Dear Friends of the Department,

The Department of Linguistics had a typically busy year with high faculty and graduate student productivity and truly engaged and engaging undergraduates. We continue to promote the department’s internal and external reputation as the place where the relationships between universality and variation in language are explored and probed in innovative, interdisciplinary, and field-defining ways. Our most recent initiative in this regard is the establishment of the Michigan Workshop, which will be a regular event hosted by the department and which will focus on specific topics related to the intersections of language universals and language variability. We are deep in the planning stages for the first Michigan Workshop, which will be held in Fall 2017.

Faculty achievements and honors this year were many but here I will highlight just a few to illustrate our dynamic and exciting community of scholars. Pam Beddor and Andries Coetzee received a grant from the National Science Foundation to explore the time course of speech perception and production in individual language users, a project that seeks to further explain human language processing. The grant included support for a postdoctoral research fellow, and Will Styler (PhD 2015, University of Colorado) joined their research team in April. Carmel O’Shannessy also received a grant from the National Science Foundation to continue the critical documentation of Walpiri and Light Walpiri, a mixed language Carmel was the first to document and which is used by Walpiri speakers in a community in Northern Australia. As the funding situation for the National Science Foundation becomes ever more precarious, it is a real vote of confidence in our departmental excellence that so many of our faculty have been successful at generating tangible external support for their innovative research.

Deborah Keller-Cohen became the Associate Dean for the Humanities at the Rackham Graduate School this year. Ezra Keshet has been recommended for promotion to Associate Professor of Linguistics with tenure and Jon Brennan has been reappointed to a second three-year term as Assistant Professor of Linguistics. Sam Epstein has recently been recommended to the Provost to receive a Collegiate Professorship, the highest honor bestowed by the College of Literature, Science, and Arts on a member of its faculty. And we just received the late breaking news that Sally Thomason will be named a Distinguished University Professor, one of the highest honors the University of Michigan confers on a member of its faculty. Andries Coetzee and I were both inducted as Fellows to the Linguistic Society of America, an honor held by no more than 5% of the total membership of the Society. Their induction makes our Department one of only a small number of Linguistics Departments with more than one fellow (Sally Thomason is also a Fellow)—a testament to the contribution of our Department to the field of linguistics.

Marlyse Baptista received a Michigan Humanities Fellowship to start new work on creole genesis in Haitian Creole and to develop a database of speech data from existing creole languages. She and Pam Beddor jointly received a Rackham Diversity Allies grant to support further efforts to enhance the diversity of our graduate applicant pool. Three faculty members had books appear in the last several months. Bill Baxter (with Laurent Sagart) published Old Chinese: A new reconstruction (Oxford University Press), an unprecedented and comprehensive account of Old Chinese that includes over 900 reconstructions. I published Vox Popular: The surprising life of language in the media (Wiley-Blackwell), an exploration of the role of language variation in narrative television and film. Finally, Sally Thomason’s book, Endangered Languages (Cambridge University Press), appeared just in time for the semester to end.

Sam Epstein began as the Director of the newly established Marshall M. Weinberg Institute for Cognitive Science. The Institute was founded through a generous donation from Marshall Weinberg and is designed to be the hub for research and activities around the cognitive sciences at the University of Michigan. One of its first achievements was the establishment of a Graduate Certificate in Cognitive Science, which will be available to graduate students throughout the University beginning in September 2015. The founding of the Institute comes on the heels of the start in 2014 of the new major in Cognitive Science, which is jointly staffed through the Departments of Linguistics, Philosophy, and Psychology. We are excited about the many possibilities for collaboration and scholarship across the University that the Institute will facilitate.

The accomplishments of our students are also many. Here is a small sampling from this academic year. Graduate student Will Nediger received a prestigious Rackham Pre-Doctoral Fellowship from the Rackham Graduate School. David Ogden and Marjorie Herbert received fellowships to attend the 2015 Linguistic Society Linguistic Summer Institute, being held in June and July in Chicago. Harim Kwon and Tridha Chatterjee have just defended their dissertations and we have several more defenses scheduled for the next few months. Undergraduate major Isabel McKay received a Virginia Voss Award for Excellence in Writing for her outstanding honors thesis on “Laughing with Letters,” which presented a sophisticated, computationally driven exploration of how laughter is represented on Twitter. Two of our undergraduate majors, Anne Spence and Anna Manila, invigorated a new club for undergraduates interested in Speech Pathology and Audiology. Our Director of Undergraduate Studies, Ezra Keshet, started a LinkedIn group to help keep alumni of the department connected to each other and to us (if you’d like to join the group, send a message to and we’ll send you an invitation).  And on May 1st we celebrated with many of the 64 undergraduate majors and minors in Linguistics who received their B.A. degrees in the spring commencement. We wish all of you many congratulations!

We also experienced some exciting changes to the department staff, most notably with the addition of Jennifer Nguyen as our new Student Services Coordinator. Jennifer graduated from our department with a PhD in 2006 and we are delighted to welcome her back to the department in this new and important role. One of her first jobs in her new role was to help us recruit a new cohort of PhD students. This year, we had a record number of applications and also a record number of acceptances of our offers of admission. Thanks to a positive review of our graduate program by the Rackham Graduate School, we were able to increase our funding commitment to incoming students and are delighted to be welcoming a strong incoming cohort of eight new students.

Two of our other recent PhD students, Kevin McGowan (Phd 2011) and Tim Chou (PhD 2013), accepted new tenure track positions this year. Tim began as Assistant Professor of Linguistics in the Language Center at Taipei Medical University last fall. Kevin begins as Assistant Professor of Linguistics at the University of Kentucky in September. In this difficult academic job climate, it is a true testament to the excellence of our students that they continue to receive outstanding tenure track offers. Anastasia Smirnova, who has been the Language Learning Visiting Assistant Professor this year, also accepted a new tenure track position. Beginning in January 2016, she will be Assistant Professor of Linguistics at San Francisco State University.

As my first year as chair comes to an end, I’d like to sincerely thank our faculty, staff, students, and alumni for your steadfast support. Special thanks to Andries Coetzee, who served as Associate Chair and Director of Graduate Studies, and to Ezra Keshet, who served as Director of Undergraduate Studies. Your insight and thoughtfulness were immeasurably helpful. It has been an honor to work with such an outstanding community and I look forward to whatever adventures and excitement the coming academic year will bring.


Robin Queen