Archive for Fieldwork

The Linguists in San Diego

If you happen to be in the San Diego / La Jolla area this afternoon at 5pm PDT, why don't you cruise by the beautiful UC San Diego campus to enjoy a screening of The Linguists followed by discussion with one of the linguists featured in the film, David Harrison? It's free and open to the public. Many more details can be found here. (If you miss it today, there's another screening at 5pm tomorrow at San Diego State University.)

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Next month: The Linguists premiere on PBS!

Beginning with a few sneak previews at smaller film festivals prior to its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival a year ago, The Linguists has been touring around the world — sometimes with David or Greg available for discussion, sometimes without — with exclusive screenings for lucky audiences. There are still a few such screenings left in various places, but soon many more of us in the United States will be able to enjoy the television premiere of The Linguists on PBS: on or after February 26, depending on your local station.

Note: thus far only Alabama Public Television seems to be on the ball about posting the premiere in its online broadcast schedule. I welcome links to other updated PBS station schedules in the comments.

(The PBS premiere is noted at the end of yesterday's Q&A with David and Greg in GOOD Magazine; tip o' the hat to Ben Zimmer.)

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Give the gift of The Linguists

Just in time for the holiday season: The Linguists educational DVD! According to the announcement on the LINGUIST List, it "includes 30 minutes of DVD extras profiling endangered languages around the world and efforts to archive and revive them; and a discussion guide created by Dr. K. David Harrison and the Center for Applied Linguistics."

The catch, of course, is that this DVD was produced for educational purposes, which somehow makes the price a whopping $300. But c'mon, you know you want one.

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Economic linguistics

According to Tim Arango, "I Got the News Instantaneously, Oh Boy", 9/14/2008, some so-far anonymous computational linguist caused United Airlines to lose more than a billion dollars of its market capitalization, over the course of about 12 minutes last Monday.

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Right angle turns

Many, many years ago I was privileged to study American regional dialects with one of the leading dialectologists of that era, Raven I. McDavid. It was a career-changing experience for me because he taught me the sheer joy of gathering and analyzing the actual language spoken by everyday people in everyday settings. The focus of the Linguistic Atlas of the United States and Canada was on older people, mostly in rural settings, so he sent me out to interview and tape-record a large sample of such Americans, first in the northern half of Illinois and later in the rest of that state. My experience of listening to 70-80 year-olds talk about farming and other topics was new and exhilarating to this city boy, making the arduous task of doing the phonetic transcriptions of their speech rather exciting.

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Secret Cabals in the Northwest

For those of you who plan to be in Vancouver at the end of July (and who wouldn't want to?), the 43d International Conference on Salishan and Neighbouring Languages will be hosted by the Squamish Nation and Capilano College in North Vancouver, Friday July 25th and Saturday July 26th. Further information is available at

The conference's odd name is due to the fact that it has historically focussed on Salishan languages but is intended to include the various other languages of the greater Pacific Northwest region. Talks on Athabascan languages nominally fall within its purview but are relatively rare since we Athabascanists have our own conference.
The Dene Languages Conference meets in Cold Lake, Alberta next Friday and Saturday.

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Many eyes on Siwu ne?

An invitation from Mark Dingmanse:

I just posted a piece on Many Eyes, a nice text visualization tool which I have fed some Siwu texts.

Now this is an open access tool with an interesting philosophy: "Many Eyes is a bet on the power of human visual intelligence to find patterns. Our goal is to "democratize" visualization and to enable a new social kind of data analysis."

I would like to test this philosophy in a peculiar way: by seeing if readers can come up with some kind of account of the functions of the Siwu word 'ne' *only by looking at the patterns* here.

Would you like to join all my eye and Betty Martin in some pattern hunting?

For more discussion, see Mark's post at The Ideophone, "Visual corpus linguistics with Many Eyes", 6/14/2008.

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The reason I was in York last night was to attend the 40th birthday celebrations for University Radio York, the UK's oldest student radio station, which began against great odds, only semi-legally, at a time when the government flatly refused to license any broadcasting that would break the BBC's monopoly, and physicists wouldn't assent to the idea that the induction loop technology the students were proposing would restrict the signal to the campus. I had a small role in the founding of the station four decades ago when I was a freshman undergraduate in the Department of Language at the University of York. At last night's reunion dinner I sat with a bunch of guys who started at URY and spent their whole lives in the broadcasting industry. People like and Robin Valk, who worked as a rock DJ in Buffalo, NY, for a few years before returning to Britain to work on software for computer management of radio programming, and Phil Harding, who has spent his career in a succession of different posts at the BBC. Phil taught me a new word that he learned at a seminar on new developments in the cellphone industry: glanceability.

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Stuck behind a cow in Swedish cyberspace

Just to make a point about the boundless possibilities of technology, I thought I would publish a Language Log post from a train. I am writing while traveling south by rail from Edinburgh to York. However, I have to admit that the boundless possibilities of technology are being resisted every step of the way by the forces of darkness and entropy. An hour out of Edinburgh we slowed to a crawl because of farm animals on the line. A modern express train can do nothing in the face of an imperturbable heifer, apparently. One minute it was rattle-a-dat, rattle-a-dat, at about ninety miles an hour, and the next minute we were stationary at a herd of cattle like a taxi in rural India. And the other thing is that through some strange interaction of default configurations with the National Express East Coast free wi-fi software, when train passengers call for the Google front page they get the one in Swedish. I am on a train in England looking at Google Sverige, which has buttons labeled Google-sökning and Jag har tur. As a qualified linguist, it shouldn't faze me to use Swedish for once (heck, I once executed an ATM transaction in Hmoob). But I am bit intrigued. I wonder what unintended consequence of what variable setting in which file was responsible for this whole train acting as if it were stuck behind a Swedish cow in Swedish cyberspace.

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Typological progress

Truly, this is the golden age of linguistic blogging. The past week has seen three incredible breakthroughs in the area of typology, all based on discoveries announced in weblog posts.

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Names and Systems of Naming

Something that we don't always think about is that names don't come by themselves but are part of a system with a certain structure. This is brought out by instances in which the names and the system of which they are a part come to be separated.

Carrier people used to have names that were wholly or partly meaningful in the Carrier language, but these died out very quickly once a resident priest arrived in 1865. The church gave people French saints' names on baptism, and these names immediately replaced the original Carrier names. Children ceased to receive a Carrier name.

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