Category Archives: Academe


Our Divided Nation

No one who hasn’t been living under a rock could be unaware that America is divided over a man who has been pushed — suddenly and improbably — to one of the pinnacles in the mountain range of fame.

His five-letter name has been known to us for years, yet only in 2016 have we been asked to think of him in an entirely new guise. Mention of his name is enough to provoke  stirring cheers and a sense of deep puzzlement, even disappointment. Shouldn’t it have been someone else?

The man’s name isn’…


20 Things Students Say Help Them Learn

6227 smith corgier_preview-2

Illustration by Jerome Corgier for The Chronicle

Near the end of August, the 2014 Business Insider article “10 Things Every College Professor Hates” started circulating on Facebook again. I had just finished the syllabus for my introductory English linguistics class and was feeling excited to be headed back into the classroom. Yet here was this article, which felt so negative. It didn’t come across as entirely respectful of all that students bring to the table. And the piece, aimed at students…


Pronoun Challenge in Ann Arbor

pronouns8I’ve learned to be suspicious whenever any change in language is described as inconvenient. It’s inconvenient, when you think about it, to have so many forms of the past tense in English. It’s inconvenient that we in America spell a number of words differently from the British. When the honorific Ms. was introduced in the 1960s, people complained that it was inconvenient to have to insert a new option into the list of choices on forms, or to wonder how a woman wanted to be addressed. So-called i…


To Seek Out New Vowels …


Part of my teaching this semester (with my colleague Alice Turk) involves an exploration of space: the space of the remarkable array of speech sounds humans can produce. Consider just the vowel space, for example. Phoneticians map the infinite space of possible vowel qualities by reference to a set of reference points at the edge of vowel space: the final frontier. They’re known as the primary cardinal v…


Can I Give That Job Talk?

microphoneThe academic talk is on my mind as I sit here on the train back to Berlin, having spent the past three days in Poznań, Poland, at a conference on English linguistics.

September also marks the beginning of the academic job market, which means I am reviewing drafts of job letters and CVs and the like. In a few short months, we’ll be on to campus visits and job talks.

Linguists don’t typically read their talks at conferences. They work from slides — or handouts, although we see fewer and fewer …


Scabby at the University

union rate[2]Unions are slowly making their way back into the news these days, perhaps because it’s a presidential election season, perhaps because graduate students are now considering their right to bargain collectively at several universities, primarily in the Ivy League. To mark this trend, a huge inflatable rat, nicknamed Scabby, has appeared at Long Island University, where stalled negotiations resulted in a lockout before faculty and administration agreed on a contract, and at Columbia University, whe…


A Postcard From Brno

The Villa Tugendhat in Brno

Brno, Czech Republic — Many months ago I accepted an invitation to give a conference plenary here in central Czechia. (The Czech Republic does have an approved one-word name. People don’t seem to use it much, but I do.) The conference has a discourse-studies theme, and discourse isn’t my usual bag, but I accepted because I was sure that by the time the conference started I would have come up with a suitable talk to give (the usual plenary-invitation gamble). I did not expect shifting fashions i…


My 20/20 Prediction

Eye-chartWelcome, Class of 2020! The class with 20/20 vision!

Yes, and welcome to the play on “2020″ that is sure to bedevil this year’s cohort of first-year students, not just till Commencement 2020 but for the rest of their lives as alumni. Lake Superior State University, get ready to put it at the top of your annual list of banned words.

It’s beginning already. Just a few examples:

The logo over photos of the incoming class at New York University Shanghai is “2020 Vision.” Bryn Mawr is using the same.


Reflections on the Trivium


Daniel M. Hausman opens the introduction to his anthology The Philosophy of Economics (Cambridge University Press, 1984) with a contemptuous statement about economics quoted from a character in a novel by the satirist Thomas Love Peacock (1785-1866), Crotchet Castle. One character has just referred to “political economy, the science of sciences,” but another, the Rev. Dr. Folliott, demurs, calling it “hyperbarbarous” (there’s a word you don’t see every day!):

“Premises assumed without evidence,…


Making Work

works“You’re just making work for yourself,” said somebody’s mother, and possibly mine.

Making work for yourself  – the reflexive component is essential to the judgmental tone — was a phrase I remember from my youth. It meant, of course, an inefficient and unnecessary expenditure of energy. It could be a task that would have to be done again anyway, though more simply and quickly, or it could be an activity that never had to be done in the first place.

The hyphenated term make-work is apparently an A…