Including linguistics at literary conferences

I just got back from attending my second meeting of the Northeast Modern Language Association. My experience at both conferences has been very positive: friendly people, interesting talks, good connections. But I would like to see a little more linguistics at NeMLA, and better opportunities for linguists to attend. I’ve talked with some of the officers of the organization about this, and they have told me they welcome more papers from linguists.

Photo. Sean Weidman

Photo. Sean Weidman


One major challenge is that the session calls tend to be very specific and/or literary. Here are some examples from this year’s conference:

  • The Language of American Warfare after World War II
  • Representing Motherhood in Contemporary Italy
  • ‘Deviance’ in 19th-century French Women´s Writing

There is nothing wrong with any of these topics, but when they are all that specific, linguistic work can easily fall through the cracks. For several years I scanned the calls and simply failed to find anything where my work would fit. The two papers that I have presented are both pedagogical (in 2014 on using music to teach French, and this year on using accent tag videos to teach language variation and language attitudes). I believe that papers about the structure of language can find an audience at NeMLA, when there are sessions where they can fit.

In contrast, the continental MLA tends to have several calls with broader scope: an open call for 18th-Century French, for example, as well as ones specifically related to linguistics. When I presented at the MLA in 2012 it was at a session titled “Change and Perception of Change in the Romance Languages,” organized by Chris Palmer (a linguist and all-around nice guy).

With all that in mind, if you are considering attending next year’s NeMLA in Baltimore, I would like to ask the following:

  • Would you consider submitting a session proposal by the April 29th deadline?
  • Would you like to co-chair a session with me? (please respond by private email)
  • What topics would you find most inviting for linguistics papers at a (mostly) literature conference?

I recognize that I have readers outside of the region. For those of you who do not live in northeastern North America, have you had similar experiences with literary conferences? Do you have suggestions for session topics – or session topics to avoid?