“For the Love of Language”

January 29, 2023

Thursday, May 18, 2023, 5:30 p.m.



The local author, Michael Shapiro, who has lived in Manchester for the past thirty-two years, will present a chronological aperçu of the past fifty-seven years (1965-2022) in his life as a working scholar and university teacher with a lasting record of achievement touching on many details and covering several humanistic disciplines. This presentation will provide short descriptions of the publication of his books from 1968 to 2022. The outlines of a professorial career provide a rare insight into the sociology of knowledge and are fleshed out by a real-life love story that is haunted by peripeteia, illness, and the death of one’s beloved.


Michael Shapiro was born in Yokohama in 1939 and grew up speaking Russian, Japanese, and English. He spent the war years in Japan before immigrating to Los Angeles with his parents in 1952. Through his father, Constantine Shapiro (1896-1992), he is a direct descendant of the founder of the yeshiva system of Jewish education, Hayyim of Volozhin (the “Volozhiner rebbe” [1749-1821]), and the last in a line of scholars that includes three eminent Russian-Jewish philologists: the verse theorist and comparatist Viktor Zhirmunsky (1891-1971), the belletrist and literary critic Yury Tynianov (1894-1943), and the Romance philologist Yakov Malkiel (1914-1998). In 1965-66 he was a postdoctoral fellow in linguistics at Tokyo University and spent the next forty-five years in the United States as a university professor of Slavic and semiotic studies. He is the co-author, with his late wife Marianne Shapiro, of Figuration in Verbal Art (1988) and The Sense of Form in Literature and Language (2nd ed., 2009). His 2007 book, Palimpsest of Consciousness, is a commentary on his only work of fiction, My Wife the Metaphysician, or Lady Murasaki’s Revenge.
Michael Shapiro is Professor Emeritus of Slavic and Semiotic Studies at Brown University and a member of the Society of Senior Scholars at Columbia University. His website is at www.marianneandmichaelshapiro.com. He writes a blog on American English at www.languagelore.net. The expanded second edition of his book, The Speaking Self: Language Lore and English Usage, was published by Springer in 2017. His newest book, The Logic of Language: A Semiotic Study of Speech, was published in 2022.


The Logic of Language: A Semiotic Study of Speech. Pp. xlviii, 308. New York and Berlin: Springer Nature, 2022.
On Language and Value in American Speech: With a Semeiotic Appendix. Pp. 139. Riga (Latvia): Lambert Academic Publishing, 2019.
The Speaking Self: Language Lore and English Usage. 2nd, expanded ed. Springer Texts in Education. Pp. xxviii, 517. New York: Springer Nature, 2017.
The Speaking Self: Language Lore and English Usage. Pp. xix, 303. Scotts Valley, Calif.: CreateSpace, 2012
The Sense of Form in Literature and Language [coauthor, Marianne Shapiro]. 2nd, expanded ed. Pp. xxi, 373. Scotts Valley, Calif.: CreateSpace, 2009.
Palimpsest of Consciousness: Authorial Annotations of My Wife the Metaphysician, or Lady Murasaki’s Revenge. Pp. 276. Charleston, S. C.: BookSurge Publishing, 2007.
My Wife the Metaphysician, or Lady Murasaki’s Revenge [fiction]. Pp. [x], 362. Charleston, S. C.: BookSurge Publishing, 2006.
The Sense of Form in Literature and Language [coauthor, Marianne Shapiro]. Semaphores and Signs. Pp. viii, 215. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1998.
The Sense of Change: Language as History. Advances in Semiotics. Pp. xiv, 146. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1991.
Figuration in Verbal Art [coauthor, Marianne Shapiro]. Pp. xv, 286. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1988.
The Sense of Grammar: Language as Semeiotic. Advances in Semiotics. Pp. xiv, 236. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1983.
Structure and Content: Essays in Applied Semiotics [coauthor, Marianne Shapiro]. Monographs, Working Papers and Prepublications of the Toronto Semiotic Circle, 1979/No. 2. Pp. 69. Toronto: Victoria University, 1979.
Hierarchy and the Structure of Tropes [coauthor, Marianne Shapiro]. Studies in Semiotics, 8. Pp. v, 37. Bloomington: Indiana University, 1976.
Asymmetry: An Inquiry into the Linguistic Structure of Poetry. North-Holland Linguistic Series, 26. Pp. xiv, 231. Amsterdam: North-Holland, 1976.
Aspects of Russian Morphology: A Semiotic Investigation. Pp. 62. Cambridge, Mass.: Slavica, 1969.
Russian Phonetic Variants and Phonostylistics. University of California Publications in Linguistics, 49. Pp. x, 55. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1968.

Raimo Aulis Anttila (1935-2023)

January 27, 2023

The overwhelmingly sad news of the passing in his sleep this morning in Turku, Finland of Raimo Anttila after a long illness came to me via e-mail from his loving partner, Anna-Maija Raanamo.

As I wrote in the Preface of my recent book, The Logic of Language: A Semiotic Study of Speech, “I would like to acknowledge the influence on my understanding of language as a product of history of my friend and former colleague at UCLA, Raimo Anttila, whose book Historical and Comparative Linguistics, with its semiotic orientation, remains the best introduction to the field and has been a beacon for me over the many years that its author and I have been friends.”

Raimo will be deeply missed by all who knew him as a friend and mentor.


Language, Literature, and Poetics

January 22, 2023

I began the serious study of language and literature some fifty years ago. In retrospect, I now realize that my early choice of Slavic linguistics as a home field equipped me with a special outlook which has determined the curve of my research ever since.

First, I am the beneficiary of a long and stable tradition of Slavic philological scholarship which regards the study of literature to be inseparable from the study of language. In the case of poetry, this orientation necessarily entails seeing verse as a structure, of which the building blocks are primarily linguistic; and taking the form of these building blocks to be part of the content. In the case of prose, it means paying close attention to levels of discourse, semantic stratification, and matters of style. Analysis of verse and analysis of prose fiction, while taking account of the differences in approach necessitated by differences in form and genre, join hands in the broader context of humanistic research because each must ultimately give its due to language as the only sure repository of meaning.

Second, as a practitioner of scholarship with Slavic as its focus, I have followed in the tradition of involving oneself immediately in research with a theoretical and universalizing significance while being simultaneously immersed in linguistic and literary analysis at its most practical microcosmic level. This kind of work routinely assumes a viable reconciliation between 1) languages and texts as general human phenomena to be studied without regard to time or place; and (2) the attitude that every language and every text are the unique product of human creativity, inseparable from its temporal and cultural locus. Criticism rises above its ancillary role when its object presents difficulties—linguistic, conceptual, cultural, ideological.

Because art belongs squarely to the aesthetic realm it is only partially amenable to rational analysis. A fundamental asymmetry obtains between aesthetic objects as they are experienced and our ability to talk about them intelligibly. There is (then) no automatic gain in understanding from analysis, quite irrespective of its quality. If interpretation wishes to be of service, it must acknowledge that its epistemological locus is somewhere in the void between art and knowledge, in a mental no-man’s-land where indeterminacy is the order of the day. Under these circumstances, the best a literary analysis aware of its inherent limitations can hope to achieve is to see texts in the round, using bits and pieces as evidence to form a representation of the work of verbal art that does justice to how the form shapes the content—and thereby our experience of it.


Language and Tradition

December 22, 2022

As everything in human culture, language is dominated by tradition, which is to say that there is a customary way of expressing oneself in any given language. However, tradition is always susceptible to change, and in language this is primarily due to ERROR.

Thus speakers who mispronounce words by breaking with tradition do so because of the IGNORANCE of tradition. For example, as has been documented on more than one occasion here, the pronunciation of the element -lived in the compounds “short-lived” and “long-lived” has undergone a change in contemporary speech such that the traditional vowel [ai] as in the pronoun “I” has been supplanted by the spelling-induced vowel [i] as in “icky.” This is simply the product of error.

Recently this deviation from tradition was brought to Y-H-B by hearing the phrase “in excelsis deo” in the Christmas carol performed by a local choir mispronounced such that the word “excelsis” was sung with the incorrect [ch] rather than [s]. This mispronunciation can often be heard nowadays in radio transmissions as well. ‘Tis the season to be jolly!


Awesome, Perfect, Love It

November 16, 2022

As has been detailed more than once by Y-H-B, there is a tendency among younger speakers of American English, in particular, to use the words “awesome,” “perfect,” and the phrase [sic] “love it” in response to the most diverse utterances. I witnessed this the other day when two adult educators––one a medical doctor–-stood before a class at a local middle school in Vermont and gave a presentation on wellness and physical health to a group of young teenagers. Whenever one of the students asked a question or made a comment, the woman in charge of the presentation responded with the word “awesome” or “perfect.” This happened every time over the course of a presentation that last more than half an hour.

It is clear that such a person is suffering from advanced speech anosognosia. What can an audience of youngsters who are used to hearing the words in question over and over again think of the meaning the speaker intends by repeating “awesome” ad nauseam?


Guest Post by Jo Carubia

November 8, 2022

How do you think about, articulate, and perform the liminal human experience of waiting? All of our experiences are cognitive as well as physical and none more so than lingering at a threshold before or between without the guiding parameters of most other prescribed behaviors. Possibly, these in-between, prolonged occurrences challenge us precisely because they are not articulated. Complete Book of Waiting, by Jo Carubia, Ph.D. begins the process of bringing a vocabulary, guides, and commentary to a very common experience. “Waiting is just a test of creativity and imagination.” (pg.2) “The semeiotic offers us a way to understand ….the third world that lies between the private incommunicable interior and the vast spaces of the exterior universe.” (Michael Shapiro, Language Lore, April 30, 2022).

Jo Carubia, Ph.D. is a writer, educator, and artist. She was also the series editor at Paragon House who conceived of, and brought to publication, Glossary of Semiotics by Vincent Colapietro.
Complete Book of Waiting is available at amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com, and stillwaterpress.com.

Addendum Re Book Launch

October 30, 2022

Dear Michael and Vincent,

What a delight to hear! The book launch was music to my ears; all my favorite themes about “speech” in a wonderful blend of personal l’histoire and scholarly delight. Vincent you are a master of the human spirit and the engaged intellectual in communication. The perfect dialogic compliment to Michael as polymath linguist and logician. You both are obvious accomplished “professors” who know how to communicate! There were many points of deep interest to me, but the conjunction of speech and music was a particular high point. I just published a piece on the concept of “home-world” and a key idea I use is Émile Benveniste’s entry for “community” in his history of Indo-European languages book where he says that speech is dependent on “speech community” which derives from “group singing” (Alfred Schütz’s “Making Music Together” essay is an example). So, Benveniste says “community” is defined as “people who sing together”. The book launch was truly the voice of a chorus! You both should post the video on your personal web pages as well as the YouTube version; it is a “go to” gem for students.
With Cordial Regard, Richard
Richard L. Lanigan

Praise for The Logic of Language

October 15, 2022

The first review on its Amazon page of The Logic of Language: A Semiotic Study of Speech has just appeared. Here it is:
“Authoritative explication of the relation between Peircian semiotics and Jakobsonian  linguistics as the human lived experience of communication. Clarifies Peircean notion of “diagrammatic” logic (Husserl’s Fundierung). Must buy book for anyone interested in contemporary semiotics and linguistics applied to communicology. Most important book since the classic Hubert Alexander book— Language and Logic of Philosophy.” – Richard L. Lanigan, Laureate Fellow, International Communicology Institute, Washington, DC, USA


The Word ‘Mentor’ Pronounced Contrary to Its Meaning

September 11, 2022

In contemporary speech on both sides of the Atlantic the word ‘mentor’ is typically pronounced with a full second vowel despite the fact that the meaning is agentive and, therefore, should be pronounced with a reduced second vowel (as in the agentive suffix -er). The spelling may have something to do with it, but the more persuasive reason resides in the word’s structure, viz. the lack of a morphological boundary between ment- and -or. Which is to say that speakers do not interpret the word as a true agentive despite its obvious meaning.