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Cambridge Language Sciences

Interdisciplinary Research Centre
Cambridge Language Sciences Annual Symposium 2020 What Next? Future Directions in Language Research

The Cambridge Language Sciences Annual Symposium is an annual meeting of minds, bringing together language scientists of all disciplines from the University of Cambridge and beyond. 

The 2020 event took place on 17 November and was attended by 200 colleagues from across the University of Cambridge and other leading research institutions working in the language sciences. One advantage of the event being online this year is that more guests and collaborators from around the world were able to attend.

The programme offered a wide variety of interdisciplinary perspectives on the future of language research, with keynote presentations by Prof. Josh Tenenbaum (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), Dr Heather Burnett (CNRS and Université de Paris), Dr Sebastian Ahnert (Dept. of Chemical Engineering & Biotechnology, Cambridge, and Alan Turing Institute) and Dr Calbert Graham (Phonetics Laboratory, Cambridge).

It was an amazing event. The talks were fascinating and thought-provoking, hand-picked and covering diverse topics.

Symposium delegate

Keynote topics encompassed new research in forensic phonetics on the use of Machine Learning to identify a speakers’ first language presented by Calbert Graham, the use of network analysis and data mining of historical archives to reveal important information about Tudor networks of power presented by Sebastian Ahnert, and gender inclusive writing in French and the implications of gender-neutral language use for linguistic signalling presented by Heather Burnett.

In the final keynote presentation, Josh Tenenbaum gave a thought-provoking exposition of how existing tools currently applied in cognitive science and AI contexts might provide useful steps towards building more human-like language, learning and reasoning in machines. Dr Guy Emerson, Cambridge Language Sciences Executive Director and Early Career Academic Fellow in the Dept. of Computer Science & Technology, also provided a response to this which is available to view on the recording of Josh Tenenbaum's talk

I find [Josh Tenenbaum’s] work exciting because it shows how three disciplines – cognitive science, machine learning, and linguistics – can mutually support each other. 

Dr Guy Emerson

In addition to the keynote presentations, the virtual poster exhibition was an opportunity for early-career researchers across multiple language-sciences related disciplines to showcase their research. Many of them produced a one-minute flash talk video about their poster which is available to view on the poster slam recording.

The flash talks of the posters were a really nice way to show the breadth of the language sciences research in a short amount of time.

Symposium delegate

This year, for the first time, the Annual Symposium posters, along with recordings of the plenary sessions, have been hosted and are available to view on Cambridge Open Engage, an early research site run by Cambridge University Press. The aim is to offer delegates and the wider research audience a place to access and discuss the talks and posters, and interact with the content.

The Symposium posters and recordings of the keynote presentations will remain available to view on Cambridge Open Engage.  You can also view the recordings here:

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

Chair: Dr Andrew Caines, Senior Research Associate, Dept. of Computer Sciences & Technology and ALTA Institute

Respondent: Dr Guy Emerson Executive Director, Cambridge Language Sciences and Early Career Academic Fellow in the Dept. of Computer Science & 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

Poster slam 2020

One-minute videos by the poster presenters

Finally, we would like to thank everyone who contributed to make this such a successful event, in particular the speakers, chairs and poster presenters, James Algie and Yuchen Zong for organising the poster exhibition and everyone who generously gave their time to review the posters. Thanks also to Cambridge Assessment and Cambridge University Press for their support in sponsoring and helping to deliver the event.

Cambridge Language Sciences runs two Symposia each year: an Annual Symposium in November for all members of our research community, and a Symposium for Early Career Researchers in the summer.

Topics previously covered in the Cambridge Language Annual Symposium include those below. Films of most of these talks, and from the preceding years, are available via the Video & Audio link on the Cambridge Language Sciences homepage.

2019: Perspectives on Language Change (November 2019)

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 (November 2018)

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 (November 2017)

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 (November 2016)

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.