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Our symposium explores sociolinguistic variation in the Asia-Pacific region

22 July, 2019

How do the signed and spoken languages of the Asia-Pacific region compare in terms of sociolinguistic variation? This was one of the central questions addressed by our Symposium, held on 12-13 July 2019 at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan).

The Symposium, which was possible thanks to support from the Leverhulme Trust and UCLan, attracted around 30 participants from China, Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Germany, Austria, Australia and New Zealand, among others.

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Some of the Symposium’s participants on the afternoon of 13 July.

The opening keynote presenter, Professor Rachel McKee (Victoria University of Wellington), was able to attend thanks to Distinguished Collaborator funding provided by UCLan. She shared research on motivation and innovation in indexing Māori identity in New Zealand Sign Language.

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Distinguished Collaborator Professor Rachel McKee gives the opening presentation.

Sign languages discussed on the first day include the village sign language Kata Kolok (Katie Mudd, Hannah Lutzenberger), Culture Sign in Papua New Guinea (Lauren Reed), Hong Kong Sign Language (Linghui Eva Gan), Indian Sign Language (Ulrike Zeshan) and Indonesian Sign Language (Nick Palfreyman). For spoken languages, Yoshiyuki Asahi examined variation in Japanese, and Hae Sung Jeon looked at phonological changes in Korean.

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Symposium organiser Nick Palfreyman with Rachel McKee and Susanne Maria Michaelis.

Our second keynote presenter, Susanne Maria Michaelis (University of Leipzig), opened day two by discussing variation across Asian and Pacific creoles. Other presenters explored Japanese Sign Language (Keiko Sagara), Chinese Sign Language (Junhui Yang) and Tibetan Sign Language (Theresia Hofer), while Ralf Vollmann presented findings on a multilingual environment in Malaysia, and Phoebe Tay looked at the deaf community in Singapore.


Sociolinguist Dr. Adam Schembri offers reflections on the state of the art.

The Symposium, which was also livestreamed, was brought to a close with insightful reflections by Adam Schembri (University of Birmingham), who reminded us, among other things, that there is no language that is not social.

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Presenters at the conference dinner prove that language is indeed social!

Symposium organiser, Nick Palfreyman, said “I would like to say a big thank you to all who have taken part in the Symposium, especially the presenters and our fantastic supporting team (Danielle, Davide, Deborah, Eilidh, Phil and Priscila).

“Together, we have explored some of the fascinating sociolinguistic diversity of the Asia-Pacific region, and all participants contributed to the wider dialogue that is emerging between spoken and signed language sociolinguists.

“Participants expressed a desire to take this dialogue further, and we look forward to building on the links that we have made on future occasions.

“In the meantime, readers might like to check out some of the live reports on twitter, using #SocVarAP .”

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