Wednesday 17 November | 18:00 | Appleton Tower 1 | £1/FREE for members
The Origins and Evolution of 21st Century Linguistics:? 45 Years in Linguistics
Professor James R. Hurford
Professor Emeritus, Dept. of Linguistics & English Language
Professor James Hurford has published in many sub-fields of linguistics including phonetics, semantics, grammar and the origins of language (and has also translated books on the last topic from French to English). His most recent publication is a two volume work on our linguistic origins in the OUP series Studies in the Evolution of Language, for which he is also a series editor. The Origins of Meaning was published in 2007 and the long awaited Origins of Grammar will be published next year.
In these books Prof. Hurford looks at the linguistic capabilities of humans in the light of evolution, an idea based on Theodosius Dobzhansky’s famous adage from biology: “Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution.”
In his talk, Prof. Hurford is going to look at linguistics itself in the light of more recent evolution, and revolution: how it has changed during his carer over the last 45 years and how it has become what it is today, at the beginning of the 21st Century.
FORTY FIVE YEARS OF LINGUISTICS:
In 1963, linguistics as an academic subject barely existed in Britain. True, there were one or two professors of linguistics, but it couldn’t be studied at an undergraduate level. In the USA it was more developed, but even in America, the subject was (I would guess) about one tenth of the size it is now, in terms of numbers of teachers and students. The Chomskyan revolution of the mid 1950s had barely reached Britain in the mid 1960s. Linguistic theory existed, but was very much in the shadow of Saussure and Bloomfield. The technology of teaching and research was very different back then, and has changed almost beyond recognition in the past fifteen years.
The whole 20th century in linguistics could be fairly called the Saussurean century. And the latter half could be called the Chomskyan half-century. There have been doubting and critical voices throughout, but they have been outnumbered by workers in the dominant paradigm. Mainstream linguistics is now turning to a new perspective on language, not solely dominated by synchronic study of an ideal state of mind of an ideal speaker. The difficulty in reaching this stage stems from both the symbolic nature of language itself and the typical non-scientific training of most academic linguists in the 20th century. (JRH)
Prof. Hurford completed his undergraduate studies at St John’s College, Cambridge, reading Modern and Medieval Languages (French and German). He received his PhD from the Department of Phonetics at University College, London; his PhD thesis title was The Speech of One Family: a phonetic comparison of the speech of three generations in a family of East Londoners.
He has worked at UCLA, (University of California, LA), the University of California at Davis, the University of Lancaster. and most recently here at the University of Edinburgh. He officially retired from academia n 2007 and is now Professor Emeritus of the department of Linguistics & English Language here at Edinburgh. Jim still continues to the teach honours course onn the Origins and Evolution of Language which has been one of his passions for at least the past 15 years.
He has been described by one research fellow at Edinburgh as the “grandaddy of evolutionary linguistics” and this reflects both his role as one of the founders of the this field and his great knowledge and understanding of the issues this field raises. In 1996 he co-organised the first International Conference of Evolutionary linguistics, EVOLANG, which was held in Edinburgh. This conference has become the biannual meeting point for researchers from many countries; it was held in Utrecht, The Netherlands, this year and will be held in Kyoto, Japan, in 2012.
For more information on Professor Hurford and his career (including a great idea for a ‘Linguistics SciFi story!) visit his staff home page.
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Entry is £1 and FREE to active members. Membership is £3 (£6 for non-students) and you can join on the night. Membership cards are now ready so if you don’t already have one then pick it up before the talk.
The talk will start at 6:00 p.m. and last about 1 hr. There will be a Q&A/ discussion session at 7:00 p.m. which should last about half an hour.
We also meet at Assembly Bar (41 Lothian Street EH1 1HB ) after the talk at 8:00 p.m. for food and drink with the speaker.
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