causative’ (6a) and ma̰ʔa- ‘stimulus’ (6b):

(6) a. kimaːɬkaːkníːya̰
kin–maː–ɬkaːk–niː–ya̰
1OBJCS–hot–CSIMPF:2SG.SUB
‘you are making me hot’
b. ma̰ʔajikwánlḭ tsa̰má ʔawá̰ča̰
ma̰ʔa–jikwán–lḭ tsa̰má ʔawá̰ča̰
STM–afraid–PFV that boy
‘he frightened the boy’

Of the two, maː- -niː is the cross-linguistically typical causative that adds a volitional agent to the event expressed by the verb; the stimulus morpheme ma̰ʔa-, on the other hand, typically adds a non-human or inanimate causer, or is used to form verbs expressing caused internal or psychological processes.

The first of the four applicatives is the benefactive suffix, -nḭ shown in (7):

(7) na̰kšo̰ʔonḭyáːn ḭštapáɬ
na–ḭk–šo̰ʔó–nḭ–yaː–n ḭš–tapáɬ
FUT1SG.SUB–pay–BENIMPF2OBJ 3PO–boy
‘I’ll pay you its price’

This suffix adds a beneficiary, maleficiary, recipient, or experiencer to an event.

The example in (8) illustrates the instrumental applicative, liː-:

(8) šuːnúːk naliːʔeːchiːkán ša̰ː
šuːnúːk na–liː–ʔeː–chiː–kan ša̰ː
bark FUTINST–back–tie–IDF sweatlodge
‘they will tie it onto the sweatlodge with bark’

Not unexpectedly, this prefix typically adds an instrument to the event expressed by its base, but may also be used to add a motive for the event.

The comitative applicative adds a co-actor to the event:

(9) nakinta̰ːpína̰
na–kin–ta̰ː–pin–a̰
FUT1OBJCMT–go:2SUBIMPF:2SG.SUB
‘you will go with me’

As shown in (9), the co-actor performs the action described by the verb along with the subject.

The final applicative, the allative la̰ʔ-, adds a goal to an event:

(10) tala̰ʔá̰ɬ xa̰ː ḭštamaːkiːnḭ́ː ḭšluːwa̰ká̰n
ta–la̰ʔ–a̰n–ɬ xa̰ː ḭš–ta–maːkíː–nḭː ḭš–lúːwa̰–ka̰n
3PL.SUBALTV–go–PFV where PAST3PL.SUB–keep–PF 3PO–snake–PL.PO
‘they went to where they kept their snake’

The allative applicative combines with only a limited set of motion verbs, mostly those based on the verbs a̰n ‘go’ and min ‘come’.

Do not just give complex data and then expect the reader to figure them out

WRONG

Lushootseed oblique-centred relative clauses like that in (11) require nominalization of the embedded verb:

(11) x̌ʷul’ čəd ɬuləʔux̌ʷtxʷ tiʔəʔ ɬadsʔəɬtxʷ
x̌ʷul’ čəd ɬu=lə=ʔux̌ʷ–txʷ tiʔəʔ ɬu=ad=s=ʔəɬ–txʷ
only 1SG.SUB IRR=PROG=go–ECS PROX IRR=2SG.PO=NM=eat–ECS
‘I will just be taking [them] what you will feed [them] with’
(Hess 1998: 58, line 56)

As in all such relatives, the nominalized clause realizes its “subject” as a possessor.

RIGHT

Lushootseed oblique-centred relative clauses like that shown in the sentence in (12) require nominalization of the embedded verb, here ʔəɬtxʷ ‘feed sby with sth’:

(12) x̌ʷul’ čəd ɬuləʔux̌ʷtxʷ tiʔəʔ ɬadsʔəɬtxʷ
x̌ʷul’ čəd ɬu=lə=ʔux̌ʷ–txʷ tiʔəʔ ɬu=ad=s=ʔəɬ–txʷ
only 1SG.SUB IRR=PROG=go–ECS PROX IRR=2SG.PO=NM=eat–ECS
‘I will just be taking [them] what you will feed [them] with’
(Hess 1998: 58, line 56)

In this example, the headless relative clause tiʔəʔ ɬadsʔəɬtxʷ ‘what you will feed them with’ refers to the food, the oblique object of the verb ʔəɬtxʷ ‘feed sby with sth’; because the referent of the clause is an oblique object, the clause is nominalized with the nominalizing clitic s= and second person is realized as a possessive prefix, ad=, rather than as a subject clitic.

Do not simply end a section or a topic with a dataset

WRONG

A very common error writers make, usually in conjunction with the “don’t discuss data you haven’t presented” error, is giving data or placing an inset and then simply moving on to the next topic:

Datasets (and insets) should always be followed by a wrap-up either of the data (an explanation of the example) or of the topic

RIGHT

A very common error writers make, usually in conjunction with the “don’t discuss data you haven’t presented” error, is giving data or placing an inset and then simply moving on to the next topic:

Datasets (and insets) should always be followed by a wrap-up either of the data (an explanation of the example) or of the topic

Avoiding this error ensures good continuity and flow in your paper, and adhering to it usually forces you to think carefully about whether, indeed, you have made it clear enough to the reader what the data they just saw was actually about. It also gives you a chance to add corollary information that might be helpful to the discussion, such as the observation that following this last rule avoids the error of ending a paragraph with a dataset as well (since paragraphs usually enjoy some topical unity). Good stylistic practice usually dictates that the paragraph following a dataset not be indented (in styles with indentation on the first line of every paragraph).