Scholarly blogging, now with DOIs

I have been blogging at The Ideophone since 2007, and not all of it has been as ephemeral as my PhD promotor once feared. Over the past week I have worked with Rogue Scholar to archive selected content from The Ideophone and make it more durably accessible. This posts documents the process and some of the choices made.

Continue Reading →

Language between animals and computers

Language makes us human. But there is an interesting asymmetry in our willingness to ascribe linguistic capacities to non-humans: animals are seen as having none, whereas computers may well master it according to many. What curious conception of language makes this asymmetry possible? And what do Descartes and Turing have to do with it? Notes from a new essay about language between animals and computers.

Continue Reading →

Interactive repair and the foundations of language

We have a new paper out in which we argue that the robustness and flexibility of human language is underpinned by a machinery of interactive repair. Repair is normally thought of as a kind of remedial procedure. We argue its import is more fundamental. Simply put (and oversimplifying only a bit), we wouldn’t have complex language if it weren’t for interactive repair.

Continue Reading →

How should descriptive grammars cover interjections?

Interjections are, in Felix Ameka’s memorable formulation, “the universal yet neglected part of speech” (1992). They are rarely the subject of historical, typological or comparative research in linguistics, and they are notably underrepresented in descriptive grammars. As grammars are the main source of data for typologists, this is of course a perfect example of a self-reinforcing feedback loop. How can we break this trend?

Continue Reading →

Sawing off the branch you’re sitting on

There is a minor industry in speech science and NLP devoted to detecting and removing disfluencies. In some of our recent work we’re showing this adversely impacts voice user interfaces. Here I review a case where the hemming and hawing is the point — and where removing it adversely impacts our ability to make sense of what people do in interaction.

Continue Reading →

How to avoid all-male panels (manels)

The last time I blindly accepted an invitation to speak was in 2012, when I was invited to an exclusive round table on the future of linguistics. As a fresh postdoc I was honoured and bedazzled. When the programme was circulated, I got a friendly email from a colleague asking me how I’d ended up there, and whether I thought the future of linguistics was to be all male. Turns out the round table was exclusive in more than one sense.

Continue Reading →

Opening up ChatGPT: Evidence-based measures of openness and transparency in instruction-tuned large language models

With the first excitement of ChatGPT dying down, people are catching up on the risk of relying on closed and proprietary models that may stop being supported overnight or may change in undocumented ways. Good news: we’ve tracked developments in this field and there are now over 20 alternatives with varying degrees of openness, most of them more transparent than ChatGPT.

Continue Reading →

At the smallest scale of human interaction, prosocial behavior follows cross-culturally shared principles

We have a new paper out in which we find that people overwhelmingly like to help one another, independent of differences in language, culture or environment. This is a surprising finding from the perspective of anthropological and economic research, which has tended to foreground differences in how people work together and share resources.

Continue Reading →

New paper – What do we really measure when we measure iconicity?

It’s a common misconception that iconicity or sound symbolism is universal, perpetuated in part by the almost universal success of famous experiments involving pseudowords like bouba and kiki. But iconicity in natural languages is much more messy than paradigms like bouba-kiki suggest. Which begs the question, what do we really measure when we measure iconicity? This is what our new paper investigates.

Continue Reading →