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Public events

Language Sciences at the Festival of Ideas, 20 October - 2 November 2014


Festival of Ideas University of Cambridge


For the full programme, or to download the Festival app, visit


Monday 20 October

Mother tongue, other tongue


Anglia Ruskin University, East Road, CB1 1PT

Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy presents this celebration event where secondary school students from the Routes into Languages Routes into Languages logoEast Mother Tongue Other Tongue competition 2014 perform their shortlisted entries.

Pre-book, email:


Tuesday 21 October

Constructing identities: constructing languages


Anglia Ruskin University, East Road, CB1 1PT

This session, presented by Dr Bettina Beinhoff, will examine constructed languages such as Esperanto, Klingon, or Dothraki  and discuss what conlangs can tell us about how we perceive and evaluate identities through language. 

You will have an opportunity to take part in a live experiment on the perception of conlangs and natural languages during the session.

Adults, Pre-book, email:


Wednesday 22 October

Migration, language and identity: Greek in Italy


Museum of Classical Archaeology, Room 1.02, Sidgwick Avenue, CB3 9DA

Is the language you use a part of your identity? How did the Greeks see Greek? Did the Romans feel attached to Latin? What happened when they met speakers of other languages in their travels? In this talk, researchers from the Greek in Italy project share their work on identity and language in the ancient world.

Adults, Pre-book, tel: 01223 330402



Thursday 23 October

The dyslexia debate: or should that be the dyslexia diatribe?


Room 9, Mill Lane Lecture Rooms, 8 Mill Lane CB2 1RW

In this talk, Professor Julian Elliott, Principal of Collingwood College, Durham University, will outline the key conclusions of his book The Dyslexia Debate. He will then describe the sometimes outraged responses to this work and give some key reasons why the dyslexia label evokes such powerful emotions. He will explain the tensions that have emerged between the scientific consideration of this topic and the powerful (and often competing) drivers of personal experience and need.

Pre-book, tel: 01223 766766 or via the Festival website

Saturday 25 October

Taster session in Modern Greek


Lecturers' Common Room, Faculty of Modern and Medieval Languages, Sidgwick Avenue, CB3 9DA

Don’t get lost for words in Greece! Join Dr Regina Karousou-Fokasus for this enjoyable and welcoming introduction to the Modern Greek language where you will have the opportunity to learn about the language and develop basic language skills. By the end of the session you will even be able to write your name and greet Greeks in their native language.

This event is suitable for absolute beginners. No prior knowledge of Greek is necessary, but a passion for learning languages will help!


How language shapes our identity


Room LG17, Faculty of Law

The way we speak and write is a major part of our identity. In this talk sociolinguist Dr Esther-Miriam Wagner explores what dialects tell us about our social networks, whether alphabets really mean anything, and why youth-speak is not all that terrible.

Pre-book, tel: 01223 766766 or via the Festival website


Ideas and languages: six more languages that changed the world


Lady Mitchell Hall, Sidgwick site, CB3 9DA

Languages shape human culture and human thought. Some languages have shaped our world more than others, some of them not as obvious as you might think. Professor Ian Roberts continues his tour of some of those languages after last year's successful talk.

 Ages 12+, Pre-book, tel: 01223 766766 or via the Festival website



12:15pm - 3:00pm

Alison Richard Building, SG1/2, Sidgwick Site 7 West Road, CB3 9DT

This is 'Blockbusters', 'Who Wants to be a Millionaire?' and 'Family Fortunes' - linguistics style! New questions and puzzles! Explore the wonders of language, learn something new and maybe even win a prize.

Ages 12+


Guess who you are: Qui es-tu? Easy peasy!


Lecturers' Common Room, Faculty of Modern and Medieval Languages, Sidgwick Avenue, CB3 9DA

Join Alliance Française for a free workshop to discover who you are in French language! This fun workshop mixing words, photos and drawings will teach you how to present yourself in French. You will also enjoy a French “Goûter” (snack). Suitable for children under 12, any level of French welcome!



Animal communication and the evolution of human language


Room LG19, Faculty of Law, 10 West Road, CB3 9DZ

Did human language develop from an animal communication system, or something else? And if language did evolve from an animal communication system, how and why did this happen? Dr Bert Vaux from the Dept. of Theoretical and Applied Linguistics considers these questions by comparing a range of key communicative abilities (or lack thereof) in chimpanzees, gorillas, parrots, cotton top tamarins, chinchillas, budgies, dogs, bees, lemurs, seals, dolphins, and elephants to their analogs in humans.

Pre-book, tel: 01223 766766 or via the Festival website


The vanishing monolingual - why the ability to speak other languages is defining success for the 21st Century


Lady Mitchell Hall, Sidgwick site, CB3 9DA

Is English enough for life in the global village? Will 'English only' suffice for aspiring young people, hoping to study and work in England and abroad? Can the monolingual survive in an increasingly interconnected global society?

This lecture will argue that monolingualism is a distinct disadvantage for life in the 21st century. It will explore the benefits of learning and using other languages, focusing on global communication and understanding, cultural competence, intellectual and personal development, and economic and social prosperity. Drawing on recent research, the lecture will put forward a compelling case for the central importance of language skills to the success of individuals, society and the economy. We are on the cusp of a significant social change in our time, the vanishing and eventual extinction of the monolingual.

Bernardette Holmes is an expert in languages education. She is principal researcher of Born Global, a major policy research project bernadetteholmesfunded by the British Academy, engaging key stakeholders from employment and education in a radical rethinking of languages education for 21st century Britain. She is Campaign Director of Speak to the Future and Past President of the Association for Language Learning. Bernardette is recognized as an innovative and inspiring teacher who throughout a long career in languages, as adviser, inspector, teacher trainer and researcher has made a major contribution to languages education in England. Throughout the development of language policy since the inception of the National Curriculum, Bernardette has played a central role in articulating both the pedagogy and support structures needed for coherent language learning in primary and secondary schools. She is currently advising the DfE on curriculum reform for modern languages and is lead drafter of the new GCSE criteria for both modern and ancient languages and Subject Content Criteria Writer for Advanced Level. She has international experience in language policy profiling as a member of an expert panel for the Council of Europe and through research and development of Content and Language Integrated Learning. Bernardette is a Bye-Fellow of Downing College, University of Cambridge.

Ages 15+

Thursday 30 October

Spoken English in today's Britain


Room 9, Mill Lane Lecture Rooms, 8 Mill Lane, CB2 1RW

Cambridge University Press and Lancaster University present fascinating insights from a new project that investigates how British English is spoken today: from variation between regions to the effect of technology and the language of teenagers. Join us to find out how you can get involved too.

Ages 15+, Pre-book, tel: 01223 766766 or via the Festival website 


Saturday 1 November

Bilingualism: health and education

2.00-5.00pm (see timetable of individual sessions below)

Room GR06/07, Faculty of English, 9 West Road, CB3 9DP

Join us for an afternoon thinking about bilingualism, and its consequences for education and for health.

There are growing numbers of community language speakers in Britain – people who speak another language apart from English – and in our schools. What does this mean for education? Researchers from CRiCLE (Cambridge Research in Community Language Education) and the Faculty of Education share some of their findings.

Is it worth keeping up other languages, or even starting to learn one later in life? Thomas Bak (University of Edinburgh) talks about his research on how bilingualism is good for your brain as you get older.

2.00 Cambridge Research in Community Language Education team

2.50 Tea and coffee

3.10 Dr Thomas Bak

4.00 Launch of the new community language film foliowed by discussion 

5.00 Wine reception

This event is organised by the Cambridge Bilingualism Network.




Now Hear This!

Cambridge Science Centre, March 2014

Dr Matt Davis and Professor Sarah Hawkins were among the researchers taking part in this public event at the Cambridge Science Centre on the science of hearing.