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Cambridge Language Sciences

Interdisciplinary Research Centre
Photo of Mate Aller presenting his poster and the Annual Symposium 2022

What does language diversity mean for the past, present and future of humankind?

This ‘moonshot’ question was the focus of this year’s Language Sciences Annual Symposium which took place at Cripps Court, Magdalene College on Thursday 24 November.

The moonshots are ambitious questions of societal importance developed as part of Cambridge Language Sciences’ strategy to address large-scale challenges relating to language research.

The symposium, now in its seventh year, is an annual meeting of minds, bringing together language scientists of all disciplines from the University of Cambridge for talks, poster presentations and informal networking. 



Research dialogues

This year’s plenary sessions took place as research dialogues, with researchers giving different perspectives on a topic relevant to the overarching Symposium theme – language diversity.   

Dialogue 1: Language, culture and identity: perspectives from historical linguistics and sociolinguistics

David Willis, Professor of Celtic at the University of Oxford, chaired the first dialogue, which was on language culture and identity. 

Laura Wright, Professor of English Language at Cambridge University and Daniel Weston, Assistant Professor of English at the University of Hong Kong, discussed their work on Gibraltar's street names and how these provide an archaeological trace of the eighteenth-century workforce servicing Western Mediterranean forts.  

This was followed by Esther-Miriam Wagner, Executive Director of Cambridge University’s Woolf Institute, discussing her work on defining boundaries and creating commonalities in the case of Jewish Arabic. 

Dialogue 2: Exolanguages and communicating with exobeings

The second dialogue was on exolanguages – alien languages – and was chaired by Ian Roberts, Professor of Linguistics at the University of Cambridge.

Behavioural ecologist Arik Kershenbaum gave the first presentation. In his talk ‘Could a parrot build a spaceship?’ he shared his views on the evolutionary constraints on the language of a space-faring species based on his research into communication in non-human animals.

Raymond Hickey (University of Limerick) completed the dialogue with a presentation on ‘Life and Language Beyond Earth’, exploring whether aliens or exobeings could have a communication system comparable to human language.

Poster presentations

The poster session is an opportunity for researchers to showcase their work on any topic within language sciences. Interdisciplinary research is especially welcome. 

As well as the poster exhibition, many of the poster presenters took part in the poster slam – a fun session where they have the challenge of presenting their research with one slide in one minute. 


The posters remain available to view on Cambridge Open Engage and a full list of poster presenters is available on the Language Sciences Symposium event page.

We are very grateful to the poster session organisers: Aurora Gao and Yuyan Xue.

We would also like to thank Cambridge University Press & Assessment for sponsoring the evening drinks reception.

View presentations and posters 

The Symposium posters and recordings plenary presentations are available on Cambridge Open Engage. You can also view the recordings here:

Previous Symposia

Cambridge Language Sciences runs two Symposia each year: an Annual Symposium in November and a Symposium for Early Career Researchers in the summer. Below you can find information on topics previously covered in the Annual Symposia. Films of most of these talks are available via the Cambridge Language Sciences Video & Audio archive.

2021 Language and Inclusion 

  • ‘Documenting the endangered Neo-Aramaic dialects of Iraq and Iran’, Geoffrey Khan Faculty of Asian & Middle Eastern Studies, University of Cambridge
  • 'Language under the shadow of another language: implications and revitalisation strategies for Runyakitara and So languages', Fridah Katushemererwe (Makerere University, Uganda)
  • 'Dyslexia as a Window into Language', Maria Teresa Guasti Università di Milano-Bicocca
  • 'Beyond the label: A transdiagnostic approach to understanding cognitive difficulties in childhood', Duncan Astle, Programme Leader at MRC Cognition & Brain Sciences Unit and leader of the 4D Research Group
  • 'Re-understanding speech understanding: Closing the cohort loop', William D Marslen-Wilson, Centre for Speech, Language, and the Brain, Department of Psychology, University of Cambridge

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

Photo credit: Dr Maté Aller presenting his poster to delegates. Photo by Chris Loades.

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.