Monthly Lectures 2013

Date Title Speaker (Affiliation)
Dec 14 Using Linguistic Theory in Civil Cases, Counter-intelligence, and Criminal Investigations Robert A. Leonard (Hofstra University)
Nov 9 Negotiating Understanding in "Intercultural Moments" in Immigrant Family Interactions Galina Bolden (Rutgers University)
Oct 12 Using Students' Mother Tongues to Support Academic Success in a Second Language: Lesson from South Africa and Bronx Community College Andrea Parmegiani (Bronx Community College)
May 11 Detecting Deception in Civil and Criminal Narratives* Eileen Fitzpatrick (Montclair State University)
Mar 9 Learning to Generate Understandable Animations of American Sign Language Matt Huenerfauth (City University of New York)

December 14, 2013

Using Linguistic Theory in Civil Cases, Counter-intelligence, and Criminal Investigations

Robert A. Leonard, Hofstra University

Time: 2:30pm - 3:30pm
Venue: Borough of Manhattan Community College, Room N452, 199 Chambers Street, New York, NY 10007, USA

Linguistics contributes directly in a wide variety of cases, both criminal and civil, such as authorship, false confessions, death penalty appeals, solicitation to murder, defamation, perjury, trademark disputes, and the language of contracts, as well as to intelligence and counter-intelligence investigations. This presentation will survey a variety of cases, sketch the legal and linguistic issues, and briefly demonstrate the linguistic analyses that were brought to bear. For example, Jarvis Masters, who became a Buddhist priest during his more than 20 years in solitary on death row is pursuing a death penalty appeal. Leonard's analysis and response to the prosecution, accepted by the deciding judge, focused on "community of practice" as the essential explanatory concept in this assignment of authorship, on which Masters had originally been sentenced to death. Labov, and Shuy's, analysis of power expressed through language explicates a different death penalty case concerning a drug dealer ordered by a police detective to murder a woman in their New Orleans ward. The 2010 Montana Justine Winters intentional homicide case is explicated partially through manifestations of, again, linguistic power. Demographic linguistic profiling, such as with the Unabomber, and death threat authors, has helped domestic counter-terror investigations.



November 9, 2013

Negotiating Understanding in "Intercultural Moments" in Immigrant Family Interactions

Galina Bolden, Rutgers University

Time: 11am - 12noon
Venue: Borough of Manhattan Community College, Room N452, 199 Chambers Street, New York, NY 10007, USA

This paper examines the interactional construction of "intercultural moments" in conversation - moments during which cultural and linguistic differences between participants become exposed. I use the methodology of Conversation Analysis to analyze field video recordings of ordinary face-to-face interactions in Russian-American immigrant families. The paper focuses on sequences in which participants deal with (actual or anticipated) understanding problems and examines how participants' assumptions about their asymmetric cultural and linguistic expertise are revealed in their actions. Interactional payoffs in adopting the role of a cultural expert vis-à-vis a novice are described to show how an ostensible non-understanding is both a participants' problem to be solved and a resource for social action.



October 12, 2013

Using Students' Mother Tongues to Support Academic Success in a Second Language: Lesson from South Africa and Bronx Community College

Andrea Parmegiani, Bronx Community College

Time: 11am - 12noon
Venue: Borough of Manhattan Community College, Room N452, 199 Chambers Street, New York, NY 10007, USA

Both the United States and South Africa are countries whose education systems are characterized by big achievement gaps. In the case of South Africa, it is evident that the dominance of English as a language of learning and teaching (Lolt) is a major reason for this gap. English is the home language of less than 9% of South Africa's population, and the majority of native English speakers do not identify as black South Africans. Nevertheless, virtually all black South African students have to switch to English as Lolt after fourth grade. While black South African who can afford to attend racially integrated schools have a fairly good chance to master English for academic success, this is not the case for the vast majority of native speakers of African languages who continue to live in a racially segregated world.

Since the end of apartheid, a vocal "language rights discourse" among academic and intellectuals has been trying to counter the hegemony of English by promoting a greater use of African languages in domains of power, especially education. Several universities, including the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN), have taken concrete steps by offering courses taught in indigenous languages. Ironically, the native speakers of these languages have generally been opposed to their use as media of instructions.

I will review some rhetorical pillars of the language rights discourse in South Africa, and argue that epistemological, political, and pedagogical limitations limit its power to promote African languages as Lolts. Based on an empirical study that I carried out at UKZN to investigate language attitudes among Zulu students, I will argue that English and students' mother tongues should have a complementary - rather than a mutually exclusive - role in promoting ESL students' success. Whenever possible, courses aimed at developing academic literacy in English should be integrated with courses that strengthen academic literacy foundations in the mother tongue.

I will conclude by reporting on a pilot project aimed at increasing ESL students' success at Bronx Community College by linking an ESL course to a Spanish Composition course within the framework of a learning community.



May 11, 2013

Detecting Deception in Civil and Criminal Narratives*

Eileen Fitzpatrick, Montclair State University

Time: 11am - 12noon
Venue: John Jay College of Criminal Justice, Room L2.82, 524 West 59th Street, New York, NY 10019, USA

The talk will consider the reliability of using linguistic cues to identify deceptive and non-deceptive regions in "real world" narratives — criminal statements, police interrogations and legal testimony. To test the accuracy of these cues in predicting deception, we tagged the narratives for 12 language-based deception cues as well as for the truth value of all propositions that could be externally verified as true or false. A measure of the density of cues was then calculated, with high cue density taken to identify a passage as deceptive. This method was 74.9% accurate in predicting True/False on the externally verified propositions, as compared to the baselines that range from 50-57%. This preliminary result suggests that linguistic cues can provide a reasonable guide to the sectioning of narratives into deceptive and non-deceptive statements.

*Joint work with the LinguisTech Consortium, Oxford NJ.



March 9, 2013

Learning to Generate Understandable Animations of American Sign Language

Matt Huenerfauth, City University of New York (CUNY)

Time: 11am - 12noon
Venue: John Jay College of Criminal Justice, Room L2.82, 524 West 59th Street, New York, NY 10019, USA

A majority of deaf high school graduates in the U.S. have a fourth-grade English reading level or below, and so computer-generated animations of American Sign Language (ASL) could make more information and services accessible to these individuals. Instead of presenting English text on websites or computer software, information could be conveyed in the form of animations of virtual human characters perform in ASL (produced by a computer through automatic translation software or by an ASL-knowledgable human scripting the animation). Unfortunately, getting the details of such animations accurate enough linguistically so that they are clear and understandable is difficult, and methods are needed for automating the creation of high-quality ASL animations.

This talk will discuss my lab's research, which is at the intersection of the fields of assistive technology for people with disabilities, computational linguistics, and the linguistics of ASL. Our methodology includes: experimental evaluation studies with native ASL signers, motion-capture data collection of an ASL corpus, linguistic analysis of this corpus, statistical modeling techniques, and animation synthesis technologies. In this way, we investigate new models that underlie the accurate and natural movements of virtual human characters performing ASL; our current work focuses on modeling how signers use 3D points in space and how this affects the hand-movements required for ASL verb signs.



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