Linguistics at UChicago Humanities Day

The University of Chicago’s Humanities Day is October 17th, and the Department of Linguistics has several faculty members who will be presenting.

Due to space limitations, please register at to reserve your seat now!

[SESSION 1 9:30-10:30 A.M.]

Jason Merchant

 How to write around the world (And which ways are best)

From Sumeria, Egypt, Phoenicia, and Greece to China and the Mayan empire, writing has been central to civilization and has been invented several times independently around the world, using just four basic models: in this class, we explore the four types of writing and their histories, and discuss the advantages and disadvantages for particular languages and age groups, as well as the challenges for learners and the prospects for orthographic reform and degradation in English.

[SESSION 2 2:00-3:00 P.M.]

Diane Brentari

The emergence of sign language in Nicaragua: Theoretical implications and notes from the field

A new sign language has been emerging in Nicaragua for approximately 40 years. In this talk the critical differences and similarities will be presented between acquiring a language as children do when they learn a signed or spoken language, and creating a language as the Nicaraguan signers have done. Important cultural and contextual conditions for working in Nicaragua will also be discussed.

[SESSION 3 3:30-4:30 P.M.]

Salikoko Mufwene

The Emergence and Evolution of Language: Some Ecological Perspectives

Over the past 2-3 decades, linguists have attempted to account for the emergence of Language in mankind on the Darwinian evolutionary model. The scholarship has generally focused on articulating various ecological factors, chiefly changes in the hominine anatomy and mental capacity, which account for the protracted and incremental way in which language may have arisen (though some still subscribe to saltationism). Capitalizing on inter-individual variation and population structure, I also speculate on how linguistic diversity and community-specific norms emerged (while the agency lies in individuals) and on how the phenomena of language birth and death seem to have recurred several times over since the dispersal of our species out of East Africa about 50.000 years ago. These phenomena make it difficult to reconstruct a primordial language, if there is any reason at all to prefer language monogenesis over polygenesis.

[SESSION 3: 3:30-4:30 P.M.]

Itamar Francez

Matters of Semantics

Saying that something is a matter of semantics is usually a way of saying that it is unimportant in a particular way: that it is a matter only of how we define things. Semantics, however, is also a branch of the science of linguistics, the branch that deals with the systematic ways in which linguistic expressions relate to an extralinguistic reality. This presentation will explore some matters of semantics—what is and isn’t systematic about linguistic meaning, what kinds of discoveries have linguists made about meaning, and how the relation between sound and meaning figures in verbal art.



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