4/30: William Labov

Dr. William Labov, widely regarded as the founder of the discipline of variationist sociolinguistics, is coming to speak this Friday, April 30th! He has been described as “an enormously original and influential figure who has created much of the methodology” of sociolinguistics.

“Formation of Consensus in the Speech Community”

William Labov, PhD

Professor of Linguistics, UPenn

Lerner Hall C555 Friday 4/30, 3:15pm

Study of linguistic variation began by charting social differentiation of speakers of New York City dialect. We now recognize the pattern as part of a consensus that unifies more than divides the speech community. Recent mappings of linguistic change across North America show uniform directions in regional populations as large as 90 million. Correlating changes with local social networks and communities of practice does not account for such large-scale uniformities. A search for driving forces behind these trends calls for exploring settlement patterns and cultural histories. Most remarkable has been finding that dialect boundaries coincide with the Blue States/Red States division in recent presidential elections.
William Labov received his PhD from Columbia in Linguistics (back when the department really existed…) He is employed as a professor in the linguistics department of the University of Pennsylvania, and pursues research in sociolinguistics, language change, and dialectology.” He is famous for the “department store study” and the “Martha’s Vineyard study”, as some of you may recall. This event is co-sponsored with the Workshops on Meaning Series… it’s the big event of the spring, so come! (And you’d also be missing on a really phenomenal opportunity if you don’t come).
PLEASE RSVP if you haven’t yet done so (especially if you don’t have a CUID so that you can get into Lerner Hall)!


Dear linguists,

Here’s wishing you a delightful spring break, wherever you’re going (or staying)! For your reading pleasure, here’s an overview of upcoming events:

  • March 26-27: The Trace Foundation: “Minority Languages in Today’s Global Society: Perspectives on Language Standardization.” The lecture will focus on Tibetan, Kurdish, and Hungarian.
  • March 26: Professor Julia Hirschberg, Computer Science at Columbia: “Knowing When to Speak: Turn Management in Spoken Dialogue Systems”
  • March 31: Professor Ann Seghas on Nicaraguan sign language:  “Social Scaffolding for Language Genesis: Why Nicaraguan Sign Language Emerged When, Where and How it Did”
  • April 1: Professor Robert Remez on voice recognition: “I would know that voice anywhere! The role of phonetic sensitivity in the perceptual identification of talkers.”
  • April 30: “Workshops on Meaning: Language and Socio-cultural Processes”, co-sponsored by the Columbia Linguistics Society, presents Dr. William Labov.

More details to come…

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 – cm2714@columbia.edu

For more information, visit the ISERP website here.

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:

4/27: John Mohr – Formal Methods, Structural Models & the Sociology of Culture

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

John Mohr, PhD
Sociology, University of California, Santa Barbara

Formal Methods, Structural Models & the Sociology of Culture

The new formalism in the sociology of culture builds on structural linguistics and semiotic theory; it uses relational methodologies to identify patterns in cultural systems, institutional logics and discourse systems as a measure of culture, and links back to measures of social structure.


All are welcome. Light refreshments will be served.

Columbia University Fayerweather Hall – Room 411
West side of Amsterdam Ave @ 117th St., NYC

Monday April 27, 2009
4:00 – 6:00 p.m.

RSVP appreciated, to: Anna Zamora (aez2104@columbia.edu)

For more information, check our website:

TODAY: Sally McConnell-Ginet – Wars or Words and Wills

Sally McConnell-Ginet, Ph.D. Professor Emerita and Past Chair, Linguistics, Cornell University


This talk develops further views on the interplay of word meaning and sociopolitical conflict that have dominated much of my recent work in semantics and pragmatics. I consider why and how defining can be a locus for social struggle and change and the construction of sexual identity and gendered labels in relation to sociocultural tensions and shifts.

Monday March 23rd, at Fayerweather Hall 411 at 4pm.

All are welcome. Light refreshments will be served.

RSVP appreciated, to: Anna Zamora (aez2104@columbia.edu)

NEXT: April 27: John Mohr, University of California-Santa Barbara For more information, check our website: http://www.iserp.columbia.edu/workshops/meaning-language-and-socio-cultural-processes