Monday, May 29, 2017

You've been warned, interwebs ...

What you thought was the cold lifeless corpus of Mr. Verb may be twitching again ... stay tuned.


Sunday, April 03, 2016

Ignorance, appropriation, and exoticization

... all wrapped up in one nice package in this morning's New York Times!

It's a little hard to know where to start. Well, let's start with ignorance. The media never gets stuff about language right, so that's no surprise. And in some places it's hard to tell whether it's the journalist or the musician who's saying something stupid (it'd be nice to live in a world where journalists were smart about language but alas). Here's a nice quote:
The last vestiges of some minority languages are preserved as song, and a musical ear can be an advantage in studying the kind of tonal languages prevalent in parts of Asia.
Non sequitur much?

Appropriation just runs through everything these musicians say. The most explicit is a quote from Vivian Fung (who the journalist helpfully tells us is a Canadian):
"It's about finding the parts of the research [on minority languages in China] that speak to me ... and filtering it so that it becomes mine."
Oh Ms. Fung, please take Anthropology 101.

And taking a recording of Ishi and setting it to piano?  Maybe read up on Ishi's story. Maybe read up on what happened to his brain. When I teach about Ishi, all the students are horrified at how he was made into a living museum exhibit. Now, about a century later, he continues to be exploited.

I'm also just so tired of reading things like "these enigmatic utterances" - enigmatic? Oooh, enigmatic and mysterious and inscrutable.
"A work like Mr. James's 'Counting in Quileute' ... is like a time capsule shot into space - except the meaning was already opaque at the time of its sealing." 
I wonder what the Quileutes would have to say about that?

They do give about a paragraph and a half to Greg Anderson's concerns about the ethics of all this, but the composers' responses are supposed to put our minds at ease.

Maybe this is all sour grapes because of the opening paragraph that says:
For the most part, ethnographers and linguists are helpless in the face of the gradual erasure of collective memory that goes along with this loss of linguistic diversity.
That actually raises some complex issues. Calling us helpless implies that we think (or someone thinks) we should have some control but we don't. The reality is that many of us have learned the humbling lesson that language loss or language retention is not up to us; it's up to the people who really do have a claim to these languages - the communities where they're spoken. And I'm not saying we're perfect. I know I've made my share of blunders along these lines. But at least I'm trying to learn to be respectful.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

This was fun (well, for a language nerd, anyway). I spotted this eggcorn in an article about Wisconsin's education-destroying governor:  "... or who serve at the leisure of these appointees." I was really baffled because that only works as an eggcorn if you pronounce "leisure" to rhyme with "pleasure" - and what American does??? Surely an article about Scotty-boy Walker has to be written by an American? Then I scrolled up and noticed that it was in the US Edition of The Guardian. How funny that I went through that whole train of thought based on an assumption about the dialect of the writers. (BTW, 5,020 results for "serve at the leisure of" on google.)

Language Capital Project

Some of the Wisconsin Englishes folks have talked off and on about doing maps of 'linguistic resources' in communities, figuring out where different languages are used in businesses and community organizations, for instance. Turns out that Tucson is ahead of Wisconsin ... the Language Capital Project has started mapping businesses where various languages from all around the world are spoken. Tucson is a great place to do this since it is not just a university town and a place with a large immigrant population, but it's also a place that has become home to significant numbers of refugees.

Wonderful project and, I trust, an inspiration and a model to the Wisconsin Englishes folks!

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

LSA speaks up for tenure and academic freedom at the University of Wisconsin

Subject line pretty much says it all. See here.

Friday, June 19, 2015

UW: Should I stay or should I go?

There’s a lot of talk now about UW faculty being poached or just looking to flee the state. The following is a real letter from a senior faculty member at the University of Wisconsin – Madison. I have been saying that the first real question for faculty now is whether to run or to fight. Below is that person’s decision. With all the talk of people leaving under present circumstances, it’s a reminder that there’s another option.

This faculty member had been repeatedly invited last year to apply for a position that was pretty much ideal for them, a situation with serious new resources at an excellent institution with real chances to build something big and lasting. They had resisted but eventually decided that the opportunity to do something important for their field was very real and that the prospects for real innovation at Madison were deteriorating rapidly. So they applied. The application was moving to the very serious stages of the hiring process, but the person says “when the JFC omnibus came out, everything changed. I had to think about this anew, from the beginning”.  The letter went out a couple days ago.

Dear -----, dear ------, dear ------,
After two weeks of soul searching, I am writing now to tell you that I’ve decided that I must withdraw from consideration for appointment to the position of Chair in ---------- at ---------- University. Having served on many search committees, I know how much time and effort goes into scrutinizing candidates, and apologize for having put the committee through this extra work. 
As I said several times during the process, I have not applied for a job in many years, nor even seriously considered applying for one. The decision to apply for this position reflected the amazing possibilities the position represents.  It’s a set of opportunities and challenges I would dearly love to tackle. 
In ways I could not have expected when I applied or even when I spoke most recently with ----------, my professional circumstances have changed very suddenly and right now I simply cannot abandon the University of Wisconsin. Our budget has been slashed year after year and I knew that those cuts would continue apace this year and next. But the state legislature has now proposed to eliminate tenure protections and our tradition of shared governance. I had earlier reached a decision that I could continue to work with my graduate students and continue collaborations here from afar, but we now face a serious, long-term battle for the future of a great institution and the future of higher education in this state. I’ve invested too much in and owe too much to this institution, my students and people here at early career stages to simply walk away at this juncture. 
The position at ---------- is an exciting and important one for a set of areas in our field and I’m honored to have been considered so seriously for it. I know that there are outstanding candidates and I look forward to collaborating with the person who ultimately takes the position. 
With my apologies and wishes for a successful hire,
This person has a message for faculty as well:
I struggled personally with this decision, but this is a national fight. If Wisconsin goes, you know that other states will follow. Way back when, I thought moving to Wisconsin meant moving to a politically stable, secure place. Nowhere is safe now. So whether you stay or go, you have to engage. As public higher education is being systematically destroyed, tenured and tenure-track faculty are still among the most privileged and best protected. You have to fight for your own interests, but you better also be fighting for the staff who make your job possible and the students up to their eyeballs in debt. We’re in this together and we win together or lose together.
Just fyi.
Mr. Verb

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Open attack on academic freedom and free speech

Look at this clip of an interview with Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald. The host, Mike Gousha, asks specifically about tenure, "why do changes need to be made?" Starting around 2:00, Fitzgerald responds with this:
The idea that anybody should be protected from any kind of criticism when they make public comments or even the way they handle themselves on campus is just not sitting well with many of us. 
He shortly thereafter comes back around to talk about professors being "completely protected", in case you found "anybody" ambiguous.

Now, tenure is not about criticism that I can see and faculty are hardly protected from criticism (see below or, my god, read a newspaper). What we are protected from is being fired for doing legitimate research or speaking our minds. That's surely what he means.

And you do know that there's already political consequences for people doing normal research, including firing and public calls for firing: (1) firing a bunch of scientists from the Department of Natural Resources who had worked on politically charged issues and (2) a sitting state senator making scathing attacks on a professor because of his research.

The house is on fire, folks.

Image in recognition of Donald Trump announcement that he's running for president. In case the news wasn't insane enough for you yet.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Zapf and linguistics

Hermann Zapf has passed away. The NYT obit has a good sketch of his life and work, including designing Palatino and Optima fonts. In linguistics, he has a special place because his Dingbats font provided a face, so to speak, for Optimality Theory (along with Wingdings). Below is a tableau from a paper by McCarthy using several Zapf symbols.

The pointing hand (rightward) is the winning candidate, the 'flower' represents the sympathy candidate, etc. Even the checkmark in the last line is, I think, a Dingbat symbol. The old bomb with a lit fuse was Wingdings, and the oft-used skull and crossbones too, I think ... Zapf was happy stuff and Wingdings the unhappy, maybe, though some people definitely used Wingdings pointing fingers. Ahhhh, those were days.*

There was a joke back in the day that OT was possible only thanks to Dingbats (along with the Mac).

The obituary has some stuff I didn't know about Zapf, e.g. that he did a design for the Cherokee syllabary. >

But one oddity:  The NYT often provides pronunciation guides on names and for Zapf, they give "DZAHFF" (in the print version and the online version this morning).  In German, you would expect [tsapf]. The 'dz' might represent a lenited [ts] and he was from an area where lenition would be possible, if they gave a regional pronunciation. But I take the 'ah' to mean a long vowel, where I think relevant colloquial varieties, like the standard, should have a short vowel, at least in the noun of the same shape (cognate with English tap, as in beer) and there should be an affricate at the end. Anybody knows what's up here?

*Pointing fingers now trigger a bad reaction for many of us in Wisconsin, see here for the reason.

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

The real misperception about the politics surrounding the University of Wisconsin

This blog has been silent about recent developments aimed at destroying the University of Wisconsin by more rapid defunding, by dismantling tenure and by forbidding shared governance.

We've seen the Board of Regents decline to step up and urge the state not to do these things. We've seen the System president and Madison chancellor reassure us repeatedly that there's really no problem here and then that it's not as bad as it seems and now that they're doing all they can to lessen the damage.

The latest message from our chancellor (here) is intended, among other things, to "help clarify some misperceptions".

The only real misperception here is any failure to understand and to say clearly and directly that the state government — the governor and the assembly and the senate — intends to defund UW, dismantle tenure and destroy shared governance and this is a huge step toward accomplishing those goals. They have been very open about this (e.g. here) and to pretend like things aren't heading that way is maddening.

What do we do? Well, you can run or you can stand and fight. If you choose the latter or have no choice but to stay, there's only one way to go: Organized action. A member of Team Verb posted this list on fb last week; consider it a suggestion to join and be active in the relevant groups:
The TAA has fought more effectively than anybody for UW in a broad sense, and even if you can't join, you should support them. AAUP is our big national ally and word on the street is that the long moribund local chapter is getting going again. PROFS is the key group working with state government (to the extent that is possible at present) and their website is a good source of information about what's happening. There are two small unions on campus for faculty and academic staff, the Wisconsin University Union and United Faculty and Academic Staff. My real hope is that these groups will now all work together ... the stakes could not be higher. 

Friday, May 29, 2015

Workshop on Immigrant Languages in the Americas 6: Uppsala, Sweden

Various UW folks have attended this workshop and recommend it highly. Besides, it's Sweden in September.

The 6th Annual Workshop on Immigrant Languages in the Americas (WILA6) will take place on September 24–26, 2015, at Uppsala University, Uppsala, Sweden. The workshop is hosted by the Department of English.

We invite abstracts for 20-minute presentations on any aspect of the linguistics of heritage languages in the Americas (e.g., structural, generative, historical, sociolinguistic, or experimental). Abstracts should be no more than one page in length, but may include a second page with diagrams, charts, and references. The abstract itself should be anonymous, while the accompanying email should contain author information and the title of the paper. Abstracts should be sent to Joe Salmons

Submission Deadline: June 15, 2015. Decisions on acceptance will be announced in July.

For further information, please contact Joe Salmons

Local Organizers 
Angela Hoffman Falk, Department of English, Uppsala University 
Merja Kytö, Department of English, Uppsala University 

Organizers of WILA6 
Birna Arnbjörnsdóttir, University of Iceland 
Janne Bondi Johannessen, University of Oslo 
Michael Putnam, Penn State University
Joseph Salmons, University of Wisconsin – Madison

Previous Workshops
The Third Workshop on Immigrant Languages in America, September 2012, Penn State University 
The Second Workshop on Immigrant Languages in America, September 2011, University of Oslo 
Investigating Immigrant Languages in America, September 2010, University of Wisconsin, Madison

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

David Brooks: English draws immigrants

I do not read David Brooks. Bad for my health. But when I saw the headline "Talent loves English" this morning, I hadn't had much coffee and didn't do what I knew was the right thing. I actually read the piece. Big mistake.

Wherever the headline comes from, here's the reference to language [emphasis added]:
Across the English-speaking world, immigrants are drawn by the same things: relatively strong economies, good universities, open cultures and the world’s lingua franca.
Wait, what? People immigrate to the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and the United States because English is the dominant language in those places? I know a ton of immigrants, from many walks of life and from literally all over the world. Aside from a couple who came to work as English professors or something, I cannot imagine that a single one of them was motivated in any way by the dominant language spoken here.

Does anybody know of any evidence of any kind, even anecdotal, that English motivates immigration to English-speaking countries? 

Image from here.*

*Answer to question: Lingua franca is English / in English. Wasn't always English, but is now. 

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Yooper English in the news

Nice article about Wil Rankinen's research on English in the UP … here.