LRD 2010 Programme Abstracts (Friday 26 November 2010)

11:00 - 12:00 noon: Sue-Ann Barratt (PhD Gender Studies candidate): Investigating the Relevance of Perceptions of Gender Identity to Episodes of Interpersonal Communication Conflict.

13:00 - 13:40: Dr Ben Braithwaite: "Recent Research on the Origins of Human Language, and the Role of Linguists"


Research on the origins of language has been booming ever since the publication of On the Origin of Species in 1859. Linguists have largely kept out of the debates since the infamous ban imposed by the Linguistic Society of Paris in 1866. Since then, much has been discovered about the origins of humans by paleontologists, geneticists, anthropologists, primatologists and others. Since the 1990s, linguists have begun to take an interest in greater numbers. This presentation identifies some areas in which the involvement of linguists is crucial.

Generally, linguists need to be involved to correct the tendency among non-linguists to underestimate the complexity of language, and to provide a clearer picture of what it is we are trying to explain. More specifically, some recent debates have focused on (1) languages which have been very little studied (e.g., Everett vs Chomsky et al on Pirahã), (2) pidgins and creoles (e.g., Bickerton's discussions of proto-language) and (3) sign languages (e.g., Stokoe's work and other work on gestural origins). Therefore, it is important that linguists who specialise in these areas, and especially linguists who are also native users of languages in these groups, are involved in the debates. In some cases, their role is to correct misappropriation of their languages in these debates. In addition, there is a huge amount still to be learned from these languages (including on linguistic universals, on culture vs innateness, on what is (narrowly) linguistic and what is not), and that the new insights that they bring can make real contributions towards advancing progress towards better answers to "the hardest question in science".

13:40 - 14:20: Prof Valerie Youssef: " Evolution of Language? A Subjective Chase after Objectivity"


This paper reconsiders major findings in the areas of human and animal communication with a view to establishing where these fields stand at the present time with regard to the apparent uniqueness of the language faculty in man. I consider whether the theoretical debates may have skewed approaches to the known facts which indicate that there remains an unexplainable gap between the communicative capacities of man and other species. These differences entail the capacity for linguistic creativity of a profound and far-reaching kind, beyond the needs and accomplishments of other species.


14:40 - 15:20: Patrice Quammie: "The Sound of Citizenship - Discursive Patterns of Citizen Engagement on State Television News in Trinidad & Tobago"


The purpose of this study is to decode the model of citizenship generally constructed in state television news in Trinidad & Tobago via the institutionally established routines of public opinion reference during weekday news casts. The underlying assumption was that modes of public opinion expression are ideological and thus representational, painting a picture of citizenry in the country. The methodology was pseudo- quantitative, fashioned after a similar study done by Lewis et al. (2004).

The avenues of public opinion expression available to citizens on the state television newscast, which included significant use of new media such as text messaging and Facebook, represented the Trinbagonian public as active, engaged and opinionated yet inherently reluctant to offer clear statements of political alignment. Citizens were seen to speak mostly for themselves as opposed to through a third party, and in the most systematic forms of opinion expression were seen to align themselves with the ruling party, or be passionately involved in some apolitical issue. In the most impressionistic public opinion outlets, by virtue of the face–to-face viewing of a member of the public (vox pops), citizens were represented as being only responsive to politicians, offering no solutions to socio-political issues and appearing predominantly of no clear alignment or standpoint. Citizens in Trinidad & Tobago are thus represented on state television news as socially engaged and vocal yet lacking true political initiative.

Justin, L., K. Wahl-Jorgensen and S. Inthorn. (2004) Images of citizenship on television news: Constructing a passive public. Journalism Studies 5: 153-164.

15:20 - 16:00: Dr Ben Braithwaite and Kathy-Ann Drayton: "YOU NOT MY FATHER: Lexical and Phonological Variation among Signers in Trinidad & Tobago"


This paper reports on a study of lexical variation amongst sign language users in Trinidad & Tobago. As is the case in many emerging national sign language communities, there is considerable linguistic variation amongst the Deaf community of T&T. Whilst there is a growing consensus that the official language of Deaf people in T&T should be acknowledged as Trinidad & Tobago Sign Language (TTSL), as reflected in the publication of a Dictionary of Trinidad & Tobago Signs in 2007, very little work has been done on establishing the extent of variation amongst signers in T&T.

It is clear that TTSL has much in common with American Sign Language (ASL), which has had a deep impact in T&T since the 1970s, but the extent to which the two are distinct in lexicon and grammar is as yet unclear, with differing reports over the extent of mutual intelligibility. Recent reports suggest that the situations in several other Caribbean territories are similar to that found in T&T, where ASL continues to have a significant influence, in addition to earlier contact with British Sign Language and alongside a stock of indigenous signs. This paper contributes towards the better understanding of the extent of variation within T&T, and paves the way for further research on cross-Caribbean variation.