McCarthy to discuss Boston accent in Distinguished Lecture

By Patrick J. Callahan

Linguistics professor John J. McCarthy will give the second of four Distinguished Faculty Lectures on Monday, Nov. 29 at 4 p.m. in the Massachusetts Room of the Mullins Center. The talk is titled, “Pahk Your Cah in Hahvahd Yahd: A Biography of the Boston Dialect,” and is free and open to the public. A reception follows.
McCarthy will discuss the distinctive properties of this eastern Massachusetts dialect, one that he speaks and is common on the Amherst campus. McCarthy will describe what is known about its history, geography, and demography, and test conclusions with data collected by students in Linguistics 101. He’ll also use the famous “r” sound to show how speakers have a sophisticated, unconscious knowledge of linguistic structures and rules, and what this and other properties of the Boston accent reveal about how language is represented in the human mind.
McCarthy works in phonological theory, how sounds combine to create language, and allied fields. His current research deals with a range of issues arising in and around optimality theory, a general theory of constraint interaction. McCarthy says his research is often informed by evidence drawn from the Semitic languages. McCarthy earned his bachelor’s degree in linguistics and Near East languages from Harvard College in 1975 and a doctorate in linguistics and philosophy from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1979. He was an assistant professor at the University of Texas in Austin from 1979-84 and an associate professor from 1984-85. He was also a consultant to AT&T Bell Laboratories in New Jersey from 1984-86, and an instructor at the Linguistic Society of America Summer Institutes: Stanford University, 1987; University of California Santa Cruz, 1991; and Cornell University, 1997. McCarthy has taught at here since 1985 and headed the Linguistics Department from 1993-96.
The other lectures are Feb. 28, featuring Julie A. Caswell, Resource Economics, and April 4 with Thomas P. Russell, Polymer Science and Engineering.
A reception follows each talk. Faculty members in the series receive a Chancellor’s Medal following their lectures. The Chancellor’s Medal is the highest honor bestowed on individuals for exemplary and extraordinary service to the campus.