A year and a half ago, I attended my first Association for Written Language and Literacy conference in Nagoya, Japan; last month, my colleague Robert Crellin and I were privileged to bring the Association’s 12th meeting (AWLL12) to the Cambridge Classics Faculty. AWLL is for researchers working on writing from any perspective, from theoretical analyses of how writing systems are structured and how they encode language, to experimental work on how readers and writers actually learn and use writing systems. The theme of ‘Diversity in writing systems: embracing multiple perspectives’, was intended to reflect the diversity in members’ approaches and disciplinary backgrounds, as well as in the geographical and chronological spread of the writing systems they study – writing systems discussed at AWLL12 covered a time-span of several thousand years and are/were used in Europe, the Middle East, Egypt, Ethiopia, West Africa, India, South-East Asia, Japan, Korea, China, and Central and North America: presentation topics ranged from ancient Mesopotamian cuneiform and Egyptian hieroglyphic to present-day Hebrew, Hindi, Korean, and Yoruba via early modern English shorthand, Mayan hieroglyphic, and much much more.
Our two fantastic keynote speakers also encompassed pretty much this whole range between them – Kathryn Piquette spoke on “Developing Integrated Perspectives on Writing Systems” based on her work as an Egyptologist and a specialist in applying digital imaging techniques to ancient inscriptions, while Sonali Nag drew on her research into literacy and educational techniques in contemporary South-East Asian writing systems and spoke on “Emergent and early literacy: how children learn to use a writing system”. As is traditional for the AWLL meetings, we also included a ‘symposium’ session based on the local organisers’ research interests – in this case, focusing on ancient writing research in the Faculty of Classics (Pippa Steele and Robert Crellin spoke about their work on the CREWS Project, while Ester Salgarella and I spoke about our work on Linear A and Linear B as part of the Mycenaean Epigraphy Group) as well as our near neighbours the Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies (represented by Imre Galambos speaking about the use of the early Chinese writing system by other cultures). Including all of these, the other talks, and the posters, we had 38 presentations attended by nearly 60 people – the largest AWLL meeting yet!
Although I spent a fair amount of the conference running around sorting out food, tea, posters, and the AV system, I also learned a huge amount from too many wonderful posters and talks to name, not to mention a lot of great discussions over the tea and food I just mentioned. I’m very grateful to the AWLL committee for giving Robert and I the chance to organize this conference, which was both a very educational experience in itself and – when it all finally came together – a lot of fun (though I might wait a while before organizing another one…). Thanks also to the Faculty of Classics for their generous funding and hosting; the Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies for the use of their common room for refreshment breaks; all the Classicists who helped out during the conference; and of course, all our participants, for making AWLL12 the enjoyable time that it was!
For anyone who couldn’t make it to the conference, presenters’ powerpoints and posters will be going up on the main AWLL site shortly – more information about the Association and how to get involved is also available there! A selection of papers will also be appearing as a special issue of ‘Written Language and Literacy‘ (conference participants should look out for more information about that in due course). Plus you can check out the live-tweeting (mostly by me) at #AWLL12!