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Battles and books

12 June 2015
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Interrogating the In-between: Humanities & Languages Postgraduate Research Conference 2015, University of New South Wales

This one-day conference provided the opportunity for students from a number of universities to present to and provide feedback on their individual research topics.

[More detailed account of the presentation: Battles and books]

battleThe title of my presentation was Battles and books, and I attempted, for the largely non-linguist audience, to examine:

  • Are there patterns in the history of linguistics?
  • Do your ideas about language affect what you do with it?

Initially, I situated my interest as a worker in higher education, and indicated that in later research I would seek to link a history of personification to an examination of how abstract terms are used within the management and structure of a university.

in-between-wheeler-2

Battles and books, slide 12

For this presentation, I looked at one strand of this question: the contest between ideas of what language is and how language should be studied at university.

I discussed examples from points in intellectual history where abstractions of linguistic concepts were depicted as being in battle, looking in more detail at d’Andely’s Battle of the seven liberal arts (c. 1250). To bring this history into a local and more immediate context, I extended the discussion to the ‘reading wars’, their genesis in 1980s California, and the ‘phonics’/’whole word’ debate still sporadically conducted via Australian newspapers.

I concluded by commenting on the practical and policy importance of ideas about language held by non-specialist employees of a contemporary university, given the topical political pressures on evaluating English language proficiency.

Relevance to the study

The benefits of developing this presentation to my research were:

  1. the opportunity to present the possible argument of my PhD proposal to a general audience
  2. the opportunity for feedback. The student audience followed the historical outline, but it was the staff who were attending the conference and mentoring us who expressed interest in the proposed research into the ideas about language found in university management and institutional advertising.
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