There's A Meeting for That

Inside a Phonetics Conference

This 130-year-old phonetics conference drew more than 1,000 attendees to Scotland last summer.

tamft phonetics
Illustration by Carmen Segovia.

18th International Congress of Phonetic Sciences
Aug. 10–14, 2015
Scottish Exhibition + Conference Centre (SECC)
Glasgow, Scotland

Established in Paris in 1886, the International Phonetic Association first formalized the study of speech sounds. Its flagship event, the International Congress of Phonetic Sciences (ICPhS) — a forum for the presentation of basic and applied research in phonetic sciences — takes place every four years.

A five-person Scottish Consortium Steering Committee and a local advisory board — a total of 23 representatives from four Scottish universities — planned ICPhS 2015, which drew nearly a thousand academic researchers from 47 countries. The collaboration worked so well this year that steering committee member D. Robert Ladd, emeritus professor of linguistics at the University of Edinburgh, said it “will certainly have some lasting effects in terms of further activities during the coming years.”

SPEAK YOUR MINDOne of those lasting effects will be how ICPhS handles the call-for-papers process. “I was happy to be able to push my agenda about reforming the way papers were evaluated for acceptance,” Ladd said. “This was a two-stage review process. In stage one, over 200 reviewers reviewed over 900 full scientific papers; these were ratified by the 22 stage-two reviewers.”

Another initiative introduced in Glasgow that may stick is the Discussant Sessions. In this new format, a themed set of papers was discussed by an established expert, making the session more interactive.

SPEECH!One challenge ICPhS 2015 met was keeping the five-day event registration fee affordable, which no doubt helped attract 20 percent more attendees than expected.

And while it may not seem that academics who study speech need any encouragement to practice the art of conversation, they were helped in that respect by SECC’s environment. “ICPhS creates invaluable opportunities for meeting up with colleagues, and this is definitely what it’s all about,” Ladd said. “In that connection, having huge breakout space with plenty of comfortable furniture was important. I had two or three longish meetings there with people I don’t normally get to see, so the physical setup made a real difference.”

Plus, according to the University of Glasgow’s Jane Stuart-Smith, conversing with native Glasgownians was a “phonetic treasure trove” for attendees.


LOUD AND CLEARICPhS 2015 content centered on all things speech-related: speech production, speech acoustics, speech perception, intonation patterns, first- and second-language acquisition, forensic phonetics, speaking styles, voice quality, clinical phonetics, and speech technology.

The value of vocal communication underscored even the planning of the event, which was supported by professional conference organizer (PCO) Intelligent Events Ltd. University of Glasgow professor Jane Stuart-Smith worked closely with the PCO in her role as chair of the ICPhS 2015 Scottish Consortium Steering Committee. She said: “The people at Intelligent Events listened carefully and offered sensible and consistent support.”

Michelle Russell

Michelle Russell is editor in chief of Convene.