The Birth of the TAI Conference, by Wentao GU

by Prof. Dr. Wentao Gu, Nanjing Normal University, China

TAI is the child of the International Symposium on Tonal Aspects of Languages (TAL) and the Conference on Tone and Intonation in Europe (TIE), both biennial conferences devoted to tonal prosody. TAL originated in 2003, when Hiroya Fujisaki, the Honorary Chair of the 2nd International Conference on Speech Prosody (SP 2004, Nara, Japan), proposed to organize the 1st TAL as a satellite event of SP 2004. It was held in Beijing, China, during 28-30 March, 2004, chaired by Maocan Lin. From then on, TAL was standardly attached to the biennial conference of Speech Prosody sponsored by the Speech Prosody Special Interest Group (SProSIG) of the International Speech Communication Association (ISCA). Its focus was on tonal aspects of languages, but it did not limit itself to tone languages. Following the tradition that SP and TAL be hosted on the same continent, switching between Europe and other continents, the 2nd TAL was held in La Rochelle, France, 2006, as a satellite event of SP 2006 in Dresden, Germany. In 2008 and 2010, this newly established series was interrupted, because neither SP 2008 (Campinas, Brazil) nor SP 2010 (Chicago, USA) could find an institution to host TAL. Fortunately, in May 2012, the TAL series was revived when Wentao Gu hosted the 3rd TAL in Nanjing, China, as a satellite event of SP 2012 (Shanghai, China). With Wentao Gu’s efforts, the 3rd TAL was sponsored not only by ISCA, but also by the International Phonetic Association (IPA). The subsequent TAL events smoothly proceeded from then on, with conferences in Nijmegen, the Netherlands (2014), Buffalo, USA (2016), and Berlin, Germany (2018).

There was a parallel story in the tone and intonation community in Europe. During 9-11 September 2004, just six months after the 1st TAL, the conference on Tone and Intonation in Europe (TIE) was held in Santorini, Greece, as a grand finale of the eponymous European Science Foundation Network (2001-2004) convened by Carlos Gussenhoven and Tomas Riad. Its aim was that of “stimulating and coordinating research on the prosody of European languages and language varieties, with special emphasis on languages that combine lexical tone with an intonation system.” The network succeeded in bringing researchers together who worked in diverse traditions and on different language groups, and shortly after that conference a consensus was reached to create a biennial conference series in Europe. Accordingly, a standing committee oversaw TIE conferences in Berlin, Germany (2006), Lisbon, Portugal (2008), Stockholm, Sweden (2010), Oxford, UK (2012), Utrecht, the Netherlands (2014), Canterbury, UK (2016), and Gothenburg, Sweden (2018).

After the closing of TAL 2016, organizer Christian DiCanio raised a question about the future of the TAL series in an email discussion with the TAL Standing Committee. Carlos Gussenhoven, who was affiliated with the standing committees of both TAL and TIE, expressed the same concern in the TIE Standing Committee, and the idea of merging the two series was then initiated. The main motivation was to promote the joint presentation of phonetic and phonological research and to avoid conferences overlapping in our field. On behalf of the TAL Standing Committee, Wentao Gu started to negotiate with Laura Downing and other members of the TIE Standing Committee. After a number of runs of group discussion, the two committees decided to start a merger after holding the last event for each series in 2018.

The aim of the merger was to have a conference series that is more compact, more global, and more efficient for cross-disciplinary interaction, bringing together linguists and speech scientists sharing interests in tone and intonation of spoken languages in the world. After the merger, the new series would be a stand-alone international conference to be jointly sponsored by ISCA and IPA, and would differentiate itself from Speech Prosody and other prosody related conferences in focusing more on linguistic (instead of technological) aspects (including phonetics, phonology, typology, etc.) of prosody. Wentao Gu’s proposal of naming the new conference series as Tone and Intonation (TAI) was enthusiastically welcomed by all committee members, since ‘TAI’ echoes ‘TAL’ in its orthographic shape and ‘TIE’ in its pronunciation /taɪ/.

After the successful closing of TAL 2018 (Berlin, Germany) and TIE 2018 (Gothenburg, Sweden), the two standing committees announced the plan of the merger, receiving evident approval from both communities. The 1st TAI conference was scheduled for 2020, and after the call for bids in 2019, a team chaired by Oliver Niebuhr from the University of Southern Denmark (SDU) in Sønderborg won the bidding. Due to the unexpected COVID-19 pandemic, however, the 1st TAI had to be postponed until December 2021. From now on, the TAI conference will be held biennially in odd years, alternating with the Speech Prosody conference held in even years.

The standing committees of TAL and TIE have merged into a single committee, with the members largely from the organizers of the most recent TAL and TIE conferences. They are Amalia Arvaniti (Nijmegen, the Netherlands), Yiya Chen (Leiden, the Netherlands), Christian DiCanio (Buffalo, USA), Laura Downing (Gothenburg, Sweden), Wentao Gu (Nanjing, China), Carlos Gussenhoven (Nijmegen, the Netherlands), Hansjörg Mixdorff (Berlin, Germany), Oliver Niebuhr (Sønderborg, Denmark), Tomas Riad (Stockholm, Sweden), Allison Wetterlin (Kristiansand, Norway), and Yi Xu (London, UK).

We welcome all researchers who are interested in tone and intonation of spoken languages to participate in the forthcoming 1st International Conference of Tone and Intonation (TAI 2021) at the SDU as well as in subsequent biennial TAI conferences, to deepen our understanding of tone and intonation in the structure of languages and in speech communication.

Wentao GU
On behalf of the Standing Committee of TAI

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