VocUM 2020 – Language : norm and power

  • Call for papers

    We are pleased to announce that submissions are now open for the 7th edition of VocUM. To ensure the safety of our participants in the wake of the global COVID-19 pandemic, this edition will be held entirely online. VocUM is an annual international conference organized by students of the Université de Montréal, all from different fields of study relating to language. It is the only multidisciplinary conference dedicated to language in Montréal.

    Given the current health crisis, this year’s theme, Language: norm and power, speaks for itself. The norms that structure the majority of our activities have been disrupted, which is reflected in many forced transitions: from the office to telework, from the classroom to distance education, from in-person meetings to virtual communication, from proximity to social distancing. Similarly, power relations have been inverted or exacerbated. Among the lowly paid and poorly regarded jobs within our society, some (in hospitals, grocery stores, etc.) are now considered essential. Conversely, as the global medical equipment market faces unprecedented shortages, certain nations do not hesitate to make use of their well-established power to come out on top. Through all of this, the essential role of language cannot be ignored: in official press briefings, which must both inform and reassure, in social media, where fact and misinformation are battling for dominance, and in our daily lives, in which virtual communication has become our only outlet for social contact and cohesion.

    That being said, the relevance of this edition’s theme is not limited to COVID-19. Indeed, 2020 is otherwise significant, namely for the upcoming 59th American presidential elections, but also for a number of important social and media issues: the repercussions of the #metoo movement, climate change, Extinction Rebellion or even the debate surrounding fake news. In every case, language is at once vector and object: it both constructs and conveys norms and power.

    The intricate relationships between language, norms, and power are, however, not a modern reality. Already in Ancient Greece, sophists thought young citizens how to skillfully wield language, a powerful means of social and political affirmation within the city-state. Centuries later, numerous language standardization enterprises were launched, namely by the Académie française, all of which favoured the practices and ideologies of dominant classes. For instance, the French grammatical rule according to which the masculine gender always supersedes the feminine was normalized in the 17thcentury, the product of a society that excluded women from the public realm. Therefore, language is anything but neutral: to codify the “correct” way to use language is to assert the dominant position on an elite, all the while marginalizing those who do not belong.

    Though language has often been a potent weapon for the powers that be, it also has an undeniable history as a tool of subversion, as a way to overthrow norms. Current struggles for inclusive language are an example of this, with activists promoting linguistic practices more in tune with contemporary social strides. Today, the multiplicity of social media platforms allows the dissemination of plural discourses and opinions, accessible to all, without consideration for social class or level of education.

    The 2020 edition of VocUM thus welcomes all the different research perspectives in which the relationships between language, norms, and power can be explored. We will consider proposals on linguistic norms, on linguistic tools through which power relations are expressed, on translation norms, on literary and film canons, on dominant narratives, as well as on the power(s) that these different types of norms serve. Similarly, proposals may focus on various subversion tactics that aim to destabilize power relations in favour of marginalized communities, with respect to: biological sex, gender expression, sexual identity and orientation; social class, profession, and religion; cultural origin, ethnic group, and skin colour; age, health status, physical handicaps, and mental health disorders. Feminist translation, postcolonial literature, minority language (oral and signed) teaching, language planning undertaken to mitigate the dominance of English, all are but a few examples of subversion initiatives. We will also accept proposals that discuss accessibility and the various links between social participation, cognitive and language disorders, literacy, mastery (or not) of an official language, as well as methods of alternative communication. Reflections on ethics in language research are also welcomed, namely those emphasizing inclusion/exclusion dynamics and the relationship between researcher and subject under study. The plethora of textual data generated by social media is likewise a worthwhile object of study, from various angles: new media, fake news, censorship and freedom of speech, cyberbullying, the role of different online platforms in political and social movements, etc. As this year’s theme is rich in breadth and depth, numerous other perspectives can be considered.

    Ancient languages Linguistics
    Art history Literatures
    Applied linguistics Minority languages
    Automatic language processing Modern languages
    Communications Neurolinguistics
    Comparative literature Philosophy of language
    Computer science Phonetics
    Didactics Political science
    Discourse analysis Pragmatics
    Ethnolinguistics Psycholinguistics
    Forensic linguistics Sociolinguistics
    Hermeneutics Sociology
    History of language Specialized translation
    History of languages Speech-language pathology
    L1/L2/Ln Acquisition Terminology
    Language disorders Terminotics
    Language pedagogy Translation
    Language planning Translation history
    Lexicography Translation policy

    Holding a conference online is a new challenge for VocUM. This summer, the organizing committee will be hard at work, selecting the exact format (choice of platform, synchronicity, etc.) that will allow us to preserve the quality and energy of past editions. To that effect, the submission form includes a space for future participants to express their preferences and to offer suggestions regarding the conference format. We will contact you as soon as the final format is chosen and we will, of course, assist you in its implementation.

    Submissions in French and English remain welcomed. That being said, VocUM encourages the use of French in order to resist the current trend toward English hegemony in the dissemination of scientific knowledge. Similarly, contributors working in the fields of Spanish and German studies can present their research in Spanish or German, respectively. We will also consider submissions from undergraduate students.

    Proposals (300 words maximum) must be submitted using the electronic form, available on the VocUM website. Anonymous peer evaluation of the proposals will be carried out by a scientific committee. Presentations will be between 15 and 20 minutes long (to be determined according to the final number of presentations), followed by a question and answer session.

    We would like to remind that submission to ScriptUM, VocUM’s sister journal, is now open to all. This multidisciplinary, student-run journal undertakes double-blind peer review. The next call for papers will be launched in May 2020. What better way to prepare for VocUM than to write an article, from which your presentation can be derived? If this is not possible, have no fear. Another call for papers will follow the conference. For more information on ScriptUM and access to past issues, please visit the journal’s website at the following address: https://scriptum.vocum.ca/.


    Important dates

    Deadline for proposal submission: July 3, 2020

    Notification of acceptance: September 2020

    Conference: November 19 and 20, 2020

    For more information: http://vocum.ca, info@vocum.ca