Keynotes

Day 1
05 May 2019
Day 2
06 May 2019
Day 3
07 May 2019
Day 4
08 May 2019
Day 5
09 May 2019

Linguistics: the science that identifies us and surrounds us

Speaker: Maria Helena Mira Mateus

Places: 650

The initial part of this keynote concerns the claim that, in the context of the study of language, there have always been different forms of knowledge ranging from philosophical and historical approaches to theoretical and formalized constructions, to pre-theoretical descriptions and to domain applications of great diversity. In the second part, linguistic analysis tools derived from the interaction between logic and mathematics are discussed. In relation to current research, some examples of the contribution of genetic science to the discussion of the nature of language are presented, and the creationist and evolutionist perspectives are discussed as fields of investigation in the acquisition of knowledge systems, with special mention to the acquisition of language.

On the frontiers of language, a generation of rebelliousness and responsibility

Conferencista: Eni Orlandi

Places: 250

Years 60/70 of the twentieth century. All over the world there were explosive movements in relation to what existed and was challenged by young people in their proposals for new senses. Rebellion, clashes, explosion of boundaries. We had different – but not always different – confrontations: with traditions and with dictatorship.

Giving innovations and innovators a “voice” – Prosody research as a driver of technological progress and entrepreneurship

Speaker: Oliver Niebuhr

Vagas: 250

Speech communication is typically thought about in terms of words. Indeed, words are important, but what really drives both private and business relationships are voices, i.e. the systematic variations that speakers produce in pitch, loudness, tempo, rhythm, and timbre. Human beings are social beings. Emotions, attitudes, signals of social hierarchy, and indications of pain and stress are first and foremost conveyed by the speaker’s voice. If words were sufficient, then exchanging letters or short text messages would be sufficient as well, and a major invention would have never been as successful as it was: the telephone.

It is exactly 140 years ago (1878) now that the Scottish speech therapist and inventor A.G. Bell initiated the first long-distance call from Boston to New York. The Bell Telephone Company started with 778 customers. Their number quickly grew to 3,000. At the beginning of the 1880s, the company already had more than 100,000 customers; and, at the turn of the century, there were well over a million people who used telephones on a regular basis. Today, the amount of telephone contracts exceeds the amount of people on the planet.

But, what has been the next major invention related to human voices after the telephone? Spontaneous answers are hard to find, except for, maybe, human-machine interfaces like Alexa and Siri. However, do we really like talking to them? While they are pretty good at understanding and producing words, their tone of voice makes us laugh and often strikes us as being odd or even inappropriate.

The present keynote argues that combining features of the human voice with today’s opportunities in digital technology holds a tremendous innovation potential. A glimpse into this potential is outlined, based on a small selection of examples from various areas of (information) technology. These areas range from medical technology (pain and voice-inspired noise measurement and treatment) through speech-enhancement systems (for in-car communication and rhetorical training) to persuasive technology and sound design (of machines, robots, and musical instruments).

Fundamental operations of language: Reflections on optimal design

Speaker: Noam Chomsky

Places: 650

Live Streaming This will be a live web transmitted talk

20 years ago, in talks in Brasilia, I suggested that we might someday discover that the faculty of language FL is “beautifully designed, a near-perfect solution to the conditions imposed by the general architecture of the mind-brain in which it is inserted, another illustration of how natural laws work out in wondrous ways,” so that language is rather like a snowflake, and the near-perfect design can be expected to impose inefficiency of use.  I added that “these are fables,” with the redeeming value that they “might even turn out to have some elements of validity.

In the years since, solid reasons have been found to suggest that these hopes were understated, and that the “fable” – the Strong Minimalist Thesis – appears to have considerable validity.  A number of striking and puzzling properties of FL – “universals of language” in the contemporary sense – have been shown to derive from the simplest computational operation, Merge, along with conditions of computational efficiency that are in effect part of natural law.  And as anticipated, they do indeed impose communicative inefficiency.

But the concept of Merge that has been used in these inquiries has been left open in ways that permit unacceptable applications, often presented as explanations though they are better understood, I think, as descriptions of problems to be solved.  We need a deeper understanding of what seem to be the fundamental mechanisms of language.  A natural approach is to consider general conditions that operations of language should meet and to derive from them a refinement of Merge that is arguably optimal and that restricts applications to the legitimate ones, leaving the puzzles to be resolved.

I will review recent steps towards achieving these goals and also sharpening and improving related concepts of UG.

Reconstruction beyond proto-languages in the Middle Andes

Speaker: Willem Adelaar

Places: 220

The question of the nature of the relationship that exists between the two main Andean language families, Aymaran and Quechuan, has divided historical linguists and other observers for at least four centuries. Could the numerous similarities between these two language groups be attributed to common inheritance, or to language contact and extensive borrowing? Recent research has shown that profound formal differences in the morphology and root structure as well as the relative scarcity of shared elements in the basic vocabulary of both language families favour the conclusion that language contact and extensive borrowing can account for most of the similarities, rather than common inheritance from a putable shared ancestor. At the same time, it became clear that a majority of shared elements were exchanged during or before the genesis of the proto-languages of both families, because all of the present-day daughter languages, however conservative, preserve persistent traces of this early contact. Subsequently, it became possible to develop criteria for the attribution of shared elements to one or the other of the two linguistic lineages and thus to establish profiles of the main characteristics of each lineage before the first contact. A final step would be a reassessment of the question whether the two lineages could be genealogically related at some more remote historical level.         

A Vision of how linguistic theory and acquisition research can enrich pedagogy

Speaker: Tom Roeper

Places: 220

A phonological process, its use and its multiple faces: the palatalization of the dental occlusives in Brazilian Portuguese

Speaker: Dermeval da Hora

Places: 250

Theorizing about the Syntax of Human Language: A Radical Alternative to Generative Formalisms

Speaker: Geoff Pullum

Places: 220

Any theory of syntax must give an account of what sort of structure sentences and other expressions have, and of what grammars are like. Since the 1950s it has become standard, almost universal, to assume that sentence structures are transformational derivations and grammars are systems which “generate” sets of derivations. But the generative perspective is not the only way to conceive of grammars. I argue here that generative grammars are curiously ill-suited to explaining certain familiar and uncontroversial properties of human languages. I outline a very different alternative way of formalizing syntactic theories. It defines grammars as finite sets of statements true in certain kinds of structure (e.g., certain labeled graphs) and false in others. The statements provide a direct description of syntactic structure (I argue that generative grammars do not). Many aspects of linguistic data look quite different when viewed in this way. I will sketch the two positions informally, avoiding mathematical detail, and point to some phenomena that clearly underline the advantages of non-generative frameworks.

Individual vs. Community Variation in Phonetics and Phonology

Speaker: Andries Coetzee

Places: 250

The phonetics/phonology research tradition of the past five or six decades tended to treat languages as mostly invariant systems that can be subjected to description and analysis (e.g., the syllable structure of Language X, the acoustics of sibilants in Language Y, etc.). More recent research, however, have seen an increased move towards recognizing the variation between individual speakers, even within the same speech community. In this presentation, I will review the shift in focus from languages as invariant systems to their individual speakers, and will interrogate the relationship between individuals, the speech communities in which they participate, and the languages (or language varieties) they speak. I will show that these relationships are complex and multifaceted, and argue that any comprehensive understanding of the human capacity for language requires an understanding of the complex dynamics of these relationships. The presentation will rely primarily on phonetic variation observed in three different communities of Afrikaans speakers, each having a different relationship to the language and the identity associated with it: Speakers of so-called “Standard” Afrikaans and “Coloured” Afrikaans in South Africa, and speakers of a small expatriate community of Afrikaans speakers in Patagonia, Argentina. I will argue that understanding the unique patterns of variation in each of these communities depends on understanding how members of the communities relate to the speech communities in which they participate, and to the larger cultural identity associated with the language.

What language is our language?

Speaker: José Morais

Places: 220

We, in this room and most of the people of our milieu are literate. The main aim of my presentation is to examine on which aspects, to what extent and how, our literate language differs from the one of illiterates or poor literates. I will challenge the dominant view in linguistics and cognitive science that describes as universal a language that is clearly characteristic of literate people. I will argue that literacy changed dramatically at least the following aspects of language and cognition: conscious knowledge of language, spoken language processing at both the lexical and syntactic levels of structure, neural organization of the language system, verbal memory, conceptual knowledge, and reasoning.

The impact of writing on cognitive human development has been marvelous, but as it is usual with technologies the literacy and the literacy outcomes it generated have ever since been the privilege of the dominant classes. Literate people and scientists in particular must be aware that literacy and science are used as instruments for social dominance in the new forms of capitalism and governance. Education for literacy must also be education for a true democracy. This entails a big question: What then should we do now?

On the role of culture in grammar and cognition

Speaker: Dan Everett

Places: 650

This lecture provides an overview of some recent research on how culture is causally implicated in the understanding of human cognition. In particular I review studies on the influence of culture on short-term memory, visual perception, grammar, numerical cognition, and language evolution. I also provide a list of desiderata for research methodologies on the connections between culture and cognition and a direction for future research.

Linguistic racism in Brazil

Speaker: Marcos Bagno

Places: 300

Racism is constitutive of Brazilian society, so that it manifests itself in all public and private spheres, including the production and reproduction of institutionalized knowledge. Since the debate on the particular characteristics of Brazilian Portuguese began, generations of intellectuals – writers, philologists, linguists, teachers – all men, white and part of an elite, have been working to deny the overwhelming impact of African languages ​​and their speakers in the constitution of the majority language of our population, today mostly black and mestizo population, subject to symbolic and physical violence, if not to a systematic genocide. The lecturer will review the various manifestations of this linguistic racism, from the post-independence period to the present, outlining the bicentennial formation of a discourse that, under false premises of scientificity, contributes to the preservation of an unjust model of society, excluding and segregating.

Please notice: in order to participate in this activity, you must pay the fee to take part of the ABRALIN’s Party.