There are a number of firsts associated with the 24th Sociolinguistics Symposium (SS24) in Ghent (13-16 July 2022), including it being for many the first post-pandemic in-person conference (🙋♀️). Ghent was also the first city to host the Sociolinguistics Symposium on the European mainland in 2002 (SS14). The two-decade anniversary of the city’s host status was echoed in some of the colloquia titles, which are a testament to the fact that collaborations and conversations among the Symposia attendees extend far beyond the biannual three-day events.
I set out to reflect on SS24 as an attempt to make sense of the developments I observed last week, but after looking at the program again and the titles of the talks in 17 parallel sessions, I appreciate that my impressions are very humanly flawed and partial. While waiting for all the recordings to be edited and uploaded and before declaring August the Month of Binge Watching SS24 Talks, I’ll try and gather some of my thoughts here.
With two parallel hashtags #SS24 and #SS24Ghent, we managed to create a common virtual space during the hybrid event. And the most common words in the tweets comprising one or both of the hashtags are pictured in the word cloud below.
English was the dominant language, but not the only one among those tweeting. Euskara biziberritzeko Ikergunea / Research Centre for the Basque Language Social Development (@slkusterra) was avidly tweeting in Basque. Unsurprisingly, the plenary talks, where most participants finally assembled after attending separate sessions, got much attention as did the concepts and topics mentioned in them, and rightfully so. Each of the seven plenary talks tackled the overarching theme “Inside and Beyond Boundaries” from a different angle.
Philippe Hambye (Louvain) and Jürgen Jaspers (Université Libre de Bruxelles) did so by exploring the relativism — legitimacy binary with regard to the epistemological stance towards objective knowledge about languae in society.
Isabelle Léglise (French National Centre for Scientific Research [CNRS]) spoke about academic hegemonies and the Global North — Gobal South binary in the economy of knowledge. Léglise used her own lived experience as an academic situated between the Francophone, Anglophone, and the Global South traditions to argue for the alternative view of the globalisation of knowledge.
Erez Levon (Bern) reexamined selfhood and provided a multidimensional theory of the concept while revisiting his own work on people whose identities seem incompatible with the expectations in their socialites: interview data from an Orthodox Jewish man who engages in homosexual practices and Greek gay men for whom gayness conflicts with the notion of “being Greek”.
Quentin Williams (Western Cape) discussed binaries from the perspective of linguistic citizenship, an approach to the study of multilingualism that highlights the ways multilingual speakers mediate agency and voice in situations where discrimination is involved. As a real-world example of emancipatory practices, Williams described his own work on the trilingual dictionary of Kaaps (-Afrikaans-English), which does not try to enforce particular forms as legitimate, but rather reflects variation and as such enables speakers to act out their linguistic citizenship.
Alexandra N. Lenz (Vienna) asked the question “What makes Austria so(ciolinguistically) special?” And provided answers stemming from the results of the project “Deutsch in Österreich: Variation — Kontakt — Perzeption”.
Angela Reyes (CUNY) talked about postcolonial semiotics and forming and transforming linguistic and racial binaries by drawing on sociolinguistic fieldwork on postcolonial elite formations in the Philippines.
Rodney H. Jones (Reading) explored TikTok and looked at how new forms of embodiment on the platform challenge sociolinguists to think beyond binaries when talking about some of the central concepts in the field, namely, identity, authenticity, and embodiment.
Binaries aren’t involved only in our analyses and descriptions, but they are also to be considered in relation to academia in general and our own field more specifically. During the Thursday (14 Jul) Sociolinguistics Symposium of the future session, Shaila Sultana (Bangladesh) raised the issue of underrepresentation of scholars from the Global South, particularly young ones, at academic conferences (such as SS24) due to economic disparities. Inclusion, Sultana argues, will lead to strengthening the sociolinguistic community across the world. One possible way of promoting horizontal reciprocity and solidarity, the attendees suggest, is to organise SS26 in a country of the Global South. Although, some point out, due to its impact, travel should be reconsidered altogether.
Seeing that I presented a paper co-authored with Susan Reichelt (Konstanz) “I see you, gender-neutral language, and I appreciate it! - Negotiating trans-inclusive language on YouTube,” I mostly attended talks on gender, language, and sexuality. While drawing on different methods and theoretical frameworks, engaging in dialogue was easy and we often came to similar conclusions. The broad scope of talks on the topic extended from psycholinguistic research on the attitudes towards pronoun choice and misgendering in English (Evan D. Bradley and Laura Evans, Penn State), pragmatics of pick-up artists’ field reports (Sofia Rüdiger, Bayreuth and Daria Dayter, Tampere), exploration of digital dating platforms beyond the binary (Riki Thompson, Tacoma), and the pragmatics of psychological abuse and gaslighting (Derek Bousfield, Manchester Metropolitan University, and M. Lunan, RTI-Health Services).
The attempt to break sociolinguistics by the eight working groups of the Language In The Human-Machine Era research network, brilliant International Sign Language interpreters, and the amazing student support deserve an honorable mention here, as do productive breakfasts, lunches, coffee breaks, and dinners, Gentse Feesten, and Gentse Neuzen. And I’m surely missing much more.
SS25, Perth, 30 June ~ 3 July 2024, anyone?