ShefLing PGC 2017: Call for Papers

We invite all postgraduate students and early career researchers to submit abstracts for oral and poster presentations for the 4th ShefLing PGC (Sheffield Postgraduate Conference in Linguistics), which will take place at The University of Sheffield on 23–24 March 2017. Submissions are welcome from all areas of linguistics and language research, e.g. corpus linguistics, diachronic linguistics, first and second language acquisition, language policy, language teaching, psycholinguistics, and sociolinguistics. In particular, we encourage first-time speakers to join us at this inclusive and friendly postgraduate conference.

Deadline for submission of abstracts: 9 January 2016
Notification of acceptance: 15 January 2017
Registration opens: 01 January 2017

Registration closes: 16 February 2017


Please submit your abstract via the following form:

The abstract must not exceed 300 words (excluding references). Please format the citations and references in your abstract in accordance with the APA referencing system (more information on the APA style can be found here:

Speakers will be allotted 20 minutes for the presentation, followed by ten minutes for questions. The conference includes a dedicated poster session. The language of the conference is English.


For the most up-to-date information about the event and details about previous editions of ShefLingPGC, follow us on Twitter @ShefLingPGC, find us on Facebook ( or visit our website (

Please email queries to:

Here are a few links on how to write abstracts in linguistics:

Model Abstracts from the Linguistic Society of America

Maggie Tallerman’s guide on writing linguistics abstracts:


ShefLingPGC 2016: impressions and highlights

Day One

At 9.30 on Wednesday, the conference chair, Nina Szymor, opened the conference and gave a quick round of housekeeping announcements. Immediately after, Prof. Alison Wray (Cardiff University) gave the first plenary talk of the conference: Could linguistic analysis predict Alzheimer’s disease? Prof. Wray explored the issue of how we could use linguistics to help diagnose Alzheimer’s and dementia in early stages of development. The talk concluded with a message important to all of us: we need linguists to perform meaningful and well-informed analyses of people’s language. Without us, the world would be full of IT specialists nd data analysts using crude measures with no regard for the complexity of the human language.

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After Prof. Wray’s talk, the first round of delegates gave their presentations in two parallel sessions. The topics covered in the presentations were very diverse and ranged from dialect levelling in Mosul, Iraq to the links between acquiring a sign language and non-spatial cognition.

Well nourished and recharged at the lunch break, the delegates were bursting with energy and eager to participate in Dr. Justyna Robinson’s (The University of Sussex) workshop. Dr. Robinson provided us with advice on how to turn our hobbies (i.e. linguistics) into an occupation that will actually pay our bills. The workshop was really interactive with participants asking plenty of questions.

The next item on the agenda was the poster session. While the rest of the delegates were sipping leisurely on their teas and coffees, the presenters had 15 minutes to set up their posters. They were so efficient that the posters landed on the boards in no time, which meant that we had an hour to have a look at their work and pester them with questions! As in the first presentation session, the range of topics was immense: politeness strategies in higher education, the communicative aspects of choral conductors’ eyebrows, the relation of neural oscillations and human language, and many others.The programme concluded with a plenary talk from Dr Jenny Thomson, a researcher in psycholinguistics and speech and language therapist. She spoke about her work on ereaders and children with dyslexia. She explained how she found that some readers with dyslexia can be more successful at reading on ipods than reading traditional paper books.


The day ended with a lively meal at Efes, a Mediterranean restaurant in Sheffield’s city centre. It was a great chance to catch up about all we had learned that day!

Day Two

The second day of the conference kicked off with Dr. Justyna Robinson’s plenary. Dr. Robinson – a Sheffield alumna – talked about stability and change in English speakers from Sheffield. Using words such as awesome, skinny and gay, Dr. Robinson illustrated how people’s attitudes towards the lexis they use change over time. Many mechanisms are in place: some speakers’ usage of certain words remains quite stable, whereas others might, for instance, cease to use words such as gay for fear of misinterpretation. One of the key points of the plenary was that linguists need to follow language change also on the micro level – without studies on individual speakers we will be unable to explain the mechanisms that drive language change over people’s lifetimes.

After a brief break for tea, coffee and the beloved Danish pastry, the delegates reconvened in seminar rooms to listen to another round of presentations. As the conference schedule was really packed, there was no time for tea and coffee, because as soon as the presentations had finished, Prof. Wray began her workshop on how to engage critically with the research literature. How many of you have been struggling with your literature reviews? Most of us have experienced the feeling of being overwhelmed by the sheer number of new articles bombarding us every day. Prof. Wray’s advice was: (1) do not read everything or you will have no time left to engage with your own research; (2) before you read anything, you must ask yourself the crucial question: why am I reading this?; (3) make notes and keep them organised. Simple? Apparently, it is easier said than done, but Prof. Wray offered a number of effective techniques that help tackle the beast!

An hour’s break for lunch and here we go again – two more presentation sessions started at 1.45. Topics? Chinese resultatives, filler-gap dependencies in Greek, Chinese L2 English speakers’ citation skills and many more. The final item on the agenda was the workshop by Jane Simms and Oli Jonhson for the University of Sheffield. In her engaging presentation, Jane walked us through the different career options available for linguistics graduates. Throughout their time at the university, linguists acquire multiple valuable skills, which – marketed properly – can land us jobs both inside and outside academia. For those who wish to stay in academia, Oli Johnson gave an overview of post-doctoral funding options available in the UK, followed by advice on how to actually get them.


We were so happy to see such a great turnout and we hope you enjoyed your time as much as we did! Great thanks go to the plenary speakers and workshop presenters – we have learnt so much! Last but not least, we would like to thank our sponsors: LAGB and The Alumni Foundation. Your generous financial support was of invaluable help.

See you next year!

Dr Jenny Thomson announced as keynote speaker

We’re pleased to announce another keynote speaker for our upcoming conference!


Dr Jenny Thomson is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Human Communication Sciences at the University of Sheffield. Her research interests involve language and literacy difficulties, such as developmental dyslexia, and digital literacy.

Dr Thomson trained as a speech and language therapist in the UK and gained her PhD from University College London. She has held research positions at the University of Cambridge and the Harvard Graduate School of Education. She currently holds an award from The Leverhulme Trust.

What will she have in store for us? We’ll keep you posted when her abstract is available!

Alison Wray’s keynote

We have just received the title and the abstract of Prof. Alison Wray’s talk and we are really looking forward to hearing it in January!

Could linguistic analysis predict who will get Alzheimer’s disease?

Alison Wray

What scope is there for linguists to assist in establishing the likelihood of someone developing Alzheimer’s later in life? What would we look for? How could patterns of language be appropriately and reliably measured? If we found indicative patterns, what would we interpret them to signify? What would the ethical issues be of categorising people as at higher or lower risk of Alzheimer’s many years before symptoms appeared?

We know quite a lot about the changes in language that occur in different types of dementia, including Alzheimer’s. We know that some words are harder to retrieve than others – for example, one study found that natural objects were harder to name than manufactured ones; another found that verbs of cognition were more difficult to understand than verbs of motion. Research also found that people who later developed Alzheimer’s already had certain patterns in their language in early adulthood that were different from those of people who didn’t develop it. What does all this mean? What insights can linguistic theory give us about what exactly is being affected, when, and why?

There are many tantalising observations, but in fact, we don’t always even know whether a linguistic pattern is part of the problem or part of the solution. Take formulaic language, for instance. Should we construe the use of vague fillers like ‘something’ and ‘those people’ as indicative of not knowing more information about the referents, or as an attempt to rescue a potential gap in the output arising from naming difficulties? When is the repetition of questions and statements a sign of having forgotten what was said previously, and when is it a success, in enabling the person to say something, when novel output is difficult to generate?

In this talk, we will get up close to some of the measures that are used in capturing patterns in Alzheimer’s talk, and examine them with a linguist’s eye. A primary focus will be two current studies that I am conducting with colleagues, to profile of the language of people at greater or lesser genetic risk of future Alzheimer’s. I’ll reflect on the potential social risks of over-interpreting observations, and consider what linguistic patterns might really tell us about variation in the population.