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From: Peter K. Austin
Department of Linguistics, SOAS
29 June 2009

Well, we have just passed the half-way point of the 3L Summer School and things seem to be going pretty much according to plan. Despite some last minute scrambles (presenters dropping out and needing to be replaced, equipment needing to be bought, rooms being taken out of service) all the classes got organised on time and have run well so far. Even Blackboard, the e-learning support environment, is functioning faultlessly, enabling us to do away with photocopying handouts and having useless piles of paper at the end of each class.

There are 97 students attending the 3L summer school, representing 42 nationalities (Argentinian, Australian, Belgian, Benin, Brazilian, British, Cameroonian, Canadian, Croatian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, Ethiopian, Finnish, French, German, Ghanaian, Greek, Indian, Indonesian, Irish, Israeli, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Malaysian, Malian, Mexican, Nigerian, Norwegian, Pakistani, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Saami, South African, Spainish, Swedish, Swiss, Taiwanese, Ugandan, USA). There are 18 instructors, who come from the three consortium universities (SOAS, Lyon and Leiden), along with colleagues from University College London. Three tutors from SOAS and a group of student volunteers, plus our Administrator Alison Kelly, make up the rest of the 3L team.

Roughly two thirds of the students don't speak English as their first language, and so there are plenty of opportunities to hear a range of languages spoken at tea breaks and lunch time. There are also six deaf students, and interpreters for British Sign Language (BSL) and American Sign Language (ASL), attending the courses. The presence of deaf students and sign interpreters in many of the classes is a feature of the Summer School, as is the two-week course on "Documenting Sign Languages". I believe this is the first time that a linguistics summer school has taken sign languages seriously, alongside spoken and written languages.

Each day begins with a plenary lecture which all the students attend as a group: so far we have had "Issues in Language Documentation", "Data Collection Methods", "Communities, Ethics and Rights", "Documenting Sign Languages", and "Digital Language Archiving". The remaining plenary lectures are on "Language Documentation and Linguistic Theory", "Language Policy" and "Language Documentation and Typology". Each plenary is followed by a small group tutorial (there are four parallel tutorials) where issues raised in the lecture can be discussed. After lunch there are two sessions of classes with three courses running in parallel in each time slot, so students can choose their preferred topics (for a full list see here).

Friday last week offered a range of practical workshops covering "Video for Documentation", "Advanced Audio", "Software Tools" and "Applying for a Research Grant". The video workshop ran all day while the others were three hours each so that students could combine two throughout the day -- this seems to have been less than desirable however as most students felt they would have benefitted from a whole day on one topic rather than two 3-hour tasters.

The highlight of the summer school for me so far has to be Adam Schembri's plenary lecture on "Documenting Sign Languages" that included Adam presenting examples in a range of sign languages, including Australian Sign Language (AusLAN), with simultaneous interpreting from the BSL and ASL interpreters standing beside him. It was a tour de force. View image [Photo courtesy of Joseph Henderer].

Some of the students are blogging about the summer school at The 3L Dialogues, and there is an active Facebook group, with photos and discussion.

And the weather -- well, unexpectedly for London, it was 25 to 27 degrees C each day last week and today reached 30 degrees. It is predicted to reach 32 on Thursday so no-one can possibly complain about the lack of sunshine and heat. Oh, and it's light until 9:30pm so plenty of time to relax in comfort after classes end each day.


PS: on Tuesday 30th June we showed two international films about endangered languages: The Importance of Being Mlabri and Fragments of the Owl's Egg (for details of each film see the listing here).

On Friday 3rd July the Summer School ends with an all-day conference organised by SOAS students and showcasing the work of students attending the Summer School. If you are in London that day drop by SOAS and check it out!

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