Lausanne, 16-17 February 2018: Methodological approaches to synchronic and diachronic heritage language data - a report by Stefania Forlani, University of Bern

The workshop was organized by Prof. Anita Auer (Unil), Dr. Jennifer Thorburn (Unil), and Dr. Adina Staicov (Unizh) and was aimed at postgraduate students but, due to its content, it was also very useful for MA students who are thinking about working in sociolinguistics, language variation and language change. In fact, it was a very practical workshop where participants could understand how a study is planned, carried out, and how to overcome potential problems.


The first speaker, Prof. Naomy Nagy (University of Toronto), presented her project, which is focused on heritage languages spoken in Toronto (HLVC). She used her project as a guide to explain methodology and introduce theoretical questions. We discussed how to plan the study including field work, how to make contacts with the informants, and how to behave during an interview. We also talked about ethics, whose requirements vary from country to country. I, together with other participants, had the opportunity to present my own work and to explain how I organized it and the problems and solutions I found. We then discussed our different fieldwork experiences and our discoveries, depending on what stage of the study we were at.


In the afternoon, Dr. Adrian Leemann (Lancaster University) talked about theory and practice in sociophonetics, an emerging field of study. After a first session focused on theory, he illustrated methodology, data collection, data sampling, data analysis and reporting in detail. We could see how to use technology, i.e. smartphone apps, to collect data from speakers via the Internet (this was also the subject of our last session). Dr. Leemann’s presentation included several practical examples as well. The exhaustive part about reporting contained also a link to the Academic phrasebank, a very helpful page for any PhD student who needs to write a report.


On Saturday, we examined how to work on historical data, thanks to Dr. Markus Schiegg (FAU, Erlangen) who presented his project “Corpus of Patient Documents” (CoPaDocs). This project investigates old documents from psychiatric patients who lived in hospitals in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The research examines language history “from below” instead of taking into consideration the standard imposed “from above”. Dr. Schiegg made us do an exercise on a scanned letter, so we could understand even the first practical difficulties related to this kind of research: transcribing an old letter without mistakes isn’t an easy task!

The last session was about crowdsourcing heritage language data. Here, Prof. Auer described how her project Swiss Islands in North America used a smartphone app in order to collect material from a distance. With this app, the informant can upload their voice recordings but also photos that express their Swiss identity. We concluded our workshop discussing the pros and cons of using crowdsourcing methods in linguistic research.


On behalf of all the participants, I want to thank CUSO, the organizers and the speakers who – very kindly – shared their papers with us. This was an extremely enriching workshop.

Neuchâtel, 30 April 2017: Change in English Language and Literature – a report by Aleida Auld, University of Geneva

 

As a doctoral student, constraints of time and energy usually require staying devotedly focused on one’s historical period and subject matter. It is thus a particular pleasure to go further afield, to literary landscapes, foreign and fresh.

On Sunday, April 30, CUSO hosted a doctoral workshop in tandem with the biennial conference of the Swiss Association of University Teachers of English (SAUTE). The conference’s plenary speakers, now workshop participants – Professors Ewan Fernie, David Simpson, and Felipe Fernández-Armesto – guided us from G.W.F. Hegel’s Enlightenment to Walter Benjamin’s Modernism, to present-day research on the human animal and cultural production.

Along the way, we addressed critical trends, like the revived interest in character studies (drama), and in the relationship between the lyric speaker and the non-fictional poet (poetry). We discussed detailed questions on the texts, such as, what does Benjamin mean in ‘The Critique of Violence’ (1921) by the educative power [...] in its perfected form? But we also pondered and debated more elemental topics, among them, how cultural production is related to time, and the purpose of language.

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In the afternoon three doctoral students gave work-in-progress papers. Vincent Laughery, based at the University of Lausanne and a recipient of the Swiss National Science Foundation Doc.CH scholarship, presented an overview of his project on metaphor and agency in Shakespeare’s tragedies. Kilian Schindler, from the University of Fribourg and another recipient of the Doc.CH, explored Christopher Marlowe’s The Jew of Malta (c. 1590) as a potential response to Machiavelli as an ethical thinker, particularly in the character Barabas’s ‘ethics of dissembling’. Representing the University of Geneva, I gave the third paper on ‘Canonical Change and the Material Text’, which offered a theoretical overview of my doctoral project and posited some tentative general arguments. Vincent, Kilian, and I received insightful feedback from the conference’s plenary speakers and the other workshop participants. Genuinely useful responses were also offered by post-doctoral researchers Emma Depledge and Alice Leonard, who went out of their way to attend the session.  

On behalf of all the participants, I would like to warmly thank Ewan, David, and Felipe, as well as the organizers at the University of Neuchâtel, Professors Martin Hilpert, Margaret Tudeau-Clayton, and Patrick Vincent and, last but not least, doctoral assistant Anne-Claire Michoux.

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Lausanne, 2-3 September 2016: Big Data and Bad Data: Challenges of quantitative and qualitative research methods in linguistics – a report by Tobias Leonhardt, University of Bern

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This workshop focused on the methodological obstacles that present themselves when working with the increasing amounts of available data in diachronic as well as synchronic linguistics and brought together a small contingent of historical linguists and dialectologists of English varieties. It was highlighted that, besides many crucial differences, there are also many overlaps between the two strands in linguistics, and that therefore, at least to some degree, the methods used in corpus linguistic research are not restricted to those strands. Over two days, ten presentations and three discussion sessions helped further our understanding of not just the work of researchers in the other strand but also that of our own.

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In the first block, Susan Fitzmaurice (University of Sheffield), Daisy Smith (University of Edinburgh), Moragh Gordon (Utrecht University), and Yasushi Miyazaki (Kwansei Gakuin University) held their presentations. Among other things, they raised questions as to the definition of what is and what is not a token, whether corpus research requires for a key term to be explicitly mentioned or if it suffices for it to be described, circumscribed or implied. They all reminded us, in different ways, that our linguistic sources, our geographical sites and our more or less known authors and contributors all constitute complex linguistic realities, and they made it apparent that the human component can never be taken away completely but is always a requirement in some ways, regardless of there being more corpora or more sophisticated tools for our analysis. These and other issues were taken up in the open discussion where it was reinforced that our objects of interest (contemporary spoken varieties, written varieties in letters and manuscripts, etc.) must not be confused with the corpora that contain them. Furthermore, using tools for the analyses of corpora that contain our objects of interest requires a lot of sensitivity to all kinds of factors and issues, which renders corpus analysis slower than it might be assumed at first.

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The second day was started with presentations by Alexander Bergs (University of Osnabrück), Sarah Grossenbacher (University of Bern), and Tino Oudesluijs (University of Lausanne). From these presentations there emerged a common theme, namely the necessity for human intervention when working with corpus analysis tools, which made for a perfect continuation of the previous day and fed nicely into the subsequent discussions: Search outputs must not be interpreted as representative of linguistic realities, and they must not be confused with results but need manual correction – which can only be undertaken adequately when there is a profound understanding of the structure of the corpora, its compilation methods, and a myriad of other historical and sociolinguistic aspects that contribute to the complex linguistic realities we ultimately (probably) aim to capture and describe.

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The last block featured presentations by Daniel Schreier (University of Zurich), Nadine Chariatte (University of Bern), and a joint paper by Tobias Leonhardt, Sara Lynch and Dominique Bürki (University of Bern). It was, once again, demonstrated how a profound understanding of the corpora enables the right questions to be asked and the right methodologies to be chosen in an attempt to answer them. The best results are gained by not forgetting the speakers, communities and histories behind the data they provide, and by being sensitive to individual factors and by identifying the possibilities as well as limitations of our corpora accordingly. This holds true for contemporary speech that can be recorded today as well as the historical data in manuscripts and letters from various archives that survives from decades or even centuries past. The last discussion session, then, was concluded with a more or less open question: Is there bad data at all, or is there only bad scholarship?

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Doubtlessly, this workshop has been fruitful and engaging. A big ‘Thank You’ goes out to the organisers, Tino Oudesluijs (University of Lausanne) and Moragh Gordon (Utrecht University), for creating this opportunity and for being wonderful hosts!

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Bern, 6-7 June 2016: Beside Words: Rethinking Discourse/Text as Theory and Practice – a feedback by Joseph Comer, University of Bern

This workshop, led by Professor Susan Foster (University of California, Los Angeles, USA), Professor Rodney Jones (University of Reading, UK) and Professor Crispin Thurlow (University of Bern), was engaging and highly enjoyable. In discussing the various spatial, embodied, material and affective turns that the humanities and social sciences are undergoing, we were encouraged to think creatively, critically, and perhaps queerly about the limits of academic theory and practice. This was a great success of the workshop – the freedom all students had to rethink existing conventions and received practices. Throughout, we were made keenly aware of the limitations of creativity: we exposed the beguiling but misleading view that it functions through the complete unshackling of constraint. As Sisyphean as this may sound, our scholarly work is always creative and change-making – no matter how monolithic our institution/s, or how mammoth our task to describe the world, seems. In doing our work we (must) always inhabit the space beside those who’ve come before – we can never truly or simply move beyond.

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Workshop participants in the UniS garden in Bern

Neuchâtel, 28 November 2015: CUSO Workshop on Tools for Digital Humanities: A Practical Workshop – A Report by Tobias Leonhardt, University of Bern

The goal formulated by Prof Elena Pierazzo (Université Stendhal Grenoble III) at the outset of this workshop sounded rather improbable at first: To teach the basics of XML in, and here I quote, “five minutes”. Sure enough, however, it is well within this time frame that she shows us a slide that says, in big letters, “That’s all folks. You have learned XML!”, we start to code away, and soon even succeed in computing some cooking recipes.

XML is an exciting language that was new to most of the workshop participants, but Prof Elena Pierazzo enabled us to see and learn a lot about it in only one day. She showed how a myriad of tasks that we do in our every-day lives are possible only because somewhere in the process XML is spoken: not only is this true for many computer programs we use on a regular basis such as Word, but also for cash transactions or refuelling a car. Besides enhancing our consumer vision, we adopted the developer perspective, learned about mark-ups, elements, attributes, syntax, et cetera, and thus acquired the skills to work with XML ourselves. The software we used is called Oxygen, which is, due to its nicely structured interface and its functionality, ideal for learners and experts alike. The tasks soon became more difficult, and instead of cooking recipes, old manuscripts had to be transcribed. How to treat main text and annotations, indentions and page breaks, deletions and missing or illegible parts? In trying to answer these questions, it became apparent what XML is capable of, how seemingly simple things require careful and very much conscious planning and coding, how the basics may indeed be conveyed in five minutes but that, like so often, mastery requires a lot of practice. These exercises and the insights they provided are transferable so that all participants, and not only those focusing on manuscripts in their academic career, have profited from the workshop. Tackling LaTeX or Macros, for instance, does not seem to be impossible anymore.

On behalf of all the participants, I wish to thank Prof Elena Pierazzo for equipping us with this XML toolkit (and cooking recipes), and Erzsi Kukorelly (University of Geneva), Lucy Perry (University of Lausanne) and Patrick Vincent (University of Neuchatel) for the organization of this workshop. It was enjoyable and fruitful to delve into a new topic, to interact with others during coffee and lunch breaks, or even to go on a short walk at Lake Neuchatel in the autumn sun.

Schloss Münchenwiler, 27-29 March 2015: CUSO Workshop on Conducting Sociolinguistic Research on Englishes Near and Far – A Report by Tino Oudesluijs, University of Lausanne

Sociolinguistic and dialectological fieldwork can be a time-consuming and exhausting enterprise. It can nevertheless also be immensely rewarding, since it usually allows the researcher to collect previously unrecorded data, the analyses of which can result in new linguistic hypotheses. To date, it is, however, an underexposed part of the research process in the sociolinguistic literature. For this reason, Prof. Dr. David Britain, together with Dr. Susan Fox, Tobias Leonhardt and Dominique Bürki (all from the University of Bern), organised a workshop to introduce the participants to this fundamental aspect of sociolinguistic research. Prof. Kazuko Matsumoto (University of Tokyo), Prof. Daniel Schreier (University of Zürich), Dr. Andrea Sudbury (University of London) and PhD student Nicole Eberle (University of Zürich) were invited to come to Schloss Münchenwiler and share some of their first-hand experience with the participants.

The workshop lasted three days, starting on Friday at 13:00 and finishing on Sunday at lunchtime. This enabled the invited speakers not only to present their research and experience during lectures but also to lead interactive seminars in which everyone was encouraged to discuss the different aspects of sociolinguistic research. Finally, all participants were asked to present their own research, which gave everyone the possibility to obtain feedback from both the other participants as well as the experienced researchers.

On Friday, after a short introduction by Prof. David Britain, Dr. Andrea Sudbury, who went to the Falkland Islands, and Prof. Kazuko Matsumoto, who went to Micronesia, were the first to discuss the many difficulties researchers face when doing sociolinguistic fieldwork. Both revealed that whereas certain problems that researchers face are often of a similar origin, the approaches to such problems can differ greatly depending on the cultural and sometimes even climatic differences. At the end of the afternoon, five of the doctoral participants presented their own research, most of which was still in its early stages. As one of the participants, I found this a most profitable endeavour since all of the experts were able to give useful feedback and tips, and most of the doctoral students were introduced to different topics and approaches in the field.

On Saturday morning, Dr. Andrea Sudbury led an interactive workshop in which she asked all participants to think about and subsequently discuss the different topics discussed on Friday, stressing the practical aspect of getting to know the people you intend to interview for your research as well as their culture. As was the case the day before, everyone could have done with much more time to discuss every possible aspect of the field, and, unsurprisingly, both the coffee and lunch breaks were used well to continue many discussions.

Prof. Daniel Schreier from the University of Zürich, who presented other possible solutions to many earlier discussed problems, concluded the morning session, and after the lunch break, the remaining doctoral students presented their research. The day was concluded with a guided tour through the lovely city of Murten, and, as was the case on Friday, a most delicious dinner was offered back at the Schloss in Münchenwiler.

Sunday morning consisted of another interactive seminar, which was hosted by Prof. Kazuko Matsumoto, and a talk by Nicole Eberle from the University of Zürich. Both speakers offered, once again, some new insights into the practical aspects of sociolinguistic research.

The speakers at the workshop successfully managed to present, highlight, question and discuss the many different practical aspects of carrying out sociolinguistic fieldwork. Many relevant insights and methodologies were offered to all the doctoral students who participated, notably also to students who work in different research fields.

On behalf of all the participants, I wish to thank the organisers once again for such an interesting and, most of all, extremely useful workshop.