The influence and importance of language

Labels for what happened Jan. 6 at the U.S. Capitol were very different from those used to describe the Black Lives Matter movement or the 2020 election results. How much weight do individual words actually have? It depends on the context.

Michele W. Berger

Shooting for the moon

In her Language and the Brain course, linguistics professor Kathryn Schuler asked 30 undergrads to think big about big problems—and their solutions didn’t disappoint.

Michele W. Berger

Media Contact

In the News


When Republicans attack ‘cancel culture,’ what does it mean?

Nicole Holliday of the School of Arts & Sciences spoke about the origins and evolution of the phrase “cancel culture.” “It is used to refer to a cultural boycott,” she said. “We’ve had the term ‘boycott’ forever and ever. It just means, ‘I’m not going to put my attention or money or support behind this person or organization because they’ve done something that I don’t agree with.’ That is not new; that’s very old.”


Huffington Post

Here’s why it’s a big deal to capitalize the word ‘Black’

Nicole Holliday of the School of Arts & Sciences spoke about the importance of acknowledging the cultural ramifications of whiteness. “We call some classes ‘Black History’ but the ones that focus on ‘white history’ are just called ‘history,’” she said. “That kind of erasure is an issue, because it continues to situate whiteness as ‘normal’ and everything else as ‘other.’”


The New York Times

Massachusetts court won’t use term ‘grandfathering,’ citing its racist origins

Nicole Holliday of the School of Arts & Sciences spoke about the phasing out of words with direct links to slavery, such as “grandfathering.” “This is the legal system, and there are wrongs to be righted,” she said.


Philadelphia Inquirer

Is the word ‘picnic’ racist? How to deal with questions about language right now

Nicole Holliday of the School of Arts & Sciences spoke about avoiding offensive nomenclature. “The default should be whatever that person wants to be called,” she said.


Christian Science Monitor

Hearing isn’t always believing with ‘mondegreens’

Mark Liberman of the School of Arts and Sciences explained how expectations shape our comprehension of language.


The Economist

How to think about African-American English

Taylor Jones, a grad student in the School of Arts and Sciences, led a study that found court reporters were only able to accurately transcribe 60% of sentences spoken in the African-American English dialect, regardless of the transcriptionists’ race or experience level.