New Russian conversation class

For those of you who would like practice speaking po-Russki, a new Russian conversation class/circle is starting up, led by a new teacher named Olga Dobrunoff. It’ll meet three Fridays a month starting this Friday (tomorrow) in room 709 Hamilton at 2:30pm. You don’t have to register, just come when you can to chat!


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

Links and resources

  • COMD News is a blog that compiles articles, news, events and research in speech, language, and hearing disorders. It is run by the Callier Library, a satellite facility of the University of Texas at Dallas. From the site:

The library supports the graduate-level programs and faculty in communications sciences which are located at the center. It also supports the work of clinicians in hearing and speech disorders who work at both campuses of the Callier Center. One of the missions of Callier Library is to be a useful source of information to the international community of researchers and clinicians in communication disorders. To that end, this web log of citations and news in the field has been built and maintained by Allen Clayton, the Callier Center Librarian.

  • Omniglot is a guide to the writing systems and languages of the world. From the site:

It also contains tips on learning languages, language-related articles, quite a large collection of useful phrases in many languages, multilingual texts, a multilingual book store and an ever-growing collection of links to language-related resources.

  • Finally, some books:
    • Christine Kenneally is a journalist who has written for The New Yorker, The New York Times, Slate and New Scientist, as well as other publications. She is the author of The First Word: The Search for the Origins of Language, about the evolution of imitation, gesture, abstract thought, and speech. Her website features some of her recent articles.
    • Daniel Everett’s book, Don’t Sleep, There Are Snakes: Life and Language in the Amazonian Jungle is now out in paperback. Everett, who spoke at Columbia in October, is an expert on the Pirahã people of the Amazon, and Don’t Sleep tells the story of his experiences and his startling discoveries about Pirahã language and culture.
    • David Crystal’s 2008 book, Txtng: The Gr8 Db8, discusses the effect of text messaging on language, and poses the question: “Does texting spell the end of western civilization?”


_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”.


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.


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.

The Spirit of Linguistics

Newly posted to our Programs and Courses page (see fourth green tab above) is an argument in favor of a full Linguistics major. Entitled “The Spirit of Linguistics at Columbia University”, it lays out the reasons why instituting a major is a good idea, and proposes a possible program of study.

Click here to download, or see our Program and Courses page.


First, thank you to everyone who has been reading this blog – hopefully, it has helped to keep you informed and reasonably entertained over the few months since its inception. Dangling modifiers aside, we would like to know your thoughts on how it has been going. What would you like to see more of? Are there questions that you would like to have answered? What kinds of events would you like to see from the Columbia Linguistics Society in the future?

Please feel free to leave feedback and suggestions in the comments, or to send them by email.


In honor of Registration Week, we’ve added a new page to the site (see the green “Program and Courses” tab above), where you can find course descriptions and other information about the linguistics program. It can be quite difficult to find linguistics courses simply by going through the directory, as all of them are offered through separate departments, so we hope to use this page to collect information about who is offering what from term to term.

This course, for example, is being offered through the history department:

HIST W4667x Nahuatl Language and Culture 4 pts.

This undergraduate seminar aims to give the students a basic knowledge of Nahuatl, the main indigenous language of central Mexico, still in use nowadays. During the classes we will explore the principal structures as for grammar and usage, focusing on classical Nahuatl, the version of the language employed during colonial times to produce documents and communicate. A vast and varied literature of mundane documents and ecclesiastically sponsored texts exists; we are going to concentrate on the type of everyday Nahuatl which goes well into the eighteenth century and includes all the Spanish contact phenomena that are still in the language today. The objective goes beyond pure language learning, using the language as a way to reach a better understanding of indigenous society and history. Following an agreement with the universities of Yale and Chicago, the seminar will offer the possibility to join an intensive training in contemporary Nahuatl in the state of Guerrero, Mexico, during the summer, with Professor Jonathan Amith (FLAS scholarships are available). In addition, pending an agreement with the University of Zacatecas, Mexico, there will be the possibility to work with an indigenous speaker for one week during the seminar.

Spring 2009
Call #: 28198
Instructor: C. Pizzigoni
Wed. 4:10-6

Location: TBA