Saturday, 27 April 2013

Explore: Words around the world

You may remember that I did a talk for the Centre for Lifelong Learning's Explore programme last year, as part of a training exercise in presenting research to a public audience. I found it a very enjoyable challenge to present my PhD work to people who had no specialist knowledge of linguistics. 

Happily, they invited me back to do a session on the themed season 'The Word'. Well, seeing as words are a large chunk of what linguists study, that sounded like good fun. I've been teaching morphology all term, and so I thought I'd do a bit of a romp through some fun morphological stuff. 

The nice thing about doing a one-off session for fun is that you don't have to make sure they grasp all the fine points of the technical terminology, so you can essentially leave out the boring bits and just do the fun bits. I thought that for this session, I'd get them to think about what words are, so first of all we built words out of morphemes (parts of words) written on cards, and I introduced them to the concept of building words from smaller parts and how this works in different languages. We also covered a few 'language myths' (Eskimo words for snow, no word for X, Sapir-Whorf and colour terms, etc.) and finished by thinking about how to define 'word'. 

The venue was St Nicholas' cathedral in the centre of Newcastle, and rather than in one of the function rooms, I actually spoke in the south transept: 

This was a lovely venue for a talk, and made a nice change from seminar rooms. 

The audience was the best I could have wished for, interacting with me right from the start and asking intelligent questions that showed they were really interested in the topic. They contributed some interesting facts and examples of their own, and overall made it a truly fun afternoon. 

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