Lecture 17: Language and YOU!

Come to the final lecture for the year, with Chris Lum and John Olstad, 4pm, 24 November 2013.

Apostrophes, linguistics, social politics, and you!

by John Olstad

Do you hate it when people misuse apostrophes? What can you know about someone who does? What is going through the person’s mind who adds an apostrophe to tea’s and coffee’s? The answer is that it is more systematic than you might think; it is completely systematic. What’s more, so-called misused apostrophes fall under a greater universal process called grammaticalisation. In this lecture, I will detail the potential logic behind various apostrophe innovations and explain the basic linguistic phenomena the innovations represent. Additionally, the spellings X’s and X’d can be shown to have different acceptability based on socio-economic class. I will outline the sociolinguistic underpinnings required to properly engage in a discussion of ‘proper’ usage and reveal what I assume to be some surprises as to the status of apostrophe use.

This themed session I’m giving at TiNA this year has three more presentations related to the theme of fun case studies that relate social politics and linguistics, so if there’s time, I could expand a bit beyond apostrophes or leave more time for chats and beer. Whatever you think! I’ll try to get to the next garage blackboard lecture as well.

How do you mean? Understanding ambiguous signs in a shared language

by Chris Lum

Word meanings are fundamental to communication through language. But how do words have meaning? And how do we understand words that can have multiple meanings? This lecture will provide an introduction to how linguists analyse meaning in language before turning to consider how the brain might understand words with related senses. It will be contended that, far from having dictionaries in our brains, we use connotations and metaphor to elaborate our own meaning networks from prototype senses of a word. To a certain extent, speakers of a language can differ in their perceptions of a word’s meanings and nevertheless understand one another due to the role of context in disambiguation. The lecture will highlight the fluidity of meaning and the fact that speakers of the same language can understand words in very different ways.


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