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Linguistics joint annual conference

Linguistics joint annual conference hosted at UWC: Major success

Within the current context of demands for change to academic content and more recognition of the multilingual nature of South Africa’s cultural landscape, the annual LSSA-SAALA-SAALT conference was dedicated to issues of decoloniality and southern theory in linguistic research.

The conference themed: Language and Linguistics in the Global South: Posing the Challenge was arranged by conference convenor Professor Charlyn Dyers,  and was hosted by UWC's Department of Linguistics and the Centre for Multilingualism and Diversities Research.

The conference, which was held from 4 to 7 July, was the annual academic meeting of three major associations dealing with language in South Africa,  namely: the Linguistics Society of Southern Africa (LSSA), Southern African Applied Linguistics Association (SAALA), and the South African Association of Language Teachers (SAALT).

LSSA is committed to promoting the discipline of linguistics and to fostering research excellence concerning all the languages of Southern Africa. This professional association of scholars includes South Africa’s top linguists and language professionals as well as postgraduate students.

Challenges of epistemology,  language practice,  language policy and the description of languages and linguistics were posed from 'southern' and decolonial perspectives by the four keynote speakers namely: Professors Kathleen Heugh, Bassey Antia, Perpétua Gonçalves, and Ana Deumert.

Prof Heugh, a distinguished applied socio-linguist – who has advised several governments on language education policy – described language as a lens through which people see the world, and multilingualism as the lingua franca in the African context. “Multilingualism happens on different scales and layers,” she said.

The conference was held at a time not only of local contestations around language and the clamour for decolonizing the curriculum, but also of major disciplinary initiatives around rethinking theory-construction and practice within the field. In the scholarly network committed to these initiatives, UWC is widely acknowledged as an important node. Approximately 130 presentations were delivered at the conference on language pedagogy, social media, language description, linguistic landscapes,  language policy, and race, amongst others.  

UWC's Rector and Vice-Chancellor,  Professor Tyrone Pretorius, welcomed delegates at a Cocktail reception on the 4th of July, while the Dean of the Faculty of Arts, Professor Duncan Brown, welcomed participants to the Arts Faculty at the first plenary session on the 5th of July.

The attendees had the freedom to move around to their desired venues during the break-away sessions, exploring exciting exhibitions between attending presentations such as: Thabo Ditsele on Motswako: the influence of this popular Setswana-oriented hip-hop in South Africa. Kirby America’s Harming Face in 140-characters: A Goffmanina take on Caitlyn Jenner’s debut on Twitter. The conference also included competitions like the Young Linguists Competition for attendees who were presenting for the first time.

Newly-appointed Dean of Education at UWC, Professor Vuyokazi Nomlomo, was one of many people who presented, focusing on Early Literacy in African Languages: Foundation Phase Teachers’ beliefs and literacy practices in Western Cape primary schools.

Delegates were then treated to a Gala Dinner on Wednesday the 6th of July at the UWC Main Hall, where they had an opportunity to mingle, reflect, and recharge.

The intention of the organisers was to take ongoing disciplinary reflections a notch further, by creating a stimulating conference environment for drawing attention to the politics of language-related knowledge and practice in the global South. Partners who made it possible for the conference to be a success included the LSSA, SAALA, SAALT, and UWC’s Centre for Multilingualism and Diversities Research.