Graduate students and faculty in Linguistics and related departments from various institutions convened at UIUC for the 12th annual Illinois Language and Linguistics Society Conference (ILLS12) over the course of two days (Feb 28-29, 2020) to present their latest research about language and linguistics. The broad theme of this year’s conference was “Language Across the Lifespan”. 

Each year, the conference serves primarily as a venue for faculty members, graduate, and advanced undergraduate students to exchange ideas, discuss research findings, and promotes networking and collaboration. One of the goals of the conference is to further stimulate the exchange of ideas between disciplines and cultivate interdisciplinary relationships amongst language researchers.

The conference attracted researchers from a wide range of subfields in linguistics, such as language change, corpus linguistics, psycholinguistics, phonology, syntax, sociolinguistics, and others. This diversity was evident in the conference’s eclectic program, which featured four plenaries, twenty-five presentation talks, and eight poster presentations. The plenaries covered topics in neuro-psycholinguistics, intonation and children language acquisition, sociolinguistics, and bilingualism. “We chose speakers whose research resonates with this year’s conference theme, which is about language as spoken by diverse groups of individuals, from children to adults”, said Chelsey Norman, one of the co-chairs of ILLS. The idea of the conference theme came from an interest in how researchers look at language speakers across their lifespan. “Issues of age-related language difference can sometimes be overlooked.  With this year’s theme, we wanted to highlight research that purposefully examines how different phases of people’s lives affect their language capacities. This can include exploring differences in language use, acquisition, perception, and production throughout speakers’ lives, Chelsey remarked on how the committee settled on the conference theme.


ILLS12 poster session
ILLS12 Poster Session

The conference, now in its 12th year, is an established tradition in UIUC Linguistics and is the fruit of efforts by graduate students in not only Linguistics but also many other departments in the School of Literatures, Cultures, and Linguistics, notably the Spanish and Portuguese and French and Italian departments. This year’s committee was run by two co-chairs, Chelsey Norman and Gorrety Wawire, made up of thirteen other graduate students, and advised by Professor Johnathan MacDonald. Planning for the conference started in the summer of last year and ramped up during the fall semester, when the committee met weekly to delegate tasks and report on progress. The tasks involved finding fundraising sources, putting together a website, inviting plenary speakers, organizing all the logistics of the attendees, and more. ILLS is entirely graduate-student-run, and is an accessible, friendly venue for graduate students to present their research.

Compared to previous years, the conference tried to be more economical both in terms of scheduling and sustainability. “This year the program was spread over two days rather than three days, which posed some difficulty in scheduling. We achieved that by having parallel sessions, which ended up working out very well”, commented Gorrety Wawire, the other co-chair of ILLS. The organizers have actively engaged in efforts to reduce waste and promote sustainability such as opting out of producing the program’s hard copies, limiting the printing of flyers, using ceramics rather than papers during the coffee breaks and reception, and shifting focus to online publicity via websites and emails and away from traditional advertising. Attendees were encouraged to bring their own water bottles and utilize the available water fountains at the Illini Union. “Going green is a work in progress, and while there is still more room for improvement, we are tending in the right direction. We are glad we initiated this effort this year”, said Gorrety.

This year the conference received a wide range of abstracts from different linguistic subfields and from many different universities across the country. ILLS12 saw an attendance of 138 people and the conference was hailed a success. For graduate students in particular, the ILLS conference is a valuable platform where both budding and advanced researchers engage in dialogue with a wider audience and receive valuable feedback. For the organizers, ILLS offers an excellent opportunity to be involved with the academic community. “Being co-chair is a very valuable experience as it helps me understand what an academic career entails,” Chelsey shared with us, as the committee started to discuss planning for next year’s ILLS conference.

Article by Giang Le, Linguistics Graduate Assistant

Videos of the plenaries are viewable below.

Heritage Languages Across the Lifespan by Dr. Silvina Montreal


Neural and Behavioral Age-Related Differences in Language Production by Dr. Michele Diaz


Acquisition of Intonation: Are Children Similar to Adults? by Dr. Laura Colantoni