May 27–29 2013, University of Helsinki

The first HALS workshop with approximately 60 participants was a varied event with many different activities. Apart from very rich description of their respective field experiences from our invited speakers, we engaged in intensive discussions in four separate groups dealing with content- and strategy-related themes. Our workshop was different from most typical academic symposia in that it did not only contain academic presentations sharing scientific results, but included longer sections of in-depth discussion of renewed methods in the study of language. From a pure methods-oriented training workshop, we differed in that we also looked into questions concerning our strategic position in the current international research environment dedicated to the study of language.

In preparation of the first HALS workshop, many of our team members drafted proposals for projects based on their own research background and the state-of-the-art in the respective fields. These projects address current research needs and explore possibilities of how to implement future investigation in various areas of academic and societal importance. These range from language use among diaspora migrant communities to language documentation and the analysis of endangered languages, and from European language contact scenarios e.g. in the Balkans and among Finno-Ugric languages to questions of linguistic typology, language technology and the creation of documentary language resources.

An important result of the HALS workshop was the valuable feedback on our project drafts which we received from the participants – in particular from the external specialists. Sharing these ideas at this point enabled us to team up with colleagues across (language-related) disciplines, enhancing the collaboration within our faculty. This will hopefully lead to applications for funding in the near future.

Language-related issues are a significant component in one of the great current societal challenges: maintaining social cohesion and well-being in a world characterised by increased mobility and contact across languages and cultures. A round table discussion on the final day of the first HALS workshop discussed these concerns in some detail and pointed out that linguistic diversity is not inherently a problem per se, but on the contrary can be an answer to some of these challenges. Rather than seeing it – unjustifiably – as an obstacle to be overcome we need to work towards perceiving it as an asset. The panelists included members of the HALS team and other members of the scientific community and funding agencies in order to promote more reliable and consensual strategies to implement future research in this important arena.