skip to primary navigationskip to content

Public events

Festival of Ideas 2017 cropped


Cambridge Festival of Ideas

16-29 October 2017


Here's a selection of talks and events related to language sciences presented as part of the Festival. For the full programme visit the Festival website.

There's no need to re-book events unless specifically stated. Bookings open on 25 September.


Tuesday 17 October

FULLY BOOKEDDiscourse is no liar


Faculty of Education, 184 Hills Road, CB2 8PQ

Corpus linguistics can expose discourse ideologies by examining how linguistic items are combined in big sets of data. Join us as we examine public discourse and how discourse construes ideas and people.

Wednesday 18 October

Can machines think?


Whipple Museum of the History of Science, Free School Lane, CB2 3RH

Philosopher and cognitive scientist Marta Halina explores what is unique about the human mind and whether we can build machines that match or exceed our abilities.

LIMITED TICKETS MAY BE AVAILABLE ON THE DOOR - I don't know it for a fact, I just know it's true: how conspiracy theories stake their claims to truth


St John's College Fisher Building, St John's Street, CB2 1TP

Conspiracy theories usually arouse scepticism. Yet when we confront them they can appear - at least at first sight - strangely persuasive. Join a discussion about the strategies conspiracy theories use in making their pitch for plausibility and staking their claim to truth. Organised by the Conspiracy & Democracy project at CRASSH.

Thursday 19 October

LIMITED TICKETS AVAILABLE ON THE DOOR - Multilingualism for well-being


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

Good communication in families is a predictor of well-being. What happens with multilingualism? What are the effects of maintaining or losing a language? Cambridge Bilingualism Network hosts an expert panel.

Saturday 21 October

Can there ever be truth in translation?


Magdalene College, Cripps Court, 1-3 Chesterton Road, CB4 3AD

What is true translation? How faithful should translation be? How useful is translation in teaching at both school and university level? Find out at this half-day event: journalist and foreign correspondent Rosie Goldsmith talks about her experiences in "translating" events into news stories. Talks also showcase what a degree in German and the ability to think in a foreign language can lead to. *Pre-book

Deliberately obscure: the secret language of medieval Irish poets


GR05, Faculty of English, 9 West Road, CB3 9DP

This talk presents some of the wonderful ways in which medieval Irish poets played with language to make their composition obscure, and discusses why they chose to do so.

Truth: a never ending journey through language and culture


Little Hall, Sidgwick site, CB3 9DA

Does knowledge equate to facts or is truth also about what we perceive? This session explores how concepts of truth differ across languages and cultures. It argues that learning another language transforms and enriches the people that we become. With Bernadette Holmes MBE, Director of Speak to the Future. *Pre-book

Wednesday 25 October

Codebreakers and Groundbreakers: curators' introduction



Seminar Room, Fitzwilliam Museum, Trumpington Street, CB2 1RB

Join the curators of the Codebreakers and Groundbreakers exhibition as they introduce the show, and the stories of the brilliant minds involved in the breaking of the enigma codes and the deciphering of Linear B. This event is led by Anastasia Christofilopoulou, Yannis Galanakis and James Grime. *Admission is by token, available at the Courtyard Entrance from half an hour before each talk.

True relatives and false friends: understanding old words and their meanings


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

This talk discusses the origins and meanings of words from the Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic worlds, and is followed by an interactive session with the audience. 

Saturday 28 October

Trout pout and bucket list: is there a true meaning in novel word combinations?


Anglia Ruskin University, East Road, CB1 1PT

Languages always change and existing words are constantly recombined into novel combinations. Drop in to explore the fascinating world of word-creation. Presented by Martin Schaefer, Anglia Ruskin University.

Different Languages, Different Perspectives: Understanding our Multilingual World 


Anglia Ruskin University, East Road, CB1 1PT

We all use language, or perhaps many different languages, to interact with each other on a daily basis. What more can there be to learn about them? Well, we think there are many fascinating truths to unearth about our multilingual world. Whether a classic literary tome or a tweet of 140 characters; whether a lengthy political debate or a quick phone call: the languages we use, the way we use them and the different ways we perceive truth in language reveal something important about who we are. Come and share your own beliefs about and experiences with languages, and perhaps learn something new about them too!


Engage with and question various aspects of languages that you are likely to encounter every day. Come and explore the following activities, and more, at any time throughout the day - no need to book!

Just write it - right?

Are spoken and written language the same thing? Why, or why not? Come and find out.

Guess who!

What judgements do we make about people based on how they speak? What associations and assumptions do we make when we hear different accents, words or grammar? Do some people speak "better" than others?

The macho ninja eats pizza in the café

How can we recognise words that have come from other languages. Is a language ever "pure"?

The difficulty of learning languages: busting some myths

Are some languages easier to learn than others? Are children really better at learning languages than adults?

Forever lost in translation?

Can a translation ever be perfect? In popular culture, for example books and films, how can we translate things like idioms, names, and accents?

All in our heads

What does our brain do to process and store language? How do we actually learn another language? What techniques do we use to break the code?

Going, going, gone!

How many languages are there in the world? Are there some that are in danger of dying out? Why might that be?


Explore the different challenges and possibilities posed by languages and multilingualism.

1.30pm Languages beyond language; seeing, touching and tasting Barcelona. Professor Brad Epps

2:00pm Speaking correctly: rule making and rule breaking. Professor Wendy Ayres-Bennett

2:30pm Making friends through language: language, identity, diversity and social cohesion. Professor Micháel Ó Mainnin

3:00pm Your languages, your identity! Dr Linda Fisher

3:30pm Everyone can learn a language, but the question is - how? Dr Henriëtte Hendriks

4:00pm  Keep learning and carry on! Languages and implications for motivation, health, and well-being. Dr Jenny Gibson