Professor Brian Joseph gave the presidential address, titled "What is Time (and why should linguists care about it)?," (viewable here) at this year's Linguistics Society of America (LSA) Annual Meeting, which took place January 4, 2020 in New Orleans.
Joseph began the address by defining time according to the view of artists such as painters, musicians and writers, and of physicists such as Einstein. He argued that these views always include a tension between continuity and change. He then turned to matters more in line with language, discussing various perspectives that inform a linguist’s view of time, especially diachronic linguists. Diachronicians, he argued, are able to take a long view of time (via the Comparative Method), whereas speakers experience a short view, an “extended present”. He suggested that diachronic linguists, who generally focus on the long view, should pay more attention to the short view, since the short view dominates ordinary speakers' interaction with time and it is ordinary speakers who determine language change and language stability.
“This view of the relation between speakers and time on the one hand, and linguists and time on the other has several consequences for us as linguists and especially as historical linguists, with regard to how we interpret data and the methodology we employ,” Joseph said.
To illustrate, Joseph gave an account of the past-tense marker in Indo-European known as the “augment”. He presented both a long view and a short view of its development throughout all of attested Greek, as an extended case study of continuity and change in language across time.
Finally, Joseph shared his observations on the diachrony of the field, the cumulative efforts of previous research, and his personal diachrony. “Doing historical linguistics, especially Indo-European linguistics, it is almost impossible not to get the sense of standing on the shoulders of giants. For me it is not just the amazing scholars of the 19th and 20th centuries whose works I read and have drawn on but also all the ones who most intimately affected me directly,” he said.
Joseph is succeeded as LSA President by Dr. Marianne Mithun of UC Santa Barbara.