Angelika Fest 2018 with Pictures and Videos

The site for the Angelika Fest 2018 has now been updated with pictures and videos. Also, a big thank you to everyone who contributed to the designated cause of the Fest Fund, the Sophie O’Brian Scholarship Fund. It’s helping – even just a tiny bit – with college access for the poorest residents of the state where I have lived for most of my adult life.

The investigation of linguistic meaning: in the armchair, in the field, and in the lab

July 20 to 31, 2015, Berlin, Germany, Wissenschaftskolleg and ZAS
July 18 to 29, 2016, National Humanities Center, Research Triangle Park, North Carolina


The Summer Institute attracted 20 early-career researchers (PhD between 2009 and 2015) with one of three areas of specialization: (a) Theoretical Linguistics, especially Semantics and its interfaces, (b) Cognitive Psychology and Cognitive Neuroscience, and (c) Linguistic Fieldwork. One goal of the Summer Institute was interdisciplinary team building, resulting in joint projects, presentations, and publications. A second goal was capacity building, especially exposure to methods in the neighboring fields.

Angelika Kratzer, Professor of Linguistics, University of Massachusetts at Amherst.
Manfred Krifka, Professor of General Linguistics at Humboldt Universität Berlin and Director of the Zentrum für Sprachwissenschaft, Berlin (ZAS).

Guest lecturers
Emmanuel Chemla, Research Scientist (CNRS), Laboratoire de Sciences Cognitives et Psycholinguistique, École Normale Supérieure, Paris.
Lisa Matthewson, Professor, Department of Linguistics, University of British Columbia.
Jesse Snedeker, Professor, Department of Psychology, Harvard University.
Malte Zimmermann, Professor of Semantics and Theory of Grammar, Universität Potsdam.

The program
SIAS Summer Institutes are designed to support the development of scholarly networks and collaborative projects among young scholars from the United States and Europe. The institutes are open to scholars who have received a Ph.D. within the past five years and Ph.D. candidates who are now studying or teaching at a European or American institution of higher education. Each institute accommodates twenty participants and is built around two summer workshops, one held in the United States and another in Europe in consecutive years. More info about SIAS Summer Institutes. And more info about the 2015 – 2016 SIAS Summer Institute

Sponsors and administration
SIAS Summer Institute are sponsored by SIAS (Some Institutes for Advanced Study). In the United States the 2015/16 Summer Institute was administered by the National Humanities Center. In Europe it was administered by the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin. The program was made possible by grants from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation.

Bias against fields: every single one of us could make a difference

I am trying to figure out what each of us – every single one of us – could do to make our field more diverse. My last posts focused on mechanisms that seem to be at work in personnel decisions and evaluations at every level: we exaggerate the achievements of some people, but not others, and we overlook the shortcomings of some people, but not others. That’s one way of shutting people out.

Here I want to reflect on biases that affect fields of investigation. Why is it that my own department only has a single person who is a specialist on variation? Why is it that we never tell ourselves that we might need a second specialist in that area? Could that ever be a priority? Why do we consider some areas essential, but not others? Why is it that SULA (Semantics of Underrepresented Languages in the Americas) has had so many participants from underrepresented groups from the very start? What’s wrong with a department, a conference, a journal, or an undergraduate or graduate program that puts its emphasis on the documentation and investigation of underrepresented languages and dialects (Swarthmore College does this, for example)? Is it true that you can’t do, or learn how to do, cutting edge theoretical work while working on an underrepresented language? Could we make the group of linguists more diverse by putting more emphasis on work on underrepresented languages? Placing low priority on a whole field of investigation is another way of shutting people out. That’s another area where every single one of us could make a difference. What’s holding us back?

The linguistic rights of children

Degraff-Student-and-Computer_resizedThe Linguistic Society of America (LSA) has provided input to the United Nations on the linguistic rights of children

“The comments were drafted by LSA member Michel DeGraff, who serves as its appointed representative to the Science and Human Rights Coalition of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). DeGraff is also the Director of the MIT-Haiti Initiative and focused the comments on linguistic rights of children who speak Haitian Creole (Kreyòl) as a illustrative case study. DeGraff has been an outspoken champion for the language rights of children, having previously led the LSA’s first webinar on this topic, in partnership with AAAS.” Source: LSA.

Helen Quinn: Science Standards for the next generation

From Quanta Magazine

She recalled how a high school teacher encouraged her to become a mathematician, telling her, “Because you’re so lazy, you will never solve a problem the hard way. You always have to figure out a clever way.” Here is a link to the Next Generation Science Standards that Quinn helped develop. It might be a nice homework exercise for us in a cognitive science discipline to think about which of our insights we would dare to offer as part of a regular science curriculum. Do we have enough solid knowledge to give to the next generation?

Linguists support the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe

The Linguistics Departments of UC Berkeley, Yale, and MIT have issued statements in support of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. Here is the text issued by Berkeley: “We, the faculty of the UC Berkeley Department of Linguistics, express our support for the Oceti Sakowin Oyate, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, and other tribal nations and people in opposing the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. Working as we do in a scholarly discipline that draws on the cultural heritage and intellectual property of indigenous people worldwide, and being aware that linguists have not always collaborated ethically with those whose languages we study, we are especially conscious of the need to respect Native cultural autonomy, sovereignty, and rights to self-determination. The Dakota Access Pipeline would cross the ancestral lands of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and the Missouri River. The Dakota Access Pipeline project impinges on indigenous communities’ rights to land, clean water, health, and cultural preservation, including language. We call on our leaders to respect the sovereign rights of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and ask the national linguistics community to add its voice in support of this urgent need.”

Faculty Scholars Program


Source: Howard Hughes Medical Institute

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute has joined forces with the Simons Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to support a new grant program for early career scholars at eligible US institutions: the Faculty Scholars Program. “The competition is open to basic researchers and physician scientists at more than 220 eligible U.S. institutions. Applicants must be using molecular, genetic, computational or theoretical approaches to address fundamental biological or biomedical problems. Applicants must have more than four but fewer than 10 years of post-training professional experience.” The application to be submitted has some interesting components. For example, it asks for a statement of how the applicant’s work differs from that of his or her mentors and a statement about collaborative networks the applicant is part of. It’s also clear that in order to be successful with grants like this, an applicant has to have a well-articulated research program. I imagine that, in the area of language, it would not do to do experimental or field-based work on this or that semantic phenomenon. There would have to be a bigger theoretical question in the background that this work contributes to. I imagine that in the area of language, the question would have to be more specific than simply ‘language acquisition’ or ‘language processing’, but it would still have to be one that Bill or Melinda Gates might find fascinating and important. 

I hope that the SIAS Summer Institute that Manfred Krifka and I are convening this year at the Wissenschaftskolleg in Berlin and next year at the National Humanities Center in North Carolina may help participants to eventually be eligible for grants like this one. We are trying to foster collaborative projects centering around the major questions of linguistic meaning, supporting sophisticated formalized theories with all the evidence we can find for them, including evidence from neuroscience, cognitive psychology, cross-linguistic variation, language development, learnability theories, and language processing.

I once asked a physicist friend why Stephen Hawking had never won the Nobel Prize. He looked startled and said: “You know, Hawking’s theories are beautiful, but they haven’t been proven yet. Higgs only got a nobel prize once the Higgs boson was actually found.” In the area of quasicrystals, a nobel prize in chemistry was given to the person who discovered (a synthesized) one (Dan Shechtman), rather than to the people who provided the proof that quasicrystals were mathematically possible to begin with (Dov Levine & Paul Steinhardt).

The most interesting linguistic theories are about the human language faculty, hence about a biological phenomenon. If we want to sell our theories of linguistic meaning as biological theories, we have to connect them to a certain level of reality. We are not quite there yet. But the right kind of research is beginning to emerge. Jorie Koster-Hale’s 2014 PhD thesis is an example. To quote from the previous post, “the most exciting and creative parts of science are concerned with things that we are still struggling to understand. Wrong theories are not an impediment to the progress of science. They are a central part of the struggle.” This means that THEORIES are an important part of the struggle, but they are just a PART.  

Moving beyond Big Data

Source: University of Maryland Language Science Center

“The National Science Foundation has announced that the University of Maryland’s Language Science Center (LSC) will (again!) receive a $3M grant for innovative research and graduate training, this time as part of the first cohort of awards made through its new NSF Research Traineeship (NRT) program. This 5-year award will support a model of interdisciplinary graduate training that prepares students to be adaptable scientists in multiple settings and career paths. The project will connect research on humans and machines, via a focus on how to succeed when Big Data is not available. The project is led by faculty and students from 10 departments across the entire university.”

“I’m excited by the research theme, which takes a “Beyond Big Data” approach,” says Colin Phillips, program PI and LSC Director. “We’re interested in how humans and machines can learn more efficiently from ‘multi-scale data’. Everybody’s talking these days about Big Data, but the current frontier in language science involves how to do more with less, you could call it ‘medium data’ or ‘small data’. It’s important for building better language technology, and it’s important for improving language learning outcomes in children and adults. Current language technologies like Google Translate and Apple’s Siri rely on a Big Data approach that stores billions of utterances. But that approach won’t generalize to the vast majority of the world’s 7000 languages. And human children easily outperform the best current technology, though they learn language from far less data. Child brains somehow learn the language around them more efficiently. But we all know that learning a new language as an adult is much harder. And we’re learning more and more about how children who experience ‘language poverty’, growing up with smaller amounts of quality language interaction, face negative consequences that last a lifetime. We want to understand why some learners fare better than others.” A key venue for exploring the program’s research goals will be yearly “Summer Camps”, intensive research-only workshops that will bring together students and faculty from UMD and beyond.”
Colin Phillips video.

The Latin American School for Education, Cognitive and Neural Sciences (LASchool)


LA School

From the website of the 5th instantiation of the LASchool: LASchool is a meeting that brings together students and faculties from all over the world in Latin America “to build new bridges between Education, Cognitive and Neural Sciences. Each year, LASchool’s participants work together for two weeks to generate project proposals potentially relevant for the development, design and implementation of effective science-based educational practices. LASchool series have been inspired by the ideas raised in The Santiago Declaration, in 2007.”

“Previous LASchools took place in Atacama, Chile (2011), Patagonia, Argentina (2012), Bahia, Brazil (2013), and Punta del Este, Uruguay (2014). All these experiences have brought together more than 150 researchers and 200 students in a continuing effort to promote the scientific work at the interface between Education and Science.”

This 5th version of the LASchool is organized by the Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory at Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile and will take place in San Pedro de Atacama. The LASchool will develop several issues such as the transition from informal to formal education, how brain systems change through development and education, and how social programs may impact education.”

Festival delle Scienze 2015: The Unknown

festival delle scienze2015

“In order to make progress, one must leave the door to the unknown ajar – ajar only.”
“Per fare progressi, si deve tenere socchiusa la porta verso l’ignoto – socchiusa solamente.”
Richard Feynman

Co-directors Vittorio Bo & Jacopo Romoli: ” … this tenth edition of the Rome Science Festival aims to be a celebration of doubt, uncertainty and the unknown and the particular way to penetrate it known as the scientific method. The Festival programme is centred around questions involving physics, biology, psychology and linguistics: What is the relationship between uncertainty and indetermination? Between uncertainty and chance? What is hidden in black holes or in what we call dark matter or in the concept of infinity? How do we relate cognitively to uncertainty and the unknown and what language do we use to speak about them? How can we calculate uncertainty precisely? How do we use secrecy in politics?” The full program of the festival is here (Italian & English).