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.

This week: Ann Senghas on Nicaraguan Sign Language

“Workshop on Meaning: Language and Socio-cultural Processes” co-organizers Harrison White and Corinne Kirchner are pleased to announce:

Ann Senghas, PhD
Associate Professor of Psychology
Barnard College, New York

“Social Scaffolding for Language Genesis:
Why Nicaraguan Sign Language Emerged When, Where and How it Did”


Columbia University

School of International and Public Affairs – Room 707

420 West 118th street (east side of Amsterdam Avenue.), New York City

Wednesday March 31, 2010

6:00 – 8:00 p.m.

All are welcome. Light refreshments will be served!

RSVP to: Carmen Morillo –


Don’t Miss Our April 30th Seminar!!

William Labov, PhD

Widely regarded as the founder of the discipline of Quantitative Socio-linguistics

April 30, 2010

All sessions co-sponsored by ISERP and the Columbia Linguistics Society

Institute for Social and Economic Research and Policy
International Affairs Building
420 West 118th Street, Room 820
Mail Code 3355
New York, NY 10027
tel: 212-854-1414
fax: 212-854-8925

This week: Julia Hirschberg and Trace Foundation lectures

This week is just packed with linguistics goodness: Julia Hirschberg will be speaking this Friday, 3/26, and there is a series of lectures at the Trace Foundation downtown, starting on Friday and continuing on Saturday.

First, Professor Hirschberg’s lecture:

Friday, 3/26
Hamilton 709

Knowing When to Speak: Turn Management in Spoken Dialogue Systems

Julia Hirschberg
Department of Computer Science
Columbia University

Listeners have many options in dialogue: They may interrupt the current speaker, take the turn after the speaker has finished, remain silent and wait for the speaker to continue, or backchannel, to indicate that they are still listening, while not taking the turn. Previous studies have proposed a number of possible cues that may signal to listeners that a speaker is ready to relinquish the turn or, conversely, that a speaker intends to continue to hold the floor. I will describe results of empirical studies testing some of these proposals and investigating other correlates of turn-taking behaviors, in the context of a larger study of human-human turn-taking behavior in the Columbia Games Corpus. Our goal is to discover what types of human turn-taking behavior can most usefully be modeled in Spoken Dialogue Systems, both from the perspective of recognizing the import of users’ behavior and of generating appropriate system behavior. This is joint work with Agustín Gravano (University of Buenos Aires). We also thank our collaborators, Stefan Benus, Gregory Ward, Elisa Sneed, Hector Chavez, and Michael Mulley for their help in collecting and annotating the CGC and for useful discussions.

The Trace Foundation lectures will also start that Friday (in the evening – you can make it to both!) and continue all day Saturday:

Friday, 3/26 and Saturday 3/27
2 Perry Street, Suite 2B, New York, 10014 (map)

Minority Language in Today’s Global Society: Perspectives on Language Standardization

Language standardization is often looked to by language communities as a means for language maintenance and strengthening cultural integrity, yet it may also contribute to varying degrees of linguistic discrimination and social conflict. In the case of Tibetan language, which has a diversity of spoken dialects as well as a standard written language, new challenges and opportunities presented by urbanization, economic development, resettlement, and other factors present strong incentives to switch to other dominant languages in everyday usage. Thus many Tibetans support the idea of promoting a standardized Tibetan, but disagree as to what should be the basis for the standard.

In this lecture event, we will bring together scholars who have worked extensively on language standardization issues for Kurdish, Hungarian, Tibeto-Burman languages, and the three major dialects of Tibetan to examine questions such as: What should be the role of a standard language? What are its pros and cons? What are the experiences of other language communities in implementing standardization? We hope to understand these topics for minority languages in the world in general, the Tibetan language in China in particular, and what practical steps can be taken.

IMPORTANT: Please register for this event by downloading and completing the registration form and email to or print the completed form and fax to +1 212-367-7380.



5:30 – 6:00 pm: Check in & Registration
6:00 – 7:00 pm: Opening Keynote Lecture, Q&A
7:00 – 8:00 pm: Reception


9:30 pm – 10:00 am: Check-in & Breakfast Reception
10:00 am – 12:00 pm: Morning Session
12:00 pm – 1:00 pm: Lunch Break
1:00 pm – 5:00 pm: Afternoon Session & Closing Keynote Lecture

For more information, including speaker biographies, visit the Trace Foundation website’s event page here.

3/31: Ann Senghas on Nicaraguan Sign Language

Co-organizers Harrison White and Corinne Kirchner are pleased to announce the latest Workshop on Meaning: Language and Socio-cultural Processes.

Ann Senghas, PhD, Associate Professor of Psychology, Barnard College, New York:

“Social Scaffolding for Language Genesis:

Why Nicaraguan Sign Language Emerged When, Where and How it Did”


Nicaraguan sign language was spontaneously developed by deaf children in a number of schools in western Nicaragua in the 1970s and 1980s. With the opening of the first school for the deaf, children who had previously relied upon home signs – individualized signing systems, differing from family to family – were brought together without a common language with which to communicate. Over a very short period of time, the children developed their own system of signs. Since its creation, the system has become more and more complex with every cohort of schoolchildren, and is now considered a full-fledged language. It offers linguists an exciting opportunity to study a language in the process of being born. Dr. Senghas will speak about the genesis of Nicaraguan sign language and the social underpinnings of its development.

Columbia University

School of International and Public Affairs – Room 707

420 West 118th street (east side of Amsterdam Avenue.), New York City

Wednesday March 31, 2010

6:00 – 8:00 p.m.

All are welcome. Light refreshments will be served!

Please RSVP to: Carmen Morillo –

For more information, visit the ISERP website here.

Spring 2010 course list

The deadline to add a class for the Spring 2010 semester is looming (it’s this Friday, January 29)! If you’re still looking for that last awesome class to take, here is a list of the linguistics courses (and courses of interest to linguists) being offered this semester. This list is also posted on the Program and Courses page.

Course # Title Call Points Instructor Day/Time
LINGUISTICS W4190 Discourse Analysis 96196 3 Timberlake MW 2:40pm-3:55pm
LINGUISTICS G4206 Advanced Grammar and Grammars 99697 3 Timberlake T 6pm – 9pm
Anthropology V3947 (note: this class is now full) TEXT, MAGIC, PERFORMANCE 22846 4 Pemberton W 2:10pm-4:00pm
Anthropology V3947 Linguistic Anthropology of Artificial Languages 05169 3 Kockelman M 11:00am-12:50pm
Psychology BC 3164 Perception and Language 06596 4 Remez T 6:10pm-8:00pm

Columbia Undergraduate Journal of Anthropology: call for submissions!

Do you have an anthropology-flavored essay, poem, or piece of original artwork burning a hole in your hard drive? Submit it to CUJA by December 24!

The Columbia Undergraduate Journal of Anthropology is seeking submissions for the Spring 2010 issue. CUJA is an annually published, inter-disciplinary journal written and edited by undergraduates from many academic majors and backgrounds.

We welcome submissions of all varieties and encourage our authors to submit creative and experimental work or academic papers. Poetry, diagrams, and artwork are just as welcome as class projects, papers, and field reports. All work that thoughtfully engages with and questions social worlds past, present, and future will be considered.

Deadline for all submissions: December 24.

We are also looking for new editors. Students interested in editing their peers’ academic work should send a short application with an overview of their academic interests, a description of the class they have most enjoyed (and why), and a short writing sample, as well as their name, class year, major, and contact information.

Deadline for editorial application: December 11.

Paper submissions, editor applications, and general inquiries may be sent to:

Language families, human families

Razib Khan over at ScienceBlogs has an excellent post today on the relationship between population genetics and the spread of languages around the globe. He gives a wide background of the anthropological, linguistic and biological research behind what we know about the evolution of the world’s languages. Razib quotes a 1997 paper by L. L. Cavalli-Sforza, Genes, peoples, and languages:

Most patterns found in the analysis of human living populations are likely to be consequences of demographic expansions, determined by technological developments affecting food availability, transportation, or military power. During such expansions, both genes and languages are spread to potentially vast areas. In principle, this tends to create a correlation between the respective evolutionary trees. The correlation is usually positive and often remarkably high. It can be decreased or hidden by phenomena of language replacement and also of gene replacement, usually partial, due to gene flow.*

The post also reviews a recent paper by Ger Reesink, Ruth Singer, and Michael Dunn: “Explaining the Linguistic Diversity of Sahul Using Population Models”.

The authors studied the languages of Sahul,  the continent that during the last Ice Age covered the area of modern Australia and New Guinea. Using “a Bayesian phylogenetic clustering method, originally developed for investigating genetic recombination”, the authors examine ” the underlying structure of the diversity of these languages, reflecting ancient dispersals, millennia of contact, and probable phylogenetic groups.”

The post is here, and the papers, cited below, can be downloaded by following the links in their titles.

  1. L. Luca Cavalli-Sforza (1997) Genes, peoples, and languages. Proc. Natl . Acad. Sci . USA
    Vol. 94, pp. 7719 –7724.
  2. Reesink G, Singer R, Dunn M. (2009) Explaining the Linguistic Diversity of Sahul Using Population Models. PLoS Biol 7(11): e1000241. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.1000241
*Errata: The first blockquote in this post was originally attributed to the Reesink paper – that was incorrect. The quote was taken from the Cavalli-Sforza paper. That has been corrected in this edited post.