Month: February 2012

2012’s First LINGUIST of the Day: François Grosjean!

Each year during Fund Drive, LINGUIST List has the honor of bringing you the autobiographical accounts of how some of the field’s top scholars came to be linguists.  Every week, we’ll bring you a new tale of a linguist’s sagacity, perseverance, and wisdom as inspiration to fledgling and veteran linguists alike!

Over at the Hall of Heroes, our first LINGUIST of the Day is François Grosjean; Dr. Grosjean has worked in psycholinguistics, language processing, and bilingualism, to name just a few of his research topics.  His tale begins:

When I think about my first linguistics course, my mind wanders back to a large lecture hall in the mid-sixties at the University of Paris. Around 300 of us were attending a lecture on English Linguistics taught by Antoine Culioli. Suddenly, in his quiet voice, Culioli asked, “Is François Grosjean there?”. I raised my hand and he continued, “Tell me, in British English, would you say …(X)… or would you say …(Y)…?”. Because of my secondary schooling in England, I was one of the (quasi) native speakers that lecturers would call upon as linguistic informants. I don’t remember the two alternatives Culioli gave me but I believe they concerned some very subtle difference in the use of a preposition. With 299 pairs of eyes looking at me, and not really seeing how the two alternatives diverged, I ventured, “The former, I think!”. Culioli nodded his head and replied, “Yes, that’s what I thought”. He continued his lecture and I sat back and breathed a sigh of relief. Since then, I have the greatest respect for people who are informants!

…Read the rest of Dr. Grosjean’s story here!

You need LINGUIST; LINGUIST needs you!

Dear LINGUIST List Subscribers,

I’m Anna Belew, and I’m still waiting to wake up from this beautiful dream where I’m employed by LINGUIST List. When I moved to Michigan in 2010, I anticipated doing one of the following things with my MA in linguistics: a) operating a deep-fryer; b) picking recyclables out of dumpsters; or c) shoeshines. Instead, here I am, doing exciting and relevant work which will be of great use to linguists worldwide, like leading a research team for the Endangered Languages Catalog (ELCat). I really can’t believe my good fortune.

But this letter is not about my gratitude to LINGUIST List for plucking me from the gutter. It’s about what LINGUIST List means to you, and to the discipline. I’ve only been here a short time, but I’m flabbergasted every day by how much LINGUIST can do with so little funding– not content to stop at editing and mailing hundreds of messages per week from linguists around the world, we also develop infrastructure which the linguistics community desperately needs. I can’t imagine trying to research linguistic classifications without MultiTree, or having to manage language documentation data without EMELD‘s best practices. It may have been possible to organize conferences before the advent of EasyReg (coming soon!) and EasyAbs, but it sure was harder. Trying to find or create language maps without LL-MAP? Forget it. And can you believe there’s something even more important than all of those things? We support dozens of graduate students as they complete higher degrees in linguistics, and provide the world with tech-savvy, refined, highly-trained future linguists who have amazing practical experience in the field.

The projects, services, and infrastructure that LINGUIST provide are not only necessary to the whole linguistics community, but achieved with astonishing resourcefulness and very little money. Without your donations, none of what we do is possible; we need the support of the discipline to continue supporting the discipline. Please make a donation to ensure that LINGUIST can serve you for years to come.

Donate here:

With gratitude,
Anna Belew

A Chance to Get Involved

Limbo. The space between graduating undergrad and being accepted into a graduate school. During the time up until my acceptance, I didn’t know what part of the country I would be in. Whether I would be on the west coast, east coast, or close to home. It was quite nerve racking to leave my jobs that I love, to leave my hometown where I knew everyone and move to a place where I could barely get to campus from my apartment. It was scary not knowing anyone, so I decided to either find a job or volunteer. As it turned out, with my acceptance to graduate school at Eastern Michigan, I also decided to volunteer at the LINGUIST List.

My first day was full of reading, learning, and socializing. It was difficult to learn everything that I needed to know to start on my first projects (LL-MAP and Public Relations), but somehow I managed. I am proud to feel part of a community here working on projects that are much bigger than myself and have pushed me to my limits when it comes to doing problem-solving in new computer programs. It’s weird to think that my knowledge of linguistics finally matters beyond affecting my GPA– my work assignments aren’t just homework assignments any more. If I mess up, I won’t just get a lower grade on the assignment; I will mess up a part of a collective knowledge base for the linguistic community. The pressure to remain accurate can be stressful, but I feel it has allowed me to become more confident in my abilities. I know I know the material inside and out. I will find the right answer.

Perhaps getting involved would have been easier if I had taken a different road; a different path that was already planned. I could have worked at a restaurant, I could have worked anywhere, but I chose to work somewhere where my abilities as an aspiring linguist would be tested. I am even more grateful that LINGUIST List thought that I was worth it and hired me to become a part of the team.

In the end, applying to graduate school was quite stressful, but I feel that it has opened doors for me. Without being in a graduate program, I would not have even dreamed about doing work of the caliber I do now. The work to get here was difficult, but I believe that it was worth every bit. Robert Frost said it best with his poem The Road Not Taken:

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”

My advice to you is this: get involved. Find something that you want to do as a career and just go for it. Don’t let your fears of being in a completely new environment stop you. Take it. Run with it. Take the plunge and go.

Fund Drive 2012: LINGQUEST Begins!

Dear friends, subscribers, and supporters,

The LINGUIST homepage has been overtaken by a mystical tome emblazoned with mysterious golden lettering: LINGQUEST.  Welcome to Fund Drive 2012, a thrilling journey through the Lands of Linguistics.  Each week, the valiant heroes of the Illocutionary Force will face off against a new threat to the linguistic world; each week, you’ll be able to vote with your donations to determine the next chapter in their epic struggle.

But the forces of darkness, alas, are not confined to the fictional Lands of Linguistics.  The evil Wizard of Funding Cuts, and his sidekick the Imp of Apathy, take their toll on LINGUIST List’s meager treasury every day.  We need you, our stalwart subscribers and users, to rally with us and fight the good fight– we rely on your donations to keep providing the information and services you depend on.  Dauntless readers, join the battle to keep LINGUIST alive and well! Join the vaunted heroes of yore, reap the rewards of valor, and ensure that LINGUIST List will be able to serve you for years to come.

With sincerest gratitude,

The LINGUIST List Crew

LL-MAP: Making scholarly maps for a digital medium

In the course of working on LL-MAP, I have learned that there are several differences between a traditional paper map as shown in a scholarly resource and a digital map that’s meant to be viewed on the LL-MAP interface; these differences affect the process of how we digitize and adapt traditional maps to be displayed in LL-MAP.

Traditional resources have been created for isolated viewing; whether on paper or using computer software they are generally intended to be viewed in one context. This means that elevation or contour lines and special map and legend symbols will show the map user a clear picture but only within the context of this specific map. In LL-MAP, we are trying to bring this information to a large web-based application where it is compatible with other maps. This often requires that we adapt the map in such a way that it (1) is viewed easily and (2) is as informative as possible.

To do this, we utilize several features of our dynamic mapping application that are not present in normal static map applications. First, we have written an HTML-based description and crediting template that allows for a large amount of descriptive information to be attributed to the map, as well as providing source and citation information. As shown in the map of the Linguistic Composition of Iran, this template allows for other relevant information such as first-language speaker data by percentage.

The structure of maps as layers in LL-MAP is another advantage offered by digital formats. Now, if you wanted to view just one or two languages and compare them, you can simply uncheck the other layers in the legend on the right. In this way, LL-MAP allows you to view smaller pieces of the map to get specific pieces of information. This is an advantage over traditional maps, as it allows you to first understand the localized context of a language you are investigating before roving more widely to related languages or language families. Returning to the Linguistic Composition of Iran, one way to view an example of this resource would be to uncheck ‘Arabic’ from the list of map components in the legend. Now, when we check this again we can see where Semitic languages have intermixed with other language groups. The ability to turn on and off layers dynamically cannot be understated, as this component is crucial to easily understanding large amounts of map data. It is also crucial for focusing in on one type of data.

One other feature of digital mapmaking that augments traditional map resources is the ability to dynamically click on an area of a map to see more information about that feature. For the map of Hua’er Festivals and Deity Renewals in Qinghai and Gansu, we can right click on these data points to see information such the data the festival took place, the number of attendees, and other relevant information. If you zoom in to the point marked ‘Lianhuashan’ in the center of the map and right click, you can even find audio files of direct recordings from this event!

This feature showcases another strength of LL-MAP’s dynamic interface–the capability for including media in maps in image, audio, or video formats. Finally, viewing maps with LL-MAP differs fundamentally from viewing static maps, as we can encode several ‘levels’ of information that are meant to be viewed at different zoom levels. Viewing a map of Ethnolinguistic Groups in the Caucasus Region, for example, we see that at the default zoom level there are no labels shown for the shapes that contain the boundaries of ethnic groups. When we zoom in one level further, however, we find that these labels appear. If you zoom in even further you can see regional placenames marked and finally at a very close zoom you’ll see the placename labels themselves appear. This feature is great for managing crowded labels or controlling the information you’d like to view at each zoom level.

I hope that you have enjoyed learning about some of the main features that make LL-MAP a dynamic place to make maps about language, culture or other related geographical features. So, take some time out of your day (or holiday) to explore the wide range of dynamic data on LL-MAP!

LINGUIST around the world

Here at LINGUIST, we are proud of our worldwide readership (we currently have subscribers from 99 countries and visits to our website from over 180 countries), and we like to display pictures of our friends and supporters wearing their LINGUIST List gear around the globe. You can view the photo gallery here on our blog.

We are collecting new pictures to add to our gallery; if you have a picture of yourself, your family, colleagues, or even your pets wearing LINGUIST List effects, we would like to display them in our gallery. To submit a photo, send it as an e-mail attachment to Matt Lahrman at [email protected], with any information you would like in the caption (we’d like to identify the location and people in the photo, for example).

We look forward to seeing you in pictures!

Interning at Linguist List: An intern’s perspective

Thinking about applying for the LINGUIST internship?

When I was approaching my final year of undergraduate studies, I started thinking about my future in linguistics and the path I wanted to take. Years earlier, as a high school student, I had discovered linguistics and eventually stumbled across The LINGUIST List in my search for information. Now, approaching a critical time in my academic career, I once again turned to The LINGUIST List to look for information on programs and resources. When I discovered they were searching for interns for that summer, I didn’t think twice before applying.

Over the next three months, I not only deepened my existing understanding of linguistics, but I learned so much about the field that I didn’t know existed. One of the first things I realized was that many of the current graduate assistants/staff were once interns themselves, and others spend time working as volunteers or undergraduate students, so everyone goes through a similar experience and is always ready to show you the ropes.

The best part about being an intern is being encouraged to participate in various projects and learn as much as possible, while being encouraged to ask questions along the way. A typical morning started with reviewing the latest “Ask a Linguist” and “Ask an Expert” submissions from readers, who were curious about everything from child language acquisition to the origin of different accents. I then turned my attention to the GOLD project, where the tasks could range from discussing different ontological properties in a meeting, or working in the EMU library to locate sources with my new coworkers. On another day, I might spend a few hours learning about XML in order to contribute to the LEGO project. The intern program at LINGUIST allows you to explore and develop your interests, and find ones you never knew you had.

Editor’s note: Danniella returned to EMU/LINGUIST List for graduate study after completing her internship and undergraduate studies.