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A warm welcome to the website of ICL 20, the 20th International Congress of Linguists. The congress is to be held at the Cape Town International Convention Centre between the 2nd to the 6th of July 2018. The hosts are CIPL (Comité International Permanent des Linguistes), the LSSA (Linguistics Society of Southern Africa) and UCT (the University of Cape Town). Our partner organisations are given below. Please follow the links to find out more about these dynamic organisations.

The Congress is held every five years, and is meant to showcase current developments in Linguistics. The Congress will run over five days, have a plenary panel on linguistics in South Africa, nine plenary speakers covering a range of major sub-fields, 10 paper sessions each with its own focus speaker, up to 30 workshops, and several poster sessions. While speakers and topics are drawn from a wide international pool, ICL 20 will take the additional opportunity of showcasing African language research. It will also cover applied linguistic areas of research of vital importance to the African continent and the 21st century at large, with a special extended session on Multilingualism, Education, Policy and Development.

Please take a look at the pages on our Scientific Committee, our invited plenary speakers, session topics and call for workshop proposals and abstracts. If you haven’t visited Cape Town before, please also have a look at some of the images of a beautiful and diverse city. We look forward to welcoming you at the tip of Africa in July 2018.

Prof. Rajend Mesthrie

President ICL 20.
June 2016.

In conjunction with Prof. D. Bradley. President CIPL

Hosts & Supporting/Partner Associations


Comité International Permanent des Linguistes / Permanent International Committee of Linguists

Linguistics Society of Southern Africa

Southern African Applied Linguistics Association

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University of Cape Town
African Language Association of Southern Africa

South African Association for ​Language Teaching


Registration NOW OPEN!
27 June 2018 Online Registration Closes


Water situation in Cape Town
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2 - 6 July 2018


Prof. Nicholas Evans (Australian National University)

While linguistics knows an increasing amount about the nature of linguistic diversity, we still have no more than a basic understanding of its causes. Why are there such radical differences, across the globe, in the distribution of linguistic diversity – whether measured in numbers of languages, of language families, or of typological variability? While a partial explanation can be found in the homogenising effects of historically long-term state formation in some parts of the world (e.g. Europe, Korea, Japan) and not in others (e.g. New Guinea), this still leaves unexplained the striking contrasts in diversity found if we compare regions where colonisation is historically recent, e.g. New Guinea vs Australia or Vanuatu vs Samoa. And while various extralinguistic causes have been proposed with some statistical validity (e.g. growing season, ecological risk), at best they furnish distal causes which must logically be mediated by sociocultural differences then played out in different linguistic practices and ideologies.

In other words, to understand the origins of linguistic diversity (macrovariation) and its very different distributions across the world, ultimately we need to investigate differences across speech communities in microvariation – the way small-scale individual differences arise, diffuse, and are semiotically mobilised, across different types of small-scale speech community. In this talk I outline the methods and unfolding findings of a large-scale comparative project which sets out to do just that, focussing on case studies from three high-diversity regions: northern Australia, southern New Guinea and Vanuatu. Our studies of these regions are particularly concerned to examine the role that egalitarian multilingualism and the resultant metalinguistic awareness of linguistic difference play in the ongoing fostering of linguistic diversification at various levels, and with reconciling the need to balance variation that is locally salient (e.g. the variable (ng), relevant in English but not, say, Xhosa) with the need for cross-linguistic commensaribility in levels of typological diversity, e.g. through the typological variables in WALS or GRAMBANK.

If – as our emerging findings suggest – egalitarian multilingualism plays a central role in driving diversification, this makes the documentarian task for the world community of linguists even more urgent than that of studying static structures, since many traditional types of multilingualism are even more fragile than individual languages themselves.

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