Friday, March 20, 2015

5 exciting linguistics conferences/workshops to keep an eye on this year

Hello everyone, time for some tips on exciting things going on right now in linguistics. I made a tag, currentlinguisticresearch for posts on this blog on all matters new linguistic research (that we find exciting). I think it's interesting for language enthusiasts, future students and current students just starting out to get information about current trends and themes in linguistic research instead of only the well-known basics and general overviews. Judging from readership and sharing, these kinds of posts also seem to be most popular, which makes me very happy.

If you're looking for other blogs by active researchers writing about current research, I highly recommend subscribing to Diversity Linguistics Comment and Replicated Typo.

It is good to know what the field is actually up to right now - both so that you know what is going on if you want to pursue a career in it, but also because it is inspirational and motivating for those times when you might be feeling bit down - in other words, these are a few of my favourite things.

Caveat: of course, this tag currentlinguisticresearch will be biased to things we here think are interesting,  i.e. things to do with linguistic diversity/variation, historical/evolutionary linguistics, language description and documentation, free online publications, databases and psycholinguistics. It is not an exhaustive overview of all current research in all of linguistics, we cannot cope with all of that. For that we recommend you subscribe to LINGLITE.

So, let's kick this tag off with a new post on particularly cool conferences and workshops going on this year that illustrate interesting trends in contemporary linguistic research! The events will be listed chronologically.

TL;DR: there are interesting and much needed collaborations and advances happening in quantitative methods in linguistics, sociolinguists are focusing on looking outside of the WEIRD-sphere, contact linguists are collaborating with sign language typologists to expand our knowledge about language to hitherto unknown heights and a very important department of linguistics in Leipzig is closing down and throwing a huge very exciting conference with everyone that have been there - which will result in an epic event outlining what has been going on and what the future of diversity linguistics is.

(Also; as a special treat to some friends involved in these events (and tumblr in general), this posts will feature gifs of the show Adventure Time. For non-Adventurers: "mathematical" means  "awesome".)

Tenth Creolistics Workshop: “Innovations” - with special attention to parallels between creole and sign language creation

Dates: 8-10 April, 2015
Location: Aarhus University

Except from description: Creole studies have traditionally focused on continuation and universals, discussing for instance the contributions of the lexifiers and substrates. In past decades, an important body of literature in creolistics has been produced with the goal of weighing the influences from the various contributing languages to creole formation. However, much less attention has been given to innovations, in particular lexical, semantic, syntactic and typological aspects that cannot easily be attributed to the known input languages.
Therefore, the aim of this workshop will be to shift the focus from a historical approach to creoles to a more cognitively-oriented framework whose primary goal will be to explain why certain strategies and structures are innovated and selected in the creation of new language varieties, while others are not.
As sign languages have been argued to show social and structural commonalities with creoles, special attention is given to Deaf Sign Languages.
One goal of Creolistics X is to bring together the field of creole studies together with that of sign linguistics so as to establish possible connections between the two types of languages, centering around the theme of innovations. Specifically, the development from pidgin to creole as compared to that from home-signs to full-fledged sign language offers an interesting and potentially fruitful research venue, with possible implications for, among others, general theoretical linguistics and evolutionary linguistics.

Comment: This is exciting beyond words. So, quick wrap-up: creoles are contact languages, contact languages are language varieties that arise when populations who do not share a common language have to communicate. Signers (at least back in the day) often started with what is known as "home sign" - a local sign language in the area/family (if they were not lucky enough to be a part of a signing population already). These signers might later come to a deaf school where there are others signers with other home signs, and perhaps also another sign language that has bene brought from somewhere else. The changes that their language goes through when they get exposed to each other and starting forming a new more homogeneous language is interesting to compare to what happens to a spoken pidgin (minus native speakers) that becomes a creole (plus native speakers). What happens when a language is spoken by more people natively at a rapid pace? What are the different communicative needs that the language adapts to? What happens to identity marking? It doesn't matter if you think creoles are  descended from pidgins without native speakers or not - this is still super interesting!

If you're into this kind of thing you should check out this post about research into cross-signing, adult signers with fully-fledged sign languages talking to other signers with whom they do not share a language.

And, in case you wondered: yes sign languages and creoles are proper languages. The historical baggage of being "primitive" and "bad" is bs. If you need more info on this, ask us.

Causality in the Language Sciences

Dates: April 13 - 15, 2015
Location: Max Planck Institute for Mathematics in the Sciences, Leipzig

Excerpt of description: Although the tenet of "correlation does not imply causation" is still an important guiding principle in language research, a number of techniques developed in the last few decades opened new scenarios where testing causal relations becomes possible. Recent advances in information theory, time series analysis, phylogenetics, stochastic processes, dynamical systems, graphical models and Bayesian inference (among many others) set the stage for a new and exciting chapter in the field. (...) How do we properly test causal relations in (eventually noisy, sparse or incomplete) data, and how can we infer or test the mechanisms underlying them?

Comment: This is an interdisciplinary quantitative workshop bringing together people from computer science, mathematics, linguistics and other related fields to discuss how to work with large sets of data in linguistics and the conclusions we can and cannot draw from it. Linguistics is a research field that is becoming more and more interdisciplinary (aren't all research fields?) and workshops like this are good examples of fruitful collaborations, in this case in a much needed area of linguistics.

There is not a book of abstracts out yet for this workshop, but judging by the list of participants it should be an interesting event to say the least.

Dates: 1-3 May, 2015
Location: Department of Linguistics at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology

Excerpt of description: The conference (...) reflects current activities within the broad area of “diversity linguistics”: research on little-studied languages, language typology and universals, comparative/historical linguistics, and evolutionary linguistics. It will provide a representative overview of past achievements and future prospects of research within the various subfields of diversity linguistics.

Comment: This is the closing conference of the very influential department of linguistics at the MPI-EVA in Leipzig. The department has been a very important especially for research into linguistic diversity and descriptive linguistics, I cannot give enough of a description here - go here. The conference will feature many important scholars that have had a huge influence on the field today. I've had a look-through of the book of abstracts and I recommend y'all do too, it's a great way of knowing what's happening in the field right now. There's talks on typology through parallel texts, there's talks on pidgins and sign languages, there's talks on why linguistic diversity, there's an exhaustive study of word order typology [sic]. Basically, this conference has almost all the interesting things you can imagine.

(While it is great that such a conference is happening, it is also sad that the department is closing. Therefore this piece of news will get a conflicted gif.)

Globalising sociolinguistics

Dates: 18-20 June, 2015
Location: Leiden University Centre for Linguistics, Leiden

Excerpt from description: This conferences addresses mismatches between mainstream sociolinguistic models and non-Anglo-Western sociolinguistic settings. Papers are invited on sociolinguistic issues, from various areas in the world, which challenge or expand mainstream theories. Both theoretical and empirical contributions are welcome. Papers will explore sociolinguistic settings in various areas, focusing on difficulties in applying common theory in the area in question, or the need to expand theory. In so doing, the conference hopes to lay bare the nature and the mechanisms related to the named bias and arrive at a more comprehensive understanding of sociolinguistic issues around the world.

A combined European, American and British dominance is known to exist in sociolinguistic theory-making. This results in difficulties in using several dominant sociolinguistic models outside their ‘western’ geographical domain. Most researchers working outside this domain are keenly aware of this, and hence objections to this dominance are regularly vented by them. However, despite the fact that non-Anglo-Western language settings are described extensively in a multitude of publications, these settings somehow seem to contribute less to mainstream theory, and are implicitly regarded as deviant.

Comment: This ties into what we've been discussing here earlier about on-going research into the diversity of non-WEIRD (Western Educated Industrialised Rich Democratic) communities and also in general a growing interest in linguistics and other cognitive sciences to explore non-WEIRD people and what WEIRD people have done to our research. Conferences like this one that put a focus on this crucial issue and how it relates to our theory-building are much needed. This conference is also tied to the publication of an edited volume by the same name. Those of us who cannot attend this conference can in other words share in the content soon by getting a hold of that book. (Extra-info: a mixed language, Ma'a/Mbugu, will be making an appearance in the form of a talk of Maarten Mous.)

New Developments in the Quantitative Study of Languages

Dates: 28-29 August, 2015
Location: Linguistic Association of Finland, Helsinki

Excerpt of description: In recent decades a number of linguistic sub-disciplines have witnessed a paradigm shift towards more empirical research. In phonetics, socio- and psycholinguistics statistical methods have already been employed for a long time. More recently, the application of quantitative research methods has become a major trend in many other research areas, such as language typology, first and second language acquisition, historical linguistics and language contact, to name but a few. The analysis of increasingly large datasets has also called for the adoption of statistical techniques..

The goal of this symposium is to bring together researchers from different frameworks within quantitative linguistics to discuss new methods in language studies and new applications of existing ones. In particular, we invite papers exploring methodological issues of quantitative research (such as sampling, hypothesis testing, model construction, etc.) as well as studies focusing on quantitative cross-linguistic comparison or analyzing particular language and text phenomena using quantitative methods.

Comment: The observant reader will notice that this symposium is similar to the workshop on causality earlier in the year, this is true and good. More conferences of this kind are needed. This one has a broader span than the previous workshop and also looks very interesting. The deadline for submission of abstracts was yesterday, so I can't say much about the content at this time other than I'm excited, of course!

Wait! There's more!

Of course there is more going on this year than these five events, there is for example the Annual Meeting of Societas Linguistic Europaea,  The 11th Biennial Conference of the Association for Linguistic Typology, the International Conference on Historical Linguistics,  the meeting of the Australian Linguistics Societyall these others that LSA lists or all of these that Linguist List lists.

What I wanted to do there by listing these five is focus on events with a specialised theme that I think is illustrative of trends in linguistics right now. I hope you liked it. If you've got any tips for things we should be posting about, tell us.

If you want to keep updated on more linguistics conference, publications etc; subscribe to LINGLITE.

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