From January 4 through 7, 2018, the Linguistic Society of America will meet concurrently with the American Dialiect Society (ADS), American Name Society (ANS), North American Association for the History of the Language Sciences (NAAHoLS), Society for Computation in Linguistics (SCiL), Society for Pidgin and Creole Linguistics (SPCL), and the Society for the Study of the Indigenous Languages of the Americas (SSILA) in Salt Lake City.
While on the surface this will be a collegial gathering of linguists, glottologists, grammarians, lexicographers, linguisticians, philologists, polyglots and legophiles, there is a dark underbelly of suspicion, intimidation & hostility between the groups.
Tensions have run so high at recent conferences, that the LSA found it necessary to update its policies on conduct by participants at meetings and conferences. The recently approved Civility Policy outlines expectations for conference attendees, and reminds them that all forms of incivility and harassment are serious forms of professional misconduct.
“Work centered on the study of morphology, syntax, phonetics, and semantics all seems dull enough,” said Zita Kidgerbury, the Chief Directives Architect and Future Accountability Officer of the LSA, “but when debates turn personal, tempers can flare.”
PIctured at the right: Zita Kidgerbury, Chief Directives Architect and Future Accountability Officer of the LSA
Kidgerbury relayed an incident from a few years ago when members of the American Collective Noun Society (ACNS) proposed “anthology” as a new collective noun for a group of librarians. However, LSA members from the west side wanted to stick with the more traditional "catalog."
“Things got ugly fast,” said Kidgerbury.
Last year in Austin, TX, “all hell broke loose,” she said.
At that time, rival factions from the various professional organizations debated the syntactic ambiguity in the Kinks’ seminal hit “Lola.” A line in the song states, “she walk like a woman and talk like a man,” followed later by, “I’m glad I’m a man, and so is Lola.”
Some at the conference argued that that line meant “Lola and I are both glad I’m a man.” Others insisted that the line meant, “I’m glad Lola and I are both men” and “I’m glad I’m a man, and Lola is also a man.” Later a fourth faction challenged the feuding groups and maintained that the song meant, “I’m glad I’m a man, and Lola is also glad to be a man,” and the entire conference broke into a melee that caused thousands of dollars of damage to the Grand Ballroom at the JW Marriott Hotel.
“The whole issue stemmed from a misunderstanding,” said Contronym Committee Chair Noah Lott, “and our efforts to stem the confusion failed.”
Unrest within the conference quickly turned into demonstrations and disturbances in the streets, and to this date, the LSA annual conference is not welcome in Mobile.
Pictured below left and right: The Great LSA Riots of 1963 in Mobile, Alabama
Conference planners are on edge this year. They are worried about an ongoing debate over the past tense and the past perfect tense associated with the policy update.
“We had a need,” said Kidgerbury, “but some still insist that we had had a need, so who knows what sort of clashes and confrontations we’ll have – or will have had.”