December 2017

Message from the Editor - Gary Libben

Past-President's Message - Irving Abella

Un peu d'amour pour la Société royale - Jean Grondin

Words, Psycholinguistics and the Humanities  - Gonia Jarema

 

Message from the Editor - Gary Libben

Gary LibbenI am delighted that we are launching the publication of the Bulletin of the Academy of the Arts and Humanities of the Royal Society of Canada. This Bulletin provides us an exciting opportunity to begin and maintain conversations throughout the year, to build bridges among our disciplines, and to forge new links with the broader communities in which we live.

The launch of this Bulletin has led me to give some thought to a seemingly paradoxical relationship between the often insulated activities of creation, scholarship and discovery and their communication to others.

Indeed, it seems to me that this paradox is in our roots. The motto of the original Royal Society, Nullius in verba (usually translated as “take nobody’s word for it”) was adopted in 1663, just a few years after the founding of the Royal Society.  It reflects the Royal Society’s determination to withstand the domination of authority and seek verification through observation and experimentation.  And that leads me to the paradox:  If the founding members of the Royal Society were so intent on “taking nobody’s word for it”, what was the point of having a society that meets to hear what others have to say?  The answer, of course, is not terribly mysterious.  No matter how independent the process of knowledge creation may seem, its true potential is only realized through communication. We need conversation to test our ideas, to strengthen them, and to help us find their place in the dynamics of human knowledge development.
 
Our goal is to have this Bulletin create exactly such a communicative opportunity, one that supports the Royal Society of Canada’s stated primary objective – “ to promote learning and research in the arts, the humanities and the natural and social sciences”.
 
To achieve this objective, the Bulletin will strive to keep readers abreast of the latest Academy developments and opportunities, and also to be a platform for the exchange of knowledge, perspectives and insights.  I warmly invite Fellows to submit articles that summarize and interpret research, that offer perspectives on where we are and where we are going, and that help us to understand the implications of research across disciplines and across our regional, national and international communities.
 
The three articles in this issue get us off to an excellent start!  Past-President Abella’s message welcomes our new Fellows and highlights the considerable depth and breadth of activity over the past year, new opportunities, the importance of our engagement in addressing enrollment trends in the humanities, and the important challenges that lie ahead.  Academy President Grondin’s article presents an insightful analysis of the ways in which the Royal Society is less visible than it should be among francophone Canadian researchers, the reasons for why this may be the case, and, importantly, what can be done to change the current state of affairs.  Finally, in our first research-based article of the Bulletin, Professor Gonia Jarema reports on developments in the field of psycholinguistics and, moreover, on the manner in which findings in this research domain have points of contact throughout the Humanities in terms of subject matter and methodology.
 
Personally, it is a great honour for me to be part of this Bulletin launch. I would like to express a warm welcome to my colleagues, both as its readers and as its future authors.

Past-President's Message - Irving Abella

Irving AbellaThroughout the past year the RSC has undertaken a series of meetings with Fellows, members of the College and Institutional members in campuses all across the country to discuss both the future of the Society and ways to improve its operations. One of the most frequent suggestions heard at these 34 gatherings, and one familiar to most RSC Fellows, was the need to improve communications within the membership. It was clear to most of those consulted that in order for the Society to be more successful we needed to know more about one another.

This is precisely the objective of this new e-Bulletin. At the annual meeting of Academy 1 last November in Kingston it was proposed that what we needed most of all was a method of communicating with each other, a way of discussing our goals and activities, of establishing a platform that would facilitate the exchange of ideas and information, and of introducing ourselves to the membership. It was decided that we should create a newsletter.

Fortunately for us, Professor Gary Libben who was in the audience rose to the challenge and volunteered to take responsibility for the first issue. We are deeply grateful for his efforts.

This has been a busy year for the Academy. Following up on the memorandum of understanding signed several years ago with the Israel Academy of Science and Humanities we agreed to sponsor a joint symposium in Jerusalem on “Literature and History”.  Organized by Dean Kevin Kee of the University of Ottawa the colloquium was held on December 12 and 13 and papers were given by Katherine Carter, Chad Gaffield, Carole Gerson, Kevin Kee, Jocelyn LeTourneau, Cynthia Milton, Daniel Woolf and myself, as well as by 8 leading Israeli scholars. Both the incoming Canadian ambassador to Israel and the outgoing Israeli ambassador to Canada participated. The next meeting of the two societies will be held in May 2018 in Montreal.

As well, following up on the discussion at the last Academy meeting regarding the decline in enrolments in the Arts and the Humanities in many universities I met with officials and academics in most provinces. All believed it was a real problem and the Academy and the Society should become more active on this issue. Some suggested that members of the Academy report regularly to the RSC on the situation at their respective universities; others suggested an RSC task force. Perhaps a combination of both would be ideal. In any case, this should be a matter for the newly elected executive and on the agenda of our annual meeting.

Finally, I would like to congratulate and welcome the new Fellows to the Academy and to wish my successor, Jean Grondin, great success as he takes up his role as President of Academy 1.

Un peu d'amour pour la Société royale - Jean Grondin

Jean GrondinProfesseur au Département de philosophie de l’Université de Montréal et président-élu de l’Académie des arts, des lettres et des sciences humaines du Canada.
[Texte publié dans « Le Devoir » du 2 septembre 2017, sous un autre titre choisi par la rédaction du « Devoir ». Le texte qui suit est celui de la version originale]

Tous les pays qui se respectent ont leur Académie des sciences, dont le nom varie selon les traditions. Au Canada, il s’agit de la Société royale du Canada, fondée en 1882 et dont le nom faisait écho à la Royal Society of London for the Improvement of Natural Knowledge créée en 1660 et qu’Isaac Newton contribua à rendre célèbre. En France, Colbert fonda une Académie des sciences en 1666. Le but de ces académies est de réunir les plus grands savants et d’abord de les reconnaître, car le fait d’être élu à une Académie des sciences, ou à la Société royale, signifie une consécration pour les chercheurs qui rejaillit sur leur discipline, leur institution et leur communauté, car par là c’est la culture de l’intelligence, de la science et des arts qui se trouve promue.

La Société royale du Canada (SRC) reste assez mal connue et chichement appréciée dans le monde francophone, alors que qu’elle jouit d’un prestige justifié auprès de nos concitoyens anglophones. Lorsque des collègues des universités anglophones sont élus à la SRC, leurs institutions publient aussitôt des notices dans les grands journaux pour souligner la nomination de leurs professeurs. On ne voit rien de tel dans l’univers francophone. Nos médias n’en parlent pas beaucoup non plus, eux qui gagneraient pourtant à profiter davantage de l’expertise reconnue de ses membres. Il y a à ce déficit de notoriété au Québec et au Canada français plusieurs raisons culturelles et historiques bien connues. En raison de l’ascendant qui y a exercé un cléricalisme coincé, l’excellence et la culture du savoir y furent longtemps considérées avec suspicion. En dépit de l’essor spectaculaire de nos institutions de recherche au cours du dernier demi-siècle, c’est un héritage qui n’est peut-être pas entièrement disparu avec la révolution dite tranquille.

Les chercheurs du monde francophone sont eux-mêmes sous-représentés à la SRC, car leur proportion reste nettement en-deça du poids démographique des francophones. À chaque année beaucoup moins de candidatures francophones que de candidatures anglophones sont proposées aux comités de sélection des trois académies qui composent la SRC (l’Académie des sciences, celle des sciences sociales et celle des arts, des lettres et des sciences humaines), sans oublier le rafraîchissant Collège des nouveaux chercheurs, fondé en 2014, qui reconnaît l’excellence du travail des jeunes chercheurs. Le nom « monarchique » de la SRC n’aide sans doute pas beaucoup au Québec. Qu’on se rassure, la royauté n’y joue absolument aucun rôle. Lorsqu’on voit le nom de la Société royale, il vaut mieux penser à Newton, Darwin ou Einstein (membres de la Royal Society de Londres) qu’à la couronne britannique.

Depuis de nombreuses décennies, il tombe sous le sens qu’au plan des découvertes, des publications, du rayonnement et du nombre de subventions la qualité des chercheurs francophones n’est en rien inférieure à celle de leurs collègues anglophones (chose certaine, ils maîtrisent beaucoup mieux l’autre langue officielle du Canada…), mais qu’ils sont seulement moins reconnus parce que la culture de la promotion de l’excellence va moins de soi dans le monde francophone. C’est la raison pour laquelle des candidatures francophones sont moins souvent proposées à la SRC. Il y a là une culture, une inculture, à changer. Le seul critère pour être élu à la Société royale est d’avoir apporté une contribution exceptionnelle dans les arts, les lettres, la science ou la vie publique. C’est à l’automne que des candidatures à la SRC peuvent être présentées. J’inciterais tous mes collègues à penser soumettre des candidatures de qualité à la SRC et à ceux qui estiment qu’ils pourraient et devraient en être membres (il est permis d’avoir de l’ambition en science) de talonner les autorités de leurs institutions et de mettre en valeur leurs réalisations. Leurs institutions s’honoreraient certainement de leur sélection. L’une des missions de tout chercheur est de promouvoir la science elle-même et la relève.

Words, Psycholinguistics and the Humanities  - Gonia Jarema

Gonia JaremaIn many ways, it might seem that the Humanities represent the greatest diversity within academia. We study extremely varied phenomena and do so using a great variety of methods. There is, however, something that we have very much in common - our objects of study and our methods of analysis typically involve language.

In my own domain of research, we strive to understand the human capacity to produce and understand language by studying words, the fundamental building blocks of language.  It is estimated that an educated native speaker of English will have about 75,000 words at his or her disposal. Bilinguals and polyglots will have many more. The goal of the psycholinguistic study of lexical processing is to understand how words are stored and linked in the mind and brain and how they are extracted for the purposes of comprehension and production.

Over the past decade, there has been an explosion of new knowledge in this domain of research.  Historically, we have thought of a person’s vocabulary as something static - a sort of dictionary in the mind.  Recent work, however, has painted a picture of a highly dynamic system that changes through the lifespan, as we learn new words, leave others behind, build new connections and, with them, new concepts.

This dynamicity is particularly important in view of the rapid acceleration of globalisation and population mobility. Children need to be offered optimal conditions to develop their first and second language skills, immigrants and refugees need to be assisted in acquiring a new language. The study of lexical processing offers a window into the cognitive processes of normal aging, as well as into the cognitive processes of persons with neurological disorders, such as aphasia or dementia.

Since the 1990s, the study of lexical processing ability has been at the core of research conducted by a group of Canadian scholars known as ‘The Mental Lexicon Research Group’. Research by this group has resulted in new theoretical developments and new experimental methodologies that enable research to be conducted outside the confines of the traditional laboratory environment. This has led not only to more powerful analyses of data, but also to more ecologically valid and socially inclusive research.  People with communication difficulties, whether children, immigrants, refugees, the elderly or persons with language disabilities, inform research by identifying the challenges they face day-to-day and by collaborating in the development of solutions to problems encountered in a fully participatory manner.

But perhaps the most significant development emanating from Canadian mental lexicon research is in the conceptual domain.  The dynamic perspective on lexical processing has the individual at its core. In this view, a person’s history of his or her language acquisition, bi- or multilingualism, life experience, etc., will determine how words are being processed at a certain point in time.  The Mental Lexicon is no longer viewed as a static store of words in the mind/brain, a notion derived from the dictionary metaphor. Rather, it is the process of word usage itself, by a given individual, in a specific time-space environment.  Capturing those time-space environments requires that we move outside the traditional university environment for laboratory psycholinguistic research. It also requires that we make use of the ‘big data’ resources that are transforming the Humanities, as was noted by Kevin Kee, during our Banff RSC ‘Lunch and Learn’ in 2013.  Psycholinguistic research typically involves working with large databases of words in many languages, together with their multiple characteristics, as well as vast amounts of data collected in laboratory and real-world experiments.  It seems to me that the availability of these data provides an extraordinary opportunity for interdisciplinary investigation within the humanities to share analyses at different levels of language investigation – from the building blocks that I study to the properties of the great variety of texts that they create.  It also provides us with an opportunity to collaborate at the methodological level because of the many ways in which humanities researchers are involved in corpus analysis.  Some of the psycholinguistic databases and corpora that colleagues may find useful in this regard can be accessed through our Words in the World/Mots dans le Monde project website at http://wordsintheworld.ca/