Monday, July 2, 2012

Special issue of JoLLI

Well, this post is about one year late, but perhaps it is better than never.  In July 2011, the Journal of Logic, Language and Information published a special issue devoted to papers from the Mathematics of Language conference that was held at UCLA in 2007. The meeting commemorated the 50th anniversary of Chomsky's Syntactic Structures, and so some of the papers use that as a point of departure.  This bunch of papers is really worth looking into.  Highlights include Geoff Pullum's paper about Chomsky's famous little book; this paper clarifies what Chomsky did, and (mostly) did not, accomplish in his book. It is pretty amazing to see how so much that has been attributed to SS over the years actually was not shown in it at all. Another excellent paper is by Andras Kornai on probabilistic grammars.  This paper clears up a number of poorly understood issues surrounding the history and proper definitions of probabilistic grammars, and is required reading for any further research on the subject.

One thing to complain about is the 4 year time span between the conference and the special issue. This works against the timeliness of the papers to some extent, although progress in mathematical linguistics is generally so slow-paced that it almost doesn't matter in the end. I think, pace Gerald Penn's introductory remarks, that it would serve the MOL interest group to just publish their proceedings in a simple way online (as was done for the 2003 meeting), instead of putting so much emphasis on selecting papers for later publication in a journal. Seeing the issue so long after the meeting reminded me of the debacle that swallowed the papers from the 2001 meeting; the official proceedings from that meeting was not released until 2004, and a planned special issue of Research on Language and Computation never materialized, burying some authors' submissions in the collapse. But that's all old news now. I wish the MOL group all the best in their continuing efforts to convene the small community of mathematical linguists, and I wish I could find the time to participate more. On the other hand, the new focus on "green" issues militates against academic conferences in general; all that flying around the world is giving us an outsized carbon footprint that may not be necessary in the current age.