I was born in Brooklyn, NY, and received a BA in English and linguistics from Swarthmore College. During my studies at Swarthmore, at the urging of my Russian language instructor, I attended the University of St. Petersburg in Russia for one summer and became interested in the semantics of long and short form Russian adjectives. I went on to study with Barbara Partee at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and earned a Ph.D. in linguistics there with Capturing the Adjective, a dissertation on the formal semantics of adjectives.
I taught at San Diego State University for one year before joining the Temple faculty in 1977. Once at Temple, I helped to create, and then for nine years directed, the inter-collegial Temple Program in Linguistics. In 1998, I organized the Philadelphia Semantics Society, a regional faculty research group, which, in 2012, was happily adopted by Florian Schwarz’s lab at UPenn. In addition to theoretical and experimental studies of linguistic meaning, I have published pieces on the intersection of semantics with law, psychiatry, lexicography, composition, and poetics. (CV). In 2002, I received the Temple’s College of Liberal Arts Distinguished Teaching Award.
Gradually, my research interests moved toward formal semantic/pragmatic analyses of meaning in informal language, most notably in “like: the Discourse Particle and Semantics” (2002). The combination in this work of field data and formal semantics, unusual at the time, was of interest to linguists. However, it also attracted a lot of national and international media attention, a bit of it hostile, from tv, radio, and publications ranging from Cosmo Magazine and Bitch Magazine to The Wall Street Journal. After gathering field data for the like study and later ones on dude, I’m not saying, and in your dreams, I was eager to collect reliable data from large numbers of subjects using web-based platforms, something I am now able to do through my work with the Schwarz lab at UPenn.