Get to Know Your Instructors: Rory Turnbull

In line with the Institute’s theme, which is “Linguistics in the Digital Era,” Rory Turnbull (University of Hawai’i at Mānoa) will offer a fresh take in the study of languages in a course called Modeling Linguistic Networks. Continue reading to learn more about Rory, his course, and what “bad jokes on Twitter”, “real talk”, and “do good™” mean.

1. Can you please tell us about your linguistic background?

I have an MA (hons) in Linguistics and English Language from Edinburgh Uni — yes, that’s an undergraduate degree, the ancient Scottish unis are a little strange like that. I got my (postgraduate, for real this time) MA and PhD in Linguistics from (the) Ohio State University. I had a two-year postdoc at the Laboratoire des Sciences Cognitives et Psycholinguistique in Paris, and I’m currently faculty at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. I like to say that my career has taken me to all the best honeymoon spots: Paris, Honolulu, Edinburgh, and — of course — Columbus Ohio.

2. When did you first join the LSA?

My first year of grad school, 2009.

3. Can you tell us about the course you are teaching at the Institute?

“Modeling Linguistic Networks” takes a look at linguistics through the eyes of network science. Network science is the study of complex systems, where we represent entities as nodes in a broader network, linked by particular kinds of relationship. For example, we can think of Facebook as a complex network, where each person is a node and there’s a link between two people if they are friends.

The course will cover applying this methodology to a wide variety of linguistic subfields, and consider how we can learn new insights from network analysis. For example, if we treat the lexicon as a network of interconnected words, what does the higher-level structure of that network teach us about the semantic relationships in the lexicon? If we analyze a community in terms of its social network structure, how does that inform our analysis of sociolinguistic variation in that community?

This is a relatively new approach to language science, and as far as I know no one has taught a course on this before, so it’s all fresh material, and it’s an ambitious undertaking. I’m really looking forward to teaching it!

4. What research are you currently working on?

One of my projects at the moment is taking a look at the structure of the phonological lexicon from a network science perspective.

5. What is your favorite hobby or pastime?

Walking, hiking, being in the outdoors. Posting bad jokes on Twitter. And puzzles!

6. In a parallel universe in which you are not an academic/linguist, what would you be?

Probably either some kind of healthcare worker (using science to do good!™) or a computer repair person. Either way, trying to fix things that aren’t working as they should.

7. What are you most looking forward to about Davis?

The conversations with students and faculty, and just steeping in linguistics for several weeks. But really, everything. I’m very excited!

8. Ice cream or Cake? Cats or Dogs? Quarter system or Semester system?

porquenolosdos.gif? Real talk, they’re all delicious.

For reference:

9. What advice would you give to graduate students interested in pursuing a career in linguistics?

It might seem a little cliché, but learning to code (and in general being comfortable with doing things by computer, automating simple tasks) has probably had the largest effect on my personal productivity, and that’s a skill that persists should your path diverge from linguistics.

My other piece of advice is to be excellent to each other.

Here is Professor Turnbull’s webpage: and Twitter account: