Thursday, January 2, 2020

Biking in Gaborone

I have been coming to Botswana on a regular basis since 2011 to do research on the Khoisan languages. Usually, I live somewhere in Gaborone, and then make expeditions into the field. When in Gaborone, I try to bike every morning to wake up.

Grading E-Mail

Everybody knows somebody who is terrible at e-mail. Here is a system of e-mail grades for your colleagues, students and friends. At the end of each year (December 31), just send them their grade, and the description of what the grades mean. I guarantee that you will see a notable improvement in their e-mail performance the following year.

The grades are calculated by adding the positive (+1) and negatives (-1). The maximum score is +5, and the minimum score is -5.

A (Excellent)
4 and above

B (Very Good)
3 and above

2 and above

D (Unacceptable)
1 and above

F (Failing)
0 or below

Positives (each worth +1):

The person responds to urgent messages on the same day.

The person responds to all messages, even if just to say that they have received your e-mail message and will respond later (specifying the date when they will respond).

If the person is on vacation, you receive an automatic reply telling you when they will return.

The person writes thoughtful and helpful responses to your queries. Their responses are well-written and easy to read.

The person follows the Goldilocks Principle: Their messages are neither too short nor too long. They are just right.

Negatives (each worth -1):

When the person writes you an e-mail message, the header often does not accurately reflect the content of the e-mail message. So your inbox is flooded with dozens of messages having inscrutable headers like “Today” or “Hello”.

The person sometimes presses “Reply All” when they mean to press “Reply” revealing awkward bits of information to large groups of people.

The person will sometimes forward your messages (which may contain personal, sensitive or confidential information) to other people, without asking you ahead of time.

The person uses e-mail to the exclusion of all other forms of communication (phone or talking in person), even if their office is close to yours and even when the topic is clearly not suitable for e-mail (e.g., it is a complex or sensitive topic requiring face-to-face communication).

The person has two or three e-mail addresses, leading to uncertainty about which one they use most and which one to reply to.

Tuesday, December 31, 2019


Here is a step by step procedure for generating a FLEx file from an ELAN file, and then generating an ELAN file from the FLEx file.

Friday, December 27, 2019

Writing a Statement of Purpose for Linguistics Graduate School

All linguistics graduate schools require prospective students to write a Statement of Purpose (SOP). And faculty members of those schools place great weight on them. From personal experience, I can say that the SOP is the most important document that I read when evaluating a student application.

So what exactly is a SOP and why is it so important?

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Two Kinds of Data in Syntactic Fieldwork: Experimental and Non-Experimental

[This is a revision of an earlier post (October 9, 2019), responding to feedback that I received at that time.]

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Two Poles in North American Linguistics Departments

In this post, I will lay out the contours of two evolving poles in North American linguistics departments: psycholinguistics/computational versus fieldwork/documentation. I am not claiming that any particular department exactly matches the descriptions I have given below. Many departments are a mix of the two basic types, but my feeling is that things are changing very rapidly and departments are tending to gravitate toward one of the two poles (more frequently toward the psycholinguistics/computational pole).

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Remembering Sam Epstein (by Chris Collins)

Sam Epstein was professor at Harvard from 1988 to 1997. During this time, he directed the thesis work of a string of stellar syntax students, including (amongst others) Hisa Kitahara, Geoffrey Poole, Dianne Jonas, Erich Groat, John O’Neill and Marylse Baptista. These students were all an integral part of the Cambridge syntax community. I often saw them at MIT talks, and when I went to Harvard to attend a talk. Some of them are still close colleagues today (most notably Erich Groat, with whom I have had the pleasure of collaborating in recent years).