Date: Tue, 6 Dec 1994 21:40:58 -0500


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]