I’ve just gotten back to Cambridge from a trip to Nagoya, Japan, to attend a conference hosted by the Association for Written Language and Literacy – a group of researchers interested in studying writing in a huge range of different languages and scripts. The conference’s theme – ‘Writing systems: past, present (…and future?)’ – was what initially attracted me: as a classicist working on three-thousand-year-old writing system, I figured I could fit in with the ‘past’ part of the theme, and it would be an interesting opportunity to hear from researchers studying different (and more modern!) writing systems. (Not to mention an opportunity to visit Japan for the first time!)
As it turned out, the range of topics in the presentations was even wider than I’d expected – not only did languages and writing systems under discussion range from the origins of writing in ancient Mesopotamia to the contemporary Japanese use of emoji (by way of Chinese, Korean, Hebrew, Hindi, early modern English, Catalan, minority languages in West Africa and Malaysia, and plenty more), but as well as linguists many of the presenters were psychologists working on the cognitive processes involved in reading and writing, which gave me a really fascinating new perspective – for obvious reasons experimental pscyhology doesn’t really come into classical linguistics much!
The ‘past’ part of the conference theme ended up being represented pretty strongly by Cambridge – I was talking about historical developments in the Linear B writing system and how these can be better understood by looking at contemporary variations in spelling, and my colleagues Rob and Natalia from the CREWS Project were talking about how the ancient Semitic language Punic represented vowels in writing and typologies of different types of writing system around the ancient Mediterranean, respectively (they’ll probably be writing their own blog post about the conference sometime soon!) It was the first time any of us had attended an AWLL conference but I think I can say for all of us that we’re already very much looking forward to the next one!