Doing Public Linguistics

The linguistic Twittersphere was abuzz yesterday thanks to the online response from those present/interested in the event set up by @lynneguist at Sussex University down in Brighton on DOING PUBLIC LINGUISTICS (hashtag: #publx).

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The event was intended was designed to address the question of what we as linguists can learn from working with people who are not in academia, and what we can learn from working with the public.

I would like to pick out a few of the tweets which stood out for me about working with the public and outside the academy. I’ll put in some of the tweets (from the public domain), and comment on them.

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(@drswissmiss is reporting findings from a talk, by the way. It was Paul Kerswill’s presentation.)

So…it looks like that the media might come looking to work with you. If you want to communicate your research via the media, you’ll probably need to make sure you’re find-able, and make sure that it’s clear from any web/blog presences what sort of issues you can provide expertise/comment on. This is not a criticism, but it is interesting – sociolinguistics gets a mention here, as it (quite rightly) does at intervals throughout the day. I am wondering if there is something inherently accessible in talking about language use and change and variation in society – is it something we all do and talk about, and is that why? Reading between the (time)lines, I think this came up at the event… What can we do in less accessible / less known fields?

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Again, looking at some of the tweets, it seems that ‘outreach’ and media stuff were not the done thing when I was a lass, but that academics in linguistics (and, of course, other areas) are now kind of expected to do podcasts, go on the radio, give talks in pubs, write a blog, be on the telly. One issue that came up in a few tweets was the fact that it is fine to do this kind of thing if you like it and enjoy it, but it is not necessarily fair to *make* people do this kind of media activity, and that not doing it does not make you less capable, passionate or engaged. There was some small worry that media work and engagement might become compulsory and a metric – another one against which we can be judged. It’s a tricky one. On one hand, we are being made to jump through more and more hoops. On the other, this stuff is enjoyable and comes very naturally to me because I love pragmatics, intonation, stylistics and communication. We did all agree, I think, that we can try to collectively fight back against things that are unfair…

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@mysonabsalom references Deborah Cameron’s talk about her blogging. I believe she advised that you have to think about who you are blogging for, and write for them. She writes for feminists, and find that works, and she finds that working in this way controls her research and what is said about it, which, I suppose must make it harder for her to get misrepresented or ‘used’ in the media. I definitely need to think about who I am blogging for and what I am blogging about. I could be at an intersection in my working life, though I hope not. If academia does not work out, I need to think about working in industry. Should I start blogging ‘to’ those people? Is that selling out? Or, if academia now requires that the public have our work communicated to them, shouldn’t I start just blogging about those topics that they will find accessible and interesting? What about my own niche research in repetition, and emphasis? Will there be an audience big enough to warrant that? Or, should I focus on something that I know there’ll be a big audience for, but isn’t my research: my teaching ideas for linguistics in higher education. Some soul-searching is needed…

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I believe the point was made that some of our best ‘impact’ (whatever the hell that means!) comes from teaching. That really resonated with me. If you want an educated interest creating in lang/ling in society, teach any and all you come across, where possible.

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My dear friend @linguatical agreed, and we got some likes. Yay us.

The event was brilliant. I am sorry I could not make it. In any case, we early career folk find these sorts of things very helpful and thought-provoking. Thank you very much, Lynne. It was great.

(I was going to continue this post by thinking about doing public pragmatics. However, this would make the post very long and boring, so I’m going to think on that and maybe write it tomorrow.)

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