English and Film Studies

The F. M. Salter Lectures on Language

The F.M. Salter Lecture on Language were established in 1988, in commemoration of Professor Frederick M. Salter (1895-1962), a former Cape Breton coal miner, Author and Scholar, who first served this Department as a lecturer in 1922, becoming a permanent member of the faculty in 1939, and serving as Head in the early 1950's. Salter was a specialist in early English literature, authoring an important study of Medieval Drama in Chester, but his greatest influence was as a teacher of creative writing. He established this country’s first creative writing course in 1939, the year he was hired, and went on to teach such luminaries as Rudy Wiebe, who delivered the Salter Lectures in 1992, and WO Mitchell. In 2005, FM Salter was named one of the 100 Edmontonians of the Century (formal recognition of Edmontonians who have made a significant impact on the development of Edmonton as a community).

The Department of English and Film Studies presented the 2015 F.M. Salter Lecture on Language with Professor Harvey Quamen

Written in Code: Computers as Language Machines
Professor Harvey Quamen
25 November 2015
3:00 p.m. in HC L-3

“If we had named the two possible messages conveyed by the binary digit [as] the letters X and Y” instead of ones and zeroes, says computer scientist Danny Hillis, “people would be saying, ‘The computer does everything with letters.’” Hillis’s claim is the point of departure for this talk. What are the implications of seeing computers as “language machines” rather than as number crunchers? What does it mean to say that computers communicate via language? Or that they can read our literature? We’ll track computer programs back to the very first programmer, Ada Lovelace (Lord Byron’s daughter), we’ll see contemporary computer programming code that doubles as poetry, we’ll re-vision the Internet as a collection of language machines that use English to move texts from Point A to Point B, and we’ll contemplate how Alan Turing, sixty-five years ago, envisioned computers that could learn by understanding a bizarre and alien language: ours.