Press Release

Linguists attending international institute

| 13 July 2009

Hundreds of linguists from around the world are gathering at the University of California, Berkeley, through Aug. 13 to weigh thorny issues such as where grammar comes from, what infants learn before they talk, what DNA says about how related languages spread, and the "linguistically modern man."

UC Berkeley's Linguistics Department, the first such department established in North America when it was formed in 1901, and the Linguistic Society of America are hosting the 65th Linguistic Institute and an extensive series of courses and workshops, public weekend conferences and public Thursday night lectures. Details are online at the 2009 Linguistic Institute.

"About 600 people - including some of the most important people in linguistics - are converging on campus for three to six weeks and doing non-stop linguistics," said Andrew Garrett, a UC Berkeley linguistics professor and director of the institute.

Garrett said institute participants also are:

  • Reporting on the first well-accepted evidence linking Athabascan languages of the Pacific Northwest, the West Coast and U.S. Southwest with a Siberian language family - connecting the Old World with the New World

  • Discussing whether the value of the syllable is reinforced by the meter and rhyme of poetry, or if other analytic constructs equally or more useful

  • Listening to a speaker of Yélǐ Dnye, a language of Papua New Guinea with many remarkable linguistic features and no known relation to any other language

  • Learning about advances in the documentation of languages ranging from those of Australian aborigines to those spoken by Amazonian Indians

  • Explaining why humans are the only creatures capable of language

UC Berkeley's own linguistic strengths will be visible throughout the institute. For example, Garrett said, there will be more sessions devoted to language revitalization and how to conduct linguistic research more closely connected and relating to the affected communities.

Also, UC Berkeley linguistics professor George Lakoff, a leading researcher in the role of metaphor and framing in politics and culture, will teach a course on semantics, grammar and political linguistics. UC Berkeley's Geoffrey Nunberg, a linguist and adjunct professor at the School of Information, a National Public Radio language commentator and author of "The Years of Talking Dangerously," will teach a course that looks at what words used in public discourse, or words that have disappeared, say about a society's "mental life."

The last time UC Berkeley hosted the institute was in 1951. The very first institute took place at Yale University in 1928.