6/27 Janet Pierrehumbert (Sapir Professor): “Lexical Variability”

 

Janet Pierrehumbert, Northwestern University
2013 Linguistic Institute’s Edward Sapir Professor
Thursday, June 27, 2013 7:00 pm
Askwith Auditorium, Lorch Hall
Reception to follow

 

Read Abstract


Words are the nexus of the relation between form and meaning in language, and a rich lexicon is a hallmark of the intelligence of the human species. Words support cooperation amongst people by enabling them to share complex information about other times and places, abstract ideas, and emotions and social judgments. These facts motivate a large and fruitful body of research on how  shared vocabularies arise in linguistic communities, and how children acquire the vocabulary of the language spoken around them.  This emphasis on lexical convergence, however,  abstracts away from significant differences across speakers  in the total inventory of words, their abstract representations, their detailed phonetics,  and their patterns of use in context.  Equally,  it abstracts away from variation across words in who knows them, when and where they are used, and how they are pronounced. It  begs the question of  how the vocabularies of languages keep changing even after  a shared norm is in place.

This talk will document an assortment of cases of lexical variability, which touch on levels of linguistic representation from phonetics to pragmatics.  All  involve the interaction of cognitive and social factors in learning, remembering, and producing words. I will discuss these cases in the context of computational models of language acquisition and change.  I conclude by  developing a connection between synchronic variation and the robustness and  adaptability of language over time.

, ,