Thursday, 17 June 2010

Playing Academic

It has been an incredibly busy week!

Yesterday I made my first conference appearance, presenting a paper entitled Variation and Similarity in the Phonological Development of French Dizygotic Twins at the Fifth LangUE Conference at the University of Essex.

I applied for this with little hope of being accepted, and when I opened the email informing me of my success, my words were far from child-friendly. I've performed many a time in public, but always within my comfort zone as a musician. Never before have I been a linguist, an academic or a researcher in the public eye, and as the date drew nearer I became more aware of a hidden fear of public speaking.

Anyway, it's fair to say I worked incredibly hard in order to give myself the best chance of success. In my eyes, success would come if I delivered the talk professionally and answered questions sensibly without making any unproven sweeping claims or insulting anybody. And so, happily, the talk was indeed a success. Questions were asked about my research, and suggestions for possible sub-research were helpfully raised. Only one member of the audience, who also happened to be my inquisitive boyfriend, asked a question I couldn't answer, which rather than being awkward, has left me pondering ever since about the effects of nursery school on pre-verbal infants.

It was incredibly fun to play at being an academic for a couple of days. To wander amongst fellow linguists, discussing our projects, contending the grammaticality of future-perfect adjectival phrases, and to sit in talks wishing I'd thought of that first, or bubbling with annoyance at old-fashioned Chomskyan explanations for phenomena which refuse to be explained.

I've found the thing that I do; something I've been meandering around in search of for years. I don't know how long I'll get to keep doing it for, but at least for now, it's my thing, and I love it.

That brings me back here, back to the drawing board. I have an (almost) blank canvas in front of me, upon which I will draw the biggest project I've ever undertaken. It starts now, and I'm bursting with excitement, intruige and interest for the subject that will become my daily companion, biggest passion and worst enemy over the next 4 months. In brief, I'm looking at words, and lots of them. Words which become longer words and better words, and eventually language. Thousands of first words from different babies must be analysed and turned into graphs and calculated and pondered, and maybe I'll have all the answers; maybe Chomsky will be jealous when I smash his Universal Grammar with a teaspoon.

Or maybe not.

But it's exciting!


  1. I'm very pleased that all went well for you and especially glad no-one got insulted!
    Sounds like you are going to be super busy with something that is going to be yet another super challenge.
    Lisa x

  2. Well done you! Super exciting news!

  3. Herzlichen Glückwunsch! Das ist total cool!
    I don't believe in Universal Grammar eihter :-) I have to admit I'm a bit jealous... I wish my Uni offered good linguistic classes. Anyway, I'd really like to read your paper if I may!