Summer School: Day Two

Piotr Wegorowski and Jessica Bradley 

The second day of the Summer School saw a wide variety of talks and seminars and we were able to engage with a range of different topics, connected by the TLANG project – translation, translanguaging and the superdiverse city. In this blog post we aim to summarise the discussions we had today and give a brief overview of the main themes of the day.

Superdiversity and Translanguaging

In the morning we started off with a session led by Professor Jenny Phillimore from the University of Birmingham’s IRIS Centre for Research into Superdiversity, who gave an informative and detailed talk about the concept of superdiversity. Jenny described superdiversity from its inception in the work of Professor Steven Vertovec in 2006 as a socio-economic reality, highlighting the increased speed, scale and spread of mobility. Jenny also discussed the possibility of superdiversity being a method, suggesting that rather than a method in itself it can be seen as a lens allowing us to focus on the changing nature of migration. Superdiversity can also serve as a policy focus, forcing policymakers to tailor services provided by public institutions to directly respond to the changing population. The presentation engaged with critiques of superdiversity, including whether we have seen migration in an unprecedented way and whether focusing on super diversity risks shifting focus from inequalities. The past few years have seen a range of criticisms levelled at the concept, such as for example its romanticising tendencies and ethnocentric approach as well as conceptual vagueness. Finally, Jenny dismissed the idea of super diversity as theory.  We then had a chance to discuss the potential applications of the term in our own work.

Translanguaging and the Body

Adrian Blackledge introduced the notion of the semiotic repertoire suggesting that embodied communicative practice is integral to linguistic communicative practice. Using data collected during the sports phase of the Tlang project in Birmingham, the delegates had a chance to analyse gestures taking place on a volleyball court. Drawing on the work of sociologist Erving Goffman, Adrian talked about interpersonal rituals which are performed in different ways and across different contexts. He explained how the focus on volleyball for the sports phase enabled a deeper understanding of the affordances of translanguaging for multimodality and embodiment. We then had a chance to discuss some of the data collected in the Library of Birmingham, where we looked at the interplay of talk and gesture in an interaction between a library assistant and a library visitor.

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Adrian Blackledge

You can read more about the findings of the Birmingham team based on their research on the volleyball court (and the findings from across the four case studies), in our online working papers series –  sport, based on the data presented in today’s session [PDF 1.64MB] and heritage, based on the research in the Birmingham Library [PDF 1.76 PDF].

Translanguaging and Social Media

In the afternoon we moved beyond face-to-face, or body-to-body, communication with Dr Caroline Tagg from the Open University who focused on translanguaging and social media. Firstly, Caroline referred to the challenge of defining what social media actually is, suggesting that it is more productive adopt a broad definition and focus on affordances instead. The delegates then had a chance to discuss differences in online and offline translanguaging as well as the ways in which specific affordances shape online translanguaging. Caroline also talked about the shift in research literature from affordances to practices. Some of the factors influencing users’ practices are the various audiences, sometimes constrained by the networks people find themselves in (see previous blog post here). Caroline suggested that meta-reflexivity is an important feature of online language use, with social media users being conscious of how different practices can contribute to their identity construction.

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Caroline Tagg

We finished the session by discussing some examples and thinking about how we might (and whether we can) characterise practices as translanguaging. The two different examples (from online data) highlighted how difficult it can be to find specific boundaries between languages and that translaguaging can take place on a number of levels. Some of the ways in which people engage in translanguaging include choice of what is traditionally thought of different codes, use of images, playful language use, and reliance on different scripts. We considered the question of how much background information is helpful in analysing online data.

One of the issues that often gets discussed in relation to researching online environments is in terms of research ethics, which we did not really have a chance to discuss. A recent paper published by some of the members of the Tlang team addresses the challenges of ethics in a team project.

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Discussions underway

Translanguaging and Cityscapes

The final session of the day was led by Dr John Callaghan from the Leeds TLANG team, who introduced the notion of linguistic landscape research, explaining how it has evolved to include not only linguistic features and covering not only landscapes but rather objects in space more generally. For John, linguistic landscape research is a form of (visual) ethnography. During the session we were given a virtual tour of Harehills and Gipton, showing us how history can be seen in city shapes, street signs, and local businesses. We saw how space has changed over time.

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John Callaghan

John argued very strongly that we need ethnographic backstories that give us an additional level of understanding of how meaning is made. He suggested looking into personal semiotic landscapes, or what might be considered to be spaces which would not usually be the focus of linguistic landscape research – the spaces of the home and even inside the home, for example. We then analysed a selection of data which was collected as part the Leeds-based heritage phase of the Tlang project. We saw how interview data can complement and enrich the visual data collected over the course of a linguistic landscape focused study. Having access to people’s homes gives us incredible insights into people’s lives and biographies, which then feed into other communicative practices.

in summary, it has been another fruitful day at the Summer School. The (lively!) conversation continues on Twitter (#TLANG2017) but we welcome any comments here on the blog as well. Photos from the Summer School can be found and submitted on our Tumblr. We are back for more tomorrow!


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