Linguistics and Language Science at AAAS 2012

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AAAS 2012 (the 2012 Annual Meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science) will take place February 16-20 in Vancouver. The business meeting of Section Z, Linguistics and Language Science, will be on Friday, February 17, from 7:00-9:00 p.m. in MacKenzie Room 1 of the Fairmont Waterfront.

The best part of AAAS annual meetings, in my opinion, is the extraordinary selection of symposia. At the 2012 meeting, there will be four symposia of particular interest to readers of this blog.

Endangered and Minority Languages Crossing the Digital Divide
(Friday, 2/17/2012, 8:00-9:30 a.m.)
Organizer: K. David Harrison, Swarthmore College
Co-Organizer: Claire Bowern, Yale University

Speakers of endangered languages are leveraging new technologies to sustain and revitalize their mother tongues. The panel explores new uses of new digital tools and the practices and ideologies that underlie these innovations. What new possibilities are gained through social networking, video streaming, twitter, software interfaces, smartphones, machine translation, and digital talking dictionaries? How can crowd-sourced translation and localization projects protect intellectual property while providing a technology resource? The panelists present actual and imagined uses and impacts of new digital technologies for a variety of stakeholders: speakers, educators, archivists, linguists, language activists, and technology providers. There are also benefits to science when indigenous languages assume a prominent role in digital technologies. They can provide testing grounds for new media and technological delivery, presenting a level of data complexity often not found in major global languages and thus leading to new discoveries. And they lend greater prominence to traditional knowledge, thus expanding access to the human knowledgebase.

K. David Harrison, Swarthmore College, "How Small Languages Are Thriving in the Digital Information Age"
Margaret Noori, University of Michigan , "Acculturation Continued: Use of Technology To Revitalize Anishinaabemowin"
Leena Evic, Pirurvik Center for Inuit Language, Culture, and Wellbeing, "Language Localization and New Technologies for Inuktitut"

Teaching Science Through Language
(Saturday, 2/18/2012, 8:00-9:30 a.m.)
Organizer: Anne Lobeck, Western Washington University

There is a need for highly effective science education and for more successful ways to teach scientific inquiry. Work on language can play an important role in developing the concepts and skills necessary for understanding how science works. Language provides a wealth of data available from the students themselves — data with questions that beg to be asked, making everyday phenomena surprisingly unfamiliar and requiring explanation. Linguistics is at the core of cognitive science, offering incomparable ways to understand the nature of the human mind. The biological capacity for language appears to be shaped in part by genetic information and in part by information gained through childhood experience. Scientists have sought to tease that information apart, and this work has yielded good explanations in some domains and a body of understanding that can be made accessible to middle school and high school students. This symposium presents examples of linguistic puzzles that can be integrated into existing school curricula and that enable all children to understand elements of scientific work quite generally and to discover their own intuitive knowledge of language. (For example, how do we know that greebies is a noun in The greebies snarfed granflons, but a verb in Lulu greebies me?) All of this can be done without labs or expensive equipment by involving experimentation, observation, and testing of hypotheses.

David Lightfoot, Georgetown University, "Language Puzzles: What They Tell Us About Biology, Experience, and Explanation"
Wayne O'Neil, MIT , "Two Linguists, a Teacher, and Some Middle-School Students Walk into a Room"
Kristin Denham, Western Washington University, "Teaching Teachers To Teach Scientifically"

Late Talkers in Any Language: Finding Children at Risk Worldwide
(Saturday, 2/18/2012, 10:00-11:30 a.m.)
Organizer: Nan Bernstein Ratner, University of Maryland

A major public health need worldwide is early identification of toddlers who are slow to talk. Early child language delay often signals other developmental problems and may limit eventual educational and vocational achievement. Thus, developing efficient, easily administered, universal toddler language instruments is critical. However, this step is also challenging because of cross-linguistic and cultural diversity and cost barriers. This session will present international research conducted over the past two decades that has made impressive progress toward achieving this goal by using standardized parent reports. Topics include the challenges involved in adapting the MacArthur-Bates Communicative Development Inventory (CDI) for use in numerous cultures and languages, strategies that have been successfully used to address these challenges, and major cross-linguistic universals as well as differences that have emerged from CDI adaptations for 69 languages. The panel will offer findings regarding identification of late talkers in four countries using the Language Development Survey, how to detect the correlates of persistent or transient early language delay, and associations with behavioral and emotional problems. Also presented will be how bilingual children master two languages concurrently, and how vulnerable bilingual late-talkers such as immigrant toddlers may be at risk for later educational or vocational failure if not properly identified.

Philip Dale, University of New Mexico , "MacArthur-Bates CDI: Lessons Learned from Making Language-Specific Versions"
Leslie Rescorla, Bryn Mawr College, "How the Language Development Survey Identifies Late Talkers: International Examples"
Erika Hoff, Florida Atlantic University, "Crossing Borders: The Language Development of Bilingual Immigrant Toddlers"

Gesture, Language, and Performance: Aspects of Embodiment
(Sunday, 2/19/2012, 8:00-9:30 a.m.)
Organizer: Philip Rubin, Haskins Laboratories

Communication, language, performance, and cognition are all shaped in varying ways by our embodiment (our physicality, including brain and body) and our embeddedness (our place in the world: physical, social, and cultural). The real-time production of spoken and signed language involves the dynamic control of speech articulators, limbs, face, and body, and the coordination of movement and gesture, by and between individuals. Increases in computing power and the recent emergence of ubiquitous and flexible sensing and measurement technologies, from inexpensive digital video and other devices to higher end tools, are beginning to make it possible to capture these complex activities more easily and in greater detail than ever before. We are on the cusp of a revolution in sign, gesture, and interactive communication studies. New computational and statistical tools and visualization techniques are also helping us to quantify and characterize these behaviors and, in certain instances, use them to control and synthesize speech, gesture, and musical performance. This symposium brings together experts spanning linguistics, computer science, engineering, and psychology to describe new developments in related areas of inquiry. These include coordination and synchrony during spoken and signed language, gestural control of musical performance, physiologically and acoustically realistic articulatory speech synthesis, and cognitive and linguistic development.

Sidney Fels, University of British Columbia,"Talking with Your Mouth Full: Performing with a Gesture-to-Voice Synthesizer"
Martha Tyrone, Long Island University, "Capturing the Structure of American Sign Language"
Eric Vatikiotis-Bateson, University of British Columbia, "Coordination: The Plaything of Expressive Performance"


  1. Rube said,

    December 9, 2011 @ 2:49 pm

    "Extraordinary selection of symposia" really doesn't do justice to that range of material.

    I'm envious of those who get to attend.

    [(myl) I've tried to persuade the AAAS powers-that-be to make video and slides of these symposia available on the web after the meeting — I gather that this may happen at some point in the future. Reports on a few of last year's symposia are here, here, and here. Victoria Stodden, who organized the session on "The Digitization of Science: Reproducibility and Interdisciplinary Knowledge Transfer", recorded the presentations and put the digital audio, along with the slides, up on her site at Stanford.]

  2. Rubrick said,

    December 9, 2011 @ 5:26 pm

    I hear there's going to be a groundbreaking talk on holographic Russian nesting doll words.

    Also, I feel it's important that all commentors on this post have names beginning with "Rub".

  3. Rube said,

    December 10, 2011 @ 10:28 pm

    Mark, thanks for that.

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