Investigations in Language

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In each salon in this track, we’ll seek to investigate the many mysteries of language. Our investigations will be guided by your host, linguist Colin Gorrie.

This salon track is all about something both utterly commonplace and completely mysterious: language. For something we all share, many aspects of language remain stubbornly resistant to our understanding. Why do we seem to learn languages so effortlessly as children, but with such great difficulty as adults? What goes on in the mind when we speak or hear a sentence? Does the language we speak influence the thoughts we can think? Why can a good poem be moving, or beautiful, or terrifying?

Dates: – Third Tuesday of each month. 6-8pm Eastern.

Language and Thought – Nov 16, 2021

We’ll start the track by looking at the relationship between language and thought. Does language affect, constrain, or merely represent thought? How would we even go about finding out? We’ll trace the long and often acrimonious debate from the 1930s down to the present, from the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis to Steven Pinker. Along the way we’ll wonder about the gender of bridges, meet a culture who supposedly can’t count, and learn how speaking English might be raising our insurance premiums.

The Origin of Invented Languages – Dec 21, 2021

Next, we’ll look at some of the fictional languages that linguists have invented to flesh out imaginary worlds, e.g. Klingon, Dothraki, Quenya, and Na’vi. We’ll see how they made these languages feel familiar (or alien) by comparing them to the real-world languages they used as models.

Meta-Skills for Language Learning – Jan 18, 2022

In the new year, we’ll turn our attention to a perennial broken resolution: the promises we make to ourselves that this will be the year we finally learn a new language. In investigating why these resolutions fail, we’ll learn: the science of how babies learn to speak, how learning a language is unlike learning any other skill, and how to set ourselves up for language learning success.

A Biography of the English Language – Feb 15, 2022

In this salon, we’ll turn back time to see how English once looked and sounded. We’ll look at how everything from the pronunciation to the grammar to the meaning of the words in the language has changed over the years. As we go, we’ll uncover the vast historical knowledge hidden even in everyday words.

….Investigations in Language will be back in a few months. In the meantime check out Colin’s series about Beowulf