On Language

On Language: American English(es) and Popular Usage?

Friday April 27th 2012


Hamilton (room number TBA)

 Join the Lexicography Society and Columbia Linguistics Society for a panel discussion featuring:BENJAMIN ZIMMER, JOHN MCWHORTER, AND DAVID K. BARNHARTAgenda: American regionalisms, as recorded by the Dictionary of American Regional English, as well as neologisms and various aspects of 21st-century usage, particularly as influenced by the Internet.

Dinner (in the form of delectable sandwiches) and refreshments will be served.

Ben Zimmer is the executive producer of Visual Thesaurus and Vocabulary.com, as well as a language columnist for The Boston Globe. He is also the former “On Language” columnist for The New York Times Magazine. He has worked as an editor for American dictionaries at Oxford University Press and as a consultant to the Oxford English Dictionary. His writing about language has appeared in The Atlantic, The New York Times Sunday Review, The New York Times Book Review, Forbes, and Slate.

John McWhorter is a lecturer at Columbia University, specializing in language contact and change. He is the author of What Language Is (And What It Isn’t and What It Could Be), Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue: The Untold Story of English, and The Power of Babel: A Natural History of Language. His work on language, culture, and race appears in The New Republic and The Root, at both of which he is a Contributing Editor, as well as in The New York Daily News, at which he is a columnist.

David K. Barnhart (dba Lexik House) has been a professional lexicographer since 1966, and has experience consulting with lawyers as an expert witness. His expert witness work has focused on reporting the status of meaning and usage in language, including trademark status. As the editor of The Barnhart Dictionary Companion since 1982, he has had extensive experience in primary linguistic research, including the use of traditional and electronic resources. He is also the author of Neo Words: A Dictionary of the Newest and Most Unusual Words of Our Time and a co-author of America in So Many Words: Words That Have Shaped America.

***Please also RSVP here by Wednesday, April 25 if you will be attending:https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/viewform?formkey=dFhsQUJDQlE1Y0dOWWpraUsyS1RKSlE6MQ


Upcoming Talks

We have two really exciting talks coming up to close the semester, come have cookies and share interesting ideas with great professors!

Names and Predicates
With Delia Fara, department of philosophy, Princeton
TODAY, Friday December 9th, from 4-5:30
Hamilton 709

Tyler Burge convinced us that names are predicates in at least some of
their occurrences:

There are relatively few Alfreds in Princeton.

Names, when predicates, satisfy the being-called condition:
schematically, a name “N” is true of a thing just in case that thing
is called N. This paper defends the unified view that names are
predicates in all of their occurrences. I follow Clarence Sloat, Paul
Elbourne, and Ora Matushansky in saying that when a name seems to
occur bare in an argument position of a predicate, it is really
occurring in the predicate position of a definite description with an
unpronounced “the”. I call these “denuded definite descriptions”.
There are good linguistic reasons for defending the denuded-definites
view. For example, it explains why “the” cannot be dropped in a
sentence like the following:

The ever-popular Bill will be speaking this afternoon;
The taller Maria is downstairs.

The definite article occurring before a name doesn’t get pronounced
when it’s syntactically right next to the name. Denuded definite
descriptions with names are incomplete definite descriptions since
most names have multiple bearers. Incomplete definite descriptions are
in general rigid, though. So the view survives Kripke’s modal


Discourse Analysis and Music
Daniela Veronesi
Saturday, December 10th from 2-3:30
Hamilton 511

In recent decades, music making as a social practice has drawn specific interest in scholarly research, in that ethnomusicologists, sociologists, linguistic anthropologists and conversation analysts have started to explore the multimodal and collective nature of music practices and the role played by verbal communication and language use in the organization of music action and in the construction of musicians’ professional identity. Given the growing internationalization of music making, which affects ensembles’ composition and educational activities alike, an area of particular interest for linguists and conversation analysts is the study of interaction among musicians who do not share their linguistic repertoires: How do musicians, for instance, treat linguistic, cultural (and musical) diversity in such encounters? To what extent are linguistic resources – in the absence of a professional interpreter – made locally available and relevant for the organization of interaction? How does language use (lingua franca, code-switching, occasional translation) intersect with the intrinsic multimodal nature of music making in the accomplishment of different types of participation and courses of action?

After providing an overview of this new emerging field of research at the intersection between language and music, in this talk I will discuss some data from an ongoing study on ensemble music workshops held in Italy by US composer and conductor Lawrence D. “Butch” Morris; the workshops, attended by music students and professional musicians, focused on “Conduction®”, a practice developed by Mr. Morris based on a lexicon of gestural directives employed to activate music action mostly without notation. In particular, we will see examples of how in such an exolingual setting 1) occasional translation is organized and contributes to shaping interaction; 2) the conductor multimodally introduces new directives and provides correction of music action and 3) social actors’ roles and individual and collective identities (conductor, teacher, professional musician, music student, the ensemble as a group) emerge and are negotiated in the workshops.

The study adopts a multimodality oriented Conversation Analysis approach; methodological and pratical issues related to examining interaction from this perspective (for instance, data collection and transcription practices) will also be discussed.

On “Conduction®”: an interview with L.D. “Butch” Morris: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=19145728

Learning to Generate Understandable Animations of American Sign Language

Join CLS at 4:30pm on Thursday, November 17th in Hamilton 306 for a talk by Matt Huenerfauth, entitled “Learning to Generate Understandable Animations of American Sign Language”. Refreshments will be provided. Hope to see you there!

A detailed abstract follows:

A majority of deaf high school graduates in the U.S. have a fourth-grade English reading level or below, and so computer-generated animations of American Sign Language (ASL) could make more information and services accessible to these individuals.  Instead of presenting English text on websites or computer software, information could be conveyed in the form of animations of virtual human characters performing ASL (produced by a computer through automatic translation software or by an ASL-knowledgable human scripting the animation).  Unfortunately, getting the details of such animations accurate enough linguistically so that they are clear and understandable is difficult, and methods are needed for automating the creation of high-quality ASL animations.

This talk will discuss my lab’s research, which is at the intersection of the fields of assistive technology for people with disabilities, computational linguistics, and the linguistics of ASL.  Our methodology includes: experimental evaluation studies with native ASL signers, motion-capture data collection of an ASL corpus, linguistic analysis of this corpus, statistical modeling techniques, and animation synthesis technologies.  In this way, we investigate new models that underlie the accurate and natural movements of virtual human characters performing ASL; our current work focuses on modeling how signers use 3D points in space and how this affects the hand-movements required for ASL verb signs.

About the Speaker:

Matt Huenerfauth is an assistant professor of computer science and linguistics at the City University of New York (CUNY); his research focuses on the design of computer technology to benefit people who are deaf or have low levels of written-language literacy.  He serves as an associate editor of the ACM Transactions on Accessible Computing, the major computer science journal in the field of accessibility for people with disabilities.  In 2008, he received a five-year Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Award from the National Science Foundation to support his research.  In 2005 and 2007, he received the Best Paper Award at the ACM SIGACCESS Conference on Computers and Accessibility, the major computer science conference on assistive technology for people with disabilities; he is serving as general chair for this conference in 2012.  He received his PhD from the University of Pennsylvania in 2006.





Lexicography Society

A Columbia student has just started the Lexicography Society, and it is launching this week! Check it out:

LEXICOGRAPHY SOCIETY, proper noun. \ˌlek-sə-ˈkä-grə-fē\ \sə-ˈsī-ə-tē\
1) A collection of word-lovers of all stripes and persuasions who congregate to discuss the Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How of Dictionaries, the Art of Definition, and the Complexities of Words in general.
2) An opportunity for non-lexicographers to mingle with active lexicographers, play word games, and enjoy tastebud-titillating treats.
3) Launch Event Topic: Dictionaries in the 21st Century and how they are both Misunderstood and Miscited.


AMMON SHEA, proper noun. \ˈa-mən\ \ˈshē-\
1) Formerly a furniture mover in New York, a street musician in Paris, and a gondolier in San Diego.
2) Continuing this illogical trend, he recently has been a freelance editor for Oxford University Press, working on North American dictionaries.
3) Writer of a number of “On Language” columns for the NY Times, and the author of several books on obscure vocabulary and interests, including Reading the OED: One Man, One Year, 21,730 Pages and The Phone Book.
4) Only grammatical pet peeve: when people confuse the definite and indefinite articles when referring to a dictionary.

709 Hamilton Hall, Friday, November 11, 3:00pm – 6:00pm

Learn more about Ammon Shea: http://ammonshea.com/

For more information about the Lexicography Society, e-mail Yin Yin Lu at

Pan-Hispanic Identity and the Royal Spanish Academy’s Transatlantic Authority

Join CLS at 4pm, Friday November 4th in Hamilton 709, for a talk by Jose del Valle, Professor of Hispanic Linguistics at the CUNY Graduate Center, about “Pan-Hispanic identity and the Royal Spanish Academy’s Transatlantic Authority: A Declaration of Linguistic Independence at the 1951 Conference of Language Academies”. Refreshments will be provided. A detailed abstract follows:

This project examines the Royal Spanish Academy’s efforts in recent history to build a post-colonial pan-Hispanic identity that serves Spain’s geopolitical interests. The Academy was created in order to preserve the purity of the language in Spain and the territories of the Spanish Empire. Once Spain’s American colonies became independent (in the early nineteenth century), the Academy’s status in the new nations – and therefore its ability to retain authority and control the language’s symbolic power – was questioned and Latin American declarations of linguistic independence proliferated. The RAE’s efforts to retain control through the creation of associated language academies in Latin America after 1870 were mostly unsuccessful: a strong perception remained that the Spaniards were unwilling to share linguistic power. However, in 1950, Mexican president Miguel Alemán invited the RAE and all associated Academies to meet in Mexico and coordinate efforts. The conference took place in April 1951; all attended but the Spaniards. On the first day, incensed by this rejection, a member of the Mexican delegation forcefully argued for linguistic independence: subordination to the RAE should end and a truly democratic association of Academies based on the equal status of all should be created. Surprisingly, not only was his proposal soundly defeated, but Spain’s interests were served by an agreement to create an association of academies of the Spanish Language in which the RAE would retain ultimate authority in matters of language. In this paper, I describe the particulars of this episode and analyze it in the context provided by the tense post-colonial relationship between Spain and its former colonies: Spain’s efforts to remain a privileged interlocutor for – if not to retain ascendancy over – its former colonies and the ambivalence of Latin American nations towards Spain in their own nation-building processes.

And join us afterwards for dinner at Symposium restaurant (544 West 113th Street) at 6:30. RSVP to agk2118@columbia.edu or here http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=121755234600167.

Locality Domains for Contextual Allosemy with Alec Marantz, NYU

Join CLS on Thursday, October 27th, at 4:30pm in Hamilton 306 for a talk with Alec Marantz, professor of linguistics and psychology at NYU, on the nature of meaning variation in context, and its relation to syntax, phonology, and morphology. Professor Marantz has worked in the areas of universal grammar, syntax, morphology, language acquisition, and neurolinguistics, and is a renowned researcher in the field.

A more detailed abstract follows:

At least since work within Lexical Morphology and Phonology, the issue of the connection between word structure and allomorphy has been heavily investigated by morphophonologists. Recent advances within Distributed Morphology (see in particular Embick 2010) have shown that the general cyclic architecture of a phase-based Minimalist Program syntax provides the proper locality domains for the interaction of information determining contextual allomorphy, although phonology-specific notions like adjacency also play a role, restricting possible interactions even more than what might be allowed within a cyclic domain. Less well understood are the parallel issues at the syntax/semantics interface, namely the computation of possible meanings of morphemes in context. Against some recent work disputing claims in Marantz (1997, 2000) linking the domain of special meanings to phases and against recent proposals that the locality domains for phonology and semantics might differ, this paper clarifies the issues in contextual meaning determination and supports the idea that the locality domains for contextual allosemy are just those for contextual allomorphy. As a specific notion of phonological adjacency further constrains allomorphic interactions, so too does a semantic specific notion of “adjacency” constrain allosemic interactions and may restrict possible interactions among morphemes even more strongly than the general cyclic architecture of phases.

Symposium Dinner!

Be a happy, fed linguist!

Join CLS for Greek food, conversation (not necessarily Greek, but we can’t make any guarantees!), and general merriment at Symposium this Friday!

Symposium is at 544 West 113 Street, between Broadway and Amsterdam. Hope to see you there!

Please RSVP to agk2118@columbia.edu if you plan to attend.