A&S Linguistics Department Explores Answers to What is Human Language

By Gail Hairston
Two touchstones in every child’s life are celebrated by parents and loved ones around the world with equal awe, expectation and enthusiasm – a baby’s first steps and a baby’s first words. Walking signifies a child’s growing strength and independence. But talking signifies a budding ability to share emotion and intellect, to understand others and to be understood in turn.
Communication in all its myriad manifestations — from singing a child’s lullaby to reading a literary masterpiece to sharing a joke — expands a person’s concept of self and is essential to the well-being of the individual and ultimately the survival of the species.  
A group of linguistics scholars at the University of Kentucky excel in the study and teaching of this survival skill — as evidenced by global accolades, innovative research, practical applications, and other contributions to the study of the spoken and written word. Their combined commitment and innovation made it easy for the University of Kentucky Board of Trustees to recently elevate the College of Arts and Sciences’ Linguistics Program to full department status.
Linguistics professor Andrew Hippisley has been named the first chair of the university’s newest department.
Educated in England with a master’s degree in Russian language and literature from the University of London and a doctoral degree in linguistics from the University of Surrey, Hippisley moved from the U.K. to UK in 2007 and became a full professor in the university’s Department of English five years later. With linguistic research interests in morphology, including its interface with syntax and phonology, Hippisley has co-authored three books, his most recent being "The Cambridge Handbook of Morphology" (Cambridge University Press, 2016). He has served as chair of the UK Senate Council for the past two years
In April 2016, Hippisley was one of 33 collegiate leaders selected to attend the American Council on Education's (ACE) ACE Fellows Program, the longest running leadership development program in the United States.
“We’re very proud of Andrew Hippisley’s achievement,” said UK Provost Tim Tracy, who nominated Hippisley for the ACE program. “This fellowship will help him further hone his skills as a leader, collaborator, and one who empowers his colleagues to make progress on behalf of our most important mission: student success.”
“I am tremendously excited and honored,” said Hippisley, “to be participating in such a program that will help me learn about the multi-layered roles and functions of a diverse range of higher education institutions, and apply these outside experiences to a student success based project here at UK. I am extremely grateful to UK's leadership for their commitment to support and mentor me throughout the program.”
From creating a fanciful pre-proto-Indo-European language for a video game … to researching what speech says about our personal identities … to publishing a book with new insights into a dozen linguistics conflicts in content and form … to securing prestigious fellowships and scholarships, members of the new UK Linguistics Department have excelled in recent years under Hippisley’s leadership as program director, constantly expanding what most of us consider to be the study of linguistics.
Beyond an impressive undergraduate degree program, a growing program in linguistic theory, and typology at the graduate level, there are other innovations like the UK "2017 Linguistics Institute: Language Across Space and Time." The event, slated July 5 through Aug. 1, will include expert speakers, teachers and researchers from across America and around the world with a record-breaking 64 course proposals submitted.
Of a previous UK Linguistics Institute, Maria Polinsky, associate professor of linguistics at Harvard University, wrote in a review, “I was impressed how varied the interests among language and linguistic faculty are, from theoretical linguistics to work on language documentation to linguistic experimentation to applied topics.”
Students of linguistics are interested in the general question "what is human language?" In order to answer this question, they look at language from a variety of viewpoints:
· how languages differ from one another
· the ways in which they are alike
· how languages are learned
· how they change over time
· what historical relationships exist between and among different languages
The field of linguistics also maintains important links with research in speech technology, education, communication disorders, language pedagogy and communication.
Linguistics fits comfortably into our modern, ever-shrinking world. It can take a young person virtually anywhere, performing an ever-widening circle of tasks. Where can studying linguistics take you? Just about anywhere a student may want to go, from artificial intelligence to translation, from researching ancient languages to speech pathology, from teaching languages to advocating minority languages. Studying linguistics can help one think logically, develop an awareness of socio-cultural differences, communicate effectively to a global audience, work collaboratively in just about any environment, and help us interpret complex socio-cultural information.
For more information about careers in linguistics, visit www.aaal.org/. For an expanded list of reprinted news and feature stories about the program, visit https://linguistics.as.uky.edu/features. To review the linguistics faculty and their areas of expertise, visit https://linguistics.as.uky.edu/users. For a review of the department’s projects, research, resources and publications, visit https://linguistics.as.uky.edu/linguistics-faculty-research.
UK is the University for Kentucky. At UK, we are educating more students, treating more patients with complex illnesses and conducting more research and service than at any time in our 150-year history. To read more about the UK story and how you can support continued investment in your university and the Commonwealth, go to: uky.edu/uk4ky. #uk4ky #seeblue
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