Dead Tongues

News from the 2015 Linguistic Institute (at the University of Chicago), from Stephanie Shih: a performance yesterday by Dead Tongues, the (un)official band of Stanford Linguistics. Plus a stunning Lingstitute2015 logo for the band by Stephanie:


Cue the Rolling Stones.

This is a fancier version of the logo on the band’s current website:


Now, a note on the band’s name, and then some history.

The name Dead Tongues. First, the band’s name is plural in form, but the name denotes an entity. As a result, the nominal sometimes takes plural agreement (Dead Tongues are playing tonight), sometimes singular (Dead Tongues is playing tonight), and the band’s own material goes back and forth on this point.

Second, the nominal is anarthrous, lacking an article. (For an inventory of postings, mostly on Language Log, about arthrousness, see here. A fair amount of this material is about proper names, as in this case.) As it turns out, there’s a band called The Dead Tongues, a North Carolina band backing singer-songwriter Ryan Gustafson.

The history of Dead Tongues. From the band’s previous website, the beginning of “A Short History of Dead Tongues” (5/29/11), which is reproduced on the current site:

In 1980 or 1981 (no one remembers which), Geoffrey Nunberg and Ivan Sag (who were coteaching an undergraduate introduction to linguistics at the time) were encouraged by then UG major Sheila Leary to enter the Faculty talent show that she was organizing: Professors in Performance. Together with drummer Jim Sallis (a psychologist) and bassist Jim Willson (an electrical engineer), they formed the first version of the band that came to be known (after a department-wide contest to name it) as `Dead Tongues’. Ivan … played keyboards (and [did] some singing) in every incarnation of the band … [until his death in 2013]

(My death notice for Ivan in Language Log, with links to more personal recollections of him, is here.)

The band has had a number of incarnations over the years, with gaps between them and many changes of personnel; these are described on the current website.

The current incarnation is a new one, a natural outgrowth of the large number of Dead Tongues alumni at the Institute (including Dan Jurafsky, the Fillmore Professor at the Institute).

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