Exploring the Languages of Tourism

This month we published Language and Tourism in Postcolonial Settings edited by Angelika Mietzner and Anne Storch. In this post the editors talk about their experiences of being linguists at mass tourism sites.

For linguists, tourism is very likely a difficult topic. Language at places such as beaches and buffets seems to resist paradigmatic description and categorization: it is about encounters, or attempts to avoid the same, is fluid, dynamic, noisy, yet part of scripted performance. Language in tourism contexts might therefore help us to understand what language is, besides structure: emergent communicative practice that is creative and transcendent. Research on language and tourism in postcolonial settings can show all this, and it can tell something about the power relations in place that are relevant for the ways in which knowledge on language is constructed. At the beach, whatever is said is said in a manner that defines and categorizes, describes and fixes. A hakuna matata space, where being without problems is a requirement. Our own research in Kenya, Jamaica, Spain and elsewhere has taken us to places that differed greatly from the sites of our usual fieldwork. No villages, but beaches and clubs and bars and souvenir shops. We often found these places strange, as common as they appeared, and our work felt more difficult than ever, maybe because our own language practices, bodies and experiences were so clearly inseparable from it (they always are, we believe, but here this couldn’t be concealed).

At the mass tourism sites, the beaches and pools, everything seems banal. Linguists don’t belong there; they are experts, they have methodologies, word lists and other questionnaires, and they lead semi-structured interviews. Linguists are in control. But we weren’t. We stood at the beach, in a swimming costume, and we were what the place and those present there made us into. We immersed. We were tourists. We disposed of our linguistic skills, our knowledge of the respective language under research, our critical thinking, and dressed like tourists, moistened our skin with sun milk, put on sunglasses and strolled along the beach in search for authenticity. Later, our work and presentations, the images we had shown in our PowerPoints and the critical questions we raised – about the ‘field’ and the ‘informant’ – must have touched upon taboos surrounding expert bodies and expert identities.

We and all the other authors of the volume have chosen different approaches to field research. Our achievements have convinced us that linguistics offers strange journeys. An author of the volume once said that he has never done such exhausting research as he has experienced in mass tourist places. This volume gives a lot of courage to explore the different, often simple and always complex languages of tourism.

 

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Cultural Tourism in Southern Africa edited by Haretsebe Manwa, Naomi Moswete and Jarkko Saarinen. 

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