Themes of the Conference


Main themes

Endangered Languages and the Land

There is a strong connection between languages and the places where they are spoken. Land is a key part of the identity of a language speaking community. The lexicon and structures of a language are shaped by speakers’ appreciation of local geographical and ecological features. Contact-induced language change can reflect the ways that geography has influenced patterns of contact. Topo­nymies (place naming practices) reflect the languages that are or were spoken in a territory. Today, the availability of a territory where a language is ‘at home’ is one of the key factors for its vitality. In countries where Indigenous peoples seek land rights, their affiliations with languages can be factors in success.

The conference will pose questions such as: how do language endangerment scenarios vary in different regions in the world? What roles do land (or lack of it) play in speakers’ continued use of their languages?  To take one example, many Indigenous communities in Australia have immutable connections between language and land, and language affiliations follow from people’s relationships with land. In other parts of the world, scattered communities can retain their identity through sharing a common language communicated across distances.

Mapping Landscapes of Multilingualism

How can we make relationships between language and land visible? Language maps are a frequently used tool. However, current practice in language mapping needs to be further developed.  Most current language maps use either points or bounded areas (usually non-overlapping) to represent the location or range of individual languages – but the true language landscape is typically much more complex than that.

One reason for that is multilingualism. In many parts of the world, there are complex layers of languages that perform complementary functions in the life of communities. Many individuals are multilingual, whether as Indigenous people, members of a minority speaking a heritage language, migrants bringing their language into the diaspora, as language learners in a globalized world, or people interacting on-line in a lingua franca with the global community.

The conference encourages papers describing innovative approaches that seek to represent these much more intricate patterns through mapping or by similar means, making use of digital technology or other cartographic methods and devices. Proposals could address questions such as: How can diglossia be shown? How can we better research and display the distribution of domains where languages are used? How can we visualize language shift and other changes over time?

Special theme: 20 years of language documentation

This year marks twenty years since the publication of Nikolaus Himmelmann’s seminal paper “Documentary and Descriptive Linguistics” in Linguistics. Since then, Language Documentation has developed, mainly as a response to the need to make lasting records of the world’s many endangered languages, and to support speakers of these languages in their desire to maintain them. Funding programmes such as DOBES, ELDP, and DEL have supported language documentation activities with language communities, encouraged linguists to work with primary (digital) data, and, more broadly, raised public awareness of language endangerment.

These activities are now needed more urgently than ever, as in most areas of the world the pressure on local communities to shift to major languages has increased, and language maintenance activities are often insufficient to prevent language shift. Yet, it may seem that Language Documentation is already over its peak, and national or regional uptake through funding, establishing dedicated centres and academic chairs, or proactive language policies has overall been slow.

Under this theme, we invite papers that reflect on current practices in Language Documentation as a part of efforts to counter language endangerment, its impact in the academic sphere, and its contribution to language vitality and linguistic diversity.

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