[SydPhil] Fw: Macquarie Uni CLaS-CCD Research Colloquium: E/Prof Tom Wasow, Stanford Univ, Mon 17 Dec, 2pm, AHH, Room 3.610

John Sutton john.sutton at mq.edu.au
Thu Nov 29 14:52:58 AEDT 2018

This may be of interest to some philosophers:

Speaker: Emeritus Professor Tom Wasow, Department of Linguistics, Stanford University

Topic: Why are natural languages so ambiguous?

From: Robin Blumfield <robin.blumfield at mq.edu.au>
Sent: 29 November 2018 09:02

Dear  All,

Please find below details of a talk by Emeritus Professor Tom Wasow from Stanford University in the CLaS-CCD Research Colloquium Series for 2018. The Colloquium Series provides an opportunity for national and international researchers to present talks and meet  with staff, HDR and senior undergraduate students, and aims to promote collaborative research links across Faculties within the University and with industry.

Date: Monday, 17 December 2018, 2.00pm - 3.00pm
Venue: The Australian Hearing Hub, Level 3, Room 3.610, Macquarie University
Speaker: Emeritus Professor Tom Wasow, Department of Linguistics, Stanford University
Host: Professor Mark Johnson
Topic: Why are natural languages so ambiguous?

When computational linguists in the 1970s started building systems big enough to test on corpora of actual usage, they found that the systems were getting far more parses than they had expected for all but the simplest sentences.  Most of these turned out to be linguistically justifiable parses, although the meanings assigned were often bizarre.  Linguists and philosophers of language have generally assumed that ambiguity hinders efficient communication, as expressed most explicitly and succinctly in philosopher Paul Grice's maxim, "Avoid ambiguity".  Since languages are constantly changing, why haven't languages become unambiguous or at least much less ambiguous? One reason may be that language has some uses that favor ambiguity.  Another is that eliminating ambiguity would slow down communication.  This talk examines various types of ambiguity in English and considers their possible functions.

Tom Wasow is Clarence Irving Lewis Professor in Philosophy and Professor of Linguistics, Emeritus and Academic Secretary to Stanford University. After completing undergraduate work in mathematics at Reed College and spending a year in Germany on a Fulbright, he began graduate study in linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where he wrote his dissertation under Noam Chomsky.  At Stanford University, he was involved in founding the Center for the Study of Language and Information, an interdisciplinary  research institute, and the Symbolic Systems Program, an undergraduate major combining computer science, linguistics, philosophy, and psychology. He has also been heavily involved in administration, serving as a dean, department chair, program director, and director of a research institute, and is currently Academic Secretary to the University,  in which he oversees the operations of the Stanford Faculty Senate and the major university committees.

Emeritus Professor Wasow's early research was devoted largely to elaborating and supporting ideas put forward by Chomsky through the detailed investigation of various phenomena in English syntax.  Later, he was involved in the development of a theory of grammar called Head-driven Phrase Structure Grammar, and co-authored the first textbook on that theory.  In the last twenty-five years, he has focused more on studying how language is used, collaborating with psycholinguists and sociolinguists to answer the question of why people say things one way, rather than using a different construction that seems to convey the same meaning. Emeritus Professor Wasow is a Fellow of the Linguistic Society of America and of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Rosemary Eliott
Administrator, Centre for Language Sciences, Child Language Lab
Department of Linguistics   |   Level 3, Australian Hearing Hub
16 University Avenue
Macquarie University NSW 2109 Australia
Please note my working days are Tues/Wed
M: +  61 412 792 626 |  mq.edu.au
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