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.

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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!

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