Jessica Rett, Associate Professor of Linguistics at UCLA, was recently featured on the podcast “Getting Curious with Jonathan Van Ness.” Van Ness is well-known for his role as part of the Fab Five in the Netflix reboot of Queer Eye.
Rett’s research interests include formal semantics, pragmatics, and philosophy of language. In this podcast, Rett explains her role as a theoretical linguist as an individual who uses logic to model what it is people know when they know the meaning of language. By using this model, Rett and fellow theoretical linguists believe that as young children, when we listen to our parents or the television, instead of memorizing the sentences we hear, we are abstracting away from the data we have and we memorize an algorithm that tells us how to form sentences.
Rett and Van Ness also discuss the origins of linguistics, the role of language in interpreting politics, mutually intelligible languages, the evolution of words, and more. The two spend most of their time examining how individuals can learn to decipher information they hear or read by looking out for “dog whistles” and slurs within the language. This allows individuals to better examine the layers of meaning these words contain based upon their literal definition and their connotations. Listeners are reminded to pay attention to the sources where they obtain information, to question the hidden meanings and connotations of phrases that people use, and to always “pay attention to language.”