#ScientistsForFuture, #LinguistsForFuture, & #BloggingForFuture: Sustainable Conference Organisation, Event Management, and Stimulus Materials for #Linguistics and #Language Games

#FridaysForFuture. and #ScientistsForFuture have highlighted the fact that sustainability also concerns the daily practices of researchers. Given that I am currently not just a linguist, but also training to be a permaculture designer for sustainable systems, I thought I should make a #BloggingForFuture contribution and share some of the information I have found about sustainable conference organization, event  management, and stimulus materials. Below, I will also share some personal experiences related to research materials and outreach activities. You can also find some information about my new German/English blog on language play, and nature – and other relevant webpages and social media accounts.

Information about Conferences and Flights

There are also some resources in German:

These resources show that we can do a lot more than switching to video-conferencing and getting rid of plastic bottles, disposable cups, and paper copies for conference booklets Some of the ideas for sustainable events also enhance collaboration and education: I particularly like the idea of multi-hub worldwide events with simultaneous sites; and I have always found it very useful to combine conferences with workshops, tutorials, and other satellite events in an easily accessible location.

When it comes to the practical side, we can also learn from non-academic conferences. For instance, events organized by the “Essbare Stadt Köln” (edible city of Cologne) initiative do not just ban plastic cups and non-edible garnishes for food. They have opted for catering by a local food-rescuing company, with proper dishes and mugs, and tasty vegetarian or vegan food that would have been thrown away even though it is perfectly fine to eat – and delicious. And if you should find yourself in Germany and try to do some shopping for your departmental kitchen or a conference, you can make use of a list and map of all zero-waste shops that allow you to buy products without (plastic) packaging. So, there is no need to buy packaged coffee, tea, sugar or cookies. You can simply shop using the containers you already have. If you also want to offer fruit or a broader range of baked goods, Marktschwärmer initiatives in many cities allow you to buy local (and often organic) food online and pick it up from a central location.

Research Materials and Outreach Activities

If you think about academic events, you could also think about outreach events: Why not combine them with material creation, upcycling events and supporting your local public library? When I taught in Essex, my language games club worked together with the local repair cafe; and we occasionally had joint events in the public library, where we would make use of the sewing-machine support from the repair-cafe and create language games materials from old fabric, buttons, and other used materials. People would see us and drop by to get things repaired and ask about sewing and child language acquisition while the students learned useful skills. I am working towards establishing something like this in Cologne at the moment.


A “sew-in” with Essex Language Games Club and Chris Blomeley from Wivenhoe Repair-Reuse-Recycle | experimentalfieldlingusitics.wordpress.com

My personal addition to the lists of suggestions for conference organizers concerns ID-holders and plastic badges. If you or your department have a random collection of ID-card holders from past conferences that is too small to reuse for another event, you can also put them to use in your language elicitation and use local materials such as plants instead of spending endless hours laminating pictures and taking them to your fieldsite. This is also useful for outreach events (see pictures below) or for seminars where you practice elicitation methods with your students and want to be able to swap pictures easily without endless lamination. You can find ideas for language games and elicitation with recycled and natural materials on my old languagegamesforall-blog.


If the combination of sustainability, linguistics, and play is something you enjoy, you might also find my new German website useful. It focuses on language, play and nature, hence the brand name “Sprachspinat” (“Speechspinach”) from the German equivalents of language, play and nature – SPRACHe, SPIel und NATur. Articles in German, links and literature as well as practical suggestions in both English and German).This page has a strong sustainability focus and takes up ideas from permaculture, i.e. the design of sustainable systems based on natural systems. While the blog texts and some of the recommended readings are in German, you can also find lists of websites and readings in English as well as language games and elicitation ideas in “international” picture-format. The site is accompanied by a German Twitter account (@sprachspinat) and an English twitter account, @SprachspinatE where you will find news about language, play, nature, sustainability, urban gardening, and local food.


One of my first projects for the Sprachspinat-Label was to design a box that can be taken to schools, kindergardens, and eco-projects for ecological training and language games (training). I have called this box the Wupf-Box, from German Wurm ‘worm’ and Pflanzen ‘plant’. It has the same layers as a raised vegetable bed, a built-in worm-compost tower, plants that can be eaten or used for medical or household purposes (e.g. cleaning), and toys for language games. The box can be used to give workshops about vegetable gardening, permaculture, worm-composting, and language games. As the worms and plants need regular care, you can encourage kids to tend to them and engage with the toys and language game opportunities … Or they can produce pictures for themselves, card games, language prompts and social media, while discussing the choice and spatial arrangements of plants or toys, their colors and sizes, etc.  – all while using language that is rich in adjectives and other modifiers, spatial language, modal verbs, etc.  And – to close the circle – you can use this box to grow the herbs for your conference tea breaks…

I am currently creating different variations. The ones below make use of toys and boxes we already had and did not use so much (we usually need the LEGO animals from sets, but not the blocks that went into the box). Other versions will involve old kitchen utensils, cardboard from old boxes, and natural materials like sticks and fibers. On the 27th of November, I will share my experiences in a free lecture on creating a grow-box with a built-in worm tower in Cologne.


I would love to hear more suggestions! – Have a sustainable future event – in every possible sense!


Social Media Accounts

For more information related to the sustainability of research practices, you can check the relevant webpages (e.g. https://fridaysforfuture.org/, https://fridaysforfuture.de/) and FridaysForFuture accounts on various and social media. There are also some linguists who post general information, but also information about events or FridayForFuture-initiatives that involve linguists or the universities where they work (e.g. @StefanMuelller, @fxru or @KonstanzeMarx on Twitter). You can find more using the two hashtags #linguists4future and #linguistsForfuture.

Live long and sustainably!

Sonja Eisenbeiß

P.S.: If you should have a source for hook&loop-fastener that involves upcycling or biologically degradable materials, please let me know. The toys I create and use with others are multi-purpose and get a lot of use in different (language) games; and we do use left-over material where we can. However, in addition to old buttons, hooks, etc. we need larger pieces of fastener to keep the bits and pieces together; and we have not found a fully sustainable replacement for synthetic hook&loop fastener, yet. Maybe you have a suggestion for us …


New Essex Research Centre for Research on Language Development throughout the Lifespan (LaDeLi)

Our new research Centre at the University of Essex, the Centre for Research in LAnguage DEvelopment throughout the LIfespan (LaDeLi), has just been approved. As part of this Centre, we will carry out experimental research on under-researched languages. We will have a public launch in the brand new Business School, on 2nd July, 9.00 – 16.00, followed by a reception. We have three great speakers lined up, representing the three main foci of the Centre:
  • Stephen Crain (early language development)
  • Carmen Munoz (second language learning and teaching)
  • Loraine Obler (language loss, ageing and impairment)

We will post more details nearer to the time

Slides of Research Ethics Talk in JNU / Delhi

Extending Experimental Linguistics to Under-Researched Languages and Populations – The Principle of Justice and New Ethical Challenges (click to download pdf)

The majority of experimental studies in linguistics, psychology, and the social sciences involve participants who are undergraduate students in research-active universities or children of educated families in societies that are WEIRD (Western, Educated, Industrialised, Rich, Democratic; see Henrichs et al. 2010). This leads to claims about universals of human language and behaviour that are not based on an appropriate empirical basis. It also violates the Principle of Justice as many populations are excluded from such studies and their benefits, for instance the development of appropriate materials for teaching or speech and language therapy. Hence, more and more experimental linguists have started to study previously under-researched languages and populations; and we are providing resources and information to support such projects (https://experimentalfieldlinguistics.wordpress.com/).
These projects pose a broad range of ethical challenges. Some of them are challenges that any “traditional” linguistic fieldworker has to face, for instance avoiding coercion and guaranteeing informed consent when dealing with communities that are poor and characterised by low levels of education. However, the introduction of experimental methods into fieldwork contexts also gives rise to new ethical problems. In particular, we will discuss ethical issues that arise when standardized tests of performance (e.g. IQ-tests or tests of working memory) are carried out in small, close-knit communities where native speakers from the same community may become involved in the analysis of such data. We will also discuss (i) problems caused by data sharing in cross-linguistic and cross-cultural studies and (ii) conflicts that can occur when inter-disciplinary studies require ethical approval from boards with members from different disciplines (e.g. medical sciences, linguistics, psychology, and anthropology).

Keywords: linguistics, justice, psycholinguistics, experiments, ethics

University of Essex Postgraduate Schemes for Experimental Linguists

Funding Opportunities

Taking the Laboratory into the Field

Please continue to contribute materials and citations to our website and share the information with others as well. See e.g. :

the Linguist List: http://linguistlist.org/issues/25/25-363.html 

For a review article on “Taking the Laboratory into the Field”, we would appreciate citations (and offprints, if possible) of articles, by yourself or others on this topic. This includes such phonetic methods as palatography, articulometry, ultrasound, airflow, and other measures of articulation, as well psychological tests such as reaction time, eye tracking, electroencephalography, etc. Any application of these techniques in situ are relevant. We are excluding audio and video recording, unless they involve unusual techniques for elicitation (map task, toy task, etc.).

Please send references to Doug Whalen (whalenhaskins.yale.edu) or Joyce McDonough (joyce.mcdonoughrochester.edu). We need these by the end of February, 2014.

Seminar Talk on Syntactic Processing in Akan

On the 7th of November, Helen Goodluck (York) will come to Essex and give a seminar talk on the processing of Akan, a Kwa language spoken in Ghana.


Kgolo and Eisenbeiss in York

Yesterday, I presented work with Naledi Kgolo in York: “Taking psycholinguistics to the field: A case study on morphological processing in Setswana”


Helen Goodluck in York is doing some interesting comparative work on the processing of English and Akan questions.