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.
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4/29: Language and Cognition Seminar

Language and Cognition
University Seminar #681
Meeting of April 29, 2010

“The relation(s) between linguistics and neurobiology”

David Poeppel
Department of Psychology and Neural Science
New York University

The enthusiasm for neurobiological research into the basis of language suggests that progress is being made regarding our understanding of how the brain computes with linguistic representations. Is this enthusiasm warranted? In which domains of brain-language relations is there credible progress? While there are grounds for optimism that we are beginning to understand where to look in the brain, we do not understand very much at all about how linguistic representations and computations are implemented — the putative goal of the overall research program. Recent experimental work using different brain imaging methodologies will exemplify how complex the (many) relations between brain organization and language architecture are (the ‘granularity problem’), and in which areas of inquiry there is hope for genuine interdisciplinary insight into the mechanisms that form the basis for language processing.

Place: Room 1512, Kellogg Center
School of International and Public Affairs
420 West 118th Street
Time: 4:00 PM

For directions to the School of International and Public Affairs, please refer to
this map.

RSVP: If you will attend the meeting on April 29, please send a note to:
Sara Maria Hasbun, rapporteur
saramaria.h@gmail.com

If you will join Dr. Poeppel for dinner at the Faculty House after the meeting,
please indicate this in your note to Ms. Hasbun.

Links

_46672256_sub-afp226.jpgThis article from the BBC showcases a gadget that seems almost too good to be true: a pair of glasses that translates overheard speech and projects subtitles directly on to the viewer’s retina.

NEC said the Tele Scouter was intended to be a business tool that could aid sales staff who would have information about a client’s buying history beamed into their eye during a conversation.

But, it said, it could also be put to a more exotic use as a translation aid. In this scenario the microphone on the headset picks up the voices of both people in a conversation, pipes it through translation software and voice-to-text systems and then sends the translation back to the headset.

The article page also has an interview with translation technology Don DePalma, who comments that “they have a bit of the sense of the Borg from Star Trek”.

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On a more down-to-earth note, the Wold Atlas of Language Structure is a very cool website:

WALS is a large database of structural (phonological, grammatical, lexical) properties of languages gathered from descriptive materials (such as reference grammars) by a team of more than 40 authors (many of them the leading authorities on the subject).

WALS consists of 141 maps with accompanying texts on diverse features (such as vowel inventory size, noun-genitive order, passive constructions, and “hand”/”arm” polysemy), each of which is the responsibility of a single author (or team of authors). Each map shows between 120 and 1370 languages, each language being represented by a symbol, and different symbols showing different values of the feature. Altogether 2,650 languages are shown on the maps, and more than 58,000 datapoints give information on features in particular languages.

WALS thus makes information on the structural diversity of the world’s languages available to a large audience, including interested nonlinguists as well as linguists who would not normally read grammars of exotic languages or specialized works by comparative linguists. Although endangered languages are not particularly emphasized, they are automatically foregrounded because of the large sample of languages represented on each map, where each language (independently of its number of speakers) is shown by a single symbol.

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Finally, Ed Yong over at ScienceBlogs has a great new post about the FOXP2 gene and its role in the origins of language. Writing about the discovery of FOXP2 and its implications for the field, Ed says:

“It had long been suspected that language has some basis in genetics, but this was the first time that a specific gene had been implicated in a speech and language disorder. Overeager journalists quickly dubbed FOXP2 “the language gene” or the “grammar gene”. Noting that complex language is a characteristically human trait, some even speculated that FOXP2 might account for our unique position in the animal kingdom. Scientists were less gushing but equally excited – the discovery sparked a frenzy of research aiming to uncover the gene’s role.”

The real story, as you might expect, is significantly more complicated. Read more at Ed Yong’s blog.