The College of LSA recently hosted a Collegiate Professorship Inaugural Lecture event, which was also broadcast online, showcasing the works of Professor Anne Curzan, Professor Robin Queen, and Dr. Heather Ann Thompson, with topics ranging from language attitudes underlying prescriptive grammar, the use of taboo words in television,  and historical underpinnings of societal challenges that negatively affect African-Americans.

Robin Queen, the Sarah G. Thomason Collegiate Professor of Linguistics, delivered a lecture on "The Performative Power of Taboo Words in Fictional Television and Film." Professor Queen's examination of taboo vocabulary unveiled an intriguing dynamic at play in modern media. Highlighting the increasing use of such words in television since the turn of the century, despite ongoing formal regulations, her talk scrutinized how cultural and linguistic shifts have enabled taboo language to become not just more acceptable, but also a powerful storytelling tool. Queen delved into the underlying factors influencing this evolution, such as the ideological shift in regulation towards protecting youth, rather than preventing offense per se, reflecting broader societal changes in attitude towards language and expression.

Sally (Sarah) Thomason attending the Robin Queen Collegiate Professorship Lecture

Professor Anne Curzan, the Geneva Smitherman Collegiate Professor of English Language and Literature, Linguistics, and Education, presented "On Listening and Language Peeves." Professor Curzan challenged the audience to contemplate the arbitrary nature of 'correct' language, traditionally upheld as a standard for educational and professional gatekeeping. In a call to introspection, she urged people to interrogate the origins of such linguistic rules and the resistance to their evolution. By acknowledging linguistic diversity and change as part of the natural evolution and diversity of language, Curzan made a compelling case for more inclusive language attitudes.

This scholarly triad was completed with a lecture by Dr. Heather Ann Thompson, the Frank W. Thompson Collegiate Professor of History and African American Studies, who explored a decade at odds with its common perception. In "On The Ugly 80s: Rethinking Contemporary Police Violence, White Vigilantism, and their Contested Reckonings," she peeled back the glitzy veneer of the 80s to reveal a deep-seated urban crisis, probing two pivotal events: Bernie Goetz's subway shooting and the MOVE bombing in Philadelphia. Dr. Thompson's eye-opening analysis aimed at providing new perspectives on today’s continuing challenges with policing and racial injustice.