ESFLC16 Salzburg – A Quick Reflection

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So the conference in Salzburg happened. I presented my work, I didn’t panic (too much) on my flights, and although I’m still a newbie to the world of SFL, I had a (mostly) warm welcome.

First and foremost, the thanks. Thank you to those who set up and ran the conference… it was extremely well catered, well organised and had good amounts of humour to boot! Thanks too to those who attended my presentation (which will be up on my Academia profile soon), to those who took the time to chat and debate things with me, and most importantly, those who helped my journey earlier this year with donations: I quite literally couldn’t have done this without your help! Here’s a grateful pizza as a token of my gratitude (and the link to the video from where this bizarre gif comes from):

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Now, the reflective bit. The header image of this post shows the main theme of the event, although lots of other things were presented. Despite covering many different areas, the following questions kept coming to mind after almost all of the presentations:

  • How can we go beyond the languages that are always at the forefront of study in SFL?
  • How can the “what” be accompanied  by the “so what?”
  • How can the “so what” be turned into engagement, action, improvement and change?

Although not only true from the SFL perspective, English seems to take the lead in terms of linguistic research, followed by the comparison of another language with English. But with a glut of other languages out there, both living and dead, it makes me wonder why an adaptable framework such as SFL isn’t being used and explored to its full potential. It almost seems like we’re ‘playing it safe.’

It’s also all well and good to explore things for the sake of exploration, such as the way English and German websites focus on different elements, or why a certain English word appears more in one context than in another. However, relating the reasons for this research and the research findings themselves to the bigger picture seems more logical. If we wanted to, we could create 20 minute presentations on the tiniest elements of language, but how (if at all) does it advance things? With recent pushes for research to break out of the academic realms, and pushes in public engagement and outreach, it’s critical to get stuff out there.

For example, even though my work seems to change focus every week (such is the nature of the Ph.D!), the outcomes will apply to BSL learners and teachers, the Deaf community, interpreters, linguists, and many other stakeholders. Similarly, a presentation I saw by Caitlin Rhodes on the power of image manipulation and how this affects meaning in various contexts will eventually benefit photographers, editors, students of journalism, etc. Also, it could increase public awareness of the downfalls of being visually and semantically mislead, and the need to be vigilant when interpreting what is given to you by the media.

Don’t get me wrong. This post isn’t intended to devalue what I saw at ESFLC16, or indeed at any other of the many, many conferences held every year. But… we as linguists have the knowledge and opportunity to study something that everyone uses every day. We have access to a constantly adapting and expanding framework to deal with this incredibly complex and fascinating phenomena. Isn’t it about time we got out of our comfort zone, started exploring, and passed the benefits on to the very people that we study, rather than a handful in a lecture theatre?

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