Conference proposal samples

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Usually the talks that people give at academic conferences are presentations of actual papers, or paper in progress, or material that will be written up later as a paper to be published. These may be (1) written in present and future tense, which is more like a regular proposal format, providing background and rationale, and a description of one’s plans and intentions for the paper; or (2) they may be written in more of an abstract format, with present and past tenses, for a paper that has been written (or if the writer has a very good idea of the results and can confidently write it in present and past tense). The length of the abstract depends on the type of conference, the particular research field, and the research topic.

Below are some linguistics conference proposals, ranging from mediocre to good. Decide which ones are better or worse, and why.

1 1. Writing about research paradigms in EAP and ESL

(For a conference on ESL writing studies)

Graduate students work within scientific, research, or scholarly paradigms of some form, which consist of beliefs, assumptions, models, theories, and goals that directly affect the nature of academic writing in their fields. Since academic research and writing are so closely intertwined, the nature of the paradigms directly affects the nature of the writing conventions, genre and style in the academic writing of any given field.

I will explain what paradigms are, with examples from various fields such as linguistics and psychology. I will then discuss how ESL/EAP students can think and write about the paradigms in their fields. They then examine writing conventions and styles in published articles, and then they can write about their paradigms and how they affect the genre and writing conventions of academic writing in their fields. In the end, they learn more about how to write more appropriately for their academic discipline and target audience.

Graduate students, undergraduates, and other international scholars can benefit. I will explain how this can be implemented as part of an ESL writing course, and what teachers need to know to teach it. As a result, teachers can better interact with students about their studies, and can better prepare them for research related and scholarly writing in their disciplines.

2 2. Evidence for “like” as a focus marker

(For a pragmatics conference)

Several functions have been proposed for the colloquial discourse marker “like”. This paper examines evidence for one particular claim that it functions as a focus marker. A weakness of this claim is that it is made without sufficient definition or detail regarding focus. This concept is elaborated upon in a way that can facilitate a better analysis of such a discourse marker, and that allows the focus marker hypothesis to be tested. Some conversational data are then examined and occurrences of the discourse marker “like” are analyzed according to patterns of occurrence in sentences according to syntactic occurrence and pragmatic features and usage. Once focus is well formulated, the data show that “like” is used as a contrastive focus marker, specifically as an additive marker of indirect contrast, in addition to its well attested use as a hedge marker. This also makes it possible to account for sentence initial “it’s like” as a related type of focal marker. Finally, its frequent usage as a hedge and focus marker can be motivated by the sociocognitive and sociopragmatic property of intersubjectivity.

3 3. Teaching English discourse stress to Asian students

(For a TESOL conference)

English utterances contain a main sentence or discourse stress, which marks new information or contrasts in sentences. Learners may have difficulties communicating in English if they fail to perceive or express the main point of utterances by means of stress. These obstacles are especially strong for Asian students, due to the prosodic differences between English and Asian languages.

The presenter will show how discourse stress results primarily from the flow of information. Simple linguistic principles account for how the most salient new or contrastive information is marked by discourse stress. These can easily be translated into a simple pedagogical system for EFL instructors and learners. Learners can be empowered with straightforward principles that are effective for understanding and producing English discourse stress. Specific issues in teaching Asian students will be discussed, and some communicatively oriented lessons will be described for teaching the various aspects of the proposed system.

4 4. Korean L2 management of English contrastive markers

Contrastive discourse connectives, such as the English contrastive markers but, yet, however, though and although, have not lent themselves readily to semantic and pragmatic analysis, and so a clear, straightforward and well accepted account of these lexical items is lacking. Contrastive functions have been proposed for but and others, but it remains unclear how they differ semantically or pragmatically from each other. Rather than relying on introspective data from one language that has served as the basis for most pragmatics research, this study undertakes an empirical cross-comparative approach, by examining Korean L2 students’ use of contrastive markers in English writing compared to native English writers. Then particular semantic differences suggested by the data, the literature, and interlanguage differences are proposed and discussed. These suggest further areas of research to be done in corpus analysis and other empirical research for a better understanding of contrastive markers.

5 5. Focus types in information structure

Analysis of discourse structure and sentence stress often refer to and depend on the informational status of items in discourse, particularly of items generally referred to as new information, rheme, or most often, focus, in both functionalist and formal generative accounts. However, focus is often used vaguely or in confusingly different ways in the literature. Some have found it helpful to distinguish between topic and focus, and between broad focus (the whole set of new information) from narrow focus (the most prominent item prosodically). While these distinctions are on the right track, they are not formulated precisely enough, and it remains unclear why some items are in primary focus and are stressed, while others are not.

In response to the ambiguities of the current paradigm, a more precise taxonomy of focus types is proposed, based on insights from pragmatics, discourse analysis, psycholinguistics, and the presenter’s research. Normal discourse (broad) focus and primary (narrow) focus, as termed here, will be formally defined. Discourse focus consists of discourse-new information as typically embodied in predicates; primary focus is a subcomponent of the discourse focus and is typically marked by sentence stress. The rest of the discourse focus belongs to the domain of so-called secondary focus -- less crucial new information that for various reasons does not belong to the primary focus domain and cannot receive sentence stress. While one would typically expect the last item of the sentence to be in primary focus and stressed, this is not always the case; such items may belong to secondary focus for reasons to be discussed. Finally, contrastive focus (contrast between items or statements) represents a different kind of focus that overrides the normal discourse focus.

This formal taxonomy will be functionally satisfying and powerful enough for formal analysis of discourse structure, pragmatics, and sentence stress.

6 6. Phonological and other linguistic effects in recognition of Chinese characters

(For a psycholinguistics conference)

Phonological factors involved in Chinese character recognition were examined with a naming experiment, while examining and controlling for other relevant influences. Phonological priming had no effect at the 50 ms SOA, but a number of other influences were detected – phonological, visual, orthographic, lexical, semantic, and morphological. The findings indicate the complexity and multiple routes of information, with concurrent inhibitory and facilatory influences, involved in Chinese character and lexical processing.

7 7. Semantic and phonological factors in the recognition of Chinese characters

Chinese characters consist of a semantic component, or semantic radical, which generally provides some cue about the meaning of the whole character, and is used for dictionary look-up. Most characters also include a phonetic component (hereafter, phonogram), itself usually an independent character, which provides some cue about character pronunciation, though its usefulness has been attenuated by sound changes in the language.

Thus, the question arises as to how much Chinese readers make use of the phonological or semantic information in mental recognition of characters. Some claim, with behavioral data to support their views, that recognition processes mainly depend on use of semantic information in characters, with phonology being quite secondary or later, while others have presented data to claim that recognition depends primarily on phonological information in characters, with semantics being rather secondary. A series of masked priming studies will be presented that show that both semantic and phonological processing are both important from the early stages of lexical processing. This is seen in the type of priming effects, as well as in the significance of various linguistic factors that are entered in the analysis. In fact, one shortcoming of past studies has been a lack of investigation of or control for various linguistic factors – semantic, phonological, and others. For this study, a number of variables have been calculated and entered as covariates in a hierarchical linear modeling analysis of the data. Semantic and other factors include lexical semantic concreteness, radical transparency, radical frequency, and visual complexity. Phonological factors include regularity (correspondence between phonogram and character pronunciation) and consistency (of phonograms across characters).

The results show that both semantic and phonological processing are important and early in recognition, and are probably of equal or similar importance. These results are informative for psycholinguistic models of reading and lexical access, and for language instruction.