Sunday, March 11, 2012

new paper

I'll be seeking feedback on the complete draft of my nominal events paper in the next week or so. It has taken a very interesting turn of late. I have really refocused on the regularity aspects of the analysis and developed that a lot further. Now, the paper is as much on a theory of regularity as it is on complex events in nominalization.

Personally, I think the analysis is not quite neat (both in the 1950s lingo sense and in the fact that it is fairly self-contained with not a terrible amount of loose ends.)

I hope to have a near-final draft by Wednesday. Shoot me a line if you'd like to take a look.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

The public relations of linguistics

This is a post that I've been bouncing around for a while. I still don't think I'll be able to get everything down that I want to say, but I need to give it a go or it'll never happen.

Basically, the field of linguistics needs seriously help in the public relations front. And I am certainly no angel when it comes to this....

But, the sad truth is that linguistics are sitting on topics that absolutely fascinate people. When I take the time to REALLY start talking to people about language, I find versions of the same questions that perplex linguistics today. People are generally fascinated by language in all of its aspects.

Yet, in the public eye, most of the discussion is not about language as linguists see it. Rather, the public view is that language is mere communication. That language is nothing that special (i.e., dogs have it too). Or that language is just that hodgepodge of rules and exceptions taught in sixth grade and preached by the mavens slowly slipping to hell in a hand-basket.

This is obviously a problem.

The bigger problem is that it seeps well beyond the public but into institutions of higher learning and scholarly research. Even among the highly educated, basic knowledge of linguistics is uncommon. This hurts the field in too many ways to count (funding, general institutional support, etc.).

But it doesn't need to be this way. Linguists are sitting on a gold mine, we just need to start mining.

To me, the key is a refocus on undergraduate education (perhaps with some of the wiser, more press-enabled folks working that angle). Linguistics departments need to find ways to make survey courses the types of courses that students want to take and the types of courses that will stick with students. There's obviously a lot there: there is a wealth of potential materials in popular culture that is just waiting to be mined.

Obviously, sci-fi and fantasy languages are an easy place to start. But even there, there little in terms of useful course materials. Heidi Harley's collection of the Simpson's linguistics humor is another underutilized resource ( many other options. The key is that we need to be creative.

Such attempts would of course increase the majors. But that's not the ultimate goal necessarily. We don't need to triple the size of the field. Rather, we need the public and the future university administrators looking at linguistics from anywhere but a place of ignorance.

Friday, March 2, 2012

my conference horror story

I think that we all can agree that this blog is missing some good stories of yours truly making a fool of himself. So, it is probably time that this gets corrected.

This post is inspired by the all of the first and second year graduate students who are heading out into the wild world to present at their first linguistics conferences. I've had numerous discussions over lunch or what-have-you and it has made me reminisce over some of my past experiences at conferences.

In many ways, I've been blessed. Sure, I've been to some conferences that weren't quite what I expected, but I've gained something from everyone that I've been to.

Still, there's one that I like to think back on. It's a funny story. In the end, it was probably one of the best conferences I ever attended, but it so easily could've been a total disaster.

It all started about a week and a half before I set to go out. I had finished a draft of my handout and sent it out for comments. A phonetician who I was quite close with was the first to give me comments. She asked about a data paradigm I hadn't considered. It didn't fit. At all. The analysis just couldn't handle it.


So, there I was, with very little time and I needed to solve this problem. The insight I had had before was still interesting and relevant, but, boy, it needed to be modified. For the next week I spent virtually every moment trying to solve the problem. Eventually, I came to something-- I was now leaving in less than two days. (It wasn't perfect. Certainly clunky. But parts of it do survive in my dissertation.)

I still had to prep my class for the time I was going to be gone, not to mention catch up to a certain extent on the work I had neglected otherwise. I had no time to do a formal practice talk. I barely had time to read over my handout...

I had a long plane flight, followed by a long shuttle ride (the host institution was not in a city with an airport). Perfect. I can go over it while traveling in detail, then do a few time talks before bed. Not ideal, but beats nothing.

The morning comes. My stomach is in knots. Nerves and the lack of sleep coupled with my already existing slight issues with air travel are not treating me well. On my way out the door, I grab some Imodium.

Little did I know at the time, but I wasn't taking Imodium. I was taking a sleep aid that looks nearly identical.

I'm on the plane. I pull out my handout. I can't concentrate at all. I'm feeling really cloudy mentally. And my stomach STILL hurts. I know that you can take Imodium fairly frequently so I take another dose.

Really, at this point, I'm just lucky I didn't seriously harm myself.

We land. I need to change planes. Delayed. I wander around the airport. I feel ill and incredibly exhausted; I worry I'm coming down with something terrible.

I arrive at the final airport just in time to see my shuttle speed away. Next one comes in 2.5 hours. Great. I won't make it to the hotel until well after 11pm now. I try once more to read over my handout but my mind is just not there.

We roll into the hotel. I get into my room and immediately set the alarm, my phone alarm and get a wake-up call. I'm out.

I wake up the next morning with a pounding headache. I still feel bleary but not as bad as before. I pound down more coffee than I thought was humanly possible. I am nowhere near 100%, but I am more like Jeff. That's good, it is almost show-time.

I remember very little from my talk. I was the second speaker. The room was fairly crowded. And the attendees were bigger names than I ever could've expected. It went by in a flash.

At first, I was just relieved it was over.

But as the conference went on, something funny happened. People kept asking me questions from my talk. I apparently had piqued some interest. I had started discussions. That's what a conference talk is all about.

Somehow, out of what should've been a disaster, I made numerous professional contacts with people I would now consider friends. Out of the discussions I got the basis of what would be the earliest parts of my dissertation. This should've been much worse. Instead, I look back on that conference as one of the best I've ever attended-- probably one of the best I ever will attend.

So that's the message I'd want to get out. It'll all be alright. Sometimes things go wrong. But at the end of the day, you never know where the real blessings are going to come.