About the LSA Member Spotlight

Originally created in 2011 and now making its debut on the new LSA website, the LSA Member Spotlight highlights the interests and accomplishments of a different LSA member each month.  If you would like to be featured in a Member Spotlight, or would like to recommend someone else to be featured, please contact David Robinson, the LSA's Director of Membership and Meetings.

Click here to see previous Member Spotlights.

August 2013: Will Leben, Stanford University and Lexicon Branding, Inc.

Longtime LSA member Will Leben received his Ph.D. in Linguistics from MIT in 1973.  An emeritus professor after thirty-four years with the Linguistics Department at Stanford University, he is also Chair of Linguistics at Lexicon Branding. While at Stanford he taught phonology and African languages, chaired the Linguistics Department and the African Studies Program for several years, and worked to promote and improve African language instruction in the U.S.  At Lexicon, he heads a team adapting linguistic concepts to cross-linguistic audits of prospective brand names.

Q: How long have you been a member of the LSA?

For about 40 years, after I joined the Linguistics program at Stanford.  The first LSA meeting I attended was in Chicago in 1967, when I was allowed to register for free as a student volunteer.  That first LSA experience was fairly intimidating for a first-year grad student, but it didn't scare me away.

Q: What are your current research interests?

Brett Kessler, Anatole Lyovin, and I are completing a thorough revision of Lyovin's 1997 Introduction to the Languages of the World for Oxford University Press.  Firmin Ahoua and I are working with his students at Université Félix-Houphouët-Boigny on the phonetics and phonology of tonal downstep in some languages of Côte d’Ivoire.

Q: Anything else?

I’m in my 25th year with the linguistics program at Lexicon Branding, Inc. This is the company that created the names BlackBerry and Pentium. Lexicon’s experiments on sound symbolism went into fashioning brands like Swiffer, Febreze, and Dasani. We now have a network of 77 linguists worldwide to help with creating and evaluating names. One of our most prestigious assignments came last year from the LSA, concerning new names and titles for the LSA Publications Program.

Q: Any hobbies?

Bicycling and the gym keep me going, and art is something I love beyond reason. 

Q: What in your opinion is the most important thing the Society does?

Maybe its most important function is helping linguistics to make a name for itself in today’s world. Most members are academic linguists, and we come together in a variety of ways. But thanks to the LSA, we have a more forceful presence at the national and international level. The LSA’s leadership adds perspective to our work and channels parts into a more coherent whole.