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Writer-in-Residence: Michael Erard

As of September, the MPI will - for the first time – host a writer-in-residence: American writer, journalist, and linguist Michael Erard. A mutual fascination with language and research in the language sciences predicts a promising exchange between the writer and the Institute for the coming year.
Writer-in-Residence: Michael Erard

“MPI is an amazing environment for someone who does what I do,” Michael Erard said. “I am really looking forward to learning from and being inspired by the top researchers in the language sciences. I hope to have a very productive year.”

For his time at the MPI, Erard will work on journalistic pieces and a book-length project. He will also share his professional insights by offering workshops on a variety of writing topics. Erard holds an MA in linguistics and a PhD in English (with concentrations in linguistics and rhetoric) from the University of Texas at Austin, and for nearly two decades has written mainly about language, languages, and the people who use and study them.

"We are delighted to have the opportunity to host Michael Erard for the coming year as our first writer in residence,” Simon Fisher, Director of the MPI's Language & Genetics department, said. “It is now more important than ever that we as scientists engage with the broader public and communicate our findings with the outside world. This is an especially exciting time for language sciences, with novel research avenues opening up across multiple disciplines, and given Michael's background, he is just the person for helping to illuminate these promising new directions for the outside world."

In 2016, Erard was awarded the Linguistics, Language, and the Public Award by the Linguistic Society of America for his work promoting linguistics in the broader public sphere. He founded Schwa Fire, a publication devoted to long-form journalism about language, which produced 6 issues in 2014-2015.

In 2013, Erard won the Maine Literary Award for Non-fiction for his book Babel No More (2012). The book explores the history and science of language superlearners, also known as “polyglots” or “hyperpolyglots”, who learn and use large numbers of languages. Erard’s quest to understand polyglots sheds light on their quirks and attitudes and what their capabilities mean for science and society.

Babel No More, which has been translated into French, Arabic, Russian, Korean, is the only book to have explored the question, “What is the upper limit of the ability to learn and use languages?” It has also sparked interest in polyglots in the general public and in scientific disciplines. Amongst many other very positive reviews, Babel No More was called “gripping”, and “an entertaining, informative survey of some of the most fascinating polyglots of our time" by the New York Times.

In 2007, he published Um…: Slips, Stumbles, and Verbal Blunders, and What They Mean, about the science of speech disfluencies and speech errors, offering a natural history of why we speak the way we do. His journalism has appeared in The New York Times, Science, The Atlantic, Wired, New Scientist, Aeon, and many other outlets.

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