Literal-Minded

Linguistic commentary from a guy who takes things too literally

Archive for the ‘LSA’ Category

How to Publish a Scholarly Paper

Posted by Neal on January 13, 2010

One of the most useful things I’ve attended at this year’s LSA conference (or any conference, really) was a panel discussion on the publishing process for academic papers. The discussion was aimed at graduate students, but I figured there would be good information there for others as well, and there was. On the panel were Sandra Chung of UC Santa Cruz; Greg Carlson of the University of Rochester, and the editor of Language; Monica Macaulay, of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and the author of Surviving Linguistics; and Chris Potts, of Stanford University, and associate editor of Linguistics and Philosophy. “Not one graduate student!” complained a fellow attendee, who found the tone of the panel paternalistic. That’s when I realized that the ambiguity of the phrase Graduate Student Panel had led to an unfortunate misunderstanding. For my part, I took page after page of notes, and I’m going to synthesize them here.

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Posted in LSA | 14 Comments »

Back from the LSA

Posted by Neal on January 11, 2010

Got back from the annual LSA convention last night, in time to say good night to Doug and Adam. It was a busy weekend, so busy I didn’t have time to do much LSA-related blogging, so in coming posts you can expect to hear about topics such as…

I went to a lot of talks (some of which were interesting, some of which were well-presented, and a few of which were both), and got to talk to a lot of linguists I wouldn’t ordinarily get to. I met a few linguists that up to now, I’d only known from their blogs: Ed Cormany (Descriptively Adequate), Ryan Denzer-King (Ryan’s Linguistics Blog), and Paris Ward (Linguistics Lounge). I also met several people that up until now, I knew only as names on the occasional comment on this blog or other blogs. There was linguist Bridget Samuels, and linguistically savvy lawyer Neal Goldfarb, who kindly gave me two amicus curiae briefs he’d written for the Supreme Court regarding matters of grammar, and welcomed me to the Brotherhood of Neals Whose Name Is Spelled Correctly.

UPDATE, Jan. 12, 2010: How embarrassing. When I published this, I mentioned meeting Kirk Hazen, the writer of the blog Polysyllabic. In fact, Kirk Hazen, a professor of linguistics at West Virginia University, is not the same person at all as Karl Hagen, the true writer of Polysyllabic.

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In the Land of Parent-Linguists

Posted by Neal on January 10, 2010

I got a few language-related books for Christmas, including Patricia O’Conner’s Origins of the Specious, Sheila Finch’s The Guild of Xenolinguists, and Arika Okrent’s In the Land of Invented Languages. As I was packing to come to the LSA conference, I decided to take one of my new books for reading on the plane, and more or less at random, grabbed the last one. The next day I arrived in Baltimore, checked in at the LSA registration table, and received my conference program. I already had some idea of the LSA talks I wanted to go to from the preliminary program that had been on the LSA website for a couple of months, but this was the first time I got a look at the talks for the smaller, “sister society” conferences going on at the same time: the American Dialect Society (which holds the Word of the Year selection that you’ve been reading about in the papers today), the American Name Society, the Society for the Study of Indigenous Languages of the Americas, the Society for Pidgin and Creole Linguistics, and the North American Association for the History of the Language Studies. As I looked at the abstracts for that last society, I was surprised to see that one of the speakers was none other than Arika Okrent. (Other speakers were people other than Okrent, but I wasn’t surprised to see that.) But what do invented languages have to do with the history of language studies?

Arika Okrent, linguist and parent

Nothing. Her talk was titled “The linguist as parent, parent as linguist”, a topic that you might not have realized I have some interest in. Okrent gave her talk at 2:30 this afternoon, and started off with a story about her son, Leo. As she drove him home from preschool one day, she had asked about his day. He told her that they’d talked about lasers. She said, “Lasers, huh?” in probably the same attempting-to-sound-interested tone that I absolutely never have to use with Doug and Adam. Leo continued:

Erica don’t like that.
Erica’s from art class.
Erica from art class don’t like guns.

Okrent was blown away. Leo had cleared the linguistic hurdle of taking two propositions (Erica doesn’t like guns, Erica’s from art class) and packaging them into one sentence: Erica (who is) from art class don’t like guns.

Her point: Although most parents are interested in their children’s language development, nonlinguists are only interested in the mistakes, the babyish pronunciations, the cute misunderstandings. Linguists, in contrast, are also interested in what the kids get right, the kind of thing that might go right by other parents because it just sounds normal.

From there, Okrent sketched the history of linguists who were also parents recording their own children’s linguistic data. The practice has been going on since before linguistics even existed in its own right, starting with a guy named Dietrich Tiedemann, who in 1787 published observations made on his own children.

Of course, not all linguists who have children publish books or papers about them. For the most part, Okrent believes that being a linguist has two main effects on parents. One is simply that they view their children’s language development through their own “theoretical lens”; the other is that when they write down in a journal things their kids say, some of their professional methodology is liable to creep in. For example, they’ll use IPA to record a child’s utterances. (I know I did when I was recording Doug’s /l/ productions when he was a toddler.)

However, with the birth of cognitive science in the late 1940s and 1950s, some linguist-parents went beyond passive observation and data collection to actually doing experiments with their own children. Evylyn Pike made a point of never using the rising intonation that’s characteristic of motherese when talking to her second daughter, and instead spoke to her only in falling intonations, which her daughter then used in her first words.

In the 1960s and 70s, though, unease at the idea of a parent doing any kind of experiment on their own children grew in response to public revulsion to “the excesses of psychology experiments”. (I’m surmising that Okrent was referring to things like Stanley Milgram’s obedience experiments, or the great strides in lobotomization during that era.) Okrent even told of linguist Jerry Sadock expressing disgust at parents using their children as a source of data.

“But that,” Okrent continued, “was before he had kids.” In the 1970s, Sadock presented a paper at the Chicago Linguistic Society conference on the “Bennish optative”, regarding a verb form he was hearing in his son Ben’s speech.

“Parents can’t resist,” Okrent said, “and it’s been to the benefit of linguistics.” The extended, intimate contact that parents have with their children allow insights you just can’t get in a lab, including many slips of the tongue that would go unnoticed, and children’s rambling monologues as they drift to sleep in their cribs. Both of these topics resulted in books (one of them featured in Michael Erard’s Um), because both were things that non-parent linguists didn’t believe young children did. Non-linguist parents certainly knew, but didn’t know the significance. It took members of the intersection of the two sets to notice the data and make it available.

More importantly, though, has this kind of research been good for children? Okrent has found no evidence that it harms them, and most linguists think that if anything, it enriches their children’s language experience, in the same way that growing up bilingual might. (And amazingly, there are even people who think that’s a bad idea!) Shoot, Glen and I did stuff to Ellen when she was a baby for no purpose other than to mess with her mind, and we never answered to anybody for it. We’d sing her the alphabet backwards, or in QWERTY order. We’d tell her, “If you don’t give me a bite of your candy, I won’t give you a quarter,” leaving her to figure out that the converse might not be true. If she ever made the mistake of asking us to make her a peanut butter sandwich we’d say, “Poof! You’re a peanut butter sandwich!” (Asking us to make her a real sandwich didn’t help her, either.)

About the worst that’s happened is just embarrassment at having some portion of their lives exposed without their knowledge or consent. Okrent even told of one parent who tested the hypothesis that their child’s linguistic development was correlated with their success in learning to use the toilet, recording many data points in the process. As adults, though, the kids seem to have gotten over any embarrassment — except for the one woman who sued her mother for publishing stuff about her. Okrent didn’t tell about that case; I only learned about it from a linguist I talked to later in the day. (Anyone know more details on that?) And finally, Okrent observed, it’s worth considering the position that kids in experiments run by their parents have a kind of built-in protection that other kids in experiments don’t, assuming that the parent knows the child’s needs and limits the best, and presumably has the child’s best interest at heart.

In the question period, one audience member brought up a paper that was written by a linguist who was clearly a parent of the child subject, in light of the kinds of utterances that got recorded and the kind of detailed data that had been collected — but the author never admitted as much! I added that I’d wondered about the same thing in a paper I’d read two years ago. Did the linguists think this coyness gave the paper a more professional feel? Or were they embarrassed to admit they’d used their own children as data sources, and if so, who did they think they were fooling?

Overall, this was one of the more interesting talks I heard at this conference, and it’s the only one where I’ve gotten a book signed!

Posted in LSA, The darndest things | 6 Comments »

Why Can’t You Call Him and He Picks Up?

Posted by Neal on January 5, 2010

On one of the news channels this morning, they were talking about the “Tiger Woods syndrome”: thinking that, if even seemingly steadfast and true Tiger Woods could have cheated (and cheated so much) on his wife, your significant other could be cheating on you, too. They had some marriage counselors talk about their increased business since the Tiger Woods scandal broke, and then they brought on a private investigator who specialized in infidelity and had written a book on the top signs your SO is cheating on you. After an increased attention to personal fitness, and heightened possessiveness of cell phone and/or computer, the PI mentioned an increase in overtime hours at work. He asked,

If he’s at work, why can’t you call him at the office and he picks up?

Hey! I thought. That one’ll go right onto the examples page of my handout!

This is precisely the kind of coordination that I’ll be talking about at LSA this Thursday, and which longtime readers know I’ve blogged about on numerous occasions. Syntactically, it looks like a question (Why can’t you call him at the office?) coordinated with a declarative (he picks up), but of course it’s really one big question, asking why a particular set of events cannot occur; specifically, you calling him at the office, and him answering the phone when you do.

This coordination is a triple threat: It’s not just a wide-scoping modal (as in They must have escaped and no one noticed), or negation (as in A player should learn how salaries aren’t as great as they seem or last as long as expected), or question (as in Why am I working and you’re just sitting there?). Nor is it just a modal plus a negation (as in You can move this and these’ll move, but you can’t move these and this’ll move), or a negation and a question (as in Didn’t he get the job but they fired him a month later?), or even a question and a modal (as in Can you feed the cats and I’ll take out the trash?). No, indeed: It’s all three at once!

This reminds me that I really need to finish up my slides tonight. I’ll put a link to them here when they’re done.

Posted in LSA, Semantics, Wide-scoping operators | 6 Comments »

Bloggers at LSA 2010

Posted by Neal on December 17, 2009

I haven’t seen any announcements yet for a proposed bloggers’ get-together at next month’s Linguistic Society of America conference in Baltimore. That’s probably because not as many of them are going to be there this year, at least judging by the preliminary program. Of course, that only says who’s presenting, not who is attending, so who knows?

I will be both attending and presenting this year. If any other bloggers (on linguistics or other topics) want to hang out this year, I suggest 9pm Friday night at the hotel bar as a possible time and place. Since I’m putting out the call, I also invite anyone who merely wants to bask in reflected linguablogger glory to come and join us (assuming a group sufficient to justify the plural).

UPDATE, 12/18/09: I meant to say Friday night, and have just made the correction above. Saturday is when the OSU folks are getting together.

Posted in LSA | 5 Comments »

Uh Must

Posted by Neal on January 7, 2008

I arrived at the agreed-upon location precisely at 10:30. He was waiting for me.

“You got the stuff?” I asked.

He glanced at his shoulder bag but didn’t open it. “Show me the money.”

I handed over a $20 bill, which he pocketed. He reached into his bag, and drew out the package.

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Posted in LSA, Reviews | 6 Comments »

LSA 2007: Elementary School Linguistics

Posted by Neal on January 15, 2007

“Before we start,” I said, “I need to make sure I know what language you guys speak.”

“English!” they said.

“Ah, good! That’s what I speak, too. So Mrs. K,” I said, turning to Adam’s teacher, “Do they speak English pretty well?” She said they did. “OK,” I said. “Let me try a little test. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Elementary school linguistics, LSA, Phonetics and phonology | 3 Comments »

LSA 2007: Book Report

Posted by Neal on January 12, 2007

When I wandered through the book exhibit last week, I saw Heidi Harley‘s book English Words; on display. She’d plugged it on her blog, but this was the first chance I had to look inside it. I flipped to the section on “accidental words,” since that’s where she talked about backformations. The first thing I found there, though, was some stuff on folk etymology, including this:

For a long time when I was a teenager, I thought the word facetious was related to the word feces — during that time, for me, facetious was a fancy way of saying “full of shit.” I had created a folk etymology. (p. 92-93)

Hah! Love that scatological humor. This one’s almost as good as the widely and falsely held belief in the execrable/excrement connection. BTW, has anyone seen a movie where a teacher hands back some student essays or tests, and says to the class, “Your {papers, tests, whatever} were execrable!” and one surfer-dude-type guy says, “Excellent!” and the teacher tells him, “I was comparing them to excrement!” That was my tipoff that there was some folk etymology going on with that word, but a search for quotation keywords in the IMDB fails to identify the movie. Oh, and before we move on, let’s not forget fallacious and fellatious.

I bought the book but haven’t read anything else in it yet. I’m hoping she’ll clarify the difference between folk etymology and eggcorns. As near as I can tell, when linguists refer to eggcorns, they are talking about folk etymologies that haven’t caught on enough to have gained legitimacy in most speakers’ minds. Hey, wait, what am I sitting here writing this for, when I can find out what she says right now? Let’s see … OK, if I understand her right, her take is that folk etymology is a cover term for eggcorns and mondegreens. Do any of you eggcorn enthusiasts have an opinion on this definition?

I also bought David Wilton’s Word Myths: Debunking Linguistic Urban Legends. Like many books of this type, it’s good, entertaining bathroom/airplane/waiting-for-kids-at-the-bus-stop reading, but unlike many others, the author makes a concerted effort not to spread bullshit, giving numerous OED and other citations in the index, including many from the online archives of the American Dialect Society. After reading some of this book, I was mad at Erik Larson. He wrote The Devil in the White City, and repeated the story that Chicago’s nickname Windy City was a reference to its uppitiness in campaigning for the 1896 Columbian Exposition to take place in Chicago. I believed him, but referring back to the book now, I see that he indeed did not give any citations for this claim, just like David Wilton said people tended not to.

I bought W. Cowan and J. Rakušan’s Source Book for Linguistics, which is an entire book full of linguistic exercises. As a reviewer on the back cover said, “If you’ve been teaching upper-level undergraduate introductions to linguistics with Cowan and Rakušan, then you’ve been scrambling about in search of examples and exercises in phonetics, phonology, morphology and syntax long enough.” Also historical reconstruction problems, with data all nicely selected and cleaned up for you. If you’re not teaching linguistics classes, it’s a nice book of logic puzzles to take on an airplane with you, if you’re tired of (or never liked) crosswords, word searches, logic puzzles, or (these days) sudoku.

The only other title I bought was Robert D. Van Valin’s An Introduction to Syntax, mainly for the chapter at the end with thumbnail sketches of several flavors of syntactic theory, all compared in one place. Haven’t read it yet, but it looked useful enough for me to buy it for that reason alone.

Posted in Folk etymology, LSA, Potty on, dudes!, Reviews | 2 Comments »

LSA 2007: L and S at the ~

Posted by Neal on January 10, 2007

The Tensor is giving other LSA highlights, including the third annual bloggers’ gathering that happened on Friday night. It was fun; as he mentions, we got to meet Justin “Semantic Compositions” Busch in person, plus we saw the Tensor himself with non-purple hair. But I don’t want to talk about that. Conversation topics included how to make the best conlang ever, assuming you’d want to, and how to incorporate learning a language (or as Mark Liberman suggested, chemistry or other things) into a really cool videogame. And I put in a plug for my own Literal-Minded Linguistics Supplement. But enough about Friday night; I want to talk about Saturday night, when (now former) LSA president Sally McConnell-Ginet delivered the presidential address. The Tensor mentions his most memorable moment from the talk: when McConnell-Ginet spilled water on her PC. After she’d hastily mopped off her keyboard, recovered her composure, and continued with her talk, he and Included Middle were muttering things like, “She’s got about a minute, and then her motherboard’s fried.”

However, a friend whom I’ll call Rebecca that I talked to later that evening found something else about the talk memorable. It drove her crazy, she said, how McConnell-Ginet would often exhibit a sociophonetic variation that Rebecca sometimes observed in women’s (and only women’s) speech: a labialized /s/. That is, when she said her /s/, she would simultaneously round her lips as if to say a /w/. “Now far be it from me,” Rebecca said, “to condemn someone’s linguistic variation,” but it was still distracting, because McConnell-Ginet didn’t produce labialized /s/ consistently, or in some patterned way. Sometimes she’d produce a labialized /s/, other times a regular one; that was what really got under Rebecca’s skin. Oh, and about the talk itself? Ah, it was something about words and meaning. You can read the abstract on page 69 of the meeting handbook if you’re interested.

Hearing about this variant pronunciation of /s/ reminded me that on the shuttle from the airport on Thursday night, I’d heard another speaker who, like Adam, me as a kid, Stephen King sometimes, and possibly Tom Brokaw, pronounces his /l/ as the uvular nasal [N]. It was a three- free-year-old boy going to visit Disneyland with his parents, or as he put it, Disney[N]and. And that reminded me of yet another celebrity I’d heard using [N] for /l/: Ira Glass, host of NPR’s This American Life. I’ve started downloading episodes of this program and listening to them on my iPod, and after a couple of hours of listening, I was pretty sure that he was saying “Ira G[N]ass” and “This American [N]ife.” Fortunately, most of the program is other people telling their stories, and the stories are usually really interesting, enough to mitigate the distraction of Ira Glass’s uvular /l/s. Why don’t you listen to a few episodes yourself and tell me what you think of his /l/s? Actually, I’d recommend listening even if you don’t care at all about his /l/s.

Posted in LSA, Phonetics and phonology, What the L | 2 Comments »

LSA 2007: Multiple-Wh Questions in ASL

Posted by Neal on January 9, 2007

Since my last posting, the family and I have been to Houston and back (no shooting this time), and I’ve been to the annual Linguistic Society of America conference. Woulda blogged while I was there, since I went to the trouble of taking a laptop (computer, that is), but it completely died the night I arrived, after I’d paid for a three-day block of Internet access. So this week I’ll be writing belatedly about some of the highlights. Today’s installment: The most interesting talk I heard, from Sanda K. Wood of the University of Connecticut, on multiple-wh questions in ASL.

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Posted in LSA, Multiple-wh questions | 1 Comment »