October 27-29, 2017

Reykjavík, Iceland


Speakers and Agenda

We will announce a full list of speakers and topics soon.

Saturday, October 28

Per Langstrom

The exception to the rule: Polysynthetic Greenlandic, a healthy and vital official language in a modern nation of less than 50,000 speakers

Whether one examines Greenlandic by typological or sociolinguistic parameters or one looks into the cultural and political history of Greenland, the language has always been in a class of its own among the world's languages. After a short introduction to Greenlandic typology and the outlines of the history behind the present situation a case will be made to demonstrate that the prevailing innovation discourse in Greenland as opposed to the rather conservative discourse normal in most other minority languages has played a significant role in the Greenlandic success story. Finally, the ambitious Greenlandic Language Technology Project will be introduced. Since graduation as an eskimologist from the University of Copenhagen almost 40 years ago, Per Langgaard has worked with Greenlandic. He is a co-founder of Greenland's university in 1983 where he taught and researched in all fields of Greenlandic linguistics and taught Greenlandic literature. In 2001 he was transferred to the newly established language secretariat in Nuuk where he holds a position as head adviser.
Sigríður Kristinsdóttir

Daniel Tammet and our adventure into Icelandic

  • Sigríður Kristinsdóttir | Website
Have you heard the myth that it is impossible to learn Icelandic? Or that Icelandic is one of the most difficult languages in the world? The BBC production staff in the documentary Brain Man had heard this rumour, so they gave the main person in this documentary Daniel Tammet the challenging task to learn Icelandic in one week in the fall 2004. I got the privilege to be Daniel‘s guide into Icelandic. Icelandic is an old language and it has preserved more of its inflections than most Western European languages, there is surely a challange there. However, it is a Germanic language so it is closely related to a language you do know – that is if you can read this text. As Daniel stressed when he talked about his adventure into Icelandic, the Icelandic people don‘t speak grammar. He finds that the complexity of Icelandic mirrors the complexity of human thought and nature, and the rich tension within the fabric of everyday life. In this talk you will get a chance to learn about Daniel‘s aproach into Icelandic. We will talk about our adventure into Icelandic in the fall of 2004. I, Sigríður, will be live with you in Harpa and Daniel will join us on Skype.
Kristín Jónsdóttir

The Icelandic Culture Boom: Threat or Asset?

For centuries the Icelandic language has been spoken by very few people, and mainly only by Icelanders. The same goes for Icelandic culture. Of course, Icelandic culture was not totally isolated from the rest of the world, but it was definitely not widespread. The language itself with its medieval structure, and the Sagas, have mostly been of interest to linguists and literature specialists, and then maybe few "nerds" who have fallen in love with Iceland. Although Iceland has been wide open to influences from around the world, Icelanders have ferociously protected their tongue from being "polluted" by communication with the outside world. Fear about the language's disappearance has been growing ever since American soldiers were based in Iceland after WW2. But lately, with new technology, when computers, fridges and other domestic devices are starting to speak, these worries have resurged. While linguists and lovers of Icelandic are campaigning for the government to start funding research towards keeping up with technology, the Icelandic language and culture have begun facing a significant change. Literature, music, even theatre are no longer exclusively destined for Icelanders only, but also more and more people around the world. Iceland has become fashionable. Bjork is indisputably the pioneer of this boom (with respect for the wave that the Nobel prize winner Halldor Laxness previously caused). Since Bjork, Sigur Ros, Emiliana Torrini, Of Monsters and Men and many more have been producing music on an international basis. Icelandic literature is being translated all around the world. Authors are spending more and more time discussing their work abroad. How will this flourishing Icelandic soft power movement affect the future of Iceland's language and culture?
Jared Gimbel

Using Video Games to Learn and Maintain Languages

Video games are slated to become one of the largest industries on the planet. As such, in a time in which languages feel threatened, many of their online communities will make Indie games and create translations of existing games (like Minecraft) in order to get people to engage with their language in a technological sphere. You can use video games to learn a vocabulary set in extraordinary detail (such as military, sports, high fantasy or even cooking vocabulary). The important thing: pick a wide variety of games and always read aloud. But within contemporary video game culture lies a genre of video that is arguably one of the most efficient, unorthodox and unused language learning tools: “Ley’s Play” videos, in which a person or a group of people play a video game with live commentary. Such videos are viewable for free in dozens upon dozens of languages (although mostly those from the developed world) for hundreds of games. These videos exist in rarer languages like Welsh and in Icelandic as well as more common languages like German or Portuguese. The “Let’s Play” genre enables people to engage with casual registers of a language used in their most natural, unscripted states (something that a lot of television doesn’t do). Furthermore, a lot of commentators, when playing English versions of the game, translate all game dialogue and item names into their native tongue, making it a very efficient “picture dictionary” that can help train you to think in a language very quickly.
Yanjaa Wintersoul

Mastering Mongolian as a Modern Nomad

First, we'll take a look at where, how and why Mongolian is thriving and dying in different parts of central Asia. Why the Mongolian dialect of Buryat is dying at an unbelievable pace in its autonomous regions in Kazakhstan and Russia, while Old Mongolian in Inner Mongolia experiences declines and revivals at seemingly random intervals. How the demographic of Mongolia (50% of the population is 25 and under) and its hyperconnected activity on social media influences the way the language is evolving. Second, we'll take a look at how Mongolians living abroad preserve their mother tongue. How can some live abroad for years but speak as if they never left, while others do an exchange semester and come back speaking like foreigners? What are some common mistakes that parents can avoid when relocating? Is it too late for those who didn't grow up speaking Mongolian, once they've reached adulthood? Should we always approach language preservation from a holistic viewpoint or is it better to focus on one aspect (speaking, writing, reading etc) at a time? The answers to these questions are answered with findings from modern research papers on language preservation, highlighted with personal anecdotes and experiences of being Mongolian in Stockholm, Tokyo, Nairobi and Texas/ Tennessee. Third, a summary of lessons learned and suggested approaches for keeping Mongolian alive and well no matter where we are in the world, giving a toolkit for language preservation for all.
Bérengère Digard

Bilingualism: help or drawback for the social life of adults on the autism spectrum?

Knowing several languages shapes the way people interact and the way they lead their social life. But how does it work for people on the autism spectrum, who can experience specific difficulties in social interaction? To answer this question, I designed the Autism & Bilingualism Census (ABC), an online survey addressed to all adults on the autism spectrum, monolinguals and multilinguals alike. By focusing on both the language exposure and use, and the general life satisfaction and social involvement of the participants, the ABC is new, unique, and valuable tool to understand how knowing several languages influences the way adults on the autism spectrum lead their social life. The ABC also brings to light this population often overlooked that are bilinguals and multilinguals on the autism spectrum. The ABC will be completed by the summer 2017. In the meantime, adults on the autism spectrum, whether they know one or more languages, can take part by simply following this link:
Kristina Cunningham

Multilingualism and straight bananas - languages in the EU policy priorities

Can you imagine getting paid to promote language learning and linguistic diversity in Europe? That's my job! The guideline was agreed between EU Heads of State and Government back in 2002: every European citizen should be taught not only one, but two foreign languages in school, and language learning should begin at a very early age. So do all Europeans speak three languages? No way – as European polyglots you know very well that you are a tiny minority. The results of the EU Member States' language education efforts have been disappointing, even for the first foreign language, which in almost all cases is English. We'll take a look at the particular role of English as a global lingua franca, the advantages and the negative side effects for people with English as their mother tongue. I am going to demonstrate just how bad a problem the general lack of language skills is – for individuals, for businesses and for society. I shall then convey some inside information on how the European cooperation in the field of education and training works and discuss how multilingualism is supported and encouraged in different ways at European level. Iceland is not an EU Member State but is in the fortunate position to benefit from full participation in the EU funding programmes for education and culture, such as Erasmus+. Will this be the case also for the UK in the future – who knows?
Tetsu Yung

Multilingual acquisition as part of a complete multitalent development package in young children.

Raising our kids to speak multiple languages in our family is one of several ways we get our children to develop multiple talents, not just to become productive citizens of the world, but also to increase self-confidence and, in the end, learn skills that can help them further enjoy their life. In terms of languages, they are brought up in an environment that requires them to use English, French, Japanese, Mandarin and Spanish on a daily basis. Similarly, we provide an environment that favors development of other talents also, including sports and music. The basic idea is to provide the environment that naturally requires or encourages them to develop the skills that we want them to learn, based on simple concepts. Specifically for languages, applications of the concepts OPOL (One Person One Language) and CLAP (Contextual Language Acquisition Philosophy) will be discussed and demonstrated in this talk.
Dr. Rob Painter

Can 'small' languages survive in the age of texting?

Linguists estimate that there are nearly 7,100 languages in the world, yet many (3,935) are 'small' languages with fewer than a thousand native speakers and a third (2,467) are endangered, threatened by global 'big' languages, such as English, Spanish, and Chinese, and by loss of the community where the languages are spoken (statistics from Simons & Fennig 2017). As their speakers acquire 'big' languages, 'small' languages are dying off rapidly. For instance, Anderson (2012: 16) reports that 142 of the 175 Native American languages are moribund with the remaining speakers in their 80s. Likewise, UNESCO recently added 13 German varieties such as North Frisian and Jutlandic Danish to the list of at-risk languages due to a decline in speakers (Levitz 2011). World-wide linguistic diversity is diminishing, and field linguists now race to document language varieties from 'last speakers' (see e.g. Evans 2005). This talk presents a linguistic account of the vitality of 'small' languages against the globalizing influence of 'big' languages, and addresses what steps can be taken to help 'small' languages survive. Citing studies from efforts to maintain Low German (Wölck 1997) and Faroese (Dorian 1989), I survey two proposals for maintaining 'smaller' languages and dialects: First, that favorable attitudes toward a 'small' language by the community will allow a local language to compete strongly with 'big' languages (Wölck 1997), and second, that conscious effort by communities to speak 'small' languages in situations where 'big' languages are making inroads is effective in keeping smaller languages alive (see Crystal 2002).
Thei Zervaki

The Language of Food: What a linguist turned food writer can teach you

The language of food is fun, familiar but often unexpectedly surprising. I started http://ediblyy.com/, a culinary thesaurus more than a year ago featuring one word each Friday describing a food (dish, pastry, baked good etc.) from any region or country in the world. As a food writer, I am familiar with the food words featured but I am not always aware of their origin. During the process, I realized that food words are more just sounds and letters, a dish we all love or hate; they come with a long and intriguing history that very few know and can talk about. In this presentation, I will discuss the language of menus, packaged foods and their linguistic descriptions, cookbooks and culinary dictionaries and even do some quizzes to test your culinary knowledge. At the end of the presentation, participants will know what is kuku and how to make it, what ketchup and ramen have in common, why apples are gluten free and what halo halo means. Participants will get some ideas of improving their culinary vocabulary and language teachers can use some of the examples in the classroom. Extra bonus: I will teach how to write ambrosia in Greek and sushi in Japanese. I will provide bibliography and interesting readings as well.
Jean-Paul Demoule

The canonical Indo-European model and its assumptions

The canonical Indo-European model, which was originally a purely linguistic model, is founded on a central assumption: that of an original people (Urvolk in German), who inhabited an original homeland (Urheimat) where they spoke an original language (Ursprache). They left this homeland to spread throughout a large part of Eurasia, giving rise to all of the known Indo-European languages. One can nevertheless challenge this model on at least for levels. First, on a factual, strictly extra-linguistic level, based on data provided by archaeology, comparative mythology, biological anthropology and linguistic palaeontology: this approach leads to the conclusion that, in the present state of knowledge, it is impossible to confirm the validity of the centrifugal tree model in its various forms. Secondly, on a historical and cultural level, we have to call into question the correspondence, based on the model of the 19 th  century Nation State, between an “archaeological material culture”, a “people” and a homogenous language. Thirdly, on a linguistic level, we can question the validity of the tree model for charting the resemblances and correspondences between languages. Finally, on an ideological level, we can show by means of historiography how the idea of an original people was constructed over time by European thinkers. So much so that one can also question the starting point, which takes the existence of a unique language that could be entirely reconstructed (“Ursprache”) as the only model possible for the undeniable resemblances between the Indo-European languages.

Sunday, October 29