Archive for The academic scene

Neil deGrasse Tyson on linguists and Arrival

This is a guest post submitted by Nathan Sanders and colleagues. It's the text of an open letter to Neil deGrasse Tyson, who made a comment about linguists on Twitter not long ago.

Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson,

As fellow scientists, we linguists appreciate the work you do as a spokesperson for science. However, your recent tweet about the film Arrival perpetuates a common misunderstanding about what linguistics is and what linguists do:

In the @ArrivalMovie I'd chose a Cryptographer & Astrobiologist to talk to the aliens, not a Linguist & Theoretical Physicist

Neil deGrasse Tyson (@neiltyson), 1:40 PM – 26 Feb 2017

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Open Access Handbooks in Linguistics!

A couple of weeks ago, I wrung my hands on Facebook over the proliferation of commercial publishers' Handbooks of Linguistics. These are usually priced out of individuals' budgets, being sold mostly to university libraries, and the thousands of hours of work poured into them by dedicated linguists are often lost behind a paywall, inaccessible to many of the people who would most like to read them.

That post prompted a flood of urgent discussion; it seemed like this was a thought that was being simultaneously had around the world. (Indeed, Kai von Fintel had posted the identical thought about six months prior; probably that butterfly was the ultimate cause of the veritable hurricane  that erupted on my feed.)

Long story short, a few weeks later we now have a proto-editorial board and are on to the next steps of identifying a venue and a business model for the series. Please check out our announcement below the fold, and follow along on our blog for updates as the series develops!

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Asleep at the wheel at Zombie Lingua?

[This is a joint post by Eric Baković and Kai von Fintel, cross-posted at Kai's blog.]

We have been following an ongoing story involving Zombie Lingua with great interest. For those unaware of it, and perhaps for those with only some awareness of it, here is what we currently know.

It will help to start by identifying the main characters in this story:

OK, here we go.

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Spamferences thrive; junk journals prosper

I was recently moved (screaming and struggling, as four strong men held me down by my arms and legs) to a new web-based university email system designed and run by Microsoft: Office 365. Naturally, it's ill-designed slow-loading crap, burdened by misfeatures and pointless pop-ups that I do not want popping up, and it fails to allow various elementary operations that I often need (every upgrade is a downgrade). But that is not my topic today. I want to note one special sad consequence of moving to an entirely new system: all my previous email system's Bayesian machine learning about spam classification has been lost. The Office 365 system has had hardly any data to learn from as yet, so I am seeing some of the stuff that would have been coming to me all along if it had not been caught by machine learning and dumped in the spam bin. And what has truly amazed me is the daily flow of advertising for spamferences and junk journals.

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Endowed chairs at the 2017 Linguistic Institute

Anyone familiar with academia will have noticed how often the high-prestige invited participants at conferences or summer schools and the holders of endowed professorships tend to be men. Well, not so much in linguistics, it would seem. Look at the list of the faculty members selected to hold the four prestigious endowed professorships at the 2017 Linguistic Institute, a large summer school sponsored by the Linguistic Society of America and hosted next year by the University of Kentucky:

  • Collitz Professor: Joan Bybee (University of New Mexico)
  • Sapir Professor: Penelope Eckert (Stanford University)
  • Hale Professor: Lenore Grenoble (University of Chicago)
  • Fillmore Professor: Julia Hirschberg (Columbia University)

One hundred percent women for the top invited professorships! And make no mistake, they are all very distinguished senior professors, known worldwide for their research. This isn't tokenism. It's the way our discipline has been developing over the past thirty years or so. Makes a feller proud to be a linguist.

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The representation of women in phonological discussion

This is a guest post by Joe Pater, reporting on observations by Claire Moore-Cantwell, Sharon Peperkamp, Stephanie Shih and Kie Zuraw. It was originally posted on Phonolist, and has already generated considerable discussion there — if you have comments, please add them to the original post.

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Zombie Lingua Recruitment

My sources say that Elsevier is now actively trying to recruit scholars for the editorial team of Zombie Lingua (see these Language Log posts for the background: "Lingua is dead. Long live Glossa!", Lingua Disinformation"). Here's a redacted sample of what they are sending to people:

Subject: Editorial Position Opportunity

Dear Professor […]

First please let me introduce myself as the […] at Elsevier responsible for the Social Science Journals, including our Linguistics portfolio.

I hope you do not mind me contacting you out of the blue like this, but as you may be aware we are currently looking for a new editorial team to head up the journal, Lingua. In discussions regarding this your name was suggested as a potential candidate to be part of this team. If this is something you would be interested in considering and would like to discuss this further, with no obligations, then please let me know. I would be more than happy to provide more details of the role and responsibilities.

Thank you for your time in considering this proposal. I look forward to your reply and hope to discuss this further with you in the near future.

Best regards […]

Needless to say, I'm hoping that the community is sufficiently immunized by now and that Elsevier will fail to attract linguists to stand up a zombie version of Lingua, which would not have any legitimacy as a successor to the journal's proud tradition. The true successor to Lingua is Glossa.

By the way: Glossa is now open for business. The first few submissions have already been made.

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Teresa Buchanan

If you haven't read about the bizarre and disturbing case of Teresa Buchanan at LSU, here are some links: Colleen Flaherty, "Fired for Being Profane", Inside Higher Ed 9/2/2015; Steve Sanoski, "LSU defends firing of associate professor as faculty senate takes up resolution asking officials to reverse decision", Business Report 9/2/2015; Julia O'Donoghue, "LSU Faculty Senate to decide on censure of King Alexander next month", New Orleans Times-Picayune 9/2/2015; Caitlin Burkes, "Faculty Senate postpones vote on LSU president's censure", The LSU Daily Reveille 9/3/2015; LSU Faculty Senate Resolution 15–15 Regarding the Case of Teresa Buchanan; Catherine Sevcenko, "AAUP Censures Louisiana State Over Buchanan Case, Prompting LSU to Play Dirty", The Torch 9/3/2015; Charles Pierce, "LSU Gets Politically Correct", Esquire 9/4/2015; Ryan Buxton, "Fired LSU Professor Teresa Buchanan Says She Still Doesn't Know What She Did Wrong", Huffington Post, 9/8/2015.

Teresa Buchanan has put up a web site, where you can donate to her legal defense fund via the Louisiana State Conference of the AAUP — unfortunately you can only do so by sending a physical check via paper mail.


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The Base, Al Qaeda, and gays in China

Through a curious concatenation of sociolinguistic forces, the word jīdì 基地 ("base") has brought such disparate entities as militant Islamic fundamentalism, homosexuality, and Sinology together.

Brendan O'Kane sent in the following photograph from Beijing, "snapped on the smaller, slightly more raucous bar street that runs parallel to the main Sanlitun drag. (I've always called it 'Skid Row,' but I assume it has a proper name.)"

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Dolphins using personal names, again

As we have frequently noted here on Language Log, science stories on the BBC News website are (how to put this politely?) not always of prize-winning standard with respect to originality, timeliness, reliability, or attention to the relevant literature. In fact some of them show signs of being written by kids in junior high school. Way back in 2006 Mark Liberman commented on a BBC News story about the notion that dolphins have and use "names" for each other. He expressed skepticism, but the BBC forged ahead without paying any heed, and today, more than seven years later, we learn from the same BBC site once again that Dolphins 'call each other by name'. Yes, it's the same story, citing the same academic at the University of St Andrews, Dr Vincent Janik. (Mark's link in 2006 was unfortunately to a Google search on {Janik, dolphins}, which today brings up the current stories rather than the ones he was commenting on then.) And you don't need to leave the BBC page to see that the story contradicts itself.

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Linguistics dissertations and academic jobs 2009-2012

Back in 2009, Heidi Harley and I wrote a few inter-related posts looking at the linguistics job market and how it compares with the distribution of new PhD theses. Since then, people have occasionally written to me (and probably Heidi too) about updating the posts with new numbers. I've been reluctant to do that because I've always been worried that my data-gathering methods (scraping Linguist List and ProQuest) were problematic. (It would be great if Linguist List released analyses based on its internal database of jobs ads!)

I'm pleased to report that Stephanie Shih and Rebecca Starr have done the work for me, and they did a careful job indeed. Here's the summary picture; below the fold, I've included their notes on where the data came from. Comments are open so that people can add their own analyses.

Linguistics dissertations and academic jobs 2009-2012

Thanks Stephanie and Rebecca!

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But not as early as we were: Chicago strikes back

Continuing with the historical priority battle among the older and grander linguistics departments of the USA: naturally, the University of Chicago was bound to respond sooner of later to Berkeley's suggestion of a 1901 founding date. Jason Merchant has written to tell me Michael Silverstein wrote up a history of the department, which Jason has stashed in PDF form here. It provides grounds for pushing back as far as 1892, which would kick the shibboleth out of Berkeley's date; it isn't even in the same century. Some highlights follow (and I'm just repeating what Jason put in his email to me).

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Born too early: prehistory of Berkeley linguistics

Andrew Garrett is Professor of Linguistics and Nadine M. Tang and Bruce L. Smith Professor of Cross-Cultural Social Sciences at the University of California, Berkeley, and also Director of the Survey of California and Other Indian Languages there. He wrote to me after he saw my post about who has the oldest linguistics department in the USA to give some interesting comments about his department's early history, the relations between linguistics and anthropology, and the vexed question of which is the oldest department of linguistics in the USA. Here's the gist of his email, as a guest post.

Guest post by Andrew Garrett

The first Berkeley Linguistics department was set up in 1901, in fact a few months before even the Anthropology department here. An introduction to linguistics course that is still taught was first taught in Fall 1901, by Benjamin Ide Wheeler, the president of the university and an Indo-Europeanist who had received his Heidelberg PhD as a student of the neogrammarians. "Wheeler's Law" of Greek accentuation is named after him. (Joseph Aoun is another linguist university president, at Northeastern University, but I don't know how many others there have been.)

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