In this wide-ranging discussion, University of Pennsylvania linguistics professor Mark Liberman assesses the state of affairs in the field of linguistics and lays out what he sees as the most promising avenues for language-related inquiry. Returning to themes from his 2007 plenary address at the Linguistic Society of America annual meeting, Liberman outlines the “series of unfortunate events” that led to a dwindling appreciation of linguistic analysis in academia and the public sphere. He calls on fellow linguists to participate in greater public engagement on language issues, a type of engagement that Liberman has put into practice by cofounding the widely read linguistics blog Language Log. He expects the field to be increasingly dominated by data-driven approaches, as speech and language engineers work to create ever-larger collections of texts and develop more sophisticated tools to analyze them. His own work as director of the Linguistic Data Consortium has blazed a trail in the collection, maintenance, and annotation of large-scale corpora, both written and spoken; new corpus-based tools make this type of analysis more accessible than ever. Liberman sees the early twenty-first century as resembling the early seventeenth century, when the invention of the microscope and telescope opened up new worlds for exploration. The question is now what can be done with the new microscopes and telescopes at our disposal, without losing sight of traditional methods of linguistic study. The conversation took place at the 2011 Linguistic Society of America annual meeting in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

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