35 years of the CHSP

Announcements now out with the program for the 35th Annual Conference on Human Sentence Processing — that is, the 35th meeting of the Annual Conference on Human Sentence Processing — at UCSC, the University of California at Santa Cruz, on 24-26 March.

The CHSP 2022 logo, with its mascot Chuspie; Chuspie appears to be a sea otter (clutching a statistical distribution), unrelated to the UCSC mascot Sammy the banana slug

Two nomenclatural matters: the designation of the conference’s subject as human sentence processing; and the change in this year’s title, the 34 preceding meetings having been the Annual CUNY Conference on Human Sentence Processing. The purely historical reference to CUNY (specifically, to the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, where the conference was founded in 1988, by Janet Dean Fodor) now having been elided.

Human Sentence Processing. CHSP is a conference in the field of psycholinguistics / the psychology of language, understood roughly as in this Wikipedia article:

Psycholinguistics or psychology of language is the study of the interrelation between linguistic factors and psychological aspects. The discipline is mainly concerned with the mechanisms by which language is processed and represented in the mind and brain; that is, the psychological and neurobiological factors that enable humans to acquire, use, comprehend, and produce language.

The term psychology of language merely picks out language as the object of study, in the way psychology of crowd behavior or psychology of fetishism characterizes such an area of study. There are vast numbers of such areas. Using the technical designation psycholinguistics — one that was once novel and notable — conveys, however, that there are theories and methods specific to this object of study, so that we are dealing with a kind of (social or psychological) science.

In the field of psycholinguistics, there are sub-areas, dealing, for example, with the production of language vs. the comprehension of language; and dealing with processing at the level of sounds vs. lexical items vs. sentences. CHSP is specifically about sentence processing.

All that’s just fine, you say, but why human sentence processing? As opposed to, what, canine sentence processing, or simian language processing?

That would no doubt have been the response of William James (author of the 1890 Principles of Psychology) and other psychologists through, oh, the 1960s. But then came the robots.  Well, systems designed (by combining concepts and techniques from linguistics, computer science, and the growing field of artificial intelligence) to process language by machine. In a field that came to be known as Natural Language Processing (NLP). In NLP, it’s technology that does the processing of sentences.

So, it was time for Dr. Retronym to make a house call. From NOAD:

noun retronym: a new term created from an existing word in order to distinguish it from the meaning that has emerged through progress or technological development (e.g., cloth diaper is a retronym necessitated by the fact that diaper now more commonly refers to a disposable diaper).

Yes, once you think of sentence processing as done by machines, you need a term that makes it clear that you’re talking about processing done the old-fashioned way, by human beings: human sentence processing. Just think of it as like an acoustic guitar or an analog watch.

CUNY vanishes. The first three years of CHSP, with the ordinal number, the location, and the year. (CUNY as the location is boldfaced; names of private (vs. public) universities are italicized.) Sponsored by the Graduate Center of CUNY and held there.

1 CUNY 1988 — 2 CUNY 1989 — 3 CUNY 1990
Then CHSP started going on the road, to other places with close professional ties to CUNY:

4 Rochester 1991 — 5 CUNY 1992 — 6 U MA Amherst 1993 — 7 CUNY 1994 — 8 U AZ Tucson 1995 — 9 CUNY 1996

By this point, CUNY in the full conference name was becoming simply an element of the name, with an interesting history, but no longer functioning compositionally in the name. Somewhere in the early 21st century it became a purely historical reference. (These things tend to happen gradually, with no clear break point.)

10 USC 1997 — 11 Rutgers 1998 — 12 CUNY 1999 — 13 U CA San Diego 2000 — 14 U PA 2001 — 15 CUNY 2002 — 16 MIT 2003 — 17 U MD College Park 2004 — 18 U AZ Tucson 2005 — 19 CUNY 2006 — 20 U CA San Diego 2007 — 21 U NC Chapel Hill 2008 — 22 U CA Davis 2009 — 23 NYU 2010 — 24 Stanford 2011 — 25 CUNY 2012 — 26 U SC Columbia 2013 — 27 Ohio State 2014 —  28 USC 2015 — 29 U FL Gainesville 2016 — 30 MIT 2017 — 31 U CA Davis 2018 — 32 U CO Boulder 2019 — 33 U MA Amherst 2020 — 34 U PA 2021
And for this year’s meeting, the CUNY has (finally) vanished:
35 U CA Santa Cruz 2022
Note 1. It’s impressive to see how important public universities have been in linguistics (and in American science, technology, and scholarship in general).
Note 2. Janet Dean Fodor continues to flourish, enviably. Even as she approaches my octogenarian status.

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