Forging Linguistic Identities: Language in the Nation, the Region, and the World

Two of our bloggers, Stanley Porter and Hughson Ong, are at a linguistics conference at Towson University in Maryland, for Friday and Saturday, 17-18 March. Stan and Hughson presented a paper at this same conference two years ago (the conference happens every two years), and were invited to propose a section for it for this year, which they have done.

This conference includes papers by linguists from universities throughout North America and abroad. Some of the topics of the sessions are Language and Performance, Multilingualism/Multiculturalism, Minority Languages and Dialects, Language and Communication, Language and Education, North Africa and the Middle East, Language Policy, Discourse Analysis and Identity Formation, and Historical Linguistics.

Stan, Hughson, and our friend Jonathan Watt are presenting three papers in a session they designed and had accepted, entitled “The Languages of First-Century Palestine.” The title is pretty descriptive of the content of the session. Hughson is starting the session with a paper on “The Multilingualism of First-Century Palestine: An Issue of Method.” He is concentrating upon two dimensions of the topic, the fact of multilingualism and the appropriate use of methods for describing this multilingualism. The next paper is by Jonathan Watt of Geneva College and Reformed Presbyterian Seminary, entitled “Semitic Language Resources of Ancient Jewish Palestine.” Jonathan is discussing the Semitic languages available to those of first-century Palestine, especially in light of recent discussion about the use and mix of Aramaic and Hebrew. The third paper, by Stan, is entitled “The Use of Greek in First-Century Palestine: A Diachronic and Synchronic Examination.” This paper uses both a diachronic developmental pattern and a synchronic analysis of the available evidence and how they intersect in the first century to focus upon how Greek functioned within the linguistic repertoire of ancient Palestinians.

There is also a keynote speaker at the conference, Jennifer Leeman of George Mason University. She is speaking on “The Melding of Ideology, Policy and Measurement: English Hegemony in the US Census Bureau’s Statistics on Language.” Leeman is speaking in her area of expertise. She is a professor of Hispanic linguistics and works as a researcher at the US Census Bureau, so she will bring first-hand knowledge of the issues of ideology and language policy that influence how the census is constructed. This should be an interesting paper. Of course, the fact that it is followed by the conference dinner is also an appealing factor.

Since the conference has not started yet (we are just heading to the opening reception), we cannot make any comments on the content yet. However, there are a number of sections that look very interesting and a number of very suggestive papers within those. We are looking forward to the conference, but it looks like we will be the only section devoted to ancient linguistics, or as some would prefer to call it, historical sociolinguistics. The only other section dealing with anything old, the section on Historical Linguistics, has a paper on fifty-century Latin, but the other papers are on medieval and renaissance topics—as interesting as those might be.

— Stanley E. Porter

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