My professor Dr. Weinberger and I went for a 3-day conference in Łódź, Poland last week. It was the 11th International Conference on Native and Non-native Accents of English.

It was my first trip to Poland, and the first time in this interesting Polish city called Łódź (/wu:tʃ/).  From the look on people’s faces when they saw me walking down the streets, I had a feeling that I was probably the only Asian guy in town. But people there are very friendly and patient. I had a very good time.

Back to the conference itself. It is a relatively small conference, partially because its theme was very focused. As the name entails, everything presented at the conference was about English accent. Probably because it is in Europe, many attendees speak English with a British accent, which made me feel like being in one of the Downton Abbey episodes. All jokes aside, the conference was very good. The best part was that the organizers made sure that we had time to socialize with each other. I learned a lot by talking directly to researchers and language teachers.

I found Dr. Jan Volín’s research very inspiring. One of his presentations, which entitled “ARE THERE TWO CLASSES OF SEGMENTS OR THREE IN PROSODIC STRUCTURE”, called us to rethink the consonant v.s. vowel dichotomy. I’ve spent too much time on experimental stuff, and never had thought about fundamental problems such as the consonant/vowel distinction. Dr. Volín and his colleagues’ thesis quite convincingly showed that the consonant v.s. vowel dichotomy is inadequate in explaining various prosodic phenomena. As Dr.Volín quite acutely pointed out during my presentation, results of our (me and dr. weinberger) perception study on foreign accent also showed the inadequacy of the consonant v.s. vowel distinction.

I thought about this a little more after the presentation, and felt a chill down my spine. I was apparently used to the traditional theoretical paradigm, and never carefully thought about its inadequacies. If I may borrow Thomas Kuhn’s terminology, I was doing “normal science” the whole time and never challenged underlying assumptions of the existing research paradigm. I felt like a caveman who thinks that fire, wind, earth and water are the fundamental elements of the universe. I thank Dr. Jan Volín for such a wake-up call.

Here are abstracts of the conferences presentations, in case you want to take a look

I totally enjoyed the conference. Everything from the presentations, the dinners, and the little get-togethers. The travel was quite tiring, but the conference was great, so it was all worth it.