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Scaling up: Getting 'to' language from individual differences

The Wellington branch of Royal Society Te Apārangi's 2018 Hudson Lecture will be delivered by Professor Miriam Meyerhoff FRSNZ

Linguistics studies the structure of human languages and how languages are used. Professor Miriam's particular interest lies in the field of language contact. What happens when speakers of languages (or dialects) collide? How do speakers bridge their individual differences? And how does the way they resolve those differences shape what we come to call separate ‘languages’?

Miriam will outline partial answers for these questions drawing on data from a number of diverse fieldwork sites: urban centres in the UK and Auckland, and smaller communities in Vanuatu and the Caribbean. In the course of this work, some innovative methods have been developed for modelling the bridge between differences at the level of individuals and at the level of dialects/languages. Miriam will also talk about how communities of speakers ‘scale up’ in order to identify their ways of talking as a distinct language by drawing on ongoing research in northern Vanuatu.

The Hudson Lecture is RSNZ Wellington Branch’s premier annual lecture. The Hudson Lecturer is awarded in recognition of the Lecturer’s achievements in Science or the promotion of Science and Technology. It honours George Vernon Hudson (1867 – 1946) who was a distinguished amateur naturalist and scientist. An original Fellow of what is now Royal Society Te Apārangi, he was on its Council from 1923-1946. Hudson was President of the Wellington branch (then the Wellington Philosophical Society) in 1900-1901 and 1911-12. 

About the speaker

Professor Miriam Meyerhoff was made a Fellow of the Royal Society Te Apārangi in 2017 and is with the School of Linguistics and Applied language Studies at Victoria University of Wellington. Miriam is a leading sociolinguist, a discipline that studies the effect of any or all aspects of society on how language is used. Her research has focused on language use in New Zealand, the Pacific and the UK. Her latest research focuses on variation in the English of Auckland citizens, a richly linguistically diverse community.