Outside the wall

Dan and Sarala’s blog from Hohhot

A gathering of linguists

15 Oct 2014

We were surprised to learn after arriving in Hohhot that there was about to be an international sociolinguistics conference held right here on the IMU campus. The Urban Language Seminar convenes in a different city every year, usually in China or Europe. Since Sarala’s project concerns the Mongolian language as used in cities in China, the conference was right up her alley.

The attendees came from all over China, plus a few from Japan and elsewhere. Presentations were allowed in English, Chinese, Japanese and Mongolian. Because the conference was hosted by the School of Mongolian Studies within IMU, Mongolian linguistics was strongly represented. It tuned out to be a great opportunity to find out what linguists here are working on, make some friends, and meet future collaborators.

In between the individual presentations, there was a little bit of time allotted for group discussion, and that’s when the most interesting things happened. For example, there were several presenters from Shanghai, where Shanghainese is spoken alongside Mandarin. They brought up the issue of a “multilingual society”: since most people in China need to know Mandarin these days, the only way Shanghainese can survive is probably if the speakers continue to use both languages. This idea resonated with the Mongolian linguists, sparking a lively exchange about how exactly linguists might convince policymakers and the general public that language diversity is worth supporting. At the end, in typical academic fashion, the eminent professor Xu Daming concluded that what we need is more data.

Here is a picture of Sarala presenting:

Having just barely begun her research, she didn’t have any results to share, so she talked about her study design and methodology. Although her slides were in English, the presentation was in Chinese. Scary, but worth it.

Finally, for the fans of stationery supplies, we give you the following enviable notetaking setup, deployed by one of the Japanese scholars: