Leiden hosts prestigious linguistics conference

For a brief period Leiden University was the hub of the world of linguistics. The 48th annual conference of the Societas Linguistica Europaea was held here at the start of September. Almost 600 linguists came from all corners of the world to the city of discoveries to attend this prestigious event.

Linguistics alive and kicking

Between 1 and 5 September Leiden was home to linguists from every conceivable nationality. You could hardly miss them: over their shoulders they carried the bright orange bags conference bags with the name of the conference in extra-large letters, and in their hands a map of Leiden. For just under a week the conference visitors immersed themselves in lectures, workshops, discussions and networking events. The whole week was devoted to linguistics, a subject that is clearly very much alive and kicking!

Masterpiece

The conference was opened by Rector Magnificus Carel Stolker, who gave the welcome speech. He praised the SLE and the annual conference for its bridge-building qualities, in particular for European linguistics. Referring to the almost 300 presentations on 24 different themes, the Rector described the Leiden event as ‘a masterpiece in terms of content and organisation’.

Number of visitors quadrupled

This enormous diversity is one of the great strengths of the conference, commented Arie Verhagen, Professor of Dutch Linguistics at the Leiden University Centre for Linguistics and chairman of the Leiden organising committee for SLE 2015. ‘We have different workshops on current themes. This diversity of subjects means that we attract many more participants than used to be the case. When Leiden hosted the conference 15 years ago there were 150 visitors; today that number has almost quadrupled!’

Like-minded people

Anna Cichosz from the University of Łódź in Poland was one of the participants who came for a specific workshop. ‘I’m here for the workshop on the influence of Latin on European languages,’ she explained. ‘The days are full and it’s very intensive with lots of lectures, discussions and presentations. But it’s really good and interesting to discuss a subject in so much depth with other people who share the same interests. It’s not often that you are able to spend so much time with like-minded people. Not only that, you also have the opportunity to present the research you are working on yourself, and you get immediate feedback from different perspectives. It’s also a great opportunity to add many new contacts to your network.’

Leiden mayor or comedian?

The cerebral activities were interspersed with informal networking. At the end of the first day there was a sea of tired but happy faces in the calm atmosphere of the Marekerk as the participants relaxed with a glass of beer or wine. Their professional curiosity and enthusiasm even extended to tasting the Dutch specialities offered by the smartly dressed waiters. It was clear from the way that he welcomed the visitors that Leiden’s Mayor Henri Lenferink sensed the atmosphere impeccably. ‘In my work I often have to address groups of people. It’s not something they enjoy, and nor do I.’ Lenferink, himself originally a historian, gave his listeners a lesson on Leiden’s history, in passing thanking the Spanish visitors who were present for the moment of glory their forefathers gave the local people during the Relief of Leiden. If he had not become mayor, Lenferink could well have had a successful career in cabaret if the laughter of the audience was anything to judge by.

First see Naples

All in all, SLE and LUCL can look back on a very successful conference. ‘But,’ commented Arie Verhagen, ‘we can only really say how successful it was when we see how many people register for the conference in Naples in 2016. If as many people register for Naples as were present in Leiden, we’ll know we did a good job. 

Tekst:Coen van Beelen
Photography: Sofja Volkova

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Last Modified: 16-09-2015