Tuesday, July 14, 2009

#lsa2009, zeitgeists 'and shit'

We're 1/6th of the way into the 2009 Linguistic Institute at UC Berkeley. I've had lots of things to say, but little time to write. For me, the whole experience can be summarized so far as both unbelievably inspiring and absolutely intimidating. The sheer wealth of opportunity for us is overwhelming. Aside from the courses, there are conferences, lectures, workshops and social events. The professors are accessible and interested. The entire experience is available to us and for us.

Not to mention the excellent opportunities here on the Berkeley campus. For $10 you can get an RSF membership for the entire summer, offering free reign of the gym, group classes, and four pools. It's been in the 90ºs here. The Hearst pool, a Julia Morgan design with marble deck and a view of the bay area, is like a little high-top retreat and refreshing sanctuary. I highly recommend taking advantage of it! Also, lesser known highlights...stop by the Cal1 office for your Cal1 card and AC Transit sticker. Free bus access anywhere! Once that hot little card is in your hands, you can add money to it, and use it for purchases anywhere on campus, and many places nearby. The Perimeter bus (P-line) makes this card definitely worthwhile. Especially if you need to get up that hill to Stanley Hall or Donner Lab. It drops off at Mining Circle and you're good.

Back to linguistics though...

First things first, I'm happy to discover a little Twitter contingency going. It's been a very fun way to network with people here. We're all coming from different places, and converging on the same shared interests. This is what Twitter was made for. #lsa2009 is your friend.

Another thing that fellow linguists and I have noticed as we've travelled around together for almost two weeks are the current trends and almost meme-like topics that have been circulating through the discourse. Frames, blends and schemas are hot right now. As is NTL, ECG, R, TGrep2, and many other letters in our delectible* acronym soup. There is also spoken and near unspoken life-after-Universal-Grammar – not because it is unappreciated, but because there are exciting new theories about language evolution that have found their ways into the minds of these syntacticians, psycholinguists, cognitive scientists, historical linguists, sociolinguists and the like. It truly is an exciting time.

These themes are contagious. I hear an idea mentioned in one class, then carried over into another with a whole new perspective added to it. It's like a giant game of intelligent telephone. And the professors are in on it too. They sit in each other's classes, share theories, and bring treats freshly baked from their subfield of the big pie. Sometimes they even make – and lose – bets with each other, as witnessed in yesterday's delightful reparte between Geoffrey Pullum and Adele Goldberg in LSA 110, English Grammar. With AirBears, a corpus search, and Google, these things move fast!

I'm currently enrolled in four courses, all tucked into seemingly disparate pockets of linguistics. There is always crossover of course, but my Tuesdays and Thursdays literally go something like this:
  • 8:30 - 10:15 Discussion of stylistic choices and discursive features of Obama, hipsters, 'and shit' – referring to the actual use of 'and shit' as indexical of a particular identity construction construction.**
  • 10:30 - 12:30 Meet with various professors and TAs to talk about my favorite subject, linguistics!
  • 12:30 - 1:30 Meet with fellow linguists to talk about the things we all just talked about with other linguists.
  • 1:30 - 3:15 Get mind blown by Neural Theory of Language. Recruitment Learning happens. Neurons strengthen. That's how it works. Isn't that cool?!
  • 3:15 - 3:35 Revising mental map of Dwinelle Hall.
  • 3:36 - 5:15 Humbling reminder hour. There is this whole field called 'Psycholinguistics' out there. And I mean out there. I embrace this time, and take what I can. Unix, TGrep2, R Regressions, Uniform Information Density, and many things that start with the letter 'A'. Having come from a background focused on qualitative sociolinguistic study, this is a whole new animal. I'm beyond intrigued, and determined to walk away as friends with these new terms. Additionally, Jaeger and his crew are wicked smart, and constantly offer up areas for further exploration, possibly study designs, and ways to bridge our backgrounds with the offerings of the field. Talk about inspiring!
  • 5:15 - 7:00 Decompression with food.
  • 7:00 - 8:30 Find lecture. Get inspired all over again. Think about future. Dream big.
And that's it. Celebrity fest ends for the day. Repeat and wear better shoes tomorrow.

*This close to going for the bad pun. Be thankful I didn't.
**Here I must apologize. I've wanted to use the 'construction construction' construction all week.

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