EVENT Nov 07
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Critical thinking in native, foreign and artificial languages (https://www.pamla.org/pamla2024/)

Palm Springs, CA
Organization: PAMLA
Event: https://www.pamla.org/pamla2024/
Categories: Digital Humanities, Interdisciplinary, Lingustics, Pedagogy, Popular Culture, Literary Theory, Rhetoric & Composition, Aesthetics, Anthropology/Sociology, Classical Studies, Cultural Studies, Environmental Studies, Film, TV, & Media, Food Studies, History, Philosophy
Event Date: 2024-11-07 to 2024-11-10 Abstract Due: 2024-06-16

Invite to submit to an upcoming in-person conference session,

"Critical thinking in native, foreign and artificial languages." 

(PAMLA conference November 2024, Palm Springs, CA)


Dear colleague,

I have organized a special session to be held at the PAMLA 121st Annual Conference (Palm Springs, CA), Nov. 7-10, 2024.  The session title is "Critical Thinking in Native, Foreign, and Artificial Languages."

Session Abstract

Campus power politics 101. Critical Thinking (CT) is a conceptual totem in college mission statements. It is rhetorically invoked by administrators and evoked by diverse disciplines, including "Extinction Revolt" instances including traditional foreign language, philosophy and even English departments. Enter, in the thickening twilight of these sacred arts, an Oppenheimeresque chain-reaction which might yet obliterate the humanist atmosphere: AI, as used by students to leapfrog the paradigms of anointed learning paths and everything we thought mentally solid, organic and "sound"... AI as artiste; AI as opportunity. The power of tech algorithmic mapping leads to a derangement beyond any formalist estrangement: we who were the translators are now the translated; once-were-warriors are now data points. Subject and object, protagonist and medium, are inverted. Quantitative metonymy prevails over qualitative metaphor. Endgame? The survival of the humanist species depends on critical interrogations and insights which are politically astute long-term. Notwithstanding, speculative answers welcome.


Session Description

How have college teachers experienced the AI transformation of student submissions in domains including composition, foreign language learning, and subjective essays on literature and cultural topics?

Interwoven through these is translation, whether literal or figurative (and the difference matters). Regarding AI, many of us (this author included) do not understand how AI "translates" (aggregated data into topic specific responses), much less the character of its "thought," or, more crudely, its "attitudes", and what conceptual knots of human sentiment and humanist sensibility remain indecypherable to it.

Regarding ESL & LOTEs ("languages other than English"), if foreign language and ESL students are submitting work where computer translation replaces their own, what consequent issues are more crucial? How are we to ensure and verify student cognitive autonomy and competence? How might traditional student learning be enhanced by what we have discovered, through our curation of machines, about the human learning of human languages? Is there is a key distinction between computer "tools" and AI and if so what exactly?

Regarding linguistics: is it the case that the main linguistic academic project of the twentieth century – Chomsky's Generative Grammar model – was superseded by tech algorithmic paradigms which are conceptually alien to the former, and, if so, what is the significance for theoretical and empirical science, and what is the political import?

Regarding composition: if we assume that AI will inevitably outfox essay graders, and provide richer assessment, what then? Is this an existential threat? Will our performance expectations of students and teachers simply adapt and evolve toward new demands, so that the overall human economy remains? If the 5-paragraph high school argumentative essay is a sitting duck for AI colonization, does the informal criticism of literary and film reviews afford a quirky, deliberately subjectivist and unpredictable rhetorical model of the essay which AI cannot replicate?

While AI is a shape-shifter, "Critical Thinking" is the key motif at the center of these debates. While it feels intuitive and seems roughly consistent over time, it is an interdisciplinary and politically mutable concept, variously colonized by different disciplines and interests.

In the face of the new frontier of AI, this session anticipates and welcomes a heterogeneity of themes and angles on language, literature and translation and their value for critical thinking more broadly.


As the title indicates, this session is about the interface of Critical Thinking and Language(s). Critical Thinking (CT) is relevant to those working specifically in in universities and community colleges in Composition, Rhetoric, literary and cultural criticism, and in foreign language instruction and ESL. More generally speaking, the influx of AI into the artifacts that teachers process (student work) is a universal issue, but particularly delicate in the case of the humanities.

Whether your focus is CT, composition, ESL, LOTE (Languages other than English), or AI itself, you are invited to participate in this session.  Each annual PAMLA conference has a nominal theme, and this year's is “Translation in Action,” hence the references in the session description. However, the conference is always eclectic and most sessions unfettered by the official theme. This session is open to ideas about and analogies from translation, but the meister motif is Critical Thinking.

PAMLA is the Pacific Ancient and Modern Language Association. You can read about PAMLA here.  PAMLA is an MLA affiliate org but very different in flavor. The conference is not too big (you commune with and get to know a good range of people) and not too small (it's well organized and has a good range of content).  It is led by an Executive Director, Craig Svonkin, who energetically curates the sessions so that they really work just about as well as possible. This approach is pretty unique on the conference circuit. So the whole event is critically savvy but also socially informal and fun.  And this year it's in Palm Springs – one of those special cities with a uniquely SoCal cultural life. You can read about the colorful conference locale at the top of the conference starter-page. Most attendees stay for 2-4 days, but participation via a single very long driving day from L.A. is also possible

The full session description can be viewed at this  session info link which also contains a submission link.  

If interested, please submit a proposal by May 31, 2024. If rushed, it is feasible to submit a draft and perfect later.  

If you have any questions in advance, email me at Armstrong_Piers@smc.edu

Piers Armstrong

Santa Monica College ESL Dept




Piers Armstrong