Date: Tue, 6 Dec 1994 21:40:58 -0500
From: AAllan[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]AOL.COM
Subject: The ADS crystal ball
My dear ADS colleagues:
It is heartening to see the electrons of ADS-L at last beginning to tingle
with contemplation of where we should go for the Annual Meeting. Two months
ago, I found it odd that the ad hoc committee's recommendation, to boldly go
where no ADS annual meeting had ever gone, published prominently (p. 2 -
that's the hot-news place) in the ADS newsletter, met with - just about
perfect nonresponse. The s-mail writers remain almost 100% silent, but those
who are fortunate enough to be Internetworked are at last giving the proposal
a working over.
Qui tacet consentit, could be argued by those who approve the committee's
proposal. But now the silence is being broken, and it is much better to break
the eggs before cooking the omelet. Mirabile dictu, we are also having a
civilized conversation, though I know the various sentiments are strong.
I know because, having conducted last year's poll of all members, I know that
our strongest advocates, as well as our more moderate ones, are almost
exactly divided between those in favor of MLA and those in favor of LSA. The
number of those who wanted something else is much smaller. So the committee
went against the sentiments of the membership.
I came a day late to the committee meeting last summer and was myself amazed
to be told of their conclusion. I believed them when they said they hadn't
come to the meeting with the April alternative in mind. Rather, it began to
emerge the more they considered the serious disadvantages of deciding on
either one or the other of the midwinter meetings.
So it could be said that the April choice was for negative reasons - to avoid
dissing nearly half our membership, as we now do by meeting with MLA, and as
we would (with a different half) if we switched to LSA.
But as the committee considered the April alternative further, it began to
seem not a last resort but an opportunity. And as ADS-L is now beginning to
replicate conversations the committee had, let me take this opportunity to
explain the opportunity.
The opportunity is to make something significant of the ADS annual meeting.
As I try to think about it now, I think we have always had a sense that the
ADS annual meeting wasn't much; it was an adjunct to something else, whether
MLA, or MLA plus LSA (remember the years when both of them met in the same
city at the same time?), or DSNA (in the summer), or Methods, or even NWAV
(in 1978, in Washington). In every case the other meeting was larger, and the
sense was that people came for the other meeting and then took time for ADS.
Even now, for example, we have a day and a half of ADS sessions, while MLA
(and even the Name Society) goes on for three or four days.
And it's not as if we've selected just a few papers from a heap of proposals.
We get only a handful of abstracts every year, and accept almost all that
look reasonable. This, by the way, can give outsiders the impression that we
favor an in-group that gives papers year after year. In fact, the program
chairs have made efforts to encourage newcomers (as in this year's special
session on Spanish and English), and still there is plenty of room even in a
short program for repeaters.
As I read the arguments for going with LSA or continuing with MLA, they seem
in essence to say: I need to go to LSA/MLA, and am able to take some time
for ADS if it's there; perhaps if it's there, it will attract other
like-minded LSA/MLA attendees. That's a fine principle, but it doesn't seem
to work, mainly because LSA/MLA has so much else going on, including sessions
in our areas of interest. It could be argued that this is true for MLA but
wouldn't be for LSA; but consider that ADS did meet in the same city and
place with LSA as recently as 1986 (NYC), 1987 (S.F.), 1988 (New Orleans),
and 1989 (Washington DC); the latter three years in independent hotels, so we
weren't favoring MLA; and our attendance was pretty much the same as it is
now, in fact very much the same. The only thing that has notably increased
attendance is "New Words of the Year," which now gets about 70, compared with
30 - 50 for other sessions.
And I think we've been busy enough with the MLA/LSA meetings at the time of
ADS that we've let the ADS meeting coast along.
Frankly, I question whether ADS needs an annual meeting at all. And I think
that's the thought in most of our minds, that ADS by itself isn't worth a
meeting. It's just a nice adjunct.
But suppose we look on the April meeting as an opportunity: not to aggrandize
ADS for aggrandizement sake, but to contribute significantly to the study of
the English language in North America & other languages as they relate to it.
What comes to mind as a model for this is the conference on Language
Variation in the South, that brought together linguistic geographers and
variationists and lexicographers and - well, people who regularly go to MLA,
to LSA, to DSNA, to NWAV - they all got together, met each other, exchanged
insights. That's the potential for an independent ADS meeting.
It would *require* active planning, and probably a different theme, each
year. Perhaps each year, in addition to the supervising vice
president/program chair, there should be a special-topic organizer, chosen at
least a couple of years in advance - who would organize the ADS meeting
almost as a special conference. The Council could call for topic proposals,
appoint organizers, announce topics in the Newsletter and in kindred forums;
and make a significant contribution to a particular topic.
What could such topics be? Well, we might consider other places, e.g.
Heartland English or New York City speech; we might revisit the Linguistic
Atlas of New England; we might ponder slang with Jonathan Lighter; wonder
about innovation in AAVE; review the neologisms of the 20th century. Pick
keynote speakers and organize panels early; seek grants; perhaps publish
That would give ADS something distinctive to do.
You who have read thus far, thanks for your patience. I will not weigh down
your e-mail boxes so heavily again. But this is a crucial decision, and a
crucial opportunity. - Allan Metcalf AAllan[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]aol.com