Wellsprings Forum Dialogue
Linguists from across Australia and the region have enjoyed a week of stimulating discussion as part of the annual Wellsprings Forum Dialogue, hosted by the Wellsprings of Linguistic Diversity Laureate.
The format of the Dialogue is designed to generate robust discussion on an issue relevant to linguistic diversity. Usually two guest speakers, who are distinguished experts in their given field, alternatively address a topic and respond to each other’s approaches. In the afternoons there are also responses from representatives of the host organisation. It is a stimulating way to ensure that deeper discussion is had on the given topic and that disagreement and agreement can be aired in a productive and constructive way that relates back to everyone’s research.
This year the topic for the forum was: Beyond the monolingual speech community: new approaches to investigating bilingualism-induced change. The invited linguists were Shana Poplack and Pattie Epps. Pattie is a professor in the Department of Linguistics at the University of Texas and Shana is Distinguished University Professor and Canada Research Chair in Linguistics at the University of Ottawa. The afternoon responses were given by Wellsprings and CoEDL researchers.
Professor Epps started proceedings with a fascinating talk about her work in the Amazon where she found that bilingual and multilingual speakers kept their language vocabularies separate even if they used their various languages frequently. Professor Poplack followed the next day and described her studies of English speakers who live in the French-speaking city of Quebec. She also demonstrated that in contrast to public perceptions, bilingual speakers kept their vocabularies and grammars distinct. Their approaches to data collection were very different, with Pattie working on the necessarily smaller datasets from minority indigenous languages while Shana’s data collection was vast, showing what can be achieved in the analysis of small language communities speaking national languages. Forum participants came away with an understanding of how bilingualism seems to dramatically affect languages, and at the same time how society can overestimate its impact.