Yesterday the six-week faculty and the second-session three-week faculty ended our teaching stints at the 2009 Linguistic Institute sponsored by the Linguistic Society of America and the University of California at Berkeley. The two second-session Language Loggers, Adam Albright and I, were in complementary distribution with the two first-session Language Loggers, Geoffs Nunberg and Pullum: we did not meet in Berkeley. Not all of us have finished our work for our classes — I still have 15 of my 42 papers to grade — but our tight-knit community — living in the same dorm, sorry, residential unit (palatial by my loooong-ago student-era standards) and eating at the same university dining hall (spectacular by my ditto standards) — is history.
What a great Institute! I learned any number of cool things, partly from my own students (who hailed from places as distant as Florida, Boston, Singapore, France, Poland, and Taiwan), partly from the two classes I sat in on, Adam Albright's morphological change class and Emmon Bach & Pat Shaw's class on Wakashan Linguistics, and partly from fellow faculty members. From my students I learned, for instance, about Singapore's Speak Good English Movement (launched in 2000 and based on the earlier Speak Mandarin Campaign, vintage 1979, which was designed to encourage Chinese speakers to abandon other Chinese "dialects" and switch to Mandarin). The SGEM is supposed to promote Standard Singapore English and demote "Singlish", a.k.a. Singapore Colloquial English. I also learned about Bhindi, a mixture of Hindi and Marathi and maybe Dravidian languages as well, spoken in Bombay/Mumbai. And the students raised the question of whether the Nicaraguan Sign Language is best seen as a pidgin, or a creole, or something else. (I argued for abrupt creole status, on the grounds that the Deaf kids who created it brought their home-sign systems to the school where the NSL developed, and presumably contributed material from those sign systems to the emerging creole.)
From Mark Donohue, who was teaching Phonological Typology of Papuan Languages in the second session, I learned a whole bunch of fascinating things: about the Doutai speakers (NW New Guinea) who suppressed their language's implosive consonants for several weeks while Mark was studying their language (a phenomenon reminiscent of Dan Everett's experience of living three years among the Pirahas in the Amazon before they stopped suppressing their linguo-labial stops in talking to him); about plugging in typological features — word order, consonant types, etc., etc., etc. — to biologists' statistical models and coming up with areal rather than genetic groupings in known cases (e.g., Rumanian grouped with Slavic rather than with the rest of the Romance languages); and about a wide range of other things.
There's lots more, but you'll have to attend an LSA Linguistic Institute yourself — say, in Boulder, Colorado, in 2011 — to get your own collection of exciting linguistic facts, perspectives, new theories. No matter how old or young you are in age and/or in the field of linguistics, there's something at an Institute for you. About half the students in my language contact class at this Institute were undergraduates, for instance, and a few of them were studying at almost linguistics-free colleges. Neophytes, in other words. And they did just fine. For language-lovers, it doesn't get much better than a Linguistic Institute. And that's even aside from the occasional perks, like the view of the Golden Gate Bridge from my dorm window.