(h)U(w)LAB in Aberdeen

“Thank God you’re here”  said the Taxi Driver, leaving the Train station. “Thank god someone’s here, the Oil’s gone, the businesses gone with it, and now the students have buggered off for easter.”
“What even is a linguist when they’re at home anyway?”

In 2016, on the northern coast of bloody freezing Scotland, the Undergraduate Association of Britain assembled upon the great and grey granite city that is Aberdeen, and I was with them. Founded in 2011, ULAB is the undergraduate conference – where students have the chance present their, surprisingly professional projects in seminar and/or poster form – receiving feedback from fellow students of linguistics.

There are about 30 universities that offer linguistics as a course in the UK, about 15 of which were represented in ULAB – and it strikes me that we are a very diverse and broad church as a subject. It was unique how each university presented itself as experts in their own area of research: be it Cambridge’s hardcore understanding of pure generative semantics & syntax, SOAS’ unique understanding of international phonology & sociology, UoY’s specialism in forensic linguistics, or The YSJ’s confidence in Conversational Analysis.

Each university had something to offer, and students were able to share and exchange their knowledge of different parts of our mutually loved topic, language.

As a first year, I had nothing to present to ULAB and thus could only listen to the amazing talks: Investigations into the minimalist merger of Semantics and Syntax, into the gendered aspects of Korean Honorific, pioneering studies of Bermudian English and investigations into the phonology of north Bornean languages, a study into Singaporean language policy, study of managerial language, and studies of Trans representation in the media – the list could go on and on, but the point remains: ULAB enabled me to gain a wider understanding into the breadth of linguistics – and allowed me to see effective, and  subjects that I could look into further in my studies for projects or perhaps even my own dissertation. ULAB gets you thinking, and opened my mind to different ways of viewing linguistic science.

The tradition of academic forum, explaining ideas and discussing ideas to reach a truth, stays strong in linguistics, but nowhere more-so (imho) than in the Undergraduate conference. Why? Because conference is largely subsidised by the Linguistic Association of Great Britain, and organised by the local university hosts. Since conference prices are extortionate, you won’t find such accessible discussion from people with such independent ways of thinking derived from widely separate academic courses anywhere else.

ULAB introduced me to like-minded individuals from across the country, and even as a lone traveller I felt welcomed by my fellow conference attendees during the social events, going to the bar, and going to the conference dinner.

As you can see, I’m rather converted. ULAB next assembles at Cambridge, Spring 2017 – I’d strongly encourage your visit – come for a fun time, a new understanding of linguistics, an opportunity to present research and discuss it with some of the brightest young linguists in the UK – and if not that, just to see what Cambridge is actually like.


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