April 12, 2012
Wizards of word-learning: Linguistic and conceptual foundations to infants’ stunning success
Human infants are wizards of word-learning. In this talk, I will describe the conceptual and linguistic capacities that underlie their success. To learn the meaning of any novel word, infants must set their sights in two distinct directions. Facing the conceptual domain, they must identify concepts that capture the various relations among the objects and events that they encounter. Facing the linguistic domain, they must cull words and phrases from the melody of the human language in which they are immersed. Findings from our laboratory, among others, have revealed that even before they begin to speak, infants’ advances in each of these domains are powerfully linked. In this talk, I will argue that infants begin with a broad universal initial link between the linguistic and conceptual systems, and that this sets the stage for increasingly precise links between different kinds of words (e.g., noun, verb) and different kinds of meanings. I will then present new evidence from infants as young as 3- and 4-months of age. Together, the work reveals that throughout development, naming is a powerful engine, fueling the acquisition of the essential, rich relations that characterize our most powerful concepts.
April 11, 2012
Pizza and a (Language) Movie: The Human Language, Part 3: The Human Language Evolves “With and Without Words”
Why chimps can’t talk and we can. How language must be a biological phenomenon. How the human Larynx “fell” and we acquired new vowels. How we inherited body language, gestures, and facial expressions from our animal past, but only we have the most human thing there is about being human.
April 5, 2012
Saarland University, Germany
The interplay of language and gaze in virtual environments
When dialog pertains to the objects and events in the world around us, gaze and speech become closely intertwined: Speakers typically look at objects about 1sec before they mention them, while listeners fixate relevant objects within 250msec of hearing them mentioned. In face-to-face dialog, listeners can “short-cut” this process by following the speaker’s gaze directly to get cues about which objects he/she is planning to mention. Thus gaze serves as a useful visual cue for grounding and disambiguating linguistic interaction. In this talk I will discuss recent research which seeks to better understand the importance of gaze for situated dialog in human-computer interaction. In the first part of the talk, I’ll focus on how eye gaze of both robots and virtual agents influences the way people understand their speech. I will then discuss ongoing research which exploits the real-time gaze of human users in order to improve the automatic generation of spoken directions, as users seek to navigate their way through a virtual environment. I will conclude by summarizing the importance of eye-gaze as a real-time channel for situated interaction, and speculate on how increasingly ubiquitous gaze-tracking technologies could be exploited in future applications.
April 4, 2012
At a time when 31 states have passed “English Only” laws, four pioneering families put their children in public schools where, from the first day of kindergarten, their teachers speak mostly in a foreign language.
Speaking in Tongues follows four diverse kids on a journey to become bilingual. This charming story will challenge you to rethink the skills that Americans need to succeed in the 21st century.
March 30, 2012
Language Variation and Language Contact
This undergraduate conference focuses on language variation and language contact and welcomes papers on Native American languages, African American English, endangered languages, mixed languages, and pidgins and creoles, among other contact varieties. The conference will include a special panel session that provides undergraduates with advice on applying to and succeeding in graduate school. Also, the undergraduate conference will be held in conjunction with the Weinberg Symposium (held the previous day, March 29, 2012), which will bring together many prominent language researchers from around the world.MORE INFO
March 29, 2012
The Weinberg Symposium is an annual interdisciplinary event that focuses on cognitive science and includes a philosophical angle. The topic of the 2012 Symposium is bilingualism, and the speakers are a philosopher, Gilbert Harman, and five specialists in various aspects of bilingualism. The five bilingualism experts cover different aspects of the field: code-switching (Auer), signed languages and the brain and bimodal bilingualism (Emmorey), neurocognitive limits of the child’s innate language-learning ability (Genesee), bilingual first-language acquisition and early-childhood second-language acquisition (Meisel), and bilingual learning, perception, and processing (Sebastian-Galles). The philosopher is Gilbert Harman (Princeton University), whose research interests include a well-developed interest in philosophy of cognition and of linguistics.
March 26, 2012
From World of Wonder Productions and filmmaker Billy Luther, whose own mother was crowned Miss Navajo 1966, the film reveals the inner beauty of the young women who compete in this celebration of womanhood. Not only must contestants exhibit poise and grace as those in typical pageants, they must also answer tough questions in Navajo and demonstrate proficiency in skills essential to daily tribal life: fry-bread making, rug weaving and sheep butchering.
The film follows the path of 21-year-old Crystal Frazier, a not-so-fluent Navajo speaker and self-professed introvert, as she undertakes the challenges of the pageant. It is through Crystal’s quiet perseverance that we see the strength and power of Navajo womanhood revealed. No matter who takes the crown, this is a journey that will change her life. Interspersed with pageant activities are interviews with former Miss Navajos, whose cheerful recollections of past pageants break the tension the current contestants are undergoing.
Their memories provide a glimpse into the varying roles Miss Navajo is called upon to perform: role model, teacher, advisor, and Goodwill Ambassador to the community and the world at large. For more than 50 years, Miss Navajo Nation has celebrated women and their traditional values, language and inner beauty.
As winners of the pageant, women are challenged to take on greater responsibility, becoming community leaders fluent in the Navajo language and knowledgeable about their culture and history. The film reveals the importance of cultural preservation, the role of women in continuing dying traditions and the surprising role that a beauty pageant can play.
March 22, 2012
African American Vernacular English and the Black/White Achievement Gap in American Schools
The persistent Black/White achievement gap in Education has been a source of concern for many years. Although many other factors contribute to it, one that has not attracted sufficient attention is the African American Vernacular English [AAVE] spoken by many African American students, and more importantly, the negative responses of teachers and administrators to it. The predominant response of teachers and administrators to AAVE has been that of the ostrich–burying their heads in the sand, and hoping that by ignoring and failing to acknowledge it, the vernacular would quietly disappear, with mastery of mainstream or standard English miraculously replacing it. An alternative response has been that of the elephant–acknowledging the vernacular, but attempting to stamp it out with proscription and vigorous correction. Neither approach has been particularly effective, as shown by data from more than thirty years of research.
In this talk, I’ll discuss in turn the more promising responses that sociolinguists and applied linguists have proposed to the challenges facing vernacular speakers in schools. The primary solutions include: Dialect Awareness, Dialect Readers, Contrastive Analysis, and Linguistically Informed Pedagogy (including individualized and group instruction based on systematic studies of phonemic decoding errors). Although some of these responses invariably bring public misunderstanding and controversy in their wake (recall Oakland’s 1998 Ebonics resolutions), they show promise for narrowing the achievement gap, and are worth serious consideration and implementation.
March 14, 2012
The Human Language Series is made up of three films. We will show the first two,
Discovering the Human Language: “Colorless Green Ideas”
Noam Chomsky asks, “You meet somebody, say, at a bus stop, and you start having a conversation. How do you do it?” How does anyone know what word to say next? Program one is about words, sentences, and something unique to our species: syntax.
Acquiring the Human Language: “Playing the Language Game”
Are children wrong when they say “he drived” and “two gooses?” How does anyone know what a word really means? Do we inherit grammar? Program two is about how children “acquire” language without seeming to be taught.
March 8, 2012
University of Toronto
The Meaning of Puzzles in Human Mental and Cultural Life
Puzzles have existed since the dawn of history. From riddles and anagrams to today’s Rubik’s Cubes, sudoku, and TV game shows, it seems that humans have engaged in this sort of activity since they became conscious beings. Why? This talk will look at the origins of puzzles and what they tell us about the human mind and how they relate to discoveries in language mathematics, and philosophy. It would seem that we possess a “puzzle instinct” that guides us in our overall search for meaning to life.
February 22, 2012
Scientists estimate that of 7,000 languages in the world, half will be gone by the end of this century. On average, one language disappears every two weeks.
THE LINGUISTS joins David Harrison and Gregory Anderson, scientists racing to document languages on the verge of extinction. David and Greg’s ’round-the-world journey takes them deep into the heart of the cultures, knowledge, and communities at stake.
THE LINGUISTS world premiered at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival. The only film funded by the National Science Foundation ever at Sundance, THE LINGUISTS has since screened at more than thirty festivals worldwide.
February 16, 2012
The University of Chicago
Culture’s Pantomime: The Code of Life-as-Lived
Through bodily movement, a pantomime artist creates a sense of co-presence of objects, persons, etc. in a surrounding envelope of goal-directed social activity. Just so, in any communicative use of language the interacting individuals create a framing sense of “who” they are – sociologically, what social identities they bring to and create in the situation – as well as the “what”—“where”—“when”—“why” of the occasion of their interaction, all through the magic of the “how” of their use of language and its surrounding signals. In every interaction, this at first invisible socio-cultural frame that comes into being is the experienced “reality” of life-as-lived at that moment; its coded regularities, pervading all language, are denoted by the term ‘culture’.
February 8, 2012
One summer day in 1798, a naked boy eleven or twelve years of age (Jean-Pierre Cargol) is found in a forest in the rural district of Aveyron in southern France. A woman sees him, then runs off screaming. She finds some hunters and tells them that she saw a wild boy. They hunt him down with a pack of dogs (a Beauceron, a German Shepherd, an Airedale Terrier and an English Springer Spaniel). The dogs, upon picking up the boy’s scent, chase him up a tree. A branch breaks off, and the dogs attack him when he falls. He fights them off leaving one wounded, then continues to flee and hides in a hole. The dogs continue to follow his scent, eventually finding his hiding hole. The hunters arrive and force him out of the hole using smoke to cut off his air supply. After he emerges, the men grab him.
Living like a wild animal and unable to speak or understand language, the child has apparently grown up in solitude in the forest since an early age. He is brought to Paris and initially placed in a school for “deaf-mutes“. Dr. Jean Marc Gaspard Itard (François Truffaut) observes the boy and believes that he is neither deaf nor, as some of his colleagues believe, an “idiot“. Itard thinks the boy’s behavior is a result of his deprived environment, and that he can be educated.
Itard takes custody of the boy, whom he eventually names Victor, and removes him to his house on the outskirts of Paris. There, under the patient tutelage of the doctor and his housekeeper (Françoise Seigner), Victor gradually becomes socialized and acquires the rudiments of language.
There is a narrow margin between the laws of civilization in rough Parisian life and the brutal laws of life in nature. Victor finds a sort of equilibrium in the windows that mark the transition between the closed interiors and the world outside. But he gains his ability to have social relations by losing his capacity to live as a savage.
February 2, 2012
The New Yorker
Online Responses to the New Yorker Cartoon Caption Contest: An Insider’s Take
As the cartoon editor of The New Yorker, I created the caption contest in 1998 and have been running and judging it since then, collecting and analyzing data from over 300 contests and 1.7 million entries with many interesting results about the statistical and textual characteristics of humorous user generated content.
The database has been made available to researchers in the fields of cognitive science and social psychology and yielded many interesting results.
The presentation will review these results to see which, if any, of the current theories of humor best explains them.
Also included in the presentation will be consideration of the forms of meta-humor the caption contest has spawned such as the anti-caption contest in which the objective is to write the worst possible caption and mashup sites which pair New Yorker cartoon images with Kanye West tweets or Charlie Sheen rants.
January 26, 2012
Numbers as tools for thinking
What is the relationship between language and thought? Traditional approaches to this question have staked out extreme positions: either that language determines the shape of the thoughts you can entertain, or else that natural language is only a thin overlay on top of a more basic “language of thought.” Work in the domain of numerical cognition supports a middle view: that language is a tool that can help with complex cognitive tasks by supplementing core non-linguistic numerical abilities. But if number systems are tools, then the way these tools are structured should make a big difference to how they are used and what they are good for. In this talk, I’ll describe cross-linguistic and cross-cultural evidence from Brazil, India, and Papua New Guinea, showing some of the incredible variation in number representations across the world and how these representations affect the cognition of their users.
January 18, 2012
The Wampanoag nation of southeastern Massachusetts ensured the survival of the Pilgrims in New England, and lived to regret it. We Still Live Here – Âs Nutayuneân tells the story of the return of the Wampanoag language, the first time a language with no native speakers for many generations has been revived in this country. Spurred on by an indomitable linguist named Jessie Little Doe, the Wampanoag are bringing their language and their culture back.
January 13, 2012
University of California in Berkeley
Language revitalization, civil rights, and modern times
The indigenous language revitalization movement of North America has roots in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960′s. Language loss in indigenous communities is often viewed as the result of linguistic oppression, with the boarding schools being a major example; and the effort to reclaim the lost language is an expression of freedom. At the same time, language loss is moving faster today than ever before, no longer due so much to oppression, but more to modern media and other features of modern American life that leave no room for the mother tongue. We will examine case studies to show how indigenous people are battling to express their right to know and use their languages in the face of the overwhelming pressure from the English language.