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Featured Linguist: Mirjam Fried

I was still in grad school when Linguist List was born, essentially as a discussion forum then. And I remember with fondness what a thrilling leap into the world of virtual communication it was at that time, and how I devoured most of the discussions that quickly started to pop up on all sorts of topics and often among people I was not likely to ever meet in person. Things have of course developed from there and it’s great to see that we still have this indispensable and very professionally run service, richer than ever. Please let’s keep it going!

Especially now that there is some hope of gradually returning to a more normal academic life. Being reduced to zoom meetings for so long has shown us real limits of the online mode of communication: e.g. when we need to brainstorm with colleagues about projects, teach practical hands-on courses, or just enjoy a friendly gab in between conference talks. But to be fair, this unwelcome disruption has brought some pleasant surprises, too: mundane work meetings turned out to be more efficient this way; I saw enrollment almost doubled in my classes, bringing in students who normally wouldn’t touch linguistics with a ten-foot pole (did they have more time on their hands now?, was it easier from the comfort of their homes?, did they feel less ‘on the spot’ than in the classroom?, or…?); not to mention that the whole experience has forced us to be more creative in the ways we do things. Nonetheless, I’m happy at the prospect that this semester could be different, finally, at least at my Alma Mater here in Prague, allowing me to be face-to-face with my students again. I also have a small team of MA and PhD students and a few junior colleagues, all of us eager to continue developing our ideas in multimodal constructional analysis and to start inviting guest speakers from other countries again! Plus I see an added bonus: there will be a treasure trove of material for studying how the virtual communication is pretty fundamentally different from the normal way and what strategies interlocutors develop to cope with it. What more can a linguist ask for…

So, why have I become a linguist? Well, because I always wanted to! Which is not to say it was always a smooth and easy ride; my life story may seem like an exercise in searching for silver linings…. I was born and grew up in a now non-existent country (Czechoslovakia) at the time when one couldn’t plan much of anything, least of all one’s professional future. Success depended on ideological prostitution and that was not how I was brought up. But that didn’t stop me from forming a life-long plan at the age of thirteen. When – in seventh grade – we were introduced to the basics of dependency grammar and learned to diagram sentences, I discovered my calling. On the way from school that day I informed my mother that when I grow up I want to be a syntactician. Structure absolutely fascinated me and the idea of dissecting complex sentences into different parts that can be classified (neatly, they had me believe then, haha) by function got me hooked. All my career-related decisions from that point on were driven by this goal – to become a syntactician. Little did I know… Accordingly, I chose the so-called humanities track in high school because there was more emphasis on language(s), including obligatory Latin, in spite of being chastised for it (apparently, kids with good grades were supposed to take the math-oriented track). I was lucky, though, to have a teacher who supported my interest and helped me find books by Czech linguists which broadened my horizons in various disciplines, from syntax to sociolinguistics. 

After graduation, the first hurdle emerged. As politically suspect and unreliable, I wasn’t allowed to enroll in the university double-major program I chose (Czech Linguistics and Classics). On the way from learning this unsurprising piece of news, I bumped into my middle-school French teacher who was at that time running a popular educational program for kids, and she was sufficiently appalled by this turn of events to give me a job in her program and then work through her connections to make sure that the next year I do get in. Which I did. Since my primary interest was actually in diachrony, I found my way into an RA-ship in the Old Czech department in the Academy of Sciences. This job introduced me to morphosyntactic variation, opened up a whole new world of research questions and especially of data (a humongous database, all in the form of excerpts on index cards – imagine that!, a roomful of drawers upon drawers), and this experience eventually led not only to my MA thesis, but many years later also to a series of articles, when grammaticalization research provided me with a tangible theoretical perspective. 

At the same time, my search for ‘real linguistics’ landed me in the Math Faculty of Charles University, where I for the first time got a taste of transformational grammar and formal semantics, but subsequently also the work of Charles Fillmore, which I could relate to the easiest. This particular RA-ship was practically a clandestine operation, the group led by Petr Sgall and Eva Hajičová was politically out of favor to such a degree that they all had been chased out of the Faculty of Arts, where I was regularly enrolled, and basically in hiding among the mathematicians. It was sheer luck that I managed to sniff them out and learn about their seminars. As their RA, I was helping in preparing material for what eventually became the valence dictionary, to this day a crucial part of the Prague TreeBank. By the way, while working on this, I came to the firm conclusion that I would never get into semantics because it’s too messy, too intractable, simply too difficult and not for me. Granted, Czech aspect is all those things, but still. Little did I know again…

And another hurdle, this time really serious. Even before graduating from college, it was made very plain to me that if I didn’t join the communist party, there’d be no hope for an academic career. In fact, for the likes of me, not even school teaching was “in the interest of the state”, as the all-purpose phrase went. I was getting myself mentally ready for a career of dish washing or window cleaning… But through one of the great ironies of life, I met my future husband (an American, then a grad student of Slavic linguistics at Yale) during a summer school in Slovenia, where my greatest political tormentor had sent me, I guess in the hopes that I would eventually relent in a show of gratitude for this trip (not normally allowed in those days). Instead, after four years of correspondence, I married this American students and emigrated to the US, on Christmas Eve of 1982. It was like landing on Mars and I couldn’t even dream of simply continuing with my academic pursuits. Not right away, anyway. But hey, learning to live in New York, soaking up the environment, enjoying the unimaginable freedom, and later working as a computer programmer (for the Fed, of all places) was not a waste by any stretch. Three years later, after having taught myself the most arcane programming languages, the innards of the PC hardware (then a freshly emerging miracle in computers), and in my free time reading linguistic literature, I felt ready to go back to grad school and the biggest decision of my professional life was before me: I liked the East Coast (not knowing anything else, of course) and imagined I’d like to go to MIT, while my husband saw himself in the Silicon Valley, which was just taking off then. We each did a detailed ‘feasibility study’ along the same (long) set of criteria, he won by about 3 points out of more than 70, and I think it was the best thing that ever happened to me. 

At UC Berkeley, Chuck Fillmore opened up a completely new world to me. Semantics suddenly didn’t feel so daunting and intractable, syntax became even more interesting and infinitely richer, and most importantly – it was also the beginning of introducing the cognitive perspective into linguistic analysis. I remember joint workshops with folks from UC San Diego, which were a lot of fun and eye-opening experiences. Through all this, I saw construction grammar as the way of thinking about language that made by far the most sense to me and it has become my chosen field. Additional hurdles – some open, some more under the surface – were of course presented by the job market; it wasn’t easy to be a cognitive linguist, a woman, and a foreigner to boot. After a pretty satisfying one-year visiting job at U of Oregon, which brought me in contact with the world of typological research, I landed a job in the Slavic department at Princeton University. PU wasn’t exactly known for pursuits in cognitive linguistics and I felt a bit isolated, but it helped that I found a way to hang out with people in the psychology department. It was again useful new food for thought. 

At PU, I was also required to teach Czech, which I took almost as a necessary evil. But this less than perfect match again turned out to be a useful turn in the long run, as I sort of stumbled into research area I’ve been pursuing ever since – the grammar of spontaneously produced language. Once a student in my Czech class asked about the meaning of a word that in dictionaries is defined as a subordinating conjunction, but in spoken language it has evolved into a polyfunctional discourse marker that had not yet been analyzed and described. In trying to answer the student’s question, I realized I’d have to write a whole book to capture its full nature, including the phenomenon that a few years later became known as insubordination, in Nick Evans’s work. So, I’ve been writing articles on this and other similar markers, and since they are a feature of spontaneous interaction, they necessarily pose questions about the interplay between lexico-syntactic, phonic, and even gestural patterns, which, by definition, is something construction grammar was designed to handle by providing the conceptual and analytic tools to capture language in its multilayered complexity. My latest adventure thus involves the search for prosodic and segmental correlates of specific linguistic patterns, with the indispensable contribution from my phonetician colleague.

And so here I am. Still dealing with syntax, but in a much more interesting and theoretically satisfying way, which takes seriously both the cognitive perspective (brought to me through my Berkeley years) and the interactional grounding (my Prague School background). Needless to say, it is extremely rewarding and encouraging to see how the constructional approach, including its link to lexical semantics (through Frame Semantics) and discourse has become part of the ‘mainstream’ and informs linguistic research not just in synchronic syntax, but also in diachrony, in morphology, and in a growing a number of specific domains: acquisition, computational modeling, language teaching, psycholinguistics, corpus linguistics, etc. And most recently extending also into questions about multimodal patterning and, hence, also the scope of grammar, the scope and nature of speakers’ linguistic knowledge… It’ll keep us busy.

Fun Fact: What is GPT-3 all about?

Hello fellow linguists! Billy here—today’s fun fact is about GPT-3! My goal is to pull back the curtain on this mystery (or at least give it a slight tug).

What is this GPT-3? GPT-3 stands for third generation Generative Pre-trained Transformer. I won’t blame you if at first the name leads you to envision a Chomskyan Optimus Prime visiting the local gym.

Let’s break this down.

Generative here means that some text is inputted, and the model will generate some output. The output is based on probability predictions for how likely a sequence of words is to appear. For example, “I like eating apples” is more probable than “I like eating cars” (unless perhaps we are talking about Megatron).

Pre-trained means that this model has been exposed previously to large amounts of text (almost 45 terabytes!) in order to refine its calculations (i.e. adjusting weights within the neural network). This model is unsupervised, which means that it looks at large amounts of data and forms its own representation of patterns without human intervention.

Transformer is the neural-network architecture of the model. This applies special techniques (such as attention and self-attention) to optimize these calculations.

But what about linguistics?

A linguist understanding the rich complexity of language may not be satisfied with representing such intricacy with linear algebra. Hybrid approaches (coined as neuro-symbolic) use these neural network architectures along with traditional symbolic approaches (human written rules) to incorporate deeper semantic reasoning over language.

What do you think? What do you make of GPT-3? How can the complexity of language be captured in a computer? We would love to hear your opinions, no matter how technical your background!

Thanks for reading,

Billy

Linguist List Student Moderator

PS: If you would to like to dive deeper into the technical aspects of GPT-3, I highly recommend checking out Jay Alammar’s detailed explanation here: https://jalammar.github.io/how-gpt3-works-visualizations-animations/

Fund Drive Challenge Update

Linguists and language enthusiast around the world,

Support the LINGUIST List with a donation and win our challenges! Ever wonder why we ask you which discipline of linguistics you represent? We want to know who our biggest supporters are! Who do we owe the greatest debt of gratitude? Syntacticians? Phonologists? As of today (Day 3 of the Fund Drive) the most donations, totaling $935, come from sociolinguists. If you are interested in how the situation develops, you can check out the current results here: https://funddrive.linguistlist.org/subfield/

After three days of the Fund Drive, the leading supporting university is the University of South Carolina (https://funddrive.linguistlist.org/university/). Other top donators in the University Challenge in the last couple of years were University of Washington, University of Hawaii and Indiana University. And greetings to the colleagues at the University of Oslo (already 3 donors)! If you want to see the name of your university at the top of the list, then make a donation and mobilize your colleagues.

While the majority of donations come from the USA, Canada and European countries, we have also donors from, for example, Jamaica, Pakistan, Trinidad and Tobago, Cameroon, Egypt, and Kazakhstan. Linguists are everywhere! We truly appreciate each and every donation and we know that in some cases a donation to us means giving up on something else. Thank you! If you want to see where the donations have come from this year, go to https://funddrive.linguistlist.org/country/

The full list of supporters in this year’s Fund Drive can be seen at https://funddrive.linguistlist.org/supporters/

Thank you wholeheartedly for every donation! Linguist List cannot exist without its readers.

Malgosia

The Indiana University Foundation solicits tax-deductible private contributions for the benefit of Indiana University and is registered to solicit charitable contributions in all states requiring registration. For our full disclosure statement, see go.iu.edu/29UK.

By providing your email address on the crowdfunding campaign website, you are opting in to receive emails from Indiana University. If you do not wish to receive emails from Indiana University please make a note in the comment field of the form.

CALL FOR CONTRIBUTIONS: “Silver Lining” Stories

The theme for this year’s Fund Drive is Silver Linings. 2020 was marked by numerous tragedies, the most far-reaching of them being the global pandemic; however, in the midst of these difficult circumstances, human ingenuity, courage, and compassion shone through, including in our field of linguistics. We’d love to hear from you, our subscribers, about a Silver Lining you’ve experienced in the past year. This could be a way that you continued research despite restrictions on movement/travel, or a method that you found particularly effective for making Zoom classes/meetings more bearable, or perhaps a way that your community banded together to meet each others’ needs. The possibilities are endless! 

If you have such a story, please share it with us by sending it to [email protected]. With your permission, we would love to share it with the rest of the subscribing community as a way to inspire and encourage one another. 

We at LINGUIST List were certainly inspired by the number of creative solutions we saw come through the mailing list, from online conferences to remote jobs. We are proud to have made it through about 18 months of pandemic conditions while continuing to serve you, our subscribers! We would love to be able to continue connecting and enabling the linguistics community for many years to come, so if you are able, please consider contributing to this year’s Fund Drive!

The Indiana University Foundation solicits tax-deductible private contributions for the benefit of Indiana University and is registered to solicit charitable contributions in all states requiring registration. For our full disclosure statement, see  go.iu.edu/29UK.

By providing your email address on the crowdfunding campaign website, you are opting in to receive emails from Indiana University. If you do not wish to receive emails from Indiana University please make a note in the comment field of the form.

 

2021 Fund Drive Lottery

Dear LINGUIST Listers,

For our 2021 Fund Drive, we are excited to announce our annual Fund Drive Lottery!

Each and every week, we are giving away fantastic prizes–donated by our gracious supporting publishers–to our donors. This is just a small way for us to show our gratitude for your continued support! Every donor will be entered into the lottery, regardless of the amount donated. We want to encourage everyone (yes, even poor grad students like us) to donate whatever they can. This is a wonderful opportunity to win some excellent publications!

To enter into this week’s drawing, donate to our fund drive sometime between now and Friday, September 24. Prizes change each week so check back every week to see what’s up for grabs.

One donation = one entry into the drawing. To donate, click this link: https://funddrive.linguistlist.org/donate/

This Fund Drive, we will be giving away a slew of excellent prizes, including annual subscriptions to top journals and many of the best books available in the field of Linguistics! Publications available to be won come from supporting publishers such as Wiley, Cambridge University Press, Multilingual Matters, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, and more!!

In addition to the giveaways, we will be posting exclusive discount codes from our top publishers that will only be available during our Fund Drive.

With all that is going on, don’t miss any of our posts throughout the Fund Drive! Thank you for being a part of LINGUIST List and allowing us to serve you.

With gratitude,

– Your LINGUIST List team

 

Disclaimer:
The Indiana University Foundation solicits tax-deductible private contributions for the benefit of Indiana University and is registered to solicit charitable contributions in all states requiring registration. For our full disclosure statement, see go.iu.edu/29UK.

By providing your email address on the crowdfunding campaign website, you are opting in to receive emails from Indiana University. If you do not wish to receive emails from Indiana University please make a note in the comment field of the form.

Fund Drive Closing Letter

Dear LINGUIST,

the Fund Drive is over! We would like to thank all those who have supported the LINGUIST List team – either financially or morally. The full list of our donors this year can be found here:
https://funddrive.linguistlist.org/supporters/

We have also made the advisors challenge – in the last 24 hours of the Fund Drive our readers donated over $1000 and – as promised – the members of our advisory board will match this amount with additional donation on top of the donations throughout the duration of the Fund Drive. Thank you!

While the numbers are still being updated, it looks like we have a winner in the university challenge – and this year it is Stanford University. Congratulations! Stanford can be also proud of the second biggest number of donors from a single institution – thirteen. The institution with the highest number of donors – fourteen – is this year University of Southern Carolina, which also takes the overall 3rd place in the university challenge. The second place in the university challenge goes to Wayne State!

The Fund Drive is over but we still need your support. We have reached just below 60% of our Fund Drive goal this year. For the next couple of days, you will still be able to make a donation via our 2019 campaign https://iufoundation.fundly.com/the-linguist-list-2019 . Later, you can use Indiana University Foundation – please choose ‘Linguist List Discretionary Fund’ from the selection of accounts (https://www.myiu.org/give-now).

Here are the results of the challenges:

University Challenge:
Stanford University
Wayne State University
University of South Carolina

Subfield Challenge:

Syntax (this is a tradition)

Semantics
Phonology

Country Challenge Top 10:
United States
Germany
Canada
United Kingdom
Spain
Belgium
Netherlands
Italy
Australia
Sweden

Again, thank you so much for your contributions and support!

Faithfully Yours,
Malgosia – on behalf of the LINGUIST List Team: Helen, Rebecca, Jeremy, Sarah, Peace, Everett, Nils, Yiwen

The current LL crew!

The Fund Drive is Almost Over!

Dear LINGUIST List,

Over the last month we have sent numerous calls for support. As you should know, LINGUIST List is on a soft budget; the funds to pay salaries to our student-editors and the web development team comes from paid ads and from your donations. While bills need to be paid, there is one thing we don’t want to do: hide behind a pay wall and charge an obligatory fee from our readers. This is because the only way to become a member in our club is by participating in knowledge exchange, not by paying a fee. To help running LINGUIST List, to keep the doors open to those who cannot pay, to keep the contributions of those who cannot pay available to us, for the progress of the field, for yourself to keep this resource functional, please donate.This is the last day of the Fund Drive, the last call. Our advisors, whom I cannot thank enough, encouraged and supported us during this Fund Drive by organizing challenges in their home institutions and donating themselves. The whole list of our faithful advisors is here: https://new.linguistlist.org/advisors/

If we receive a minimum of $1000 within 24 of this post, our advisors pledged to match this donation with their own additional contribution of $1000.

Please donate.

Thank you,
The LINGUIST List Team

The current LL crew!

Four days till the fund drive ends: we need your help!

Dear LINGUIST List readers and subscribers,

Our 2019 Fund Drive is coming to a close with only 4 days remaining, including today, and we still have less than half of our goal–just 46%.

We derive a significant portion of our operational costs from donation, and we really depend on the support of our readers. Without the support of our wonderful community of linguists all over the world, the LINGUIST List would have to close its doors.

We rely on it ourselves–to find journals, to stay informed and up to date on journals, conferences, and job opportunities around the world, some of our GAs even discovered their programs using LL–and we know how many other rely on this resource as well.

To those of you who have already donated, thank you! You are instrumental to our ability to keep the LINGUIST List alive and able to serve the global community! Your support means the world to us.
If just one thirtieth of our subscribers donated the lowest possible amount allowed by the host institution’s donation counter, we would reach our goal within the hour.

click here to donate: https://funddrive.linguistlist.org/donate/

Thanks for being with us all these years; without you, there’s no us. So here’s to being here, serving linguists all over the world, for years to come.

All the best,
-The LL Team

LINGUIST List potrzebuje Waszego wsparcia

Kochani,

zwracam się do wszystkich miłośników języków i językoznawstwa. LINGUIST List potrzebuje Waszego wsparcia. Od prawie trzydziestu lat służymy dyscyplinie, staramy się łączyć, bezstronnie informować, zapewniać czytelnikom poczucie uczestnictwa w szerszej wspólnocie akademickiej, ponadnarodowej i interdyscyplinarnej. Przez lata pomogliśmy tysiącom ludzi znaleźć pracę, ogłosiliśmy tysiące konferencji, książek, artykułów, publikowaliśmy recenzje, opinie, dyskusje, około setki studentów ukończyło studia bez długów dzięki pracy w LINGUIST List.

Nasza działalność może się skończyć z dnia na dzień. Tylko mały ułamek naszego budżetu pochodzi ze środków uniwersytetu, który nas gości. Reszta to reklamy i wsparcie czytelników. Jeżeli nie będzie wsparcia czytelników, nie będzie dochodu z reklam i nie będzie wsparcia administracji naszego uniwersytetu. Rozumiem, że minimalna suma donacji – 10$ – nie jest małą sumą, ale zapraszam wszystkich, którzy mogą sobie na to pozwolić, żeby wsparli LINGUIST List. Jeśli 10$ to zbyt dużo, zawsze można złożyć się w kilka osób. Jeśli nie możecie wesprzeć nas finansowo, podajcie dalej informację o naszej akcji zbierania funduszy, To jest Wasz serwis, Wy z niego korzystacie i Wy tworzycie tę wspólnotę.

https://funddrive.linguistlist.org/donate/
lub bezpośrednio:
https://iufoundation.fundly.com/the-linguist-list-2019

Pozdrawiam.

Malgosia Cavar
Moderatorka, LINGUIST List

Fun Fact 2: Virtual Contact Cards

Hello all,

It’s Tuesday again, which means it’s time for our second fun fact! Have you ever wanted an excuse to visit somewhere but can’t justify it because academic life is hard? Conferences are the perfect excuse! Using LINGUIST List’s geoling, you can check out what conferences are nearby your dream travel destination and plan accordingly. Geoling also lists jobs and summer schools, so if you’re looking for a place to visit, or just want to see what’s out there, take a look!

A brand new feature we just added to geoling, thanks to our very own intern Julian Dietrich, is the ability to download contact cards, called vCards, from the huge selection of contacts available through us. By selecting contacts on the menu and then clicking on one of the pins, you can find the download vCard button on the bottom of the short description. This will allow you to automatically add that information to your list of contacts. And yes, it works on both Android and iPhone.

We hope you enjoy the new feature! And there are more coming soon. Talk to you next week for our next fun fact!

If you appreciate services provided by the LINGUIST List like book announcements, please consider donating to our annual fund drive campaign. We rely on your donations to continue operating and supporting our editors.

If you’ve already donated or just donated, thank you, we appreciate it.

Nils