Saturday, January 9, 2010

Infiltrating The Secret Cabal

Having managed to infiltrate the secrete cabal held in City X (i.e., Baltimore) I discovered a couple of things (pssst, my infiltration might continue into the weekend..I'm not authorized to comment any further).

First, the secret city, famous for its triumphant inner harbor renovation, has a FAR MORE INTERESTING Little Italy neighborhood just a mile further down Pratt street. My advice, for what it's worth, screw the Inner Harbor's plastic corporate food and walk a mile down the road to a great little restaurant scene.

Second, Ensconced within the glassy, plush confines of the Hilton, I couldn't help but hear Jean Baudrillard  Ryan Bingham whispering in my ear, "welcome to the desert of the real." With its vestigial ports rusting before our eyes, this shipping and steel city desperately clings to its hopes and dreams of reclaiming glory's past by flashing the lights of its corporate sponsors ESPN Zone and Cheesecake Factory. Yet, its true charm (and yes, there truly is charm in Baltimore) lies in its people and small businesses.

Third, I shared a few flagons of aqua vitae with the chair of a prominent department of brain and  cognitive sciences and we seemed to agree on some critical points (can't rule out the effects of the aqua vitae, of course).  I sum up thusly (with the caveat that these are my explications alone on what was expressed under the influence of said aqua vitae and may not reflect any opinion other then mine, in the here and now, blogging under the influence of said aqua vitae):
  • The Bayesians are coming: the next linguistic wars will not be between different theoretical factions, but between the traditional theoreticians and the statistical computationalists (not necessarily a bad thing, btw).
  • The bar was good: the demise of comprehensive exams is a bad thing. They forced students to live up to a basic standard of competence that the wishy-washy replacement requirements fail to enforce.
  • Good help is hard to find: the scarcity of people who know both the computational/statistical side AND the linguistic side is frustrating.
  • Brother, can you spare a dime: what happened to the jobs???? Ain't no jobs no more, don't matter what you wrote your diss on.


Bob Carpenter said...

I'm very excited to hear that linguists are beginning to take statistics seriously (again). I'd heard the same thing from Chris Manning a year or so ago, but then other linguists I queried were more skeptical about the role of statistics.

If linguists also become more empirical about what counts as data (i.e. not just linguists' intuitions), it'll be a whole new field.

Bob Carpenter said...

I guess it didn't like the link to Chris's talk, which I'll repeat without the anchor, because it's worth viewing:

Chris said...

Excellent link, thanks! I linked to Manning's online NLP course earlier (I don't know him, so I'll stick with the more formal last name reference).

There is a natural hurdle left to encouraging linguistics students to study stats: they don't like it, that's why they're linguists. I recall a professor promoting linguistics to a large general ed undergrad course by saying it was one of the few analytical/empirical fields that did not require math. That resonated with a lot of 19 year olds.

A little hand holding at the undergrad level would go a long way. A simple "stats for linguists" handbook would be perfect. I know there are some new R books focused on language data, but I don't know if they do enough hand holding.

Chris said...

FYI, Harvard economist Greg Mankiw has written a very nice post on why economics students need math HERE. Most of the arguments translate to linguistics well. Maybe it's time a field of lingometrics was formed. A good name goes a long way towards making something acceptable.

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