Linguistics Potluck
Saturday, October 16th at 7:30pm in Hogan 6D
This should be a really cool potluck- the idea is that you bring a dish reflective of the culture whose language you study (let’s interpret that loosely and not get into a Whorfian/language-identity-culture/colonialism debate). Desserts, main courses, salads, whatever you like. Homemade or store-bought (if anyone without access to a kitchen wants to cook, contact me and we can talk, maybe you can use my kitchen).

Daniel Kaufman, Director of the Endangered Language Alliance
Friday, October 22nd at 4pm in Hamilton 703 (room number is tentative)
Daniel Kaufman is an adjunct professor in the CUNY Graduate Center who works on projects documenting, maintaining and revitalizing some of the estimated 400 endangered languages spoken in New York City. Check out this recent NYT article about endangered languages in the city and the ELA:

Workshop on Meaning: Language and Sociocultural Processes
“Mapping Mechanisms of Cultural and Political Power in the Debates over Workfare in New York City, 1993-1999”
Wednesday, October 27th from 2-4pm at SIPA (room TBA)
Prof. JOHN KRINSKY, (Columbia PhD in Sociology and Chair, Political Science at CCNY) on his use of, and further plans for, an innovative form of linguistic analysis of media coverage applied in studying the social dynamics of urban political issues (welfare reform), and Prof. JOHN MCWHORTER, (Socio-linguist, currently teaching “Intro to Linguistics”  at Columbia) as commenter on the method and its potential. This session advances the Workshop on Meaning Series’ mission to promote inter-disciplinarity between social scientists and sociolinguists.


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: Ann Senghas on Nicaraguan Sign Language

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

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”


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!

RSVP to: Carmen Morillo –


Don’t Miss Our April 30th Seminar!!

William Labov, PhD

Widely regarded as the founder of the discipline of Quantitative Socio-linguistics

April 30, 2010

All sessions co-sponsored by ISERP and the Columbia Linguistics Society

Institute for Social and Economic Research and Policy
International Affairs Building
420 West 118th Street, Room 820
Mail Code 3355
New York, NY 10027
tel: 212-854-1414
fax: 212-854-8925

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…

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 –

For more information, visit the ISERP website here.

Michael Dreyfuss on Occitan

This Friday  (2/5) at 4pm in 709 Hamilton, we will have a presentation from Columbia alumnus, CLS founding member, and Fulbright scholar Michael Dreyfuss. He did research this past year in France on the Occitan language.

“The Occitan language and its revival through bilingual primary school education”
Michael Dreyfuss
Friday Feb. 5 at 4pm in 709 Hamilton

Michael will talk about the Occitan language and the revival effort for Occitan in the bilingual primary school system, the calandretas. Occitan is a Romance language, closely related to Catalan, that is primarily spoken in regions of Southern France and parts of northern Spain and Italy.


Stay tuned for more event announcements, including a talk on Bengali (sponsored by Club Bangla), a collaboration with the Philosophy Forum, and with the series “Workshop on Meaning: Language and Sociocultural Processes”