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.

4/30: 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)!

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.


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…

ILA: Linguistics talk tomorrow at John Jay College

The International Linguistic Association presents a talk tomorrow by Michael Newman, Associate Professor of Linguistics at Queens College.

How can you sound Asian in American English?: A dialect recognition and sociophonetic study of Korean and Chinese Americans’ native English

In paired dialect identification tasks, differing only by speakers’ sex, more than 200 CUNY students were asked to identify the race and national heritage of other New Yorkers. Each task included two Chinese Americans, two Korean Americans, two European Americans, a Latino, and an African American. Listeners were mostly successful at identifying speakers’ races but not at differentiating the Chinese from Koreans. An acoustic analysis identified breathier voice as a factor separating those Asian Americans most frequently identified, on the one hand, from non-Asians and Asians least successfully identified, on the other. Also, the Chinese and Latino men’s speech appeared more syllable timed than the others’ speech. These results support extending the robust US tendency for linguistic differentiation by race to Asian Americans, although this differentiation does not rise to the level of a systematic racial dialect as it does for racially-specific varieties like African American English.

The talk will take place tomorrow (Saturday, February 13, 2010), at 11 AM here:

John Jay College of Criminal Justice
Conference Room, Department of English (7th Floor)
619 West 54th Street (between 11th and 12th Avenues)
New York, NY 10019

Upcoming Events

Friday, 11/13/09
7:30 pm
Dinner at the Columbia Cottage. Join us for food and conversation – all are welcome! RSVP on Facebook.

Friday, 11/20/09
3 pm (location TBA)
A computational linguistics/natural language processing presentation by Nizar Habash of the Center for Computational Learning Systems:

Automatic Diacritization of Arabic Text

Arabic is written without certain orthographic symbols, called diacritics, which represent among other things short vowels. The restoration of diacritics to written Arabic is an important processing step for several computational linguistic applications, including training language models for automatic speech recognition, text-to- speech generation, and so on. We present here a new diacritization system for written Arabic based on a new combination of known techniques: a lexical resource for morphological analysis, a multi-classifier tagger and a lexeme language model. This new diacritization system outperforms the best previously published results by reducing the word error rate to 14.9% and reducing the diacritic error rate to 4.8%. The presentation includes a detailed error analysis classifying the type of errors resolved by each of the different modules used.

Friday, 12/11/09
Time and location TBA
Peter Connor of Barnard College will give a lecture on translation. More details to come.

11/5: Seiichi Makino

Tomorrow, Thursday 11/5, Seiichi Makino of Princeton University will give a lecture on translation and the loss of deep cognitive meaning in a text when it is taken from one language into another.

The lecture will take place in the Satow Conference Room, Lerner Hall 5th floor, from 4pm – 5:30pm. Please note that although Lerner Hall requires swipe access, there will be someone at the door to sign you in if you do not have a Columbia University ID.

“What Will Be Almost Permanently Lost in Translation? A Cognitive Linguistic View”

In translating Language X to Language Y we lose a lot, but translation has survived the centuries, primarily because not everybody can easily learn the Japanese language, and gain is larger than loss. The structures of Japanese and English are quite different on the surface, so we first lose sounds and orthography. Even so, crucially phonetic poetry like tanka, haiku, and modern poetry has been frequently translated into English. Surface morphological and syntactic structures are lost, too. There is no end to the long list of loss of forms due to translation. This talk lecture focuses on something cognitively lost in translation of written Japanese, and especially literary work, into English – loss of deep cognitive meaning expressed explicitly in the original Japanese language. There are many of layers to the phenomenon, but the present talk will focus narrowly on shift phenomena such as number shift, case marker shift, tense shift, formality shift, and voice shift, that which are almost permanently lost in translation even though they convey a significant cognitive shift on the part of the author.

Seiichi Makino is a Professor of Japanese and Linguistics and serves as the Director of the Japanese Language Program at Princeton University, as well as the Director of the Japanese Language Program at Princeton University. He is also the Academic Director of the Summer M.A. Program in Japanese Language Pedagogy at Columbia University. Professor Makino is the author or co-author of numerous books, dictionaries, and articles, including Aspects of Linguistics: In Honor of Noriko Akatsuka (edited with S. Kuno and S. Strauss, 2007) and A Dictionary of Advanced Japanese Grammar (with M. Tsutsui, 2008). His current research interests include the cognitive linguistics inquiry into metaphors, and shift phenomena of tense, formality, numbers, and grammatical persons (i.e., the 1st person “I”, the 2nd person “you”, and the 3rd person “he”). He is the former President of the Association of Teachers of Japanese.

This lecture is offered as the Fifth Shirato Lecture on Japanese Language, and is supported by the Japan Foundation.