News

Linguists Tackle Computational Analysis of Grammar

Children don’t have to be told that “cat” and “cats” are variants of the same word—they pick it up just by listening. To a computer, though, they’re as different as, well, cats and dogs. Yet it’s computers that are assumed to be superior in detecting patterns and rules, not 4-year olds. John Goldsmith and Jackson Lee are trying to solve that puzzle or at least provide the tools to do so.

Graduate Student Kate Pukinskis Premieres Composition

This edited version originally appeared in UChicago News on 26 February.

Kate Pukinskis loves to sing in choirs, to be on stage with others enveloped by the “crazy, loud sounds” of Beethoven’s Ninth or Verdi’s Requiem. “Choral music comes very naturally to me,” said Pukinskis, a doctoral student in composition in the Department of Music who has sung in professional choirs since she was a child.

“There is great joy in making music with other people—and it’s such a cool thing to use your voice as your instrument and feel it resonate inside your body.”

Pukinskis enjoys crafting that experience for others as she has done with her latest work, Water on the Thirsty Land: Three Songs from the Book of Isaiah, a set of choral pieces for unaccompanied choir that premiered February 28 at Rockefeller Memorial Chapel, as part of the Quire & Place concert series.

Entitled Sacred Powers of Water, the concert explored water themes and features commentary by Christopher Neill, director of the Ecosystems Center at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Mass., where the concert will be repeated later this year.

Pukinskis chose three excerpts from Isaiah that use water as metaphors for the divine—as protector, life giver, and strengthener. She realizes them musically, creating moments where words and sounds invoke the comfort of being enveloped in a pool, or the relief that comes when one’s thirst is quenched. She draws inspiration from her carefree childhood in New England, roaming through woods and swimming in ponds. “I remember playing in the water and how insulating that felt,” she said. “Anyone can relate to that protective feeling.”

Steven Rings on the Many Voices of Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan is the ultimate musical shape-shifter. In his five-decade career, he has refused to stay in the same place for long, moving fluidly between genres, voices and performance styles. To some, that elusive quality makes Dylan almost maddening. To others, it makes him fascinating. But to musicologist Steven Rings, it makes Dylan's work a perfect object of scholarly analysis.

American Culture From Every Angle

Asking Eric Posner about President Obama's use of executive discretion. A conversation with Rosanna Warren on poetry as history. Hearing Alison Winter explain the unusual source materials she discovered while studying memory. Any one of these conversations could be the highlight of a graduate-level course. For students to have multiple opportunities—one every week for a quarter—is an extraordinary circumstance, but it happens in the graduate seminar that is a signature project for the Karla Scherer Center for the Study of American Culture.

MLA Honors Steinberg for Work on Dante

Justin Steinberg highlighted the previously unexamined legal aspects of Dante’s 14th-century masterpiece in Dante and the Limits of Law, published by the University of Chicago Press. On Dec. 3, the Modern Language Association awarded the book the 22nd Howard R. Marrarro Prize. The prize will be presented at the MLA’s annual conference in Vancouver in January.

The Digital Humanities at UChicago

Global Literary Networks
The admixture of scholarship and computing has become an accepted element of humanities research, as essential as the once-novel technologies of print media, image reproduction, and audiovisual recording. While there’s fluidity to the term “digital humanities”—it can refer to anything from research that relies on computation to scholarship that examines technology itself—its broad scope provides fertile ground for some of the most exciting and innovative work being done throughout the humanistic disciplines.

Faculty Members Honored with Named, Distinguished Service Professorships

Three faculty members within the Division of the Humanities—Victor A. Friedman, Lenore Grenoble, and Larry F. Norman—have been recognized for their service and scholarship with named and distinguished professorships.

Victor A. Friedman, director of UChicago’s Center for East European and Russian/Eurasian Studies, has been named the Andrew W. Mellon Distinguished Service Professor in the Humanities. Friedman, PhD’75, works on the languages of the Balkans and Caucasus, and focuses on grammatical categories, contact linguistics, as well as sociolinguistics issues related to standardization, ideology, and identity. He has published more than a dozen books and edited works, as well as more than 300 scholarly articles and book reviews.

 

Lenore Grenoble has been named the John Matthews Manly Distinguished Service Professor in Linguistics and the College. Grenoble specializes in Slavic and Arctic Indigenous languages, and her research focuses on the study of contact linguistics and language shift, discourse and conversion analysis, issues of language endangerment, and language attrition and revitalization. She authored Language Policy in the Former Soviet Union and co-authored Saving Languages: An Introduction to Language Revitalization.