Lucas Champollion is Assistant Professor of Linguistics at New York University. He holds a Ph.D. in Linguistics (2010) and a M.Sc. in Computer and Information Science (2007), both from the University of Pennsylvania. Before joining New York University in 2012, he worked as a postdoctoral researcher at the Eberhard Karls Universität Tübingen in Germany. His work has appeared in journals such as Theoretical Linguistics, Linguistics and Philosophy, Journal of Semantics, and Semantics and Pragmatics.

The LSA Member Spotlight highlights the interests and accomplishments of a different LSA member each month. Click here to see previous Member Spotlights.

When did you first join the LSA?

I don't remember when I first became a member -- probably when I was in grad school at Penn. I think the faculty encouraged students to join, and there may have been a special deal at the time.

How have you benefited from the LSA since you joined?

I benefited a lot from the LSA linguistic summer institutes. In 2005 and 2007, I attended the ones at MIT and Stanford. LSA gave me a fellowship for the first. Both of the institutes were intense, eye-opening, and lots of fun. In 2005 Chomsky taught a weekend course in which he asked everyone in the audience (hundreds of people!) to email him a question. Roger Schwarzschild taught a high-energy course about degrees. Later on his work became very influential for me. Mark Baker and Bill Croft taught a course on formal and functionalist approaches to syntax. It was nice to see them debate, and it helped me make more sense of the field as a whole. At the time I had just spent a year studying generative syntax at Penn. Before that I had been studying functionalist syntax in Freiburg. I had come to the States because I wanted to know what generative linguists say about themselves. I hadn't expected to become a generative linguist myself, but that's what happened in the end. I was actually planning at the time to go into NLP. So I took courses from Lauri Karttunen on finite-state methods and from Annie Zaenen on why NLP needs linguistics. At the 2007 LSA institute in Stanford, I met Cleo Condoravdi, who became my thesis advisor later. She was teaching a course on events and aspect with Hana Filip. Cleo encouraged me to apply for an internship at Xerox PARC. At the time, she and Lauri and Annie were there as part of an NLP research group. I ended up moving to the West Coast and writing my dissertation in that group. One of the great things about LSA summer institutes is that you can meet linguists from all over the world. For example, I made friends with many great people from Russia and Ukraine and elsewhere. I visited some of these friends in Moscow several times and I still feel close to them today.

How have you been involved in the LSA since you became a professor?

Mainly through my work as the chair of the steering committee of the SALT conference. SALT proceedings have been published on LSA servers for a while now, but other than that, the LSA hadn't been involved. We asked the LSA to expand their support for local organizers. Now LSA is providing conference registration systems for SALT teams who don't want to implement their own. I hope this will make things easier for conference organizers in the future.

What are you currently researching?

I just published a book on mereology that summarizes most of the research I've done on the topic over the last decade or so. It covers three areas in semantics: distributivity, aspect, measurement. My goal was to give a unified theory of these three areas. I put a website together for it. It describes the relationship between the book and previous work and it has some excerpts. More recently I've become interested in a bunch of other topics in semantics and philosophy: counterfactuals, donkey sentences, truthmaker semantics, and various extensions of predicate logic. At the moment I'm working with various linguists, logicians and philosophers on these topics.

What is your personal favorite linguistic article or study?

Hard to name a favorite but here are some that have inspired me. There's the work of Manfred Krifka on mereology. His 1998 paper "The origins of telicity" is not an easy read, but it's very rewarding. He develops a beautiful theory. My first internship at PARC was spent working on implementing aspectual composition in their NLP system. That project was essentially an excuse for me to be able to read that paper thoroughly. Fred Landman's work is also great. His writing is deceptively simple, it makes you read it so quickly that you can miss a lot of things on the first pass. His 2000 book "Events and plurality" has had a big impact on my work on mereology. Among more recent work, I admire Kit Fine's papers on truthmaker semantics and Ivano Ciardelli's dissertation on questions in logic. 

What, in your opinion, is the most important service the LSA provides to its members? To the field?

For me the most important service apart from the institutes is the support for open access journals. SALT proceedings and Semantics and Pragmatics are pretty important for semantics as a field, and they're published on LSA servers. I'm passionate about open access and I hope we can all move to that model some day.

What advice would you give to students interested in pursuing a career in linguistics?

Formal semantic research is often about finding unexpected generalizations and linking things together in new ways. So the more you know, the more productive you can be. I suspect it's similar in other parts of formal linguistics. So start reading research papers early. Learn how to read them productively and then figure out how to remember them. In my intro semantics classes, we practice reading papers with specific questions in mind: What is the big question of the paper? What are the concrete puzzles and gaps in knowledge that stimulated it? What are the main insights encoded in the theory? What questions have been answered? What new ones have appeared? How does the theory account for the major puzzles or facts? If you were to continue this research, what would you do next? A lot of these questions aren't specific to linguistics. In fact, I got many of them through my wife, who is a biologist. You don't need to take a class to learn to read papers this way. But it probably helps if you can find like-minded people and form a reading group. Another thing I think is important is networking. The LSA summer institutes are great for that. I didn't fully realize this as a grad student. I gave my first formal semantic presentation at a workshop in Moscow that some of my friends organized. I also met several linguists at summer schools over the years who remembered me later when it came to making hiring decisions. Professors are very conscious of these things but students aren't always. One famous linguist I met at dinnertime at the LSA institute in 2005 gave me a hard time because I introduced myself only with my first name. She wanted to know my last name in case she comes across one of my papers. At the time I didn't take that seriously. My last name is pretty hard to pronounce so I often go by my first name. And I didn't have any papers out yet. In short I thought there was no way she would ever have a say in my career. But she kept insisting so I told her my last name. Fast forward to 2011 and her department is deciding whether to hire me as a professor. Luckily they did!