My First Academic Conference!

Last weekend I attended my first academic conference, and it was amazing. I got to meet a whole bunch of researchers, including some big names that I’ve read and seen cited many, many times. I also got to present a poster, which my co-researchers graciously let me write up, design, and present. I’m just blown away at the warm reception I got as a lowly MA student from a different discipline with no publications to my name.

Here’s the poster I presented, based on research I’ve been working on with Donna Erickson, Atsuo Suemitsu, Shigeto Kawahara, and Yoshiho Shibuya.

Jaw Displacement Patterns in JapaneseI also saw a bunch of great lectures and posters while I was there. Reiko Mazuka (RIKEN/Duke) and Keiichi Tajima (Hosei University/RIKEN) presented on infant acquisition of phonemic length contrasts in Japanese. Their lab at RIKEN has been recording Japanese mothers talking to their babies as well as to other adults in order to learn more about how infant-directed speech (“baby talk”) functions. Not only do mothers not exaggerate the contrast, but babies actually can’t perceive the difference between long and short vowels until ~10 months. Very cool research!

I also got to hear Larry Hyman (UC Berkeley) and Carlos Gussenhoven’s (Radboud University Nijmegen) lectures. If you read anything in phonetics and phonology, those names should be very familiar. Although they work on languages that I’m not very familiar with (Bantu languages and German dialects, respectively), I was blown away by their engaging speaking styles. I hope I can give a lecture at that level of quality someday–I guess I just need a few decades of practice!

Jeffrey Heinz (University of Delaware) presented on a database of accent patterns for world languages. They haven’t officially announced it yet, so I won’t jump the gun and link to it, but it looks like a really cool project. I had a real “wow” moment when he pointed out that accent patterns in human languages all seem to fit within Type-3 grammars in the Chomsky Hierarchy, so they’re all regular expressions. That means that we can represent accent patterns in language using really simple formal logic, which is good news for those of us who want to find ways to teach those accent systems.

One of my co-researchers, Shigeto Kawahara (Keio University) presented along with Shinichiro Sano (Okayama Prefectural University) on experiments in Japanese phonology. It’s a bit hard to explain if you’re not familiar with the sound system of Japanese, but they used 3 very clever experiments to test out some long-standing theoretical rules that are supposed to govern rendaku. They actually found pretty good evidence of another, more universal rule at play while they were at it. I know both of them from Shigeto’s weekly meetings at Keio, so it was exciting and inspiring to see them give a lecture that I’d seen in the planning stages.

There were a bunch of other great lectures, but I think those are the only ones I can explain in halfway normal English. I’m really looking forward to going to my next conference now. Our paper got accepted to the 10th ISSP in Cologne, so barring any great calamity, I’ll be going to Germany soon!

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English teacher, student of Japanese, and aspiring linguist.

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Posted in Phonetics and Phonology, Research

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