Tuesday, March 8, 2016

International Women's Day - Joan Bresnan

Today is International Women's Day. Here at HWRG we're celebrating it by highlighting an important female linguist. Today we're honouring Joan Bresnan, who together with Ronald Kaplan, founded the theoretical formal grammatical framework Lexical Functional Grammar (LFG) and has written numerous influential papers.

She is still active as a Professor Emerita in Humanities at Stanford University and also a Senior Researcher (Spoken Syntax Lab) at Stanford's Center for the Study of Language and Information. Her research and LFG is much informed by a wide knowledge of linguistic diversity, in particular of Australian and Bantu languages. LFG is still a popular framework in linguistics and continues to develop. 

Here is a quote by Bresnan that illustrates her ideas and experience of formal linguistics very well:

I began to realize that we theoretical linguists had no privileged way of distinguishing the possible formal patterns of a language from the merely probable. Many of the kinds of sentences reported by theorists to be ungrammatical are actually used quite grammatically in rare contexts. Authentic examples can be found in very large collections of language use, such as the World Wide Web. [...] Moreover, judgments of ungrammaticality are often unstable and can be manipulated simply by raising or lowering the probability of the context. Most remarkably, language users have powerful predictive capacities, which can be measured using statistical models of spontaneous language use. From all these discoveries I have come to believe that our implicit knowledge of language has been vastly underestimated by theoretical linguistics of the kind I had practiced.

You can read more about Bresnan at her own homepage at Stanford, you can also find publications by her there (often direct free PDFs). Among other things, she's written about pidgin languages and optimality theory!

I've always considered myself lucky to be in a field with so many prominent female researchers, for example Tannen, Tagliamonte, Wierzbicka, Poplack, Simpson, Stoll, Berko Gleason, Aikhenvald, Siewierska, Wodak, Traugott, Lakoff, Majid, Meyerhoff, Bybee, Travis, Goldberg, Nichols, Lieven and many more. Perhaps we'll make more posts like this about specific researchers, and in particular women. Keep an eye out :)! 

In case it needs clarifying; research and academia are, unfortunately, often influenced by non-scientific factors such as gender or racial inequality or sensitivity to what is trendy/popular rather than scientifically interesting. The actual working environment and sensitivity to issues of for example gender, race, sexuality etc can greatly impact wether a researcher decides to continue in that field regardless of their skill at producing good research (here's just one source on this, I could link way more). Researchers don't exist in an objective vacuum separated from the rest of society, and these matters have actual impact on research as diversity of ideas and perspectives is lost. While many parts of academia and also some parts of linguistics can be very male-dominated and at times not nurturing for women, linguistics is still definitely one of the better fields to be in. This is one of many reasons I'm glad to be in this field!

For more research on gender equality and the job market, please check out NPRs Planet Money's episode on why women stopped coding which explores women's rising numbers in STEM - except in computer science. I also would like to recommend Freakonomics episode on the gender wage gap in the US where they stress the impacts that flexible working conditions, day care and responsibility of parenting has on gender equality on the job market. Both of these shows interview researchers who are very knowledgeable on these topics and are supported by large data sets. Highly recommended!

All the best to everyone out there, may academia continue to grow into a diverse community that better reflects the population of the planet.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Play fish communication game!

Some mates of mine are doing an experiment involving a very short online task where you learn fish songs. You need android or Firefox if you're on a desktop computer to play.
Play it and spread the word!
For other games advancing science, check the "games" tag.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Hopefully helpful for linguistics students and junior researchers

Hello everyone, 

One of our aims here at this blog is to be of use for and spread information to the global community of linguistics students and junior/starting out researchers. To that end, I'd like to highlight some resources and posts from this blog relating to that, hope you enjoy it!

Guide to linguistic terminology and reflections on typoloy and framework-neutrality 
This is a text with helpful tips and advice on where to turn and what to think about when trying to navigate the rather jungle-like field that is linguistic terminology

List of Open Access publishing venues in linguistics 
This is a list for finding research, and also venues for publishing your own research Open Access. 

Free online tutorials and manuals for tools for linguists 
This is a great list of tools and tutorials and manuals for said tools that can truly revolutionise your work.

Free Online Linguistic Databases
A list of posts we've made introducing different cool online free databases of languages to our readers. A more comprehensive list of all databases can be found at Bodo Winters site. We mainly update our list for new posts.

The tag "Hopefully Helpful for Linguistics Students"
This is a tag for posts that we believe are useful for linguistics students, or junior/starting out researchers in linguistics. Some of the posts it covers are:
The tags "free PDF" and "currentlinguisticsresearch"
These are tags for concrete examples of research, for example:
Some other interesting tags
If something is missing in any of our lists, don't hesitate to contact us. We try to focus on current research on linguistic diversity and description, and related topics. For those looking for other people writing about linguistics online, there's this long list. For intelligent memes for linguists, go here.

We hope this might be useful to you as linguistics students or junior/starting out linguists. If it is, or if you want to contact us about anything - don't hesitate.


Got language descriptions? Scan and share 'em!

Have you got language descriptions lying around that could be made accessible in digital format?* Scan and share 'em! Here's a video of me cutting up and feeding a book page by page into the automatic scanning feeder. Ah, such joy!

In video: Hedvig, editing: Hedvig, camera: Suzanne (fellow co-founder of HWRG), 
Music: Stereo Total & Hang On The Box

Don't hesitate to send a copy to hedvig.public ™gmail (dot) com if possible! Get in contact with your library, perhaps they'd be keen to have digital versions of their material, just that they don't have time to scan it themselves? This is often the case.

We need to make linguistics less WEIRD, promote the knowledge of endangered languages and broaden our understanding of linguistic diversity - this means making more research accessible to more people.

Happy scanning everyone!

* Naturally, consider the rights and permissions surrounding the document in question and use your judgment.