Linguistics conference 2013: Record number of papers on language practice

Prof. Ilse Feinauer (left) from the Department of Afrikaans and Dutch, with Prof. Christina Schäffner from Aston University, Birmingham.

Prof Ilse Feinauer (left) from the Department of Afrikaans and Dutch, with Prof Christina Schäffner from Aston University, Birmingham.

The joint annual conference of the South African Association for Language Teaching (SAALT), the Southern African Applied Linguistics Association (SAALA) and the Linguistics Society of Southern Africa (LSSA) was held in Stellenbosch from 1 to 4 July. This conference, an annual event for linguists from all over South Africa and the rest of the world, provides a valuable platform for exchanging ideas, presenting new research and interacting with colleagues from various areas of expertise in linguistics.

At this year’s conference, with the theme “Language: policy, planning, practice and principles”, 127 papers were read in parallel sessions over four days. Of particular interest is the large number of papers read on language practice – the first time in the history of the conference that this field formed such a significant part of the programme. To publish these papers, as well as other relevant contributions, the academic journal Stellenbosch Papers in Linguistics (SPIL) Plus is planning a special edition with a focus on language-practice research. More information can be found on the website of the journal (http://spilplus.journals.ac.za/pub/announcement/view/1).

Research in the broad fields of translation, interpreting and editing formed part of the language-practice component of the conference, and presentations from various subfields, such as educational interpreting, media translation, academic editing and audio-visual translation, contributed to the lively interdisciplinary nature of this part of the conference. The diverse nature of the subjects of the presentations furthermore points to the considerable need and potential for research in these fields. The invaluable contribution that research can make to language practice(s) was particularly evident in presentations focusing on the interaction between theory and practice. For example, in her plenary session, Prof Christina Schäffner emphasised the link between theory and practice by illustrating how analyses of various language practices can influence the images and depictions of politicians, governments and countries.

The issue of multilingualism was frequently addressed during the conference, and from various perspectives. In the language-practice component, participants in the special workshop on educational interpreting, for instance, discussed the role of interpreters in multilingual classroom situations. Multilingualism and interpreting were also very visible at the conference on a practical level, as the 17 papers read in Afrikaans were interpreted into English. The interpreters were sponsored by the Language Centre of Stellenbosch University, one of the co-organisers of the conference along with the Department of Afrikaans and Dutch and the Department of General Linguistics at Stellenbosch University.

At the core of all the insightful papers and lively debates, and conversations on issues such as multilingualism and language police, everyone agreed: Linguistics and linguistic research in South Africa is a dynamic field in which language practice – translation, interpreting and editing – has an important role to play.