Neon words

Does language control us?

How we do things to people with words
Language is sometimes viewed as a window on the mind, but it is equally a tool, a weapon, or perhaps most accurately: a remote control device. Are we controlled by language?

In this event, we bring together a linguist, psychologist, political scientist and speechwriter to examine the ways in which speaking is more than saying something to people, but actually acting upon them.

Our speakers will consider questions such as: Does hate speech hurt our brains? Are words like a virus? Are we slaves to language? Can speaking be violence?

Join us for this fascinating conversation, to mark the launch of the Sydney Centre for Language Research (SCLR), a new multidisciplinary initiative at the University of Sydney. 

This event was held on Thursday 6 June at the University of Sydney.

The speakers

Nick Enfield is Professor of Linguistics at the University of Sydney and director of the Sydney Social Sciences and Humanities Advanced Research Centre, and the Sydney Centre for Language Research. He is head of the Sydney Initiative for Truth (SIFT). His research on language, culture, cognition and social life is based on long term field work in mainland Southeast Asia, especially Laos.

His recent books include Natural Causes of LanguageDistributed Agency, and How We Talk. Nick has published widely in linguistics, anthropology, and cognitive science venues, and has written for the Guardian, the Times Literary Supplement, the Wall Street Journal, and Science. He is a Fellow of the Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia, the Royal Society of New South Wales, and the Australian Academy of the Humanities.

Joanne Arciuli's research on child development spans linguistics, psychology, neuroscience, speech pathology, and education. Her research focuses on speech, language, literacy, and learning in typically developing children and those with developmental disabilities (e.g., autism; Down syndrome).

She has published widely in international journals including Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, Cortex, Developmental Science, Cognition, Neuropsychologia, and Journal of Experimental Child Psychology. She is a stream leader in the Centre for Disability Research and Policy (CDRP) at the University of Sydney and leads the Language, Brain, and Mind node of the Sydney Centre for Language Research.

Aim Sinpeng is a lecturer in comparative politics in the Department of Government and International Relations. She is an award-winning educator whose research interests centre on the relationships between digital media, political participation and political regimes in Southeast Asia. She is particularly interested in the role of social media in shaping state-society relations and inducing political and social change.

She is the co-founder of the Sydney Cyber Security Network and a Thailand country coordinator for the Sydney Southeast Asia Centre. Aim received a Teaching Excellence Award in 2017 and was named an 'Emerging Female Leader' in 2018 by the University of Sydney. She has examined popular movements against democracy in democratising states, particularly in Thailand. Aim is a regular commentator on Southeast Asian politics for the ABC, SBS, CBC, Channel News Asia, Al Jazeera, CNBC and Sky News.

Marc Stears is Director of the Sydney Policy Lab. Before arriving in Sydney in 2018, Marc had been Professor of Political Theory at the University of Oxford and Chief Executive of the New Economics Foundation, one of the UK’s largest think tanks, where his work often focused on deepening partnerships with community groups who are often overlooked in the policy process. Between 2012 and 2015, he was Chief Speechwriter to the UK Labour Party, a co-author of the party’s 2015 election manifesto and a member of the Party's general election steering committee. He has also advised a number of commercial and non-commercial organisations on strategic communications, these have included Coram Young Citizens, Channel 4 television, EY, GlaxoSmithKline, Let Us Learn and Linklaters.

In his academic work, Marc is an expert in democratic theory and the history of ideologies and social movements. He is the author or editor of many books including Demanding Democracy (Princeton, 2010) and The Oxford Handbook of Political Ideologies (Oxford, 2014). He has two books currently under contract, one focusing on the recent revival of socialism internationally and one on the way in which the art of Dylan Thomas, George Orwell and J. B. Priestley continues to shape the political imagination.

Lead image credit: photo by Lauren Peng on Unsplash

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