Events this week (4/26 – 4/30)

This week is jam-packed with linguistic goodness! A quick synopsis:

Wednesday, 4/28

Thursday, 4/29

  • 4pm, 1512 SIPA: NYU’s David Poeppel on “The relation(s) between linguistics and neurobiology”. More information here.

Friday, 4/30

  • 1pm, 403 Kent: Oscar Lee Symposium of Undergraduate East Asian studies, featuring speakers from Columbia Linguistics Society! More information here.
  • 3:15pm, Lerner Hall C555: William Labov is coming! “Formation of Consensus in the Speech Community”. More information here.

4/28: Philosophy forum

This coming Wednesday, in our first collaboration with the awesome Philosophy Forum, we will be participating in a lively debate on Daniel Everett’s research on the Piraha language and culture.

We will be discussing Everett’s controversial 2005 paper on Piraha, which claims that the language exhibits some properties that we did not realize were possible in human language, such as a lack of strictly defined numbers and a lack of embedded clauses. What does it mean for the Chomskyian hypothesis of a language module that there are such languages? Should this have implications in how we study concepts?

Join us as we talk about these issues. As always, food will be provided.

The paper can be found here:

This meeting will take place at 8pm on Wednesday, 4/28, in 716 Philosophy Hall.

Please RSVP on Facebook!

TOMORROW: Daniel Everett

Daniel Everett, chair of the Languages, Literatures and Cultures department at Illinois State University, will be speaking tomorrow in Lerner 555 at 3 pm.

Professor Everett will discuss the culture and language of the Pirahã people of the Amazon, and how the unique features of Pirahã may contradict prevailing notions of the fundamental nature of language.

Where do languages come from? A case study in the interaction of culture and grammar

The development of languages is a process of coevolution shaped by constraints on the nature of communication resulting from hominid biology and social evolution on the one hand and the cultural values of local societies and circumstances on the other hand. This is no more nor less true for Piraha than for any other language. Because each language emerges partially from unique scales and constellations of values, there is a sense in which each language is exceptional. This means that universals of grammar should be proposed with great caution and that the idea that grammars ‘grow’ from innately specified principles and parameters should be evaluated carefully on a case-by-case basis.

In my discussion, I will make the case that Pirahã lacks recursion in its syntax and that its syntax and lexicon are partially formed by its culture in ways that are likely incompatible with the notion of a ‘universal grammar’ – unless, of course, the latter notion is so attenuated as to lose all interest. In my conclusion I make the case for a return to a (partially) Boasian concept of language, one echoed in the work of other writers, such as Nicholas Evans. I conclude that if my reasoning is correct, neither functionalist nor formalist approaches alone are going to provide the most useful understanding of languages and their development, but that a very new approach, which we can label, as others have done, Ethnogrammar, is called for.

The building in which the talk will take place is ID access only: if you are not affiliated with Columbia University, please RSVP as soon as possible. You can RSVP on Facebook, or send an email to this address indicating your interest.

10/16: Daniel Everett

صباح الخير !

On Friday, October 16th at 3pm, we will be hosting Daniel Everett, an expert on the language and culture of the Pirahã, an indigenous people of the Amazon.

Professor Everett is the chair of the Languages, Literatures and Cultures Department at Illinois State University. He has done extensive research on Pirahã, culminating in a book Don’t Sleep, There Are Snakes: Life and Language in the Amazonian Jungle. He holds that his research on the Pirahã language contradicts Chomsky’s theories of universal grammar. His newest book, Cognitive Fire: Language as a Cultural Tool, expands on his argument “that language is not innate, that there is no language instinct, and that talk of Universal Grammar or a Language Organ doesn’t match up well with the evidence from evolution, language development, or data from the world’s languages”.

Professor Everett’s research has been covered by NPR, the Chicago Tribune and the BBC. The New Yorker also ran  an extensive feature on his work in April of last year.

This will be a major event, so please RSVP as soon as possible (this is especially important if you are not affiliated with Columbia University). You can RSVP on Facebook, or send an email to this address indicating your interest.

UPDATE: This event will be held in Lerner 555.