skip to content

Cambridge Language Sciences

Interdisciplinary Research Centre
Ianthi Tsimpli, Rosemary Varley and Matt Davis in research dialogue on the relationship between language and general cognition; Photo credit: Chris Loades

‘Language and Mental Wellbeing’ was the theme of this year’s Language Sciences Annual Symposium which took place on 16 November at Cripps Court, Magdalene College.

This year’s event was inspired by the ‘moonshot’ question ‘How can language use allow us to understand and predict mental health conditions?’.

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

The symposium, now in its eighth 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 keynote presentations took place as research dialogues, with researchers giving different perspectives on a topic relevant to the overarching theme of language and mental health.   

Dialogue 1: The relationship between language and more general cognition, and implications for wellbeing

Ianthi Tsimpli, Professor of English and Applied Linguistics, University of Cambridge, opened the first dialogue, chaired by CLS co-Director Matt Davis

Professor Tsimpli’s presentation explored links between language, thought and communication, based on her work with autistic children and a polyglot savant (see ‘The Signs of a Savant’). 

Rosemary Varley, Professor of Acquired Language Disorders, University College London, followed with a presentation of her work on residual thought in global aphasia. She discussed how evidence of residual cognitive capacity in people with severe language impairment can help improve therapies for neurorehabilitation, and how digital technologies can also drive innovation in this area. 

Dialogue 2: Speech, language and multi-modal technologies in healthcare settings, including human-robot interactions

The second dialogue was chaired by Kate Knill, Principal Research Associate at Cambridge’s Department of Engineering and Principle Investigator on the ALTA Institute Spoken Language Technology Project.

Oliver Lemon, Professor of Computer Science at Heriot-Watt University and Academic Co-Lead of the National Robotarium, gave the first presentation. His focus was on the use of generative AI systems such as Large Language Models (LLMs) for Human-Robot Interaction (HRI) in healthcare settings. Using examples from his work in this area, he discussed research directions in developing future generative AI systems to support human wellbeing.

Micol Spitale, Assistant Professor at the Politecnico di Milano working on ‘adaptive multimodal agents for wellbeing’, gave the final presentation. She presented insights from her research using robots with children to treat language disorders, and with adults to promote mental wellbeing at work. She used examples from these projects to discuss the challenges and potential solutions for bringing affective robots out of the lab and into real-world scenarios.  

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.

The poster slam was a highlight of the event and a chance for presenters to pitch their research. Presenters have one slide and one minute to give an overview their research and encourage delegates to visit their poster. 

The posters are available to view on Cambridge Open Engage and a full list of poster presenters is available on the Language Sciences Annual Symposium 2023 event page.

We are very grateful to the poster session organisers Yuyan Xue and Chara Triantafyllidou, and would like to thank all the researchers who gave their time to review the posters.

We would also like to thank Cambridge University Press and Assessment for sponsoring the evening drinks reception. This was a great opportunity for networking and to view the posters again at the end of a packed afternoon.

View recordings

Previous events

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

2022: What does language diversity mean for the past, present and future of humankind?

  • ‘'Aloof's Ramp', 'Jardin de Glynn': Gibraltar's street names and an eighteenth-century Western Mediterranean spatial practice’, Prof. Laura Wright (Faculty of English) & Dr Daniel Weston (University of Hong Kong) 
  • ‘Defining boundaries and creating commonalities: the case of Jewish Arabic’, Dr Esther-Miriam Wagner (The Woolf Institute) 
  • ‘Could a parrot build a spaceship? Evolutionary constraints on the language of a space-faring species’, Dr Arik Kershenbaum (Dept. of Zoology) 
  • ‘Life and Language Beyond Earth: Could we communicate with exobeings?’, Prof. Raymond Hickey (University of Limerick)

The Symposium posters and recordings of presentations are available on Cambridge Open Engage: Cambridge Language Sciences Symposium 2022

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

Image: Ianthi Tsimpli, Rosemary Varley and Matt Davis in research dialogue on the relationship between language and general cognition; Photo credit: 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.