Archive for January, 2008

Greg Anderson on On Point

Saturday, January 26th, 2008

Greg Anderson (UofC PhD 2000) and David Harrison were interviewed on NPR’s On Point. They discuss the making of the film, The Linguists, as well as the significance of working on endangered languages. To hear the interview, visit

Holland Lecture on Tuesday (1/29)

Saturday, January 26th, 2008

Language as a Complex Adaptive System

John H. Holland
University of Michigan
January 29
Tuesday, 11:00 am
RI 480
Nothing is less real than realism. Details are confusing. It is only by selection, by elimination, by emphases that we get at the real meaning of things. –Georgia O’Keefe

This approach to language acquisition and evolution concentrates on language as a social phenomenon. To this end, it uses agent-based models wherein the agents adapt to an environment consisting of scattered resources and other agents — such models are usually called situated. Interaction between agents already having some linguistic ability, teachers, and agents without linguistic ability, learners, must serve for the propagation of language. In these models, language only evolves if its acquisition by a group of agents enables them to better collect resources — there is no a priori value to language.

Language, for present purposes, is the ability to produce utterance sequences wherein different sequences have different predictable effects on other agents. That is, an agent can produce a wide variety of responses in other agents through combinatoric (grammar-like) use of a limited set of utterances. Agents start with only a few familiar pre-primate capacities
(i) an ability to imitate, (ii) mutual awareness of shared attention when two or more agents are focused on the same salient object, and (iii) an inherent ability to distinguish actions from objects. If these abilities are placed on a quantitative scale, ranging from total lack of the ability to full development of the ability, there may be a sharp inflection point as a vector combination of these abilities increases. This inflection point would offer an explanation of the “sudden” appearance of structured language as we move from closely related primates to humans.

On a larger scale, the models proposed are good candidates for examining several emergent phenomena associated with complex adaptive systems (cas) in general:
(i) Robustness: Despite the established fact that individuals in a language group vary considerably in the grammars and expressions they use, communication proceeds smoothly under a wide variety of conditions.
(ii) Networks of interaction: The language-mediated formation of social groups and the “hub/authority” patterns in the internet are just two examples of generation of networks of increasing complexity and diversity.
(iii) Meanings as equivalence classes over environmental patterns: As languages develop and change, we see an increasing ability to distinguish different repeating patterns in the environment, especially social patterns, ranging from small groups to corporations and nations.

John Holland is a MacArthur Fellow, a Fellow of the World Economic Forum, and co-chairman of the Science Board of the Santa Fe Institute. He is known worldwide as the “father of genetic algorithms” and is the author of HIDDEN ORDER: HOW ADAPTATION BUILDS COMPLEXITY.

Prof. Holland is the guest of the Computation Institute this coming Tuesday, January 29 at 11am, in RI 480 (Research Institute, 5640 South Ellis Avenue), as part of its Deep Disciplinary Dive on language and computation.

Stanislas Dehaene Lecture

Saturday, January 26th, 2008

Symbol Grounding: How the Acquisition of Symbols Affects Numerical Cognition

Collège de France

3:30 pm
Cobb 201
5811 S. Ellis

Professor Dehaene’s visit to Chicago is made possible with the support from the Florence Gould Foundation.

CFP: The 2nd Biannual Summer Meeting of the Linguistic Society of America

Saturday, January 26th, 2008

The 2nd Biannual Summer Meeting of the Linguistic Society of America will take place at The Ohio State University, Thursday, 10 July – Sunday, 13 July 2008. The meeting is directed specifically at undergraduate and graduate students in Linguistics, and has the following goals:

– To provide a supportive setting for students to present their research and obtain feedback on their work;
– To encourage the development of a community of scholars and a spirit of collaboration; and
– To provide students with the opportunity to learn about various aspects of the profession through targeted professional development panels.

The program will include career-related workshops on how to apply for a job, how to apply for graduate school, how to apply for funding, and how to publish research. There will also be paper/poster presentations, social events for networking, as well as the following invited presentations:

Interrelationship between Language and Music:
Ilse Lehiste

From Undergraduate Major to Linguistics Professor:
Mary Paster (Pomona College)

The Road to Industry:
Elizabeth Strand (Tellme, A Microsoft Subsidiary)
Frederick Parkinson (Nuance Communications)

Interdisciplinary Research Collaborations:
John Rickford (Stanford)
Tom Wasow (Stanford)

Abstract Submissions: All abstracts will be reviewed by the LSA Program Committee and by a panel of local organizers.

The deadline for submitting abstracts is 5:00 p.m. EST on Monday, 18 March 2008. Abstracts for 20-minute papers and for posters must be submitted electronically and must be accompanied by a completed Abstract Submittal Form to be eligible for review; see the LSA website ( for details and submission requirements. The online abstract submission module will open 1 March 2008.

Following the Summer Meeting, The Ohio State University will host a weeklong series of workshops offered by faculty and researchers from the OSU Linguistics community. The topics and instructors are as followed:

Quantitative methods in linguistics
Mary Beckman

ToBI labeling
Julie McGory

Corpora and corpus studies
Chris Brew and Mike White

Eye-tracking methodology
Kiwato Ito and Shari Speer

For more information, visit: or

Zenzi Griffin Colloquium on Thursday

Sunday, January 13th, 2008

Zenzi Griffin (Georgia Institute of Technology) will speak at the Department of Psychology colloquium on January 17, Thursday, at 4pm in Rosenwald 011. Her talk is titled, “How speakers’ eye movements reflect spoken language generation“.