First Annual LSA Public Lectures on Language
Sunday, January 8, 2017, JW Marriott, Austin, Texas

The LSA is pleased to announce a new annual speaker series, Public Lectures on Language, to be held each year on the Sunday afternoon immediately following the close of the Annual Meeting. The lectures feature leading scholars in linguistics and related fields, speaking on topics of interest to both general audiences and LSA members. The goals are to further the LSA’s efforts to promote interest in and information about language to the general public.

This year's exciting line-up features:

  • James Pennebaker, Centennial Liberal Arts Professor of Psychology, the University of Texas at Austin, speaking on “Using Language Analysis to Read Minds” (1:00 - 2:00 PM, Room 204);
  • Eve V. Clark, Richard W. Lyman Professor of Humanities and Professor of Linguistics, Stanford University, on “How Babies and Young Children Learn Language: Why You Should Talk to Your Kids” (1:00 - 2:00 PM, Room 205);
  • Ben Zimmer, Linguist, lexicographer, and language columnist for the Wall Street Journal on “Traveling Among the New Words: Lexical Adventures in the Digital Age” (2:00 - 3:00 PM, Room 204); and
  • John McWhorter, Associate Professor of English and Comparative Literature, Columbia University, speaking on “Words on the Move: Why English Won’t – and Can’t – Stand Still (Like, Literally)” (2:00 - 3:00 PM, Room 205). 

Also planned are a series of podcasts and interviews with the speakers and Geoffrey Nunberg, Adjunct Full Professor at the University of California Berkeley School of Information and linguist contributor on the National Public Radio show Fresh Air.

Admission costs are minimal and cover admission to two lectures:

  • General audience: $10
  • Senior citizens, university faculty with ID, regular LSA meeting attendees with conference badge: $5
  • Students: (K-12 or University), with ID: Free (tickets required)

Click here for tickets.

Using Language Analysis to Read Minds

James Pennebaker (University of Texas at Austin)

Computerized analysis of everyday language allows us to understand the social, emotional, and psychological dimensions of people's lives. By focusing on the more forgettable function words (e.g., pronouns, articles) rather than content-heavy words, we are able to identify authors' connections to their topics, their audience, and even how they see themselves. Dozens of studies from social and personality psychology, computer science, and linguistics will be summarized demonstrating that the analysis of entire texts can provide information as to the status, honesty, intelligence, personality, and social skills of speakers and writers.

JAMES PENNEBAKER is an internationally recognized social psychologist. His earlier work found that keeping secrets can make people sick. This work led to his discovery that people could improve their physical and mental health by writing about their deepest secrets, which is now widely known as expressive writing. Pennebaker is the author of the popular books, Opening Up: The Healing Power of Expressing Emotion and Writing to Heal, which focus on expressive writing, and The Secret Life of Pronouns, which shows how people reveal themselves in their everyday spoken and written language: even something as small as a pronoun can be deeply revealing!

Pennebaker is Regents Centennial Liberal Arts Professor and Chair of the Department of Psychology at the University of Texas at Austin. He's a member of the Academy of Distinguished Teachers and a consultant to businesses, medical schools, and various federal agencies that address corporate and national security issues. Pennebaker is the author or editor of 10 books and almost 300 scientific articles and is among the most cited researchers in psychology, psychiatry, and the social sciences.

How Babies and Young Children Learn Language: Why You Should Talk to Your Kids

Eve V. Clark (Stanford University)

Young children learn language from conversation and general interaction with others; they learn from more expert speakers. As they rely on gesture and then words as well, to communicate what they want and what they are interested in, adults expose them to language and offer extensive feedback, both positive – they expand on what their children say and offer added information, and negative – they check on what their children mean when they make errors, and offer corrected versions for the target meaning in the next turn. The amount of early exposure to a language affects how many words children learn early on, and how quickly they can recognize familiar words; it also has consequences down the line as young children enter school. In short, the more exposure to language through talk and reading, the better.

EVE V. CLARK does research on how young children learn to talk, especially how they attach meanings to words and constructions, and their ability to make inferences about new meanings. She has worked on how children set up semantic domains, for example, terms for spatial relations and for kinship; on many aspects of word coinage in children, for example, compound nouns, denominal verbs, agentive nouns and compared the strategies children use in different languages such as Hebrew compared to English. And she has looked at the kinds of feedback adults offer young children when they make errors of omission (he coming) or of commission (he comed today). She is currently focussing more generally on how and why interaction with ‘more expert’ (adult) speakers helps children as they learn their first language. She has written many research articles and several books on language acquisition, including The Lexicon in Acquisition (Cambridge, 1993), First Language Acquisition (Cambridge, 3rd edn 2016) and Language in Children (Routledge, 2016).

Traveling Among the New Words: Lexical Adventures in the Digital Age

Ben Zimmer

Linguists and lexicographers tend to take a long view, not so concerned with the latest fads and innovations in the development of language. But among their ranks are neologism hunters who keep track of words and phrases as they bubble up into mainstream usage (and sometimes disappear just as quickly). Even when such novelties lack staying power, they speak to the endless creativity present in any language community. Here I will look at some innovations in 21st-century English, at a time when electronic communication powerfully shapes the way new words and phrases travel, and when high-tech tools allow scholars to trace these lexical trajectories with remarkable precision.

BEN ZIMMER is a linguist, lexicographer, and all-around word nut. He is the language columnist for The Wall Street Journal and former columnist for The Boston Globe and The New York Times Magazine. He has worked as executive editor of and editor for American dictionaries at Oxford University Press. As Chair of the New Words Committee of the American Dialect Society, he organizes the selection of the society's Word of the Year. Zimmer is the recipient of the Linguistic Society of America's first ever Linguistics Journalism Award.


Words on the Move: Why English Won’t - and Can’t - Sit Still  (Like, Literally)

John McWhorter (Columbia University)

Everybody says they know language has to change, but too often what they really mean is just that we will always need new words for new things. It's harder to understand that the very fabric of a language is always changing, and no more could cease to do so than cloud formations could hang static in the sky. This talk will outline the various fates that words almost always undergo in a language – the ones that don't change are the oddities. The fates include evolving into pragmatic markers and prefixes and suffixes, [NS4] undergoing constant changes in sound, melding with other words and yielding new words, and ordinary evolution in meaning. The goal is to promote a view of language equivalent to the one now established of the evolution of fauna and flora -- a word is not something that is, but something going on.

JOHN MCWHORTER is Associate Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University, teaching linguistics, Western Civilization and music history. He is a regular columnist on language matters and also race issues for Time and CNN, writes for the Wall Street Journal “Taste” page, and writes a regular column on language for the Atlantic. His work also appears in the Washington Post, the Chronicle of Higher Education, Aeon magazine, The American Interest, and other outlets. He was Contributing Editor at The New Republic from 2001 until 2014.

He earned his PhD in linguistics from Stanford University in 1993 and is the author of The Power of Babel, Doing Our Own Thing, Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue, The Language Hoax, and most recently Words on the Move and Talking Back, Talking Black. The Teaching Company has released four of his audiovisual lecture courses on linguistics. He spoke at the TED conference in 2013 and guest hosted the Lexicon Valley podcast at Slate during the summer of 2016.

Beyond his work in linguistics, he is the author of Losing the Race and other books on race. He has appeared regularly on Bloggingheads.TV since 2006, and produces and plays piano for a group cabaret show, New Faces, at the Cornelia Street Cafe in New York.