Forum Lecturers


Michel DeGraff - Massachusetts Institute of Technology 

As a Haitian linguist, my Forum Lecture scheduled on France’s Bastille Day, soon after the celebration of U.S. Independence Day, makes me think of “revolutions across space and time.”  Indeed, underlying one of my current projects is the urgent need for a “revolution” in linguistics. What I have in mind is the need to bridge one gap between our core universalist-egalitarian assumptions in linguistics and the power-knowledge hierarchies at the root and, still, at the core of Creole studies and the consequences thereof in the lives of Creole speakers.  Think of the “Pidgin-to-Creole” dogma in most of our introduction-to-linguistics textbooks and what such dogma implies for the status of Creole languages and their speakers in the “real world” beyond academia.  My revolutionary struggle (a tall order, it seems, even among well meaning “progressive” and “liberal” colleagues) is to inspire a new sort of linguistics whereby our academic research can help make the world better by bringing about the sort of linguistic equality that is a precondition for socio-economic and political equity.  In this Forum Lecture, I’ll share some of my research agenda where linguistics drives on-the-ground projects (such as the MIT-Haiti Initiative: that engage technology, pedagogy and local languages—such as my native Haitian Creole (“Kreyòl”) as a full-fledged normal language that belies the “Pidgin-to-Creole” dogma and its problematic theoretical, empirical and sociological corollaries.  The ultimate goal is to enlist research and education for sustainable development and equal opportunity for all.  The benefits of such “revolution” will span space and time as well, keeping in mind the too many communities (some 40% of the world’s population according to UNESCO) whose native languages are still excluded in classrooms—these are the very languages that we linguists so love studying in our field work, research labs and journal articles.

(For more details on DeGraff’s biography and research, see , and )

Kirk Hazen, Inaugural ADS Professorship Lecture 

Varieties of English in Appalachia received more public criticism than scholarly scrutiny in the twentieth century. From comic strips to popular sitcoms and eventually the world-wide web, people from Appalachia have been lampooned in public circles for their speech and other cultural traits. Early myths, such as the reference to an extant Elizabethan English in the mountains, were used as a defense for language variation; however, such myths only obscure the actual patterns of synchronic and diachronic variation in this area of the country.

Working from the foundational scholarship of Wolfram & Christian (1975, 1976), Montgomery (e.g. 1989, 2004, 2006) and others, this presentation explores a sociolinguistically empirical review of language variation patterns in speakers from Appalachia, specifically West Virginia, in order to emphasize a previously underexamined quality, namely the range of heterogeneity. Variation can be found in traditional features, both those frequently studied and socially commented on, plus those features less socially visible and shared with other dialect regions. I will lead the audience through the perceptions of Appalachian speakers, including their supposed homogeneity, low educational attainment, and Elizabethan English in order to contrast that pervasive, monolithic view with the major findings of the West Virginia Dialect Project. While some sociolinguistic variables, both morphological and phonological, are not undergoing change and others show no social marking, several demonstrate divisions between rural and non-rural speakers. Along with geographic region, orientation to higher-education, and social class, rurality guides speakers’ language variation choices and will help to determine the future of Appalachian Englishes.

By examining the full scope of language variation in Appalachia, a greater understanding of the range of vernacularity can be established. Within this continuum of Appalachian Englishes, there are no dialect features that are unique to the Appalachian region, belying the common belief that Appalachia exists in isolation from the rest of the US dialect landscape. Because there is such a contrast between the quotidian language in Appalachia and the dialect in the American imagination, outreach with communities regarding language variation is paramount for education in local schools and linguistic social justice.

Robin Queen - University of Michigan 

In this talk, I present two approaches to thinking about what happens when a linguist talks to a dog. The first approach is what might be considered a canonical, scholarly approach to the topic. I discuss semiotics, referentiality, and metapragmatic communication based on data drawn from interactions between shepherds and their stockdogs—as well as between shepherds talking to other shepherds about interacting with stockdogs—in the context of cooperative sheep herding.

Drawing on over a decade of ethnographic participant observation on farms and at livestock herding competitions and demonstrations throughout North America, I discuss the metapragmatics involved in conceptualizing effective mechanisms of communication with a working dog. I further illustrate how the ideologies and semiotics involved in constituting the dog as a communicative interlocutor drive both the form of the interactions with the dog and the specifics of the acoustic output directed to the dog. These interactions pivot crucially around referentiality.

I illustrate the system of whistled and verbal utterances shepherds use to communicate referentially with their dogs and then show that the prosodic qualities in shepherds’ referential whistles vary stylistically as they do in speech, particularly along the dimensions of careful and casual (Laan 1997). The similarities between stylistic modifications made to speech and those made in communicating to a dog suggest that shepherds draw on their linguistic knowledge when working with their dogs.

The second approach for thinking about what happens when a linguist talks to a dog provides a more personal reflection on what it has meant for me to talk to dogs while also building and maintaining an academic career in linguistics, one that has included experience with different kinds of institutions, different roles within institutions and within the discipline, and different moments of clarity and of questioning,  including junctures at which I was advised not to pursue the questions I found most compelling. By engaging both of these approaches, I hope to illustrate how the life of the mind need not preclude or overshadow the life of the spirit.