Liberman's plenary address was interesting, and sparked a little interesting discussion, though I'm not positive what to make of it. It's a sort of call-to-arms to linguists to make their field as relevant to modern life as psychology has become: not by changing our focus per se, but by reaching more people in the universities, so that linguistics might have roughly the same undergrad enrollment as psych, so that it might inform public policy and medicine and so forth in the same ways.
Which is well and good, but: I wasn't entirely sure how much any given linguist could do. One problem (which came up in the question period more starkly) is that not every school even has a linguistics department; it's hard to have the same impact at Princeton as psych does when there's no linguist there to make the impact. (Well, there may be one or two tucked into English or anthro departments, but still, hard.) Another point that Liberman (and Jackendoff) raised was the necessity to focus on those topics that a casual undergrad might find interesting: not necessarily phonetic analysis and other building blocks for "thinking like a linguist", as intro courses tend to cover, but questions of sociolinguistics, of language use, of dialect...OK, great, perhaps, except that these just aren't questions that I'm interested in. I like theory, I like theoretical analysis; I come to this field from mathematics, for heaven's sake, and you sure as heck never saw me near the applied math department.
So, I don't know. The ideas were interesting, but I think it remains to be seen not just whether they're implemented, but how they even can be.
All right, time for lunch.