The LSA Member Spotlight highlights the interests and accomplishments of a different LSA member each month. If you would like to recommend an LSA member (including yourself) for a future Member Spotlight, please contact Brice Russ, LSA Director of Communications.

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Dan Jurafsky, Stanford University

Dan Jurafsky headshot

Dan Jurafsky is Professor and Chair of Linguistics and Professor of Computer Science at Stanford University.  He is a computational linguist, with special interests in the automatic extraction of meaning from speech and text in English and Chinese, and on applying computational linguistics to the behavioral and social sciences. Dan is a MacArthur Fellowship recipient and is also interested in the linguistics of food; his latest book is The Language of Food: A Linguist Reads the Menu.

Q: When did you first join the LSA?
In graduate school, certainly by 1987 when I went to my first Linguistic Institute, which was (coincidentally) at Stanford. I had been a linguistics undergrad but chose a computer science department for grad school, so I remember being very excited to be an official LSA member and feel like a real linguist.

Q: Can you briefly describe your involvement with the LSA during the time you’ve been a member?
Well, I’ve been on some LSA committees, but my main connection has been teaching and attending Institutes. I’ve been at 6 and taught at 3 of them (and looking forward to number 4 next year at Chicago!)

Q: What inspired you to write The Language of Food?
It all began with my fieldwork on Cantonese diminutives back in the 1980s (for my very first paper!). I kept running into food words with diminutive markers (Cantonese has a tonal diminutive morpheme). And then once I realized that the “tchup” of “ketchup” was the same morpheme as the Cantonese word for sauce, I was hooked.

Jim McCawley was also an inspiration, and he gave me lots of advice early on. But I was busy with other things and so it took decades before I got around to writing the book. Finally, a few years ago, I taught a freshman seminar on the language of food, and my students pushed me to start a blog that later grew into the book.

Q: What are some fun linguistic projects you are working on right now?
I’m a big tent person when it comes to linguistics. I’m excited that there is so much going on in so many different subareas of linguistics, and I’m also a big believer in linguists colonizing other fields. Lately we’ve been looking at applying insights from computational linguistics to more social areas, mixing computational linguistics and sociolinguistics and pragmatics.

So we’re looking at social questions like detecting people’s stances in speech, or computationally measuring politeness, or automatically discovering what narratives are more successful when asking for a favor. We’ve also been looking at more humanities-oriented questions like automatically characterizing the imagery used by successful poetry. And of course I’m still working on the computational linguistics of food.

Q: What, in your opinion, is the most important service the LSA provides to its members?  To the field?
Oh, definitely community. The LSA has been so successful at community-building, at the Annual Meeting and especially at the summer Institutes, where I’ve taught and learned from and met so many linguists. Not to mention all those great summer Institute evenings, cooking together and playing music and talking linguistics….

But in addition to community, I’m also really happy about all the outreach the LSA is doing to the general public these days! We need to bring linguistics out to the world!