Danish winter, French summer: A memorable sociolinguistic journey by Raymund Vitorio

I had a chance to go to two PhD schools this year—the Copenhagen Winter School in Sociolinguistics in March, and the Paris Interdisciplinary Summer School in Language and Economy in August. These are two competitive PhD schools in sociolinguistics, which gave me the opportunity to meet a few of the most prominent scholars in my field. I presented the preliminary findings of my PhD project, which examines the discourses of integration of ‘new citizens’ in Singapore.

Copenhagen Winter School in Sociolinguistics

The Copenhagen Winter School was a five-day event organised by the LANCHART Center and the Department of Nordic Research of the University of Copenhagen. Lecturers discussed contemporary concepts and frameworks in sociolinguistics while student participants presented their PhD projects. As a relatively young field, sociolinguistics is filled with many new concepts and theories, which makes PhD schools that aim to clarify and highlight contemporary concepts such as this worth going for.

I was very fortunate to have had a chance to consult with the faculty members and student participants about my PhD topic. Given that most of us came from different countries, I was able to get a cosmopolitan perspective on my topic. Many of the students and faculty members also conduct research on the relationship of language and migration, and watching their presentations made me appreciate the complexities of this field even more. Watching presentations about Copenhagen migration made me realize that while Copenhagen and Singapore seem to be very different from each other, they still have many interesting similarities given that both cities are experiencing immigration-related challenges.

The organisers of the winter school also made sure that we had enough time to enjoy Copenhagen. They took us out to dinner in different parts of Copenhagen almost every night, and they also treated us to nice Danish beers (Tuborg> Carlsberg, in my opinion!) on a few nights. These social events also gave us even more opportunities to discuss our projects with the faculty members, which was a nice complement to the intense lectures and presentations that we had during the day.  The Danish winter may have been too punishing especially when you bike around the city without gloves, but the warmth of the organizers’ welcome more than made up for it anyway.

Background: Copenhagen Town Hall, foreground: I and my freezing hands and smile

Paris Interdisciplinary Summer School in Language and Economy

Five months after the Copenhagen Summer School, I went back to Europe for the Paris Summer School in Language and Economy. This two-week summer school was sponsored by the Collegium of Lyon, France in collaboration with the Réseau Français des Instituts d’Etudes  Avancées (RFIEA), and was organised by two prominent sociolinguists, Prof Salikoko Mufwene of the University of Chicago and Prof Cécile Vigouroux of the Simon Fraser University.

As someone who studies the intersection of migration and language, I learned a lot from this summer school. The summer school brought economists and linguists (faculty members and student participants) together in an attempt to bridge the gap between these two disciplines, given that they are actually related to each other. This interdisciplinary perspective was quite a unique experience for a sociolinguist like me as it allowed me to improve not only the depth but also the breadth of my understanding of the two disciplines on the level of theory and method. The diversity of the participants of the summer school was really impressive. Similar to the Copenhagen winter school, this diversity resulted in thought-provoking discussions and interactions.

Selfie time with Prof. Salikoko Mufwene
Selfie time with Prof. Salikoko Mufwene

All the students were billeted in the Cité International Universitaire de Paris, which was the Parisian counterpart of the NUS University Town. Each “house” in Cité International was designed after the architecture of the country that it is supposed to represent. We stayed in the Portuguese House, where we met many Portuguese students who study in Paris. My classmates and I hung out almost every night over nice dinners and good French wine as we discussed our own experiences as PhD students. We also got to travel around Paris together during the weekend, as we all tried and failed to pick up French.

Bonjour, Paris! The Eiffel Tower as seen from the top of the Arc de Triomphe.
Bonjour, Paris! The Eiffel Tower as seen from the top of the Arc de Triomphe.

Back in Singapore with a wider perspective

These PhD schools were very enriching and enjoyable. As I learned about the works of other people, I also began to appreciate how nice it is to discuss Singapore with a very wide audience. Sharing insights about my current research here in Singapore in these PhD schools was very memorable, especially when people told me that they now know more about Singapore, and Asia as well. The friends that I made and the academic connections that I had in these schools are definitely something that I would remember as I write my dissertation.

Raymund Vitorio
Department of English Language & Literature

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