Liberman and the golden age at Manchester

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There's an unusual event this week: Mark Liberman and I will both be present at the same conference, the annual meeting of the Linguistics Association of Great Britain at the University of Manchester (UK, not NH). We plan to have a session (between 1pm to 2pm on Thursday 8 September, in the St Gabriel's Dining Hall in Oxford Place) devoted to Language Log and linguistic blogging. I think it's true to say that in the whole of the eight years since Language Log was founded, despite our having produced a book of Language Log posts together, Mark and I have never previously shared a platform — this will be the first time. But the real biggie is bigger than that: Mark has been invited to the LAGB meeting to give the prestigious Henry Sweet Lecture for 2011 on Wednesday night (September 7).

Henry Sweet (1845-1912) was one of the greatest British linguists, famous for his contributions to phonetics, grammar, Old English, Icelandic, historical linguistics, applied linguistics, and lexicography (he worked at Oxford University and was involved at the earliest stages with the planning for the Oxford English Dictionary). It's hard to know where one would start in picking a suitable topic for a lecture dedicated to his memory. What Mark has decided on as a title is: "Towards the golden age of speech and language science."

Mark, you see, is one of our discipline's optimists. For most people, the golden age is in some semi-mythical past and they insist that nowadays everything has gone to hell. For Mark, the golden age is in the near future. Things can get better; they will, they must. Education in our subject can improve, high school kids can have a good grasp of phonetics and grammar, technology and our imaginative use of it can lift linguistics higher. Well I say, hallelujah. I'll be there. I too want to see the golden age. Or at the very least, hear this year's Henry Sweet lecture, one great linguist's salute to another.

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