Keynote Speakers

Janet E. Connor

How can we study Sociolinguistics in cities?

Examining researcher and speaker perspectives on linguistic differentiation and convergence

See Dr. Connor's abstract

Since William Labov’s studies in New York City were instrumental in the creation of the field of variationist sociolinguistics, it is perhaps no surprise that variationism and urban sociolinguistics often go hand-in-hand. Sociolinguists studying cities tend to ask how variables either correlate to demographic categories or become resources for speakers to differentiate themselves. Yet they only rarely consider how Labov’s own perspective on the relationship between language and American citizenship in the mid-1960s influenced the very creation of variationist sociolinguistics. Even fewer stop to question if differentiation is always the best lens through which to consider urban linguistic practices.


This presentation will consider both how researchers’ perspectives have influenced the kinds of questions that sociolinguists ask about cities, and how urban speakers’ perspectives on when language is “the same” or “different” are not always as obvious as a variationist perspective tends to assume. I will use examples from my research in Oslo, Norway, where claims to sound “the same” as other people already living in a gentrifying neighborhood have become a common strategy by new residents and business developers hoping to legitimize their presence. I will ultimately argue that a semiotically informed, linguistic anthropological approach helps us to better understand the ways that linguistic practices get taken up by speakers and become socially meaningful in urban (and other) communities.

Aone van Engelenhoven

Malay minimalism in verbal art

Towards a cognitive poetic approach of allusion in Malay

See Dr. van Engelenhoven's abstract

Notwithstanding the fact that they are expressions of language use, linguistic research on oral traditions in insular Southeast Asia is still in its infancy. Being categorised usually as verbal art, they are considered as a purely literary or anthropological enterprise for areal culture specialists. Together with the – mainly Dutch folkloristic – perception that they are either too “simple” or “boring” to have anything interesting for a linguist, this may explain the underrepresentation of linguistic research on the oral traditions of Malay and Indonesian.

A distinctive feature of Malay language use is the “indirectness as a rule of speech” (Asmah 1995). Pantun are small four-line poems and are generally acknowledged as the most salient instance of verbal art in Malay daily speech. In its long tradition of literary study, the semantic link between the first two and last two lines has been a point of disagreement between scholars (Braginsky 2004: 495).

In 1996 Palmer proposed a new culture-based linguistics in which he acknowledged main importance to metaphor research. This was first done by Goddard in 2004 whose ethnopragmatic analysis of Malay metaphor in pantuns confirms Asmah´s (1995) observation. In this presentation I want to take this analysis a step further by applying mental space theory (Fauconnier 2018). The purpose of this exercise is to show how cognitive poetics can be used to explain strategies of allusion in Malay.


Asmah Hj Omar. 1995, ´Indirectness as a rule of speech among the Malays´, in: In: Zainab Abdul Majid and Loga Mahesan Baskaran (Eds.), pp. 47-60, Verbal Interactions at Play. Rules of Speaking, Petraling Jaya: Pelanduk Publications.

Braginsky, Vladimir. 2004, The Heritage of Malay Literature, A historical survey of genres, writings and literary views, VKI 214, Leiden: KITLV Press.

Fauconnier, Gilles. 2018. Ten lectures on Cognitive construction of Meaning. Leiden/Boston: Brill.

Goddard, Cliff, 2004, The ethnopragmatics and semantics of ´active metaphors´, Journal of Pragmatics 36(7):1211-1230.

Palmer, Gary B., 1996, Toward a Theory of Cultural Linguistics, Austin, TX: University of Texas Press.

Martin Kroon

Towards automatic detection of syntactic difference

See Dr. Kroon's abstract

Can syntactic differences between languages be detected automatically, and if so, how? With the enormous number of natural languages and dialects, the very high level of variation they exhibit between one another, and the technically infinite number of possible sentences per language or dialect, systematic manual comparison is a hugely daunting task. The field of comparative syntax would therefore significantly benefit from the (partial) automatization of the process, as it would increase the scale, speed, systematicity and reproducibility of research.

In this talk which centers around my recent PhD research, I show through case studies involving English, Dutch, German, Czech and Hungarian that correct hypotheses on syntactic differences between languages can be generated automatically from parallel corpora through the use of the minimum description length principle, counting mismatches between part-of-speech pattern occurrences, word alignment and mapping annotation from an annotated language onto another unannotated language. The tools developed for the purposes of this research work well and can aid a linguist significantly in their search for differences or similarities, but do not replace the human researcher, whose instinct and interpretation remain crucial in the process.

Jan-Wouter Zwart

Theoretical Linguistics today

See Prof. Zwart's abstract

Thispaper discusses the objectives, methods, challenges, andperspectives for theoretical

linguistics today. As documented in Tomalin, Linguistics and the formal sciences

(Cambridge 2006), theoretical linguistics in the 20th century, in particular generative

grammar, took shape thanks to a major impetus from the formal sciences, mostly

mathematical logic. However, almost three quarters of a century later, there appears to

be widespread scepticism about generative grammar’s overall success and its status as

a science. What are we to make of this? In this paper, I argue that much of this criticism

arises from a misunderstanding of the object of inquiry, and from a misapprehension

of the methodology of theoretical linguistics, in particular as a science that constructs

a model ofits object, the human language faculty. Many ofthe subbranches oflinguistics

that have emerged in the slipstream of generative grammar’s early success, differ from

the original enterprise in the definition oftheir object of study and in their methodology,

which is often erroneously construed as motivating a rejection of generative grammar’s

objectives, methods, and results. I argue, in contrast, that the objective and method of

generative grammar are sound, and that overall results of the past decades are

encouraging, even if many lines of inquiry inevitably fail to make a lasting contribution.

Claartje Levelt

The replication crisis in infancy research

Examples and initiatives to reap robust results

See Prof. Levelt's abstract

The replication crisis in psychology (Open Science Collaboration 2015) had an impact on infancy research too, and for good reasons; infant studies are notoriously underpowered, due to small sample sizes in combination with noisy data. This is not a good thing, because data are the fundament of our knowledge and the theories we build and if the data turn out to be questionable our theories collapse like card houses! I will illustrate the replication crisis in infancy research with two studies that have been performed in the Dutch babylabs (Geambaʂu, Spit et al., 2022; Spit, Geambaʂu et al., in revision) and discuss initiatives that have been taken to turn the tide and make infancy research great again 

Tamara Dobler

Chomsky and Wittgenstein on ordinary and scientific concepts

See Dr. Dobler's abstract

In this talk I argue that there are some interesting parallels between Chomsky’s and Wittgenstein’s views on concepts and philosophical methodology. Appealing to Chomsky’s distinction between common-sense and artificially constructed concepts, I show that Wittgenstein and Chomsky agree that many philosophical concepts are technical concepts, generated through the metaphysical inflation of everyday concepts in search for their ‘true’ essences. I contrast Wittgenstein’s methodology to Scharp’s (2020) metaphysically inflated version of conceptual engineering. 

Matthijs Westera

Semantics and Pragmatics in the age of deep learning

See Dr. Westera's abstract

As we are sometimes prone to think, the meanings of words and sentences can be described (though incompletely, no doubt) with the help of logic. On the other hand, what speakers do with words and sentences, i.e., the realm of speech acts and the like, is often deemed less amenable to a logical treatment. Indeed, Grice's influential paper 'Logic and conversation', in some respects the birthplace of pragmatics as we know it, was primarily an attempt to defend formal semantics against claims that natural language wasn't as logical as it seemed to presume. Grice suggested that the illogical parts (such as 'some' implying 'not all', contrary to the quantifiers of predicate logic) could at least in some cases be an illusion: pragmatics would be tainting our judgments about the underlying, logical semantics. In this talk I wish to invert this picture: if anything, it is pragmatics that is logical, compositional, and so on, while semantics is a fuzzy mess. This inversion isn't new, but its precedent in the literature is easily overlooked, drowned out by the successes of formal semantics. And yet, I will argue that it enables a more fruitful perspective on language and meaning, and on the relation between formal semantics and more cognitive subfields (e.g., psycholinguistics, language acquisition), as well as between formal semantics and more data-driven approaches (e.g., distributional semantics and deep learning).