Louise McNally is Professor of Linguistics in the Department of Translation and Language Sciences at Universitat Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona, which she joined in 1995 after previously teaching at Indiana University, The Ohio State University and the University of California, San Diego. She holds a BA in Modern Languages and Linguistics from the University of Delaware (1987) and a PhD in Linguistics (1992) from the University of California, Santa Cruz. Her main interests concern semantic theory and the morphosyntax/semantics interface; she also occasionally collaborates in computational linguistics research. McNally is the Co-Editor of the LSA's platinum open access journal, 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?

Sometime in my first year of grad school, in 1987 or 1988, we were told about the LSA and encouraged to join, so I did. I liked the idea of having my own subscription to Language and beginning to feel professional.

How have you been involved with the LSA since you joined?

I went to several Annual Meetings and Summer Institutes from 1988 until I moved to Barcelona in 1995. Then in 2012 I became an Associate Editor of the LSA Open Access journal Semantics and Pragmatics, and in 2019, Co-Editor in Chief with Kjell Johan Sæbø. I also recently participated in my first experiences as a Pop-Up Mentor, at the Semantics and Linguistic Theory conference.

What are you currently researching/working on?

No matter how hard I try, I can't seem to avoid getting embroiled in several things at once, but all of them revolve around the same underlying issue, which can be very roughly characterized as the interaction of lexical and compositional semantics, or to put it in different but related terms, the interaction of descriptive content- and reference-signalling expressions. I recently finished a paper on partially compositional idioms with Berit Gehrke, and another one on how cross-linguistic variation in the verb syntax/semantics interface is mirrored in figurative polysemy, with my former student Alexandra Spalek. I also have a ongoing collaboration with Scott Grimm on nominalization which exploits ideas from this line of research. What I've learned in these collaborations and another, long-running one with Gemma Boleda, using distributional/distributed models of word meaning, has led me to a deep reflection on my basic assumptions about natural language meaning that I'm just now emerging from. Where I'm going next: the semantics of complex word formation, aided, I hope, by ideas from probabilistic semantics and pragmatics.

What is your personal favorite linguistic article or study?

I like many things for many reasons, but I'll mention Beth Levin and Malka Rappaport Hovav's 1999 Semantics and Linguistic Theory paper on resultative constructions, an expanded version of which appeared in Language in 2001. I still vividly remember the talk -- their empirical observations were extremely compelling -- and it stayed with me even though I didn't work on resultatives. Eventually, over 10 years later, I found myself adapting a key idea in the paper to the analysis of a completely different set of data. Another almost 10 years has passed since then, and the paper has continued to provide me with insights into event reference and related phenomena.

What do you think is the biggest challenge facing the field of linguistics today?

I think the field needs to do a better job of explaining what it can offer especially to researchers in cognitive neuroscience and natural language processing, and why that knowledge is important. In the case of semantic theory more specifically, I think addressing the intricacies of lexical semantics in composition and the interpretation of complex words remain central, pending tasks. But perhaps the biggest challenge I see is an old one: accepting the extraordinary complexity and multi-faceted nature of human language, and the fact that we ultimately cannot avoid using language when trying to explain it.

How has the field of linguistics changed since you first started your work?

The volume of research has grown tremendously, perhaps most noticeably in semantics and pragmatics. I get the impression that it is much harder now for PhD students to get a broad vision of the field at the same time as they develop the degree of specialization that original research requires. I suspect that this has some connection to an increasing move towards co-authorship, including between advisors and advisees, something that was much rarer when I was a student (though no doubt this trend has also been influenced by other factors, especially the way in which research is evaluated). On the positive side, there has been a corresponding growth in the variety of handbooks, encyclopedias, bibliographies and review journals that researchers can turn to in order to keep up with the state of the art on any topic.

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

What I especially value about the LSA is its breadth in a time of increasing specialization. It covers pretty much everything related to human language, except for the study of literature. This is especially salient and valuable as a feature of Language and the offerings of the Summer Institutes.