August 9, 2015

ICPhS Behind the Scenes: The Oral Programme

Posted in icphs tagged , at 1:25 pm by mariawolters

In this series of blog posts, I would like to take you behind the scenes of the 18th International Congress of Phonetic Sciences (ICPhS) in Glasgow. All posts are written to be accessible to both phoneticians and non-phoneticians.

In this post, we will look at the way in which the oral programme was assembled. This is not just a peek behind the scenes, but should also go a long way to explain why your paper (of all papers) got stuck in that particular session.

First of all, ICPhS is much bigger than it used to be, which also makes it more tricky to organise and schedule For example, the 16th ICPhS in Saarbrücken, Germany (2007) featured around 450 oral and poster presentations. At this ICPhS, the attendees have the choice of around 750 papers, split almost equally between oral and poster sessions.

Phonetics has also become both more diverse, with specialisations upon specialisations. This is particularly true for the prosody community (or should I say avalanche?) where every single aspect of rhythm, stress, and intonation will be discussed in great detail. Methods range from corpus-based studies (i.e., you speak, we record and annotate) to intricate perception experiments.

The prosody avalanche is almost matched in sheer impact by the language acquisition (in particular second language acquisition) tsunami. Pretty much every oral session features either papers or full sessions on bilingualism or second language acquisition.

Needless to say, this made the task of putting together the programme a challenge, and some of the resulting sessions are best approached with a spirit of discovery.

(After all, each paper has to fit somewhere, and if it fits, it sits. Even if one has to be a little creative sometimes.)

In order to help with this process, we relied on the people who know their papers best – the authors. On submitting a paper to ICPhS, each author (or author team, in most cases) was asked to categorise their paper into 27 scientific areas. Authors could specify up to three areas for their paper. All papers also had keywords that describe key aspects of the content, a meaningful title, and an abstract, which could be consulted in case of confusion (or despair).

All oral papers were first grouped by the scientific areas that the authors had indicated. After some checking, we found that papers were described best by the combination of areas specified, and took this as the starting point for the next step.

The initial grouping yielded around 40 groups of oral papers. Some of them fell neatly into sessions, and there was much rejoicing. Others were more complex. For these papers, keywords were consulted. Sometimes, frequently used keywords suggested themes (such as rhotics). If that approach was not fruitful, groups of papers were inspected for meaningful clusters.

The overall approach was what us computer scientists would call greedy – coherent sessions emerged first, and were fixed in the structure. The remaining papers were then grouped into sessions that were as coherent as possible, until all papers had been assigned to one of 72 sessions.

As a result, sessions can be grouped by topic (coronals), method (ultrasound investigations of speech), area of phonetics (speech perception), or language group (Arabic Phonetics), and therefore, one paper can easily fit into several different sessions.

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1 Comment »

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