Calendar of Events › Speaker Series

April 12, 2012

Sandra Waxman (Language & Human Development)

Northwestern University

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.

Start: April 12, 2012 4:00 pm
End: April 12, 2012 5:30 pm
Venue: Harlan Hatcher Graduate Library, Gallery
Phone: 734 764 0400
Address:
913 South University Avenue, Ann Arbor, 48109-1190, United States
Cost: Free

April 5, 2012

Matthew Crocker (Language and Technology)

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.

Start: April 5, 2012 6:00 pm
End: April 5, 2012 7:30 pm
Venue: Harlan Hatcher Graduate Library, Gallery
Phone: 734 764 0400
Address:
913 South University Avenue, Ann Arbor, 48109-1190, United States
Cost: Free

March 22, 2012

John Rickford (Language and Society)

Stanford University

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.

Start: March 22, 2012 4:00 pm
End: March 22, 2012 5:30 pm
Venue: Harlan Hatcher Graduate Library, Gallery
Phone: 734 764 0400
Address:
913 South University Avenue, Ann Arbor, 48109-1190, United States

March 8, 2012

Marcel Danesi (Language and Communication)

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.

Start: March 8, 2012 6:00 pm
End: March 8, 2012 7:30 pm
Venue: Harlan Hatcher Graduate Library, Gallery
Phone: 734 764 0400
Address:
913 South University Avenue, Ann Arbor, 48109-1190, United States
Cost: Free

February 16, 2012

Michael Silverstein (Language and Culture)

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’.

Start: February 16, 2012 4:00 pm
End: February 16, 2012 5:30 pm
Venue: Harlan Hatcher Graduate Library, Gallery
Phone: 734 764 0400
Address:
913 South University Avenue, Ann Arbor, 48109-1190, United States

February 2, 2012

Robert Mankoff (Language and Humor)

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.

Start: February 2, 2012 6:00 pm
End: February 2, 2012 7:30 pm
Venue: Harlan Hatcher Graduate Library, Gallery
Phone: 734 764 0400
Address:
913 South University Avenue, Ann Arbor, 48109-1190, United States
Cost: Free

January 26, 2012

Michael Frank (Language and Thought)

Stanford University

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.

Start: January 26, 2012 4:00 pm
End: January 26, 2012 5:30 pm
Venue: Harlan Hatcher Graduate Library, Gallery
Phone: 734 764 0400
Address:
913 South University Avenue, Ann Arbor, 48109-1190, United States
Cost: Free

January 13, 2012

Leanne Hinton (MLK speaker)

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.

Start: January 13, 2012 4:00 pm
End: January 13, 2012 5:30 pm
Venue: William L. Clements Library
Phone: 734 764 2347
Address:
909 South University Ave, Ann Arbor, 48109-1190, United States
Cost: Free
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