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Director weekly highlights 2 October

Nicholas Evans, Outreach

Date: 2 October 2020

This is one of those weeks when so much is going on that it is almost impossible to narrow down what to mention from the burgeoning series of seminars, events and job opportunities. Roman Jakobson famously said ‘Linguista sum: linguistici nihil a me alienum puto’ (I am a linguist: nothing linguistic is alien to me) and the upcoming events would put even Jakobson to the test. 

I think one of the reasons is that our unplanned and ongoing transition into a truly global community of language scientists suddenly makes it harder to decide what to include and what to leave to the worldwide lists like LinguistList which have been disseminating information around our communities for several years now. From health communication to the language pedagogy of food, from reading groups on computational linguistics and morphological theory, from workshops on language teaching for technology designers, virtual reality in language educations, to workshops on remote fieldwork, and remote language learning – I don’t think we’ve ever had so much coming up in a weekly Newsletter, creating some tough diary choices. Meanwhile the broader public is able to appreciate Indigenous languages in writers’ festivals (Kriol in the NT Writers’ Festival) and films (how Badimaya pervades the new film Furnace, and witness its reawakening by following the link). 

Just yesterday one of my students asked me why we have so little work going on, or data in our courses, on the languages of the Caucasus. The only answer I could give him was that however fascinating and diverse they are, we already have our hands and ears occupied with the thousand or so languages in our part of the world. And now we all suddenly have the chance to tune in to a star line up of presentations on Northeast Caucasian languages, organised by the Linguistic Convergence Laboratory at Moscow School of Economics. (Our Russian colleagues have been canny enough to persuade the founders of this very innovative institution, which aims at re-growing the post-Communist economy of Russia, that Linguistics is an indispensable part of what they need). 

I mention this to show that the converse is also going on – we are welcoming unexpected guests from around the world to many of the events we are Zoom-hosting ourselves. What we can presume as common ground when we present is likewise shifting rapidly – and at the same time as presenters (at least speaking for myself) it is that much harder to read the room – to see who in the audience is engaged and who is checking their mobile phone, who gets your jokes and who looks perplexed. It’s going to be some time before all those precious types of audience feedback get integrated into the new technologies of remote video interaction. But at the same time, as experts in what makes talk roll along, language scientists have more and more to offer to the design of this rapidly emerging space – as evidenced from the regular new job postings that are coming up.  

Finally, I’d like to signal two big upcoming milestone events, one measured in years, the other in Terabytes. First, in years: three decades since the founding of the Language Testing Research Centre and one decade since the founding of ALTAANZ there will be a two-day seminar on Language Testing – something that language scientists don’t always think about enough, but vital if we ever want to make quantifiable statements about linguistic competence or measure the success or otherwise of language programs. Second, to celebrate over 100 Terabytes of returned ancestral voices across hundreds of languages of the region, PARADISEC is hosting a conference in Sydney and online next Feb 17-19th and still calling for papers.  

A fine week to you all 

Nick Evans 

Director

  • Australian Government
  • The University of Queensland
  • Australian National University
  • The University of Melbourne
  • Western Sydney University