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Lecture by David W. Lightfoot -- "The Birth and Death of Languages"

Dr. David W. Lightfoot
Assistant Director for Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences
National Science Foundation
April 12, 2006

"The Birth and Death of Languages"

David W. Lightfoot discusses how and why languages live and die. Even as languages are dying in unprecedented numbers, new languages are constantly emerging as existing ones diverge into different forms. To understand this process, we need to understand how languages change and how they emerge in children. Lightfoot explains how languages come into being, arguing that children are the driving force. He explores how new systems arise, how they are acquired by children, and how adults and children play complementary roles in language change.

Lightfoot received a B.A. (Honors) in classics from the University of London, King's College, in 1966 and a Ph.D. in Linguistics from the University of Michigan in 1971. His honors include a Fulbright Scholarship, a Ford Foundation Fellowship, and an American Council of Learned Societies Fellowship. In 2004, he was elected a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

He has published ten books and more than 100 articles, book chapters and reviews. He is general editor for the Generative Syntax series published by Blackwell and serves on the linguistics editorial board at Cambridge University Press.

Lightfoot has held regular professorial appointments at McGill University, and at the University of Maryland, where he was also the Associate Director of the Neuroscience and Cognitive Sciences Program there. In 2001, he moved to Georgetown University as Dean of the Graduate School. In addition, he has held short-term appointments at universities in Austria, Brazil, Canada, Germany, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom. In 2005, he became Assistant Director of the National Science Foundation, heading the Directorate for Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences.

Credit: National Science Foundation

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