Written by Dr Frances Rock, Co-Investigator on the Cardiff Case Study
Tlang on tour!
My role on the Tlang project is as Co-Investigator in Cardiff. I’m just back from a very
exciting Roundtable in Copenhagen where several members of the Tlang team got to discuss our developing work with colleagues from around the world.
The Roundtable was organised by Professor Nik Coupland and Dr Janus Mortensen. It took place at the University of Copenhagen and the theme for the event was Critical Sociolinguistic Perspectives on Multilingualism and Change.
The event was an opportunity for three groups of researchers who have recently been collaborating in their various groups on separate projects to meet and discuss their work. The meeting provided a range of different types of opportunities to examine our own and one another’s work in detail and consider what we might learn from each project in terms of methodology, analysis and theorising. The Tlang group was represented by Angela Creese, Li Wei, Agnieszka Lyons and I. The other groups involved were:
- the Copenhagen Studies in Everyday Languaging group (Lian Malai Madsen, Janus Møller, Martha Sif Karrebæk, Thomas Nørreby, Signe Wedel Schøning, Andreas Stæhr) researching language use and social practices among children and youth in a culturally diverse urban school, with a particular interest in poly-languaging, reflexivity, enregisterment, linguistic norms and ideologies.
- the Peripheral Multilingualism group (Sari Pietikäinen, Helen Kelly-Holmes,
Alexandra Jaffe, Nik Coupland) researching ‘small languages in new multilingual circumstances’ in four European sites, Corsica, Wales, Ireland and Sámiland, with particular reference to issues of reflexivity, commodification, authenticity and transgression (see peripheralmultilingualism.fi/)
There were also a number of other invited guests in attendance including Anne Fabricius, Hartmut Haberland, Marie Maegaard and Jacob Thøgersen.
The event opened with an excellent introduction by our organisers Nik Coupland and Janus Mortensen. They raised three key themes for us to think about throughout the event. These were: taking an increasingly critical perspective; developing new views of multilingualism and reconsidering change both in the context of the social changes of late modernity and of the affordances and restrictions of examination of different populations (e.g. those who are spatially fixed versus those on the move (Sedentarism versus Nomadism in David Britain’s terms).
We then moved into an extremely valuable session during which each group presented an overview of their project followed by in-depth discussion of each project. The work of the Copenhagen Studies in Everyday Languaging group and the Peripheral Multilingualism group had been underway for much longer than ours so there were great opportunities for us to benefit from their insights here. We certainly did so, with the discussion particularly opening up theoretical questions around the notion of “trans” and “translation”; indexicality; the “total linguistic fact”; contestation versus creativity; the notions of margins and what it means to be central or peripheral; and finally boundaries and the ways in which they are made relevant. We also considered the nature of the current critical moment with its abundance of prefixes such as “multi”, “poly” and “trans”. We found that we shared many theoretical concepts such as Bakhtin’s notions of centrifugal and centripetal forces and were developing these in complementary ways. On this note, we talked particularly about the way terminology and conceptual apparatus changes over time and conceptualised this change in various ways. For example, at one point we explored the idea that we might usefully see layers of theoretical apparatus, some of it new, some old. We were left with the question “what do we think we don’t know?”
After a hearty lunch (a serve yourself buffet where the food is weighed so that customers pay for what they eat – a great idea!) we moved to specialist talks from members of each team. This gave each speaker time to discuss the details of their own particular research project or site. The sessions had been organised to allow a good deal of time for discussion after each speaker’s contribution. This was a major strength of this Roundtable, plenty of time for deep discussion with fascinating colleagues working on closely related areas. In this session we heard first from Andreas Stæhr who discussed young people’s metapragmatic activities on Facebook presenting a super example of the way in which Facebook interactions became part of an ‘in-person’ interaction in a restaurant. Next, Alexandra Jaffe took us to Corsica where her title “Authenticities: assemblages and transactions” prompted a fascinating view of the way in which tour guides’ language resources come into play there. The final speakers in this session were our very own Li Wei and Agnieszka Lyons who presented some of their preliminary observations on the London Case Study of the TLANG project, where they are both based. It was really fantastic to start to hear about how their Case Study, in a Polish Shop, has been developing. One theme which they raised particularly resonated with our experience in Cardiff. This was that in a husband and wife team, in our business settings of shops, “the teamness comes and goes”. This will be something to explore as things develop.
The day closed with a general discussion of themes raised during the earlier sessions. We focussed on analytic frameworks, research methods and engagement and considered the social implications of our work.
Our second day returned to the specifics of individual projects within the larger groups’ activities. We enjoyed a further three talks from members of each team on their specific projects. In this session, we heard first from Thomas Nørreby who drew on Hall’s conception of “new ethnicities” to explore contemporary Copenhagen. He used Brubaker’s (2004:17) important observation that “ethnicity is not a thing in the world but a
perspective on the world” to explore the way that ethnic labels are assigned and constructed. Next, Helen Kelly-Holmes discussed commodification of “small languages” due to the way that they can provide a luxury register to mundane commodities. Her talk was richly illustrated with examples from Wales, Ireland, Sámiland and Corsica and in this way it reflected the combined interests in “peripheries” identified by her team. Her talk ended with consideration of the “Hairy Baby” website’s commodification of language. This session closed with a session in which I presented preliminary thoughts on the data we’re collecting in Cardiff and Angela Creese did the same, in relation to the data that the team in Birmingham are collecting. As Angela observed, it was strange to be presenting our data for the first time to people beyond our own team but it was good to receive insights on what we presented from such a diverse and observant audience.
The Roundtable closed with a general discussion of what we’d learned during the two days of the event and some planning for the future. There may be an opportunity to publish jointly with the others in attendance and we certainly learned a great deal from talking to the other teams who were at different stages in their work.
Our main objective in this meeting was to bring the three groups’ perspectives into dialogue with one another, to explore overlaps and divergences, and to identify critical sub-themes, principles and priorities for understanding multilingualism in the contemporary epoch that will of be interest to researchers and students of multilingualism more generally. We feel that the event was extremely successful in meeting these aims and we’re excited about what might happen next with this collaboration.
We are extremely grateful to by the Peripheral Multilingualism project, directed by Sari Pietikäinen for sponsoring this event. Thanks to Sari, very much indeed, and to the Finnish Academy for making this meeting possible. The Round Table will be hosted by the LANCHART Centre at Copenhagen University, so we are also indebted to Frans Gregersen and his colleagues at LANCHART. We’re also indebted to Nik Coupland and Janus Mortensen for their excellent, thoughtful and scholarly organisation of this event.