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Sociolinguists travel to Germany for first in-person conference since the pandemic

27 July 2022

PhD candidate at the School of Welsh, Jack Pulman Slater, recounts his experience of a recent trip to Germany with fellow students, academic staff, and a departing National Poet of Wales.

In June, I set off to Delmenhorst in Lower Saxony, Germany with 4 fellow sociolinguistically-orientated postgrad researchers from the School of Welsh for a 2-day conference. This was the first in-person conference most of us had attended since the start of the pandemic and for some colleagues the very first conference of their newly begun doctoral careers.

Our journey began early at an overcrowded Stansted; Iwan Wyn Rees was in academic loco parentis and guided us successfully to north Germany where we would join German and Maltese postgraduates in a “triangulation conference”. This event was organised by Professor Thomas Stolz at the Universität Bremen and hosted by the Hanse-Wissenschafftskolleg (HWK), a collegiate science research institute in north Germany.

We were also accompanied by Ifor ap Glyn, who was in the final weeks of his tenure as National Poet of Wales. Ifor ended the first day of presentations by introducing our international colleagues to the principles of cynghanedd. We were also treated to a bilingual poetry recitation of some of Ifor’s own poems on the themes of Wales, language and the importance of fostering and maintaining European connections in our post-Brexit world.

Three different languages and their speakers were the object of our linguistic enquiries: Low German, Welsh and Maltese. Whilst these are languages with divergent cultural, historical, political and linguistic profiles, they occupy a shared space in the global context of minority languages and their survival and use today.

Whilst the opportunities for online discussion have been ample during the height of the restrictions on our academic and personal lives since March 2020, these are unmatched by the opportunity to be in the real world talking with and learning from fellow researchers. In the zoomosphere, the best you can hope for after a presentation is a quick critical comment emanating from an anonymous black square, or a few frenetically bashed out remarks in the chat. But in Delmenhorst we could sit outside in the mid-June sun, devouring a beetroot curry and a few local pilsners. The perfect environs in which to continue the rigorous and formal conference presentations and discussions. I received some invaluable feedback from my Welsh and international peers.

But for me, this was more than just an opportunity to gain in-person feedback from other researchers in the elegant surroundings of the HWK. I was also able to learn about the exciting sociolinguistic work of my fellow PGRs at the School of Welsh. It also made me proud to be part of our small, but academically iridescent team of sociolinguists.

Ianto Gruffydd’s recently completed PhD documents the formation of an emergent dialect of Welsh in Cardiff. Katharine Young’s project, informed by her research placement with Welsh Government, affords important insight on the sociolinguistic competence of Welsh-speaking teenagers. Nia Eyre’s work will provide the first investigation of speakers’ perceptions of accents of Welsh. Lynne Davies’ PhD project will consider the experiences of late child learners of Welsh in immersion settings. Seeing all this work presented on an international platform did more than simply place the Welsh language in an international setting. It showed that the Welsh language has huge potential to make significant scholarly and real-world impact beyond Wales.

We’re hugely grateful to Iwan Wyn Rees and Thomas Stolz for organising this event. We’d also like to thank the HWK and their staff for the warm welcome. Apart from thanking Ifor for his company and engaging poetry recitals, we also need to thank him for his German language skills (particularly the pub-based simultaneous translation he provided). Katharine, Nia, Ianto, Lynne and I are, as always, indebted to the professional services staff at the school for their administrative help in organising this trip.

We are really looking forward to continuing to engage with connections made on this trip and exploring further ways of collaborating with Universität Bremen and its Malta-Zentrum.

Author: Jack Pulman Slater