Linguistics, Language, and the Public Award Holders

2024 Dr. Valerie Fridland (University of Nevada Reno)

The Awards Committee agreed that Dr. Valerie Fridland is the well-deserved recipient of the Linguistics, Language and the Public Award this year. 

For her collective work to spread the word about the beautiful, complex, and fun stories that linguistics has to offer the general public, the Linguistic Society of America commends Dr. Valerie Fridland for her exquisitely crafted essays for non-academic audiences and awards her the Linguistics, Language, and the Public Award.

 Joseph Hill, Ceil Lucas, Carolyn McCaskill, and Robert Bayley
From left: Joseph Hill, Ceil Lucas, Carolyn McCaskill,

and Robert Bayley

2022 Robert Bayley (U.C. Davis), Joseph Hill (University of North Carolina, Greensboro), Carolyn McCaskill and Ceil Lucas (Gallaudet University)

The Black ASL Project is exemplary in increasing public awareness and understanding of linguistics and to sociohistorical factors contributing to BASL. The work effectively increases public awareness of language use in African American communities, and it inspires communities to work to continue to celebrate and maintain BASL. That work inspires movement from awareness to action—the kind of impact linguistics should have in communities all over the world! In a word, it is an excellent example of work by linguists that informs the public. 

2021 Gretchen McCulloch (Internet Linguist)

Gretchen’s work is engaging, accessible, and bi-directional -- connecting the public to linguistics, and linguists to the public. Her work on creating public linguistics (including her All Things Linguistic blog, the podcast Lingthusiasm, a New York Times best-selling book Because Internet, and the recent Linguistics Crash Course videos) complements her work to train and empower linguists to create material for the public (including guides on writing for the public, presentations and workshops, Wikipedia edit-a-thons, and most recently LingComm grants). Gretchen brings linguistics and the public together with delight and enthusiasm, in what BuzzFeed has called a “joyously nerdy” way.

2020 Jessica Coon (McGill University)

This award is bestowed for Jessica Coon’s work with the crew, actors and director of Arrival—featuring a linguist whose task is to communicate with an alien species that has arrived on earth—and for tirelessly promoting the field of Linguistics through dozens of related print and on-camera interviews and invited lectures. Prof. Coon helped make the portrayal of a linguist realistic, and importantly, she seized this opportunity to talk to the public about the scientific study of language and the importance of linguistic diversity. Through her many interviews and appearances she has helped bring Linguistics to a new audience in an authentic and accessible way

2019 Anne Charity Hudley (University of California, Santa Barbara) 

Anne Charity Hudley has devoted her career to three goals – providing support and guidance for minority undergraduates, leading the way in effective teaching of linguistics, and teaching K-12 teachers how to provide guidance to minority students while giving them the language skills they need. The first two of these are laudable goals, perhaps worthy of an award from the LSA; but it is the third that is the basis of this nomination and is represented by her publications, including Understanding English Language Variation in U.S. Schools, We Do Language: English Language Variation in the Secondary English Classroom, as well as articles written for a wider audience. Through these publications, Charity Hudley has positively influenced the classroom experience of users of nonstandard varieties of English. Through her dedication to the recruitment, guidance, and mentoring of minority students, she has made a lasting difference not only in these scholars’ careers but to the field as a whole.

2018 John McWhorter (Columbia University) [Read more about the special presentation of this award in New York City]

John McWhorter is widely known for his sustained and far-ranging efforts to illuminate complex questions of linguistic inquiry for a general audience, including his public-facing lectures, books, articles, commentary, numerous interviews produced by popular news media outlets, and for his service to the LSA in furthering public understanding of linguistics.

2017 Anne Curzan (University of Michigan)

For bringing an interest in language and linguistics to the public through multiple channels, both online and off. Professor Curzan engages the public through lively, personable commentary about language, focusing on issues related to the lexicon, especially slang and other kinds of lexical innovations. She is a regular contributor to The Chronicle of Higher Education’s blog Lingua Franca; she is featured weekly on Michigan Radio, a local subsidiary of NPR, in a segment called That’s What They Say; and she has a monthly video feature Talking about Words, which appears on Michigan Today, a portal for alumni and friends of the University of Michigan. One of these talks was picked up by TED, and garnered over a million views. Each of these illustrate Professor Curzan’s friendly yet dynamic engagement with language change, language use, language history, and the sociopolitical ramifications of linguistic ideology and prescriptivism. Curzan is the author or co-author of several ground-breaking books directly related to making linguistics accessible to the public and one (First Day to Final Grade) which provides critical pedagogical training for graduate students and junior academics, another form of public outreach.

2016 Michael Erard

For raising the profile of linguistics in the public eye, expanding the possibilities of language journalism, and serving as a positive force for careers for linguists outside academia. His work is infomed by a deep knowledge of the discipline of linguistics and a desire to increase public fluency about language topics. Over a journalism career spanning a decade and a half, he has written original feature articles on a great variety of language topics. These pieces have often quoted or cited the work of dozens of linguists in a range of fields and have appeared in numerous high-visibility venues. 

2014 Donna Jo Napoli (Swarthmore College)

Donna Jo Napoli has worked with sign language linguists and doctors to co-write review articles on language acquisition and the importance of early exposure to language. Donna Jo was concerned that doctors give advice to parents and educational professionals about what language exposure young deaf children should have, yet Donna Jo felt that the doctors did not always have access to current research on acquisition, brain plasticity, and critical period. Donna Jo is an eloquent spokesperson on behalf of our field, showing how ideas about language can achieve societal benefit. She has elevated the discussion of early language experience of deaf children in a new and humane way, moving forward where others would have given up in frustration. This award recognizes Donna Jo for her many accomplishments, and notes in particular her work in educating the public about human language. This award is presented in recognition of her contributions to the medical profession and the public about the acquisition of sign language, and the importance of exposure to language at an early age.

2012 Leanne Hinton

For her tireless efforts in furthering the work of revitalization among indigenous Native American language communities—work that has vastly increased the positive image within these communities and in the general public of what linguists and linguistics can do for indigenous people beyond the traditional functions of creating archives and repositories of scientific data.

2011 North American Computational Linguistics Olympiad (NACLO)

The Linguistic Society of America is pleased to present the Linguistics, Language, and the Public Award to NACLO, the North American Computational Linguistics Olympiad. NACLO is an annual event, held at university and high-school sites all over North America, in which high-school students compete by solving linguistic problems. There is no particular computational focus in the problems; the name of the event comes from the fact that it was computational linguists who started it. The North American competition has two rounds; only the top scorers in Round 1 compete in Round 2. The top scorers from Round 2 form one or two teams that travel to compete in the International Linguistics Olympiad. In 2011, for the first time, the ILO (the 9th in the series) will be held in the United States. The 2011 competition will be the fifth since NACLO was founded; the number of high-school participants has risen from 195 in 2007 to over a thousand in 2010. NACLO has earned this award because of its growing success in informing the public painlessly, effectively, and enjoyably about linguistics and language, and in creating public enthusiasm for our discipline.

2010 Walt Wolfram

Walt Wolfram's North Carolina Language and Life Project models sociolinguistic engagement and public outreach about the value and beauty of linguistic diversity. Through documentaries, museum exhibits, and dialect awareness curricula, Walt epitomizes his "principle of linguistic gratuity"": Researchers should seek ways to return linguistic favors to the speech communities in which they work.

2009 Language Log

A collaborative science blog devoted to linguistics and written by a team of more than a dozen prominent linguists, almost all of whom are members of the Linguistic Society of America. The award will be accepted on behalf of the Language Log team by two of its members: University of Pennsylvania professor of phonetics Mark Y. Liberman (who founded Language Log in 2003 along with Geoffrey K. Pullum, who is now at the University of Edinburgh) and Stanford professor of linguistics Arnold M. Zwicky (who has been a prolific and prominent contributor since shortly after the blog was started).

2006 Earl M. Rickerson, producer of the radio series, "Talkin' about Talk, Year of Languages in the U.S".

This series perfectly embodies the spirit of the Linguistics, Language and the Public Award. Each of 52 brief segments -- one for every week of the year -raises an intriguing question about language and calls on a noted linguist to discuss it. Lively and engaging as well as clear and succinct, these radio programs convey important principles of the science of language to a wide radio listenership.

2005 Deborah Tannen (Georgetown University)

Deborah Tannen has, through her writing and public speaking, promoted the visibility of linguistics as part of the national culture for over 20 years. The immediate impetus for this year's award is her 2001 book, I Only Say This Because I Love You, which explores conversations among adult family members. However, Tannen has shared the insights of sociolinguistics and discourse analysis with general audiences through 8 volumes, including You Just Don’t Understand (1990), which was on The New York Times bestseller list for nearly four years. The popularity of Tannen's books, her numerous essays in The Washington Post, The New York Times, and other newspapers, and her frequent media appearances are due in part to the highly accessible style in which she communicates. She maintains her active involvement with general audiences out of a sense of responsibility to represent the (socio)linguistic viewpoint to the public. This award recognizes and commends her for the success with which she has fulfilled this responsibility, and continues to do so.

2003 John R. Rickford, co-author of Spoken Soul (John Wiley, 2000) and author of substantive contributions to discussions surrounding Ebonics and AAVE

John R. Rickford's career has placed a consistent priority on educating the public about matters related to languages and cultures of the African diaspora, especially African-Americans. His research helps the public recognize the systematicity of vernacular varieties of language, a recognition that is significant in countering racism in educational policies. His recent co-authored work, Spoken Soul, enlightens readers about those issues, at a particularly important moment in time, following the widely publicized debates about Ebonics and education.

2001 Geoffrey Nunberg, commentator on the NPR program Fresh Air

Geoffrey Nunberg's broadcasts for the NPR program Fresh Air have made linguistics come alive for millions of radio listeners. With just the right blend of technical sophistication, timeliness, and humor, he gives our discipline a graceful and powerful public voice.

1999 Eugene Searchinger, producer of The Human Language, a public television series of three films distributed in 1995

An independent filmmaker who immersed himself in the world of linguistics, Eugene Searchinger has brought language, linguistics, and linguists to the millions. With gripping footage, a deep respect for the subject matter, and a touch of humor, Searchinger’s television series, The Human Language, will be an enduring invitation to the wonders of language.

1997 Steven Pinker, author of The Language Instinct (William Morrow, 1994)

The language instinct ‘weaves our vast knowledge of language into a compelling theory: that language is a human instinct, wired into our brains by evolution like web spinning in spiders or sonar in bats.’ Not only does he explain linguistics to the general public, he emphasizes linguistics’ role in understanding the ‘mind’—fundamental to understanding our very humanity. ‘It is a part of a whole new version of the human mind: not a general purpose computer but a collection of instincts adapted to solving evolutionary significant problems—the mind as a Swiss Army knife.’ Few who write about language are as successful at reaching the general public as Professor Pinker. His book was named one of the 10 Best Books of 1994 (all categories) by The New York Times Book Review, The Boston Globe, The Times (London), and other newspapers; it has sold over 100,000 copies and appeared on bestseller lists. It was widely excerpted, has been featured on national television, and has been the subject of several PBS radio programs. Finally, it has been reviewed positively in over 50 journals and magazines.

About the Linguistics, Language, and the Public Award

First presented in 1997, this award honors an individual or group for work that effectively increases public awareness and understanding of linguistics and language. Works in any medium are eligible, including books, documentary films, software, and lectures. For works of journalism, particularly news stories, blog posts, and magazine articles, a nomination for the Linguistics Journalism Award may be more appropriate. Nominees need not be LSA members. Nominators must be current LSA members. In order to be considered, individuals must have published, presented, or aired some representative work during the four years immediately preceding the deadline for the receipt of entries. Note that, because an individual's representative work is eligible for four years, work could be considered in more than one award cycle. Nominations must present evidence of the work's impact (e.g. letters of commendation, news coverage, public notices). The awardee is invited to attend the Award Ceremony during the LSA Annual Meeting.

Frequency: As nominations warrant

Eligibility: works in any medium are eligible, e.g. books, documentary films, articles in popular magazines, software, or lecture series but must have been published, presented, or aired during the four years immediately prior to the nomination.

The letter of nomination should include the following, as appropriate:

  • describe the work that increases public awareness of language and linguistics;
  • evidence that the work has had a demonstrable impact on public awareness of language and/or linguistics.