Thursday, April 22, 2010

Robert Ornstein's THE RIGHT MIND

When people think of language and the brain, they often refer solely to the left hemisphere of the brain because that is where the identified language centers reside (e.g., Wernicke's Area, Broca's Area). However, it would be a mistake for anyone to think that you need only the left hemisphere to communicate and use language. Robert Ornstein's book The Right Mind reminds us why we need the right hemisphere just as much--if not, perhaps, more--than we need the left hemisphere for things like using language and making logical decisions (both aspects associated primarily with the left hemisphere).

Ornstein's style of writing is not terminology-laden, so even people who have never studied cognitive science or anatomy or neuroscience or [fill in the blank with another relevant field here] will be able to pick up the book and read about the wonders of the right hemisphere. The chapters have fun names to go with the interesting topics like "The Run of Dichotomania," "Wit or Half-Wit?" and "An Avalanche in the Human Brain."

Throughout the book, Ornstein uses examples from psychological and linguistic experiments, patients with brain damage, and general observations to demonstrate that while the left hemisphere may be responsible for language at its core, the right hemisphere is necessary for being able to understand context, which allows us to form the "big picture" of our world. In other words, the left hemisphere helps us see the individual trees, but the right hemisphere allows us to see the entire forest. Through Ornstein's examples, you begin to see that a world without context is one without true understanding.

If you're interested in understand more about how our brains process language, I highly recommend getting your hands on a copy of The Right Mind.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Live on Twitter!

After more than one request, I have turned the fictional "SFALingProf" Twitter account from the posters I've put up around campus into a real one. You can join in on the fun by following me on Twitter, either by clicking on the Follow Me button in the right-hand sidebar or by going to Twitter and searching for my username (SFALingProf).

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Why aren't 341 and 438 showing up on the Fall 2010 schedule?

In Fall 2009, I was ecstatic that my colleagues of the Department of English approved all the new linguistics courses I had proposed. Little did I know that the departmental approval would only be the first step in a long journey...

After the department approved the courses, the courses were passed up to the College Council; once they approved the courses, the courses were passed up to the College of Liberal and Applied Arts for approval. After getting approved three times, they got passed again, this time to the Provost and then again to the Board of Regents.

The courses have passed all those stages of approval, and yet they are not showing up on the fall schedule. Why? Because they still have to get a stamp of approval at the state level (and three different state levels, at that).

What does all this mean to you? It means that those linguistics courses with new course numbers (ENG 341: Introduction to Linguistics and ENG 438: Forensic Linguistics) are not showing up on the official Fall 2010 course schedule. But are they going to be offered in the fall? YES!

While 341 and 438 will be offered in the fall, it will most likely be around summer before those courses get all the appropriate stamps and get put onto the schedule. That means you won't be able to register for those courses until then--you can't register for a course not showing up on the schedule.

The poster you'll see around the department to advertise the "missing" courses.

If you are interested in taking 341 and/or 438, please reserve a spot in your fall schedule for the course and register as soon as it appears on the schedule. I will post again (here on this blog) when the courses are officially up, so you can check back here for updated information.

ENG 341: Introduction to Linguistics MWF 10:00-10:50
ENG 438: Forensic Linguistics TR 9:30-10:45

I realize this delay is a bit of a pain (okay, more than just a "bit" of a pain), but please don't disregard these courses because of the hiccup in getting them on the official registrar's schedule. We are really excited to be offering so many linguistics courses in the fall and appreciate all the student support we are getting. Please help spread the word about these "invisible" courses so that they will fill when they make their way to the schedule.

Forensic Linguistics and the Facebook Killer

For anyone asking what forensic linguistics is or what forensic linguists do, you should watch Dr. John Olsson's YouTube video. His video documents the types of comparisons and critical analysis necessary to work with forensic linguistic investigations of language use.

Watching the video will give you a sense of what types of information you can get from language, the types of conclusions you can draw about language use, and how critical analyses of language can help in investigations.

You may have noticed that Dr. Olsson's conclusion was that Chapman "could not be excluded from the authorship of the later texts sent from the teenager's phone." On the surface, that may sound like a vague conclusion, yet it was important to the case. Why do you think such a conclusion was important? Furthermore, why do you think it would not be possible for Dr. Olsson's conclusion to be that Chapman was definitely the author of the text message?

If this video sparks interest for you, you might want to think about taking ENG 438: Forensic Linguistics in the fall.