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: http://www.icsi.berkeley.edu/~kay/Everett.CA.Piraha.pdf

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

Please RSVP on Facebook!


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 events@trace.org 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.

3/1: Peter Gordon

Department of Human Development Colloquium:

Peter Gordon, Associate Professor of Speech and Language Pathology

Cultural Causality, Language, and Commensurability in Numerical Cognitions

Monday, March 1
3:00-4:40 pm
281 Grace Dodge

Refreshments will be served

2/23: Mother Language Day

Join Club Bangla in celebrating International Mother Language Day! This day is meant to promote cultural and linguistic diversity and develop awareness of these traditions. We’ll have a table on Lerner ramps with a quilt you can sign, to be displayed at our future events. Come stop by and write something in your mother language!
Lerner Ramps
Tuesday, February 23rd

11/19: Paul Kockelman


It will now take place in room 702 Hamilton Hall, at the same time (6pm on Thursday, 11/19).

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

Assistant Professor of Anthropology
Barnard College, New York

“Possession and Personhood: At the Intersection of Grammatical Categories, Discourse Patterns, Cognitive Frames and Cultural Practices”

Columbia University
School of International and Public Affairs – Room 801
420 West 118th street (east side of Amsterdam Avenue.), New York City

Thursday November 19, 2009, 6:00 – 8:00 p.m.

This talk analyzes the relation between inalienable possessions and personhood among speakers of Q’eqchi’-Maya, in Guatemala. Broadly, inalienable possessions are things inherently possessed by humans, e.g., arms, legs; mothers, fathers; hearts and names. The relation between those possessions and possessors is analyzed in varied domains — from grammatical categories and discursive practices to illness cures and life-cycle rituals. This relation is figured differently by domain, but with strong resonance across domains. The illustrations reflect one speech community, but the discussion shows the relevance in cross-linguistic patterns underlying possession.


All are welcome. Light refreshments will be served.

RSVP to: Iva Petkova – iop2101@columbia.edu

Sponsored by:
Institute for Social and Economic Research & Policy (ISERP)

Related paper posted at:

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.