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Time flies!


As the end of summer fast approaches, it’s a nice time to take stock of just how quickly this year has gone and what I’ve done in academic year 2013/14. Right now, I’ve been back in the UK for more than a year, I’ve been engaged for eight months, it’s been more than four months since my knee surgery, it’s been about six weeks from us moving into our first house, and it’s been about two weeks since I started my latest health kick and trying to get back to BMF.

And despite the fact that this year has been full of lots of stuff, I’ve managed to carve out some time for writing, which has included a big step towards finishing the Mock the Week paper I’ve been working on with a colleague for about the past three years (!) and my chapter for the impact volume is nearing the stage where I can send it out for review. I’ve also done a few conferences, a couple of reviews and some other bits and pieces, so all in all, 2013/14 has been relatively productive, with a variety of highs and lows.

But probably one of the academic highlights of this past 12 months has to be the Sociolinguistics Summer School, held for the first time outside of the UK in the sunny environs of UCD in Dublin. The Sociolinguistics Summer School has been running since 2009 and was first held at the University of Edinburgh. Since then, it’s been held in 2010 (Edinburgh), 2011 (Glasgow), 2012 (Newcastle) and 2014 (Dublin). I was lucky enough to go along to the one in either 2009 or 2010 (I forget which…), the one in Glasgow in 2011 and then the most recent one in Dublin, and it’s wonderful to see it grow from strength to strength. What was really crazy for me was attending in 2009/10 as a recently-completed PhD student and then being invited in 2014 as one of the plenary speakers (my first major plenary session as well). If someone had said in 2009/10 that I’d be back giving a plenary talk, I’d have thought you mental, but it happened! Alongside Daniel Ezra Johnson, Helen Kelly-Holmes and Diarmait Mac Giolla Chriost, I was certainly in esteemed company, although it’s debatable how much I felt I belonged there!

For those of you who haven’t been to a Summer School, it generally follows the pattern of a plenary talk in the morning, followed by a two-hour workshop for students (led by the plenary speaker), then lunch, then student presentations. Oh, and then the pub. I ran out of time a bit during my presentation and had to rush through the last 10/15 minutes, and it certainly made me realise I have to think through some of the issues a bit more before I commit them to paper, and my workshop session seemed to get people talking, so generally speaking, I think I can count the whole day as a success.

But what’s really great about the Summer School is that it’s a wonderful venue for postgraduate students to meet and discuss their work in a relatively low-pressure and supportive environment. There’s less worry about being asked that really horrible question from a member of the audience and people seem to be more open to discussing the trials and tribulations of the research process and working on research problem. It was also good to see the depth and breadth of work postgraduate students are undertaking, from the increase of Irish language provision in Northern Ireland to the coverage of the horse meat scandal of last year. I’m always impressed by the confidence and poise demonstrated by postgraduate researchers (qualities I most certainly didn’t possess as a postgrad!), and the presentations I saw this year were no exception.

I also have to say a brief word about the organising team, who I thought did a brilliant job in putting together such a great event. Having organised the Birmingham Cityscapes symposium a few years back, I know how difficult it is to head up an academic event; it really is like herding cats. But Jennifer, Chloe, John and Hema put so much time and effort into making the event a success, and even though I told them this countless times during the week (probably at my most ebullient following a couple pints of Guinness…), it’s worthwhile repeating!

The Social Linguist

P.S. The last I knew, no-one had volunteered to organise Summer School 6, so if you’re keen on hosting the event at your institution, get in touch with the committee from UCD and they’ll point you in the right direction of how to go about it.

10 things I learned at AAA


Last week, I attended my second ever American Anthropological Association Meeting in San Francisco, and here’s what I learned:

  1. If Pittsburgh is hilly, then San Francisco is Pittsburgh on steroids.
  2. San Francisco is full of crazy.
  3. The AAA conference is huge…
  4. Sessions with ‘big names’ will be full. Arrive early.
  5. I need to take more cards with me when I go to AAA.
  6. The ‘politics of smell’ is really a thing.
  7. Having a discussant is good, but actually having time to ask questions is even cooler.
  8. Asking sensible questions after listening to quite complicated talks is a skill.
  9. Sometimes, blowing the conference off for a day to walk in the park with your significant other is a good thing.
  10. ‘Conference colds’ actually exist.

In other news, it’s snowing in Pittsburgh and Scotland just lost to Tonga in probably one of the worst displays of rugby I’ve ever seen from the team.

The Social Linguist

Back into the fold


Yes, I’ve been a bad, bad blogger I’m afraid, with no update in over two weeks… Mea culpa! The trip to Brazil took a bit more out of me than I realised, and I ended up coming down with a cold which laid me low for about a week. Conferences are really hard work; being cooped up in a room with a bunch of people for three days straight, not enough sleep, not enough rest, lots of talking and thinking, so it wasn’t a surprise that when I got on the plane to fly back to the UK, my nose started running and my throat was killing. I went through an entire roll of tissue paper during the flight and wasn’t able to get any sleep. I’m sure that when Rebecca picked me up at Heathrow that I looked like death warmed up. Anyway, I seem to be on the mend now, and with the semester more or less finished now, I’m looking forward to the summer break so I can get on with my writing.

Ok, I suppose I should update on the rest of the conference, especially since the trip there was so torturous.

Positives

  • The two keynotes I saw (Mary Bucholtz and Kira Hall) were really interesting. Kira’s was on the limp wrist gesture (LWG) in American culture, and she charted the spread of the gesture from the earliest Hollywood silent movies all the way through to contemporary comedy shows. While there wasn’t much in the way of language,the discussion of how it became embedded as a ‘gay’ gesture was brilliant (link with ‘weak’ masculinity, ‘primitive’ humanity and so on). Mary’s keynote was on reaffirming the feminist foundations of language, gender and sexuality studies, going through the major feminist movements and relating them back to the kinds of theoretical orientations each movement has.
  • Meeting new people: since I don’t really go to language and gender conferences, it was good to meet folk I would otherwise not have a chance to meet. It was also great hearing about the kinds of things people were working on, and the range of work was impressive.
  • Caipirinhas – enough said.
  • Getting some exposure on my work and the new Mock the Week research. The panel I was part of (organised by Tommaso Milani) was really well received and it was great to meet some people working on ‘tough’ masculinities.
  • Probably one of the best opening ceremonies of any conference I’ve ever been to ever. Great music from local school kids and I think they probably could have carried on for another hour or two.

Negatives

  • It was a reallllllly long way to go, nearly 30 hours each way. This wasn’t as bad as some people’s journey who took about two days to get to Brazil, but still…
  • The conference venue – the people we met were really nice and my hotel was in a good location, but it just wasn’t a good city to walk around in. Every time we wanted to go anywhere, we had to get a taxi or bus. Even in Porto Alegre (see photos), it still felt a bit sketchy. This could be my spoilt Western perspective on things and the fact I don’t speak Portuguese, but still, I really didn’t fancy walking around either Sao Leopoldo or Porto Alegre at night.
  • Not enough discussion during question time at papers – I occasionally got the sense that there wasn’t much engagement with some of the papers I saw, most likely a by-product of the fact that everyone was absolutely shattered by the travel.

So yeah, as usual, some good, some bad, but an interesting experience nonetheless. Next conference up is at Berlin for the 19th Sociolinguistics Symposium, a behemoth of a conference with something like 20 parallel sessions and usually about 1000 delegates. I’ll be presenting a paper on the masculinities work I’ve been doing, and hopefully my paper will be before the conference dinner (and now I’ve said that, any money I’ll be on after it…).

Here’s some pictures of Brazil!

The Social Linguist

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Categories: Conferences Tags: , ,

Aventuras no Brazil


Well, it’s certainly been an overwhelming 24 hours of travel all the way from Heathrow to Porto Alegre, and I’m surprised I’m still awake to be able to type up this blog post…

I knew that it was doomed from the start when I found out that my seat from Heathrow to Sao Paulo (a 12 hour flight) was in the middle of a three-seater row. And because I have the worst luck in the world when it comes to flying, my gut feeling was that my fellow passenger wouldn’t be a wilting waif. And as fate would have it, I ended up in between two, let’s say, rather portly gentlemen, one from Scotland and the other from Sao Paulo. I didn’t speak to the chap from Scotland because he passed out almost as soon as we were airborne, but I did get a chance to talk to Fernado who was travelling back home for a month before heading down south to do some skiing. As we talked, there was practically no space in my seat to sit comfortably, something which hadn’t gone unnoticed by Fernando who showed a great deal of sympathy for my plight (Mr Scotland was still passed out and had nary a mind to even monitor his snoring…). We were served dinner (Scotland didn’t wake up for dinner he was that sparked out), and as I hunched forward as best I could to tuck into the delights of 30000 feet food, I glumly thought to myself that I had another 10 hours ahead of me of feeling like the proverbial sardine in a tin. I guessed that if I could get some sleep, I would be sorted, but alas, with Mr. Scotland on my left radiating a heat so fierce I thought he had a fever, I started thinking about a get-out plan. The flight attendant was happy enough for me to move to an open seat, although I’m not sure the guys I disturbed were. I was, however, greeted with an open seat on my left and could have wept for joy. Instead, I decided to get some ‘sleep’ for a few hours. About 4am (local time), I awoke to what I cautiously termed ‘breakfast’, although I’m sure ‘experimental meal-plan’ would be closer to the mark.

Anyway, once we landed, I was treated to something I dread at the end of half-day flights: queues. Queues to immigration. Queues to check-in. Queues for security. Queues for boarding. It was pretty much solid queues from Sao Paulo until I landed in Porto Alegre, where I couldn’t find the bus to take me to the train station. Once I had found the train station, I couldn’t find a taxi to take me to the hotel. Once I had found the hotel, I couldn’t fit my power adaptor to the sockets. Once I had found an electronic store ($R20 there), bought a new adaptor ($R50), and got a taxi back ($R20), I realised that actually the continental adaptor I had brought with me DID fit in one of the sockets, I just hadn’t seen it before I rushed out. So now I’m down $R90 (about £30) with absolutely nothing to show for it except a useless bit of plastic. I can’t speak Portuguese to try and get a refund for it. I’m absolutely shattered. I’m hungry. I’m smelly. And I’ve still got to finish the Mock the Week presentation before Thursday.

Who said conferences were fun?

The Social Linguist

The Ides of June…


Things have been a little bit manic recently, as June normally is… With external examining duties, conference papers to prepare, journal articles being revised, marking to do, and resits to set up, my ‘to do’ list is getting progressively longer and longer. I’m hopeful that if I get through the rest of this month, then things will start getting a bit more manageable, but I’ve got to get through this month first…

I am looking forward to one event this month though, which is the iGala conference in Brazil. This will be my first time attending this particular conference, and it’s been in some far flung places over the years (Lancaster excepted). It takes about two days to Brazil, I’m only there for five or six days,amd  the conference has a jam-packed schedule, with no less than nine parallel sessions, so I’ll be pretty exhausted by the end of it I think. By either madness or accident, I’ll be giving two papers (on the same day!); one on my language and masculinity stuff with Erez Levon, Tomasso Milani and Quentin Williams, where I’ll be talking about language, masculinity and violence. The other paper is the first time we’ll be presenting the Mock the Week project I’m working on with colleagues in the department, so it’ll be exciting to get some feedback on this and see what we’re doing well and where we can improve. It’s also been a wee while since I’ve given a talk at a sociolinguistics conference, so it’ll be great to get back into the swing of things. After that, I’ll be off to the Sociolinguistics Symposium 19 in Berlin, but I’m only giving one paper at that, so it should be a bit more leisurely. Here’s hoping at least.

The Social Linguist

Language, Community and Identity Event


Last Friday, I popped down to London for the Language, Community and Identity event at the British Academy. There was a very good line up of speakers, including Professor Wendy BennettProfessor Jenny Cheshire, Professor Dennis Preston, and Dr Devyani Sharma. It was a packed house with nary a free seat in the room, not surprising given the academic pedigree of the speakers, all of whom have done fantastic work in the field of language and gender, perceptual dialectology, historical sociolinguistics and so on.

Perhaps the most surprising thing, though, was that it was chaired by Professor Peter Trudgill, someone who hasn’t really popped up on my radar as a ‘language and identity’ research. Indeed, as he acknowledged in his opening address, he has in the past been accused of being a bit of an anti-identity campaigner. He took some time, however, to say that he has never doubted the importance of identity in terms of language variation, but rather that he couldn’t see how identity could be the principal reason why a particular linguistic variable would change over time and that other forces must be in action. In any event, he didn’t spend a great deal of time on this point and instead the event was focused on dealing with three main questions:

  1. How do we research identity and community through language?
  2. What role do identity and community play in language change?
  3. How do different parts of language construct identities?

For each question, each of the four panel members gave a short overview of their thoughts on the topic, before the floor was opened up to the audience and questions were taken. Because of lack of space, I’m not going to go over everything that was said (and I’ve surely forgotten stuff…), but there were some interesting things brought up, including the issue of bringing together the perception/production cycle. Related to this point, Preston made a really good observation along the lines of ‘what’s the point of doing identity if there’s no-one there to hear you talk?’. Researchers in the UK and the US have been making strides in dealing with how production and perception are linked, and recently there’s been work that’s integrated identity within this framework (like Erez Levon’s work I’ve discussed elsewhere on the blog), but it’s a slow process and I think that more work can be done here, especially within work that adopts a more ethnographic approach (mine included).

The other part that was interesting was how different levels of language contributed to identity construction. Most sociolinguistic research focuses on phonetic/phonological variation, but the interface between syntax/phonology/discourse is still a really under-investigated area of work (Katie Drager’s work on discourse marker ‘like’ is a good example of what can be done). I would have liked the panel to have spent a bit more time on this area since it’s an interesting one and it was good to get viewpoints from different people working within syntax, discourse, and phonetics. I think that speakers and listeners are perhaps more attuned to changes in syntax (since it can be so marked) than they are for variation in discourse or phonology, although that raises a whole bunch of other questions on what makes a variant ‘noticeable’. It is frequency of use, recency of use, salience of use (and how does a variant become salient) or some sort of combination of these (thanks to Norma Mendoza-Denton for these points!)?

Beyond the event itself, it was great to catch up with colleagues I hadn’t seen in a while. Working in an English Department, it gets a bit lonely not having other sociolinguists to talk to and I always like seeing how people are getting on. It also cheered me up before I got back on the train to do another batch of marking…

– The Social Linguist

TEDxBrum: TED goes local


Very quick update for today (come back on Tuesday if you want to read about how I got into linguistics Part II): I’m at my first ever (and Birmingham’s first ever) TED event, TEDxBrum and listening to a whole bunch of innovative talks about the city. Wonderful stuff and I’ll hopefully get time later today to do a fuller report (or update this as the day unfolds).

Categories: Conferences, Random Tags: , ,