The ceramic grocery store

NOTE: The beginning of this posting is perfectly fine, but it turns out to be about not Stanford’s Steph Shih, but instead about a New York-based ceramic artist Stephanie H. Shih. From her website:

STEPHANIE H. SHIH explores concepts of home —— not just as a physical place, but also as cultural, generational, and emotional spaces we inhabit —— through the lens of Asian-American identity. Her work has been shown at the American Museum of Ceramic Art (Pomona, CA), Wieden+Kennedy (Portland, OR), and Hashimoto Contemporary (San Francisco, CA) and featured by NPR, Los Angeles Times, Vogue, The New York Times, and The New Yorker. She lives in Brooklyn.

(Rueful thanks to Patrick Callier for exposing my error to me.)

I will now attempt to reorganize the previous material to preserve the discussion of the ceramic art, which I find moving; and to preserve a celebration of Stanford graduate Steph Shih, for her multifarious academic and artistic talents

Yesterday in the Stanford Daily (the student newspaper),”Stephanie Shih’s food ceramics and Asian American nostalgia” by Emily Zhang, beginning:

Last week, Stephanie Shih’s account popped up on my Instagram. I scrolled through and immediately felt transported back to the suburban Maryland of my childhood, wandering the endless aisles of Asian grocery stores with my parents. Shih makes hyperrealistic sculptures of Asian foods: the Kikkoman Soy Sauce, the Chin Chin Grass Jelly, the Lao Gan Ma, the Chinkiang Vinegar bottle complete with the price sticker.


(#1) A 1-gallon Kikkoman Soy Sauce tin (left) next to Shih’s sculpture of the same product (right). (photo: Amazon.com; art: Stephanie Shih)

I’ve felt simultaneous unease and obsession over realistic sculptures of food — just because I can’t eat them. Maybe this duality reflects my Instagram feed, full of food blogger accounts with stretchy cheese and novelty-flavored ice cream. Food has increasingly become something that we see but don’t eat. Our wants stay unfulfilled. But Shih moves away from this by focusing on food’s connection with memory. “Diasporic nostalgia + the asian-american pantry,” her Instagram bio reads.

One more from the piece in the Daily:


(#2) One of the over 600 porcelain dumplings that have been hand-crafted by Shih. (art: Stephanie Shih)

There’s more, much more; especially when assembled in a display, the works are surprisingly moving.

Stanford’s Stephanie Shih. The linguist. And much more.

Basic Steph Shih facts. (I use her first name because we’ve been friends since 2007.)

The academic resume: UC Berkeley B.A. in linguistics 2007; Stanford M.A. in linguistics 2009, Ph.D. 2014; first appointment at UC Merced; now principal investigator in the Language & Computation Lab (ShLAC) at USC; phonologist and cognitive scientist

The artistic resume: photographer, cartoonist, ballet dancer, musician, and food & music person generally; all of this work is explicitly situated socially, as observation of and commentary on the shared culture of social groups

She is highly collaborative, especially with women, among them Sharon Inkelas (UC Berkeley), Vera Gribanova (Stanford), Lauren Hall-Lew (Edinburgh), and Darya Kavitskaya (UC Berkeley)

She has an eye for research topics in everyday practices people take for granted, for instance this surprising study:

Pokémonikers: A study of sound symbolism and Pokémon names, by Stephanie S. Shih, Jordan Ackerman, Noah Hermalin, Sharon Inkelas, Darya Kavitskaya; Proceedings of the LSA vol. 3 (2018)

Abstract: Sound symbolism flouts the core assumption of the arbitrariness of the sign in human language. The cross-linguistic prevalence of sound symbolism raises key questions about the universality versus language-specificity of sound symbolic correspondences. One challenge to studying cross-linguistic sound symbolic patterns is the difficulty of holding constant real-world referents across cultures. In this study, we address the challenge of cross-linguistic comparison by utilising a rich, cross-linguistic dataset drawn from the Pokémon game franchise. Within this controlled universe, we compare the sound symbolisms of Japanese and English Pokémon names (pokemonikers). Our results show a tendency in both languages to encode the same attributes with sound symbolism, but also reveal key differences rooted in language-specific structural and lexical constraints.

Steph on this blog. A sampling of significant mentions of her here:

on 8/28/12 in “QSV” on quasi-serial verbs (e.g., Go tell Aunt Rhody), with:

some evidence that QSVs are indeed compound-like (see Stephanie Shih, “Prosodic evidence for the lexical status of quasi-serial verbs”, 2009, here)

on 5/30/15 in “A phonologist’s cartoon”: a cartoon for phonologists by Steph, with a pun on organic

on 2/13/17 in “Books from Stanford”, on Gribanova/Shih, The Morphosyntax-Phonology Interface, with this characterization of Steph from OUP:

Stephanie S. Shih [PhD, Stanford, and a former student of mine] is an Assistant Professor in Cognitive & Information Sciences at University of California, Merced. Her research centers on understanding how sound patterns interface with the larger linguistic and cognitive system, as informed by quantitative, corpus-based approaches to the study of natural language.

on 2/15/17 in “A snapshot of the field”, about:

a project portraying linguists, in photographs and texts, from an emotional, rather than academic, perspective. A project of Stephanie Shih at UC Merced …

Steph — from here on I’ll refer to her familiarly rather than formally —  is not only into linguistics (specifically computational linguistics and phonology) and cognitive science, but also food and music… and photography, all quite seriously.

… “A Snapshot of a Field” is a photographic portraiture project that seeks to create an audio-visual ethnography of the modern-day academic field of Linguistics by documenting the scholars that comprise the discipline. It is a common practice in academia to make appraisals of our fields from a scholarly point of view, asking what progress have we made on the main questions of linguistics and where does the field go from here. In this project, I aim to take stock of the field from an emotional point of view, archiving a slice of the discipline by making portraits of academic linguists, focusing on their individual personalities through portraiture. As a component of the portrait sessions, there will also be short interviews with the linguists on how they started in the field. The artistic goals of this project are to explore how the individuals and the sum of their personalities and relationships form an academic community.

on 11/29/17 in “The Pun of the Month® for November 2017”:

This month’s winner — meriting the November trophy, the  Silver Fook of St. Andrew’s Day — was committed by Stephanie Shih:

(with a photo of Steph in her tutoru, a Totoro tutu)

on 12/31/17 in “News for penguins, penises, and Totoro”,

on New Year’s Penultimateve (term from Stephanie Shih)

on 4/29/18 in “All the dessert world is not either cake or pie”, from Steph Shih on Facebook:

There is this dessert that Darya [Kavitskaya, who is natively Russian, which will eventually become important, but not in this posting] sometimes makes and she calls it a “pie” when really I insist it falls better into the category of a “cake”. So finally today, I drew this. [Magrittean cartoon of “This is not a pie”]

on 5/3/18 in “CAKE-PIE II”:

This is the first in a series of follow-ups to my 4/29 posting “All the dessert world is not either cake or pie”, about the categorization and name of a strawberry dish made by Stephanie Shih’s friend Darya Kavitskaya. Darya called it a pie, but Steph insisted it was better labeled as cake. On looking at a picture of the dish (#2 in that posting), I identified it as a strawberry clafoutis, a crustless dessert of strawberries baked in a thick custardy flan-like batter (#3 in that posting) — something distant from both canonical cake and canonical pie. Hence the title of that posting.

But now Darya has sent me the recipe, and I see that it’s not a clafoutis at all, but in fact a fruit pizza, with a sweet base crust and a strawberry topping.

on 8/03/18 in “Ruthie and the language of doughnuts”:

Side note: donut outings are a feature of LSA [Linguistic Society of America] conferences, as Heidi Harley can attest.

Heidi and Steph Shih, who were, I think, together the originators of the tradition. (I haven’t been to an LSA meeting since 2005, so I’m out of the loop on these customs.) Among other things, it provides an occasion for a group of linguists to escape the conference hotel  together for a brief interlude.]

More social connection. And, of course, food.

2 Responses to “The ceramic grocery store”

  1. Will Leben Says:

    Wow, with so many different talents listed in Stephanie’s background, can you believe that one was left out? Just in case she’s too modest to add this herself, she’s also a musician and has performed at Yoshi’s in Oakland.

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