LINGUIST List 7.1704

Mon Dec 2 1996

All: Report on LINGUIST on-line conference

Editor for this issue: T. Daniel Seely <>


  1. Daniel Seely, On-line Conference Report

Message 1: On-line Conference Report

Date: Mon, 02 Dec 1996 08:43:10 EST
From: Daniel Seely <>
Subject: On-line Conference Report



The LINGUIST Network held its first on-line conference, Geometric and
Thematic Structure in Binding, from October 14 through November 6,
1996. Since this was a "first" in linguistics (as far as we know), we
thought some subscribers might appreciate a report on the progress of
the conference. Also, we believe a report may help us plan for the
future. We are committed to making on-line conferences a regular
feature of LINGUIST and will soon be soliciting proposals for the next
meeting. The first conference taught us a number of lessons that may
be of some value in the planning and implementation of future
electronic gatherings.

WHY ON-LINE CONFERENCES----------------------------------------------

One of the goals of the conference was to take advantage of the
potential of the Internet to encourage scholarly interchange.
Electronic conferences have at least 3 potential advantages. One of
these was obvious from the first, but the other two were discovered in
the course of the conference.

First , the potential audience of linguists who can "attend" an
electronic conference is much larger than that for a traditional
conference. The medium allows linguists to be actively involved
wherever they may be, regardless of financial, geographical or
political constraints. As a result, nearly fifty countries were
represented at this conference. They are listed in the Basic
Statistics section below.

Second, the medium offers ways to overcome or minimize some
disciplinary constraints. Many of the "attendees" subscribed in order
to access up-to-the-minute research in a subdiscipline outside their
own, research that they would not normally read. The hypertext format
allowed us to provide ancillary information about the presenters and
the theoretical context of the papers. The conference organizer
established hyperlinks to relevant home-pages, to bibliographic
information about cited works, and to definitions of key terminology.
Such information, we hope, enriched the conference for everyone, but
it seems to have been especially useful to non-specialists.

Third, on-line conferences allow the immediate and permanent archiving
of the papers presented, and of the commentary as well. As one of the
participants mentioned, this makes the conference proceedings a useful
teaching tool: he pointed out that teachers can ask students to read
and comment on the papers, then later compare their own comments to the
archived discussion. The papers and discussion are, of course, also
available to scholars who want to consider the papers more carefully
than a traditional conference allows. 

BASIC STRUCTURE OF THE CONFERENCE-------------------------------------

The organization of the conference was quite similar to a regular one
in some respects. A call for abstracts was made, and these abstracts
were read by a review board before being accepted. One salient
difference was that all correspondence--including submission of
abstracts and papers--was electronic. In fact, this meeting did not
require a single sheet of paper. Unlike most linguistic conferences,
however, the authors of the successful abstracts were asked to provide
a finished version of their papers some time before the conference
took place. These papers were put on the Web, as well as sent out via
email to the "attendees," all of whom were put on a special email list
called linconf. Discussion was carried out by e-mail, but all
comments were archived and immediately translated into hypertext
format so that they could also be made available on the Web.

To allow thoughtful consideration of the work presented, the
conference was divided into three sessions each with three papers,
roughly one session per week; a keynote address by Prof. Howard Lasnik
brought the total number of presentations to ten. The original idea
was to make all of the three papers of a session available at the
beginning of the week, have a two day reading period, and then open up
the floor for open discussion, with the guidance of a moderator, for
the rest of the week. At the end of the conference, there would then
be discussion of all conference papers. As we will see below,
however, in actual practice, more time was needed for both reading and

The linguistic theme of the conference was narrowly focused in order
that the meeting be of manageable size and scope; and, furthermore,
the primary conference organizer has some expertise in binding theory
and it seemed useful to select a topic that we knew fairly
well--indeed, this was important for everything from establishing the
review board to editing papers for final presentation.

In the interest of space, the specifics of the linguistic theme won't
be reviewed here, but all details are available at LINGUIST sites,

PREPARATION TIME-FRAME----------------------------------------------

The idea to have a conference with binding theory as its theme arose
in February, 1996. The primary organizer, Daniel Seely, attended
the Atomism and Binding workshop in the Netherlands during the month
as more or less a fact-finding excursion--to gauge interest in an
on-line conference of this sort and to solicit papers and review board
members. With a positive initial response to the project, work began
in earnest in March. The general chronology thereafter was as

March.....Conference theme and organization completed
 Establishment of Review Board and Keynote speaker

April 1...Call for papers

May 15....Abstracts collected and prepared for review distribution

June 25-
July 15...Reviews tabulated and final program established

August....Technical preparation

Sept. 25...Final versions of papers received and prepared
 for presentation

Oct. 14....Conference begins

This time-line proved quite tenable, but there are some things we
would change. We believe there should be a bit more time for
preparation of abstracts (the first call-for-papers might go out three
months before abstract deadline) and for preparation of papers. Final
versions of papers given at on-line conferences need to be submitted
to the organizers well in advance of the conference, so that they can
be readied for email distribution and translated into HTML for
presentation on the Web. And the papers need to be prepared with
considerable care, both by the authors and by the organizers: whatever
errors they contain will be visible on the Web for a very long time.
Thus, there should be a solid block of time not only between the
establishment of the final program (based on abstract review) and the
deadline for receipt of papers for presentation, but also between the
receipt of the papers and the conference-beginning.

BASIC STATISTICS FOR CONFERENCE---------------------------------------

We present here a few basic statistics about the conference.

Number of Subscribers: 525
Countries: 46
Country makeup: Argentina 7, Australia 11, Austria 1, Belgium 2, Brazil
2, Bulgaria 1, Canada 27, China 2, Czech Republic 2, Denmark 2, Egypt 1,
Estonia 1, Federal Republic of Yugoslavia 1, Finland 2, France 3,
Germany 40, Great Britain 34, Greece 5, Hongkong 4, Hungary 6, Iceland
1, India 1, Indonesia 1, Ireland 2, Israel 7, Italy 4, Japan 56, Korea
16, Mexico 7, Netherlands 10, New Zealand 7, Norway 4, Poland 1,
Portugal 4, Russia 1, Singapore 1, South Africa 2, Spain 10, Sweden 2,
Switzerland 2, Taiwan 4, Turkey 1, Ukraine 1, United Arab Emirates 1,
Uruguay 1, USA 222

Number of Discussion Messages: 55
Number of abstracts received: 15
Number of abstracts accepted: 9

SUBSCRIBER COMMENTS-----------------------------------------------------

At the end of the meeting, we encouraged comments from subscribers in
order to better determine which components of the conference worked
and which didn't. Some thirty subscribers wrote in and their comments
and suggestions proved valuable. A summary follows.

On the positive side, comments can be divided up into those that apply
to on-line conferences in general, and those relevant to this meeting
in particular. Common general themes were:

 On-line conferencing is a good idea and should be continued.

 Such conferences do save money and time.

 Because there is more time to read and digest complex material,
 questions/comments and responses can be more thoughtful than
 at a regular conference.

Comments specific to this first meeting include:

 That it was well-organized.

 Papers and comments were of good quality.

 It was a good opportunity for non-specialists
 to get exposure to some of the latest developments in
 generative syntax; exposure that might not be
 practical otherwise.

As for the negative side, the central generalization was this:

 A regular conference is more focused in the sense
 that attendees do not have classes and the other
 normal responsibilities of the profession for
 the duration (usually 2 or 3 days) of the meeting.
 This means that conferees can concentrate entirely
 on the conference. Because an on-line meeting
 must take place over a substantially longer period
 of time, however, such focus is not possible. This
 makes reading all the papers and comments potentially

Representative comments on this point include:

 "I would have participated more if I had time to read everything.
 The disadvantage of an on-line conference is that life does not
 stop during the conference, as it does for a real conference that
 you travel to."

There were a number of interesting suggestions for future meetings.
One was to have more information available about subscribers so
that everyone could keep better track of who was commenting.
Another is that meetings be kept open such that people could
make comments on papers for a longer period of time.


Overall, we think it clear that this first meeting was
a success and we continue to be committed to making on-line
conferencing a regular feature of LINGUIST.

LINGUIST Moderators
Daniel Seely, Conference Organizer
Anthony Aristar
Helen Aristar-Dry
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