Linguistics Program inaugurated

When Associate Professor of Near Eastern and Judaic Languages and Literatures Benjamin Hary came to Emory in 1987, there was nothing structured in terms of a program in linguistics. He toyed with the idea of trying to form a linguistics group among faculty in various departments whose interests and research intersected with the study of language and communication.

His efforts, as well as efforts of some before him, finally have come to fruition this spring with the addition of an official Program in Linguistics. One of the turning points in those efforts, according to Hary, was the hiring of Assistant Professor Debra Spitulnik to build a linguistic anthropology program. Hary is director of the new program; Spitulnik is one of the core faculty. There is now, according to Hary and Spitulnik, "a critical mass of faculty" whose research and teaching interests include linguistics.

Linguistics has been defined as the scientific study of language and communication; the newly established program is, according to its description, "an interdisciplinary program which views linguistics as the integrated study of human language in its relation to cognition, culture, social identity, human history, philosophy and aesthetics."

"The interdisciplinary nature is really truer to the real science of linguistics," said Hary, and fits in well with the direction in which Emory's educational community is moving. At many institutions, he said, "linguists have managed to isolate themselves from the humanities and social sciences. On this campus, people who are interested in linguistics want to speak to other disciplines. It fits very well into the whole perspective at Emory, where the University is going toward more and more interdisciplinary work."

The program also builds on existing resources, said Spitulnik, and on things people were already doing. "We're doing things that use existing resources to create more context for intellectual exchange," she said. There are six core faculty members for the program, and 20 affiliated faculty.

An ad hoc committee on linguistics wrote the proposal for the program, which included a minor, support for faculty, lectures and seminars, and research support for graduate and undergraduate students. That proposal was approved last February by Emory College Dean David Bright; the minor and new courses were approved by the Curriculum Committee in the spring and officially went into effect this semester.

The new courses include "Introduction to Linguistics," to be offered every fall, "Language, Mind and Society," to be offered every spring, and "Special Topics in Linguistics." This spring, "Language, Mind and Society," as well as two special topics courses, "History of Judaic Languages" and "Psychology of Language," are being offered. Approximately 30 students are enrolled in each of those courses, an encouraging sign, said Hary, of "pure interest," since none of the courses fulfill distribution requirements.

Although Hary and Spitulnik do not anticipate moving toward a major in linguistics, the program is moving toward offering joint majors with other departments. A joint major already has been approved by Russian Studies and will be presented to the Curriculum Committee; discussions with other departments are under way.

To kick off the new program and to introduce the Emory community to linguistics, the program is sponsoring an inaugural lecture series titled "Language in the Modern World." The schedule for the lectures is as follows:

"Meaning and Matters of Context." William Hanks, University of Chicago. 4:30 p.m., Feb. 1. Cox Hall Ballroom.

"Language and Politics." Gillian Sankoff, University of Pennsylvania. 4:30 p.m., Feb. 8, Faculty Dining Room, Dobbs Center.

"The Eternal Triangle: Language, Gender and Power." Robin Lakoff, University of California, Berkeley. 4:30 p.m., Feb. 15, Faculty Dining Room.

"The Role of Linguistics in the Cognitive Revolution." Mark Johnson, University of Oregon. 6 p.m. Feb. 22, Faculty Dining Room.

The Friday following each of these talks, an informal luncheon discussion with the speakers will be held in 201 Psychology.

The lecture series also is being supported by the College, the Graduate School, and the Offices of the President and the Provost.

A listserv, LINGANNC, is available for those interested in information about events. For more information, call 727-7904.

-- Nancy M. Spitler