Category Archives: Academe

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The National Anthem and Me

hith-star-spangled-banner-key-mchenry-E

It’s been years, now, since I stood up when “The Star-Spangled Banner” is played. Mine has not been a protest akin to the controversial kneeling that’s got right-wing pundits’ knickers in a twist. Colin Kaepernick and the hundreds who have followed his examples are using the occasion specifically to call attention to the ways in which police brutality against black men is evidence that our country is falling far short of its goals. Fair enough, in my view. My own actions have attracte…

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300 Posts, Still Getting It Wrong

geoff_as_dunce I have just arrived at a small milestone: This post is my 300th on Lingua Franca (see the full listing here).
In August 2011 we started publishing every working day of the year, and I’ve done 50 posts a year with no breaks. That’s a lot of practice. But I’ve hardly ever managed to write a post that is flawless in the eyes of our wonderful and dedicated editor, Heidi Landecker.

The Chronicle does serious editing. We were all told from the get-go that we had to follow New York Times guidelines no…

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How Maria Got Her Name (That’s ‘Ma-RYE-a’)

Grstewart

George Rippey Stewart

Hurricane Maria made its unforgettable impression on Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands last month. But where did it get its name? And who first thought of giving names to tropical storms, anyhow?

Was it the National Hurricane Center, which has been naming storms in the Atlantic since 1953? No, earlier than that.

Or did the idea come from Lerner and Loewe, who back in 1951 composed “They Call the Wind Maria” for the musical Paint Your Wagon?

How about American military mete…

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What’s a ‘UPenn’?

UPenn_logo.svgI have a master’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania. My wife worked there for more than 20 years. I have lots of friends and acquaintances who graduated from the institution. Until fairly recently, the only informal name for it I ever encountered was “Penn.”

Then “UPenn” appeared. I believe I first started hearing the term 10 years or so ago, from my daughters and their friends when they were applying to college. Since then it has spread, so much so that I investigated and wrote an arti…

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It’s Not a Litmus Test

litmus

Last week I praised the late Michael Dummett for making an attempt at defining “noun” syntactically instead of relying on murky semantic intuitions about naming. Below I discuss a very different book (as American as Dummett’s book is painfully British) that does the same thing in a very different way. I will summarize both, and briefly draw an analogy with chemistry.

Dummett defined noun as “principal word in a noun phrase,” and noun phrase as an “expression that can serve as a subject,” and s…

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What’s He to Hecuba?

hecuba-statue-baseThe unveiling of the University of Southern California’s new expansion has given the Los Angeles campus an opportunity to add a new statue. She is Hecuba, Queen of the Trojans, deliberately selected as a subject to counterbalance USC’s testosterone-fueled Tommy Trojan (officially “the Trojan Shrine”), the bronze campus mascot erected in 1930.

The new statue is the work of Christopher Slatoff. “Queen Hecuba will serve as the new symbol of Troy,” said President C.L. Max Nikias, who emphasized that…

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Getting Oriented

Alan Klim, Creative Commons

The beginning of term: orientation. It’s the first exposure to life at college, an induction into campus culture, the downloading of rules and regulations, and for some a festival of celebratory distractions.

Whatever shape it takes on your campus, orientation is, to use the name we give to the very last event of a college education, a commencement.

It’s also a moment to confront our obligations.

Like a series of inoculations before a journey to a remote somewhere, or…

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Love Me, Don’t Grade Me

nicklutzapologyletter

When my sons were beginning elementary school, they liked to while away a rainy Saturday afternoon playing school. They wanted me to play the teacher, but apparently I didn’t do it right. “You have to be meaner,” they’d say. “You have to yell a lot.”

I always wondered if their teachers really were shrieking meanies who toned it down when a parent appeared, or if they’d gotten this notion of the harridan-as-schoolteacher elsewhere. I’ve had a similar response to the recent case of the “gra…

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Back to the Real World

konstanz

I spent last week in Konstanz, Germany, on the shores of Lake Constance, at a small conference devoted to a theory of syntax called lexical-functional grammar (LFG). Among the attendees were two language engineers who attend almost every year: Ron Kaplan, co-developer of LFG (with the Stanford syntactician Joan Bresnan) and an industrial computational linguist since the 1980s, and Tracy Holloway King, a 1993 Stanford linguistics Ph.D. who also has a long career in Silicon Valley industrial rese…

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‘Dictionary of American Regional English’ Speaks!

Dare Image by Ellen

Chronicle illustration by Ellen Winkler

 

If you read my posts, you may be familiar by now with the grand six-volume Dictionary of American Regional English, completed in print in 2013, but continuing to live beyond that date in quarterly updates on the internet.

Now DARE  has come to life in another way. It’s not just in writing that the dictionary tells us about the different ways we talk in this vast country. DARE  is speaking up!

Now we can hear the recorded voices of some 1,800 people in 1,…