I was invited to be a part of a special section of the Sociolinguistics Symposium 22 held at Auckland University in New Zealand, 27-30 June 2018, and to present a sessional paper at the conference attended by about eight or nine hundred participants. The Sociolinguistics Symposium is the largest sociolinguistics conference in the discipline, and the first time that it has been held outside of Europe and North America. As a result, many of the most important sociolinguistics from around the world made their way—and a long way it is, trust me—to New Zealand, a very beautiful and unique country with its own distinctive flora and fauna, even in the contrast between the North and South Islands.
The special section in which I participated was on “The Interaction of Language and Religion,” organized by the well-known sociolinguist Professor Allan Bell and the biblical scholar Tim Meadowcroft. My paper was on “The Complex Multilingualism of Paul the Apostle,” and Bell spoke on the sociolinguistics of the Gospels, a topic to which he has devoted much research over the last couple of years. I am looking forward to opportunities to do further work with Allan if we have the chance. I appreciate his deep insights into the sociolinguistics of the first century, especially with his background in popular media and audience design. There were a number of other papers on related subjects presented in the section, and we hope that a published volume comes out of this session. The presenters also enjoyed an evening together in anticipation of the conference, when we could get to know each other in a very convivial atmosphere.
Not only did I thoroughly enjoy being a part of this section and getting to know a number of its participants, but I had the chance to meet and talk with a number of other well-known sociolinguistics. I met and talked briefly with Bernard Spolsky, who has done a lot of work on diglossia and the languages of the Jews (including a recent book with Cambridge University Press), and attended a session that he arranged in honor of another colleague. I also heard plenary papers by Janet Holmes, Alastair Pennycook, Li Wei, and Allan Bell, along with attending and actively engaging with a number of papers by scholars ranging from research students to senior scholars.
The topics covered by the open papers ranged over a number of different topics, and included such areas as semantics/pragmatics, indigenous languages, various types of discourse analysis, multilingualism and heritage languages, conceptual metaphor and critical metaphor analysis, English as a lingua franca, bilingualism maintenance, forms of rhetoric, register and social setting, and register variation. There were challenging concepts and perspectives offered in numerous papers, but I also realized that those of us who work in the sociolinguistics of the ancient biblical languages have insights to offer from which other sociolinguistics can benefit. Some of these areas include the difficulties encountered with epigraphic languages—not discussed apart from a few papers, especially in our special session—and questions of method, where we have been forced to develop a rigor that cannot simply appeal to native user instincts.
While in New Zealand, I also had the opportunity to gives lectures and seminars at several institutions. I was invited by my long-time friend Paul Trebilco at the University of Otago to fly down to Dunedin on the South Island to give a lecture and hold a seminar. I enjoyed the intellectual interaction with the students, some of whom were connected by electronic media, and then a time of socializing afterwards. The department hosted Wendy and me to a great dinner, where we met some new colleagues and also saw several old friends from the past. A number of the Otago students are clearly interested in linguistic topics such as grammatical metaphor, but also in wider questions of the history of interpretation. Back on the North Island, I also gave a lecture and seminar at Laidlaw College at the invitation of Tim Meadowcroft, where I had the surprising opportunity to see an old friend from seminary days whom I had not seen in quite some time (he looks the same, but I am clearly looking older), as well as make some new friends.
Even though New Zealand is a long way from Canada, the entire trip was hugely enjoyable. The sociolinguistics conference was very instructive, especially the opportunity to talk about the sociolinguistics of ancient Greek with others interested in ancient languages, a topic not often discussed in such a venue, but also to visit several new educational institutions and benefit from conversation with them over topics of common interest. New Zealanders proved to be very hospitable on all occasions, and I ate far more excellent lamb shanks than I probably should have. But I enjoyed every one of them.
— Stanley E. Porter