GURT2017: Variable Properties: Their Nature and Acquisition

The Georgetown University Round Table (GURT) on Languages and Linguistics was first held in 1949 and has been held every year since, covering a wide range of topics differing from year to year. As in previous years, GURT 2017 will be embellished by Washington’s Cherry Blossom Festival, all being well, and lead to a volume of papers published by Georgetown University Press.

GURT 2017 will focus on variable properties in language, all kinds, and particularly on how they are acquired. It will be held on 10-­12 March 2017 and will consider the full range of variable properties, how they are acquired by young children or adults, and how they may change across generations of speakers. A primary goal of GURT 2017 is to foster interaction and potential collaboration among researchers investigating language from the perspective of different subfields and using a range of methodologies. The conference aims to make progress toward a biologically coherent account of the full range of variation, bridging the silos that keep sociolinguists from interacting with students of syntactic variation, and keep historical linguists apart from phoneticians working on variability. A primary goal of GURT 2017 is thus to change the dialog, and to provide opportunities for experienced scholars to mentor young scholars, including graduate students and postdocs, working on variation, encouraging them to work across domains.

The kind of variation that language embodies is biologically unusual; it is not found in other species nor in other aspects of human cognition. Navajo speakers have grammatical structures different from those of Nupe speakers. The phonological and syntactic peculiarities specific to particular languages or groups of languages will be addressed during the conference, for example, particular phonological or syntactic categories occurring only in some languages. Variation includes the variation that yields structural contrasts; variations in the pronunciation of words that are still recognized tobe the same; variation that occurs in particular speech communities or in particular styles of speech; and variation in production influenced by interaction with and accommodation to particular interlocutors. All variation raises questions about how such properties can be discovered and accommodated by young children and by adults. And since all variation results from change, scholars need an account of how variable properties might have first arisen, were first acquired.

The emphasis of the meeting will be on the acquisition of all kinds of variable properties. Abstracts are invited on all variable properties and particularly on their acquisition.

Organized by David W. Lightfoot