Birds and Language Conference

Thursday 19 August - Friday 20 August 2021
9.00 - 5.00pm

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Online (Zoom)


School of Literature, Art and Media

The Birds and Language Conference from 19-20 August 2021 asks how birds and language are intertwined and provides a space for an interdisciplinary interrogation.

Presented by the School of Literature, Art and Media, the University of Sydney, and supported by the Sydney Environment Institute

The sounds birds make form structured series, comprised of complex syntaxes, nuanced in tone, precise, sometimes excessive, often regarded as being of compelling aesthetic value. We do not hesitate to refer to many of these sounds as songs, or, more prosaically, calls. We move, easily, too, towards thinking about these sounds as a species of language.

More, we readily speak of the visual rhetorics of birds: ideas of performativity, display, mimesis and deception. We sometimes dare to think of birds as artists—not only singers, but bricoleurs, assembling extravagant, colour-coded nests, as in the case of the bowerbird. More, recently, we have become more comfortable with thinking of some birds as capable of higher-order reason, as experiments with crows demonstrate capacities to think through and to solve complex physical problems.

This conference poses a simple question: What is it to talk of birds and language? How might such a question provide the impetus and grounds for an interdisciplinary encounter between the natural sciences, the humanities, and the creative arts?

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