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Cambridge Language Sciences

Interdisciplinary Research Centre
Photo of Language Sciences Symposium delegates November 2021

This year’s Language Sciences Annual Symposium took place on Tuesday 23 November.

The event, now in its sixth year, is an annual meeting of minds, bringing together language scientists of all disciplines from the University of Cambridge and other global research institutions. 

The topic of this year’s Symposium was ‘Language and Inclusion’. It was a hybrid event combining online talks and research content on Cambridge Open Engage, with an in-person poster exhibition and reception for networking. 

The Symposium posters and recordings of the talks will be available to view on Cambridge Open Engage.

Online talks

The online talks began with two dialogues from different research perspectives around the theme of language and inclusion.

Ioanna Sitaridou, Professor of Spanish and Historical Linguistics in the Faculty of Modern and Medieval Languages and Linguistics chaired the first dialogue, which was on endangered and underrepresented languages. Geoffrey Khan, Regius Professor of Hebrew at the Faculty of Asian & Middle Eastern Studies, presented his work on documenting the endangered Neo-Aramaic dialects of Iraq and Iran. This was followed by Fridah Katushemererwe, a Linguistics lecturer from Makerere University, Uganda, discussing her work on revitalisation strategies for two endangered Ugandan languages, Runyakitara and So. 

"I particularly enjoyed the conversation between Prof. Kahn and Fridah Katushemererwe. Coming from very different contexts, they managed to create a genuine conversation and echange of ideas.” - Symposium delegate

The second dialogue, on atypical language development in children, was chaired by Henriëtte Hendriks, Professor in Language Acquisition and Cognition in the Faculty of Modern and Medieval Languages and Linguistics. Maria Teresa Guasti Professor of Linguistics at the Università degli Studi di Milano-Bicocca (UNIMIB), presented her research on dyslexia as a window into language. This was coupled with Duncan Astle, who leads the 4D Research Group at the MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit in Cambridge, presenting his group’s work on developing a transdiagnostic approach to understanding cognitive difficulties in childhood.

William D Marslen-Wilson, Honorary Professor of Language and Cognition at the Centre for Speech, Language, and the Brain brought the online sessions to a close with his keynote on ‘Re-understanding speech understanding’, reporting on recent work which calls into question prevailing views on speech interpretation.

“The event … provides a great opportunity to hear talks that we just would not have a chance to access in specialised conferences or workshops. It continues to be a very valuable and irreplaceable event.” - Symposium delegate

Poster session & drinks reception

Later in the evening, poster presenters and local delegates gathered for the poster session and drinks reception at the Cambridge University Centre. This was the first in-person networking event for Cambridge Language Sciences since the Covid-19 pandemic began. We are very grateful for the financial support of Cambridge University Press & Assessment in making this event possible. We would also like to extend our special thanks to Yuchen Zong and Aurora Gao for organising the poster session. 

Photo by Aurora Gao 

Cambridge Language Sciences runs two Symposia each year: an Annual Symposium in November and a Symposium for Early Career Researchers in the summer. You can find a list of topics previously covered in the Annual Symposia below. Recordings of most of these talks are available via the Video & Audio link on the Cambridge Language Sciences homepage.

2020: What Next? Future Directions in Language Research

  • Cognitive and computational building blocks for more human-like language in machines, Prof. Josh Tenenbaum, Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • Social Signalling and Social Change: Inclusive Writing in French, Dr Heather Burnett, Laboratoire de Linguistique Formelle, CNRS and Université de Paris
  • Tudor Networks of Power, Dr Sebastian Ahnert, Dept. of Chemical Engineering & Biotechnology, University of Cambridge & Alan Turing Institute
  • Native language identification from L2 Speech Using Neural Spectrogram Analysis, Dr Calbert Graham, Phonetics Laboratory, University of Cambridge

2019: Perspectives on Language Change 

  • Change and stability in the native language of migrants, Prof. Monika S. Schmid, Dept. of Language & Linguistics, University of Essex
  • Darling, dukeling, duckling: how historical corpora can verify predicted pathways of language change, Dr Marieke Meelen, Dept. of Theoretical & Applied Linguistics, University of Cambridge
  • Language change as a (random?) walk in entropy space, Dr Christian Bentz, Dept. of General Linguistics, University of Tübingen
  • The acquisition and evolution of linguistic variation, Prof. Kenny Smith, Centre for Language Evolution, University of Edinburgh

2018: Language Sciences and Health 

  • Language acquisition, neural entrainment, phonology and dyslexia, Prof. Usha Goswami, Professor of Cognitive Developmental Neuroscience, Centre for Neuroscience and Education, University of Cambridge
  • Health crises, digital media and community voices: utilising interactive radio for rapid social research to improve outbreak preparedness and response, Dr Claudia Abreu Lopes, Senior Advisor - Research & Innovation, Africa's Voices Foundation
  • Using NLP and heterogenous user generated content to sense mental well-being, Dr Maria Liakata (Dept. of Computer Science, University of Warwick) 
  • The effect of early language and communication environment on social outcomes for primary school aged children with language difficulties, Dr Jenny Gibson, Faculty of Education
  • Stability and change in child language, Prof. Courtenay Norbury, Professor of Developmental Language & Communication Disorders, Literacy Language and Communication Lab, UCL

2017: Language Sciences and Tech Innovation 

  • The Use of Deep Learning in Spoken Dialogue Systems, Professor Steve Young, Dept. of Engineering/ Siri Development Team
  • Individualised Language in the Big Data Era, Dr Paula Buttery, Dept. of Computer Science & Technology
  • Using Social Media to Investigate Linguistic Variation and Change, Dr David Willis, Theoretical & Applied Linguistics
  • Linguistic Yardsticks: Evaluating Language Technology Using Insightsfrom Linguistic Theory, Dr Laura Rimell, DeepMind
  • Powered by Cambridge: Devices, Data and interDisciplinarity, Saul Nassé, CEO Cambridge Assessment, English

2016: Exploring the Borders of Language and Science 

  • Language dynamics: a neurocognitive approach to incremental interpretation, Professor Lorraine Tyler, Dept. of Psychology
  • Natural Language Processing and online health reports (or OMG U got flu?), Dr Nigel Collier & Dr Anna Korhonen, Dept. of Theoretical & Applied Linguistics
  • Does natural language understanding have anything to do with understanding natural language?, Professor Ann Copestake, Computer Laboratory (Chair: Professor Ted Briscoe, Computer Laboratory)
  • A molecular genetic perspective on speech and language, Professor Simon Fisher, Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, Nijmegen

What we do

Cambridge Language Sciences is an Interdisciplinary Research Centre at the University of Cambridge. Our virtual network connects researchers from five schools across the university as well as other world-leading research institutions. Our aim is to strengthen research collaborations and knowledge transfer across disciplines in order to address large-scale multi-disciplinary research challenges relating to language research.