10 July 2014
International scholars working on the linguistics of Southeast Asia gathered in Yangon this May to participate in the 24th Annual Meeting of the Southeast Asian Linguistics Society (SEALS24) – an event supported by SOAS, University of London and organised by Dr Justin Watkins, Senior Lecturer in Burmese and Linguistics at the School.
This international event was hosted by the National Centre for English Language, on the campus of Yangon University. Dr Watkins additionally enlisted the cooperation and approval of the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Immigration, the Directorate of Higher Education (Lower Myanmar), the Myanmar Language Department of Yangon University.
The forum enabled academic scholars and researchers to present findings and debate current thinking on languages and linguistics in Southeast Asia, with some focus on the languages of Myanmar. It was also the first international conference of its size and scope to be held on the campus of Yangon University for some decades. These included namely Burmese language, Chin languages and Tibeto-Burman languages, as well as the languages of South East Asia in general. There were also specialist panels on Mediaeval Tibeto-Burman Languages and Evidentiality in Tibetan, both organised by Dr Nathan Hill of SOAS, on Language Policy in Southeast Asia and on Chin Languages. Pictures and materials from the conference will be available on the website of the Southeast Asian Linguistics Society.
The conference attracted widespread media attention in Myanmar with coverage in MRTV - the 24 hour channel from Myanmar - and in the and in several newspapers and magazines. Quoted in the Union Daily newspaper, Dr Watkins said: "When people talk about the ethnic situation in [Burma], they talk about politics and education, but if you really want to understand about the politics and ethnic nationalities, you have to have a good understanding of the linguistic situation."
SOAS, founded in 1916, has built a unique reputation for the contribution it makes to intellectual scholarship within the specialist subject areas of Asia, Africa and the Middle East. Its staff and students are the guardians of specialist knowledge, particularly in the field of languages. Undergraduate programmes in at SOAS can be combined with Southeast Asian cultural and areas studies and language study in Burmese, Indonesian, Khmer, Thai and Vietnamese.
Dr Justin Watkins interviewed on Mrtv English Channel