Why Should Forced Migration be Considered in Research on Language Learning?

This month we published Language Learning and Forced Migration edited by Marte Monsen and Guri Bordal Steien. In this post the editors explain why it’s important to consider forced migration in language learning research.

When you listen to debates about migration in some European countries, you might get the impression that the rest of the world spend their life waiting for an opportunity to pack their bags and penetrate the European borders. As academics living in Norway, we are used to a discourse where adult language learners are portrayed as people who came to Norway voluntarily and need to meet strict Norwegian language requirements to prevent too many others taking the same journey. Researchers on second language acquisition also tend to view second language learning for adults as voluntary, and of course, many people both move across borders and learn new languages voluntarily for work, for studies or even just for the sake of new experiences.

However, many people experience that they are moved across borders with force. In Norway, the immigration policies are strict, so migrants coming to Norway from outside the EU will not be able to settle in Norway unless they are in special need of protection, such as UN resettlement refugees. Adult second language learners in Norway are thus usually forced migrants. In our work, we have met people who have been forced from their homes in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, often by means of cruelty beyond our imagination. They have fled on foot to Uganda, where they have lived a rough life in a sort of limbo, as they know their life in Uganda is only temporary. Under these circumstances, many of them have learned new languages through communicating with people “in the streets”, and many of them have large language repertoires. After years in transit, sometimes decades, they have been resettled in Norway, where few or none of their current language resources are valued. Entering many countries in the Global North entails forced attendance of classes to learn the host language, as is also the case for Norway.

The language courses and language tests that the migrants will come up against in Norway and other European countries are based upon the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR). A well-known critique of this framework is that it allows policymakers to easily use language proficiency levels as standards and gatekeepers, while the empirical foundation for these standards is weak, and while the descriptions of language proficiency in CEFR initially was developed to measure foreign language learning by students. Well used concepts within SLA that might further guide the language courses, like Selinker’s theories on interlanguage or various models of motivation or investment in language learning, are also based upon knowledge from students or voluntary migrants. This means that a large number of people that attend language classes in the Global North enter a system that lacks knowledge of their language backgrounds, their needs and their lived experience.

Because of the unique situation of refugees and other forced migrants, we believe we need a research agenda that takes into consideration the experiences of people who have been forced to cross borders. That is what we hope to initiate with our book Language Learning and Forced Migration.

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Crossing Borders, Writing Texts, Being Evaluated edited by Anne Golden, Lars Anders Kulbrandstad and Lawrence Jun Zhang.

The ‘Face’ Notion and Patient-centred Communication

We recently published Patient-centred Communication by Kayo Kondo. In this post the author explains how face and politeness theory interact with patient-centred communication.

The notion of ‘face’ is central to patient-centred communication. It is very important for healthcare professionals to be able to elicit a patient’s thoughts and concerns and to understand their specific experience of symptoms. Patients have their own ‘life-worlds’, and doctors have their own professional frame of mind. Teasing out clues as to the onset and ongoing manifestation of illness requires trust and rapport; otherwise, the patient would probably swallow their words.

In daily communication, the concept of ‘face’ arises in expressions such as ‘losing face’ (losing the respect of others) or ‘saving face’ (preventing someone from feeling embarrassed). According to Canadian-born sociologist Erving Goffman, ‘face’ as an interactional identity is an East Asian-originated concept introduced by Chinese anthropologist Hu Hsien Chin in 1944. Face has multiple sides, each of which is an ‘image’ the person projects, and it is mutual work. Its role in interactions can be observed in much of Goffman’s study of ‘face-work’. In a similar vein, Japanese philosopher Shinzo Mori powerfully stated: ‘Our whole life is a kind of “face-making” of who we are, so to speak. We spend our whole life finishing the only “face” we have.’

The patient-doctor relationship may be subject to the image that the professional projects and that the patient perceives, and vice versa. Attentive listening can meet the patient’s needs and can avoid the potential for emotional harm to the patient. When the patient feels that the doctor is interested in them as a person and trusts the relationship, the relationship can become a partnership. It can be fair to say that patient-centred communication is well intentioned and materialises when mutual face-needs are supported or when an actual ‘face-threat’ is avoided.

The doctors in this book discuss their ‘inner-self’ as a professional and person. I interviewed them about how and why their communication style with patients has changed. They may try to protect the patient’s face (prevent them from feeling embarrassed), enhance the patient’s face (by acknowledging and accepting), or preserve the patient’s face (by respecting their privacy and preserving the patient’s wish to be independent). The older patients in this book displayed their ‘patient’s face’ in their desire to live independently and demonstrate competence in their daily life through activities such as making meals, gardening, and decision-making. There is a thread that connects the health professional’s and the patient’s respective ‘desires’. Carefully identifying the patient’s face-needs links with acts that seek to establish how much they want to be involved in discussion and decision-making regarding care.

This study is based on fieldwork and concerns face and politeness issues in authentic medical consultations with older patients in Tokyo, and draws attention to cultural variations in Western theories of patient-centred communication. I hope that this book can facilitate communication training for all health professionals and students and increase awareness of the issues of face and politeness in a way that will enhance the experiences of older adults receiving health care and social services.

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Providing Health Care in the Context of Language Barriers edited by Elizabeth A. Jacobs and Lisa C. Diamond.

Criando Niños Etiquetados: Discapacidad y bilingüismo en la vida de madres latinxs

In this post María Cioè-Peña, the author of our 2021 book (M)othering Labeled Children, writes about the recently-finished Spanish translation of her book. 

In Eric Alvarez’s 2021 review of my book, (M)othering Labeled Children (MLC), they wrote that MLC “will undoubtedly be an asset to researchers, policymakers, and teachers interested in bilingual education, disability studies, and special education.” I happily read on as Alvarez noted something that was important to me throughout the development of this manuscript: I wanted to produce a rich, complex, and jargon-free book accessible to teachers and service providers who may not be familiar with these mothers’ experiences and, simultaneously, had the capacity to enact change within their classrooms and institutions. However, Alvarez also noted that while MLC was accessible to some, by being available in English only, it ultimately alienated the families whose stories it tells adding that:

“to expand the book’s reach to the very people to whom it gives a voice, a future translation project into Spanish could be considered. If not, it seems that it will only perpetuate the marginalization of Latinx mothers…”

This perpetuation of marginalization through scholarship is an issue that I have raised in my own work, most notably in From Pedagogies to Research where I put forth a need to engage in culturally sustaining research practices that included “ensuring that participant communities have access to the knowledge they helped produce [… and] that the work is published in modes that are accessible and available to participants.” Within that piece I also shared that we should not “place fault solely on researchers, particularly researchers of color, who are bound to the ideology of ‘publish or perish’ to advance their careers.[…] experience[ing] pressure to disseminate their research products in prestigious venues over those that might directly benefit the communities they work alongside.” Which brings me to a guarded, but important, truth: I wrote MLC because my advisors demanded it of me, for the sake of my career and this content. I wrote MLC for professional growth, both mine and that of Emergent Bilingual Learners Labeled as Dis/abled (EBLAD)s’ teachers and service providers. Still, I knew that I wanted a translation to exist for the women who shared their stories, the parents navigating schooling experiences with their EBLADs today, and for the people who poured into me throughout my life (i.e. my Spanish-using aunts, uncles, and cousins) but especially, my own mother.

In late 2020, once the final manuscript for MLC was submitted, I identified and hired a translator, Pedro Guzmán. As much as we wanted the Spanish release to coincide with the English one, that wasn’t possible as we continued navigating work/life amid a pandemic. Alvarez’s review did not reach me until June 2022 but I am grateful for it because it motivated us to finish and on July 1st Criando Niños Etiquetados: Discapacidad y bilingüismo en la vida de madres latinxs became available for FREE. Parents can download a PDF, EPUB, or MOBI version straight from their phones. Ultimately, this translation was a labor of love: my amazing translator Pedro Guzmán refused to take payment, which removed all overhead costs, and the first reader was my mother who, while undergoing cancer treatment at the time, said she felt like it reflected so much of her experience. Her reading it and feeling seen was/is a gift.

I hope Criando Niños Etiquetados will help other parents and families of EBLADs feel seen.

You can access Criando Niños Etiquetados here.

The original English language text (M)othering Labeled Children is available on our website.

“Language Biography? What Sort of Research is That?”

This month we published Speaking Subjects in Multilingualism Research edited by Judith Purkarthofer and Mi-Cha Flubacher. In this post the editors introduce us to biographical research.

“Language biography? What sort of research is that?”

“Yeah okay, language portraits are cute and colourful, but what do you do with them?”

Linguistic repertoire sounds intriguing…can you tell me how to elicit them?”

These are some of the questions anyone working with biographical and speaker-centred approaches in multilingualism research has probably been asked. Moreover, questions regarding theoretical frameworks, research methods and analytical tools have circulated among scholars embedded in this approach. One instance of a discussion forum dedicated to these issues is heteroglossia, a group of researchers around Brigitta Busch, herself a pioneer in biographical language research but always in search of improving theoretical, methodological and analytical venues.

Primarily, narratives about the self are elicited with the help of biographical methods. They are facilitated by the uniqueness of a particular story in which languages and language use are integrated. Different research methods have been used to this aim: interviews and ethnographies or language portraits. While talking about languages (as an expression of the social) may introduce a layer for narrative or emotional distance, drawings and artifacts can help access spatial aspects. They allow a movement of the self, i.e. to get closer to some parts or keep a distance from others, and to take different positions vis-à-vis one’s life and multilingual self.

Both of us have worked closely with Brigitta for a decade now and it is Brigitta who has brought us together – alongside many other engaged and curious colleagues in Australia, South Africa and Europe. We thus set out to edit a volume that would integrate the many different approaches coming together in biographical and speaker-centred multilingualism research – most of it as multilingual research as well. We invited colleagues, collaborators and (former) PhD students of Brigitta to share their experiences and reflections with a broader audience. To this aim we asked some colleagues to contribute shorter chapters that give insight into particular research methods and processes. Others offered full-length articles with theoretical discussions and/or methodological elaborations. We hope that reading this collection of chapters will help people understand what kind of research language biography is, what the analytical advantage of language portraits are, and how linguistic repertoires might be elicited, among lots of other information, insights and instructions this volume might offer.

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like The Politics of Researching Multilingually edited by Prue Holmes, Judith Reynolds and Sara Ganassin.

How Can Foreign Language Teachers Draw on Learners’ Existing Linguistic Resources to Promote Multilingualism?

This month we published Theoretical and Applied Perspectives on Teaching Foreign Languages in Multilingual Settings edited by Anna Krulatz, Georgios Neokleous and Anne Dahl. In this post the editors explain how the book came about.

We are absolutely thrilled to announce the publication of our edited volume titled, Theoretical and Applied Perspectives on Teaching Foreign Languages in Multilingual Settings. When we first embarked on this journey, it was late summer 2018 and the three of us (Anna, Georgios, and Anne) were sitting at a coffee shop in Lisbon where we were attending the International Conference on Multilingualism, enjoying pastel de nata and our morning coffee and reading through a large pile of chapter proposals that were sent to us from many corners of the world. We didn’t realize then that working on this book would be so rich in rewarding challenges and opportunities for growth, span four continents, and connect scholars and teacher educators working in diverse contexts, to finally reach the printing press after a worldwide pandemic and four years of commitment from so many people who have been involved in this work.

Our interest in editing this volume originated from the arduous challenges and new realities that students and teachers encounter in increasingly linguistically diverse settings around the world. With the intention of meeting the needs of these stakeholders and of providing them with the best possible resources and practical applications, the main objective of this volume is to advance a discussion of how to best connect the acquisition of subsequent foreign languages (FLs) with previous language knowledge to create culturally and linguistically inclusive FL classrooms, and to strengthen the connection between research on multilingualism and FL teaching practice. Contributors were invited to present new approaches to FL instruction in multilingual settings forged in collaboration between FL teachers and researchers of multilingualism.

Originally, we wanted to limit the chapters to contributions from Western contexts, but it soon became clear that the scope would be much wider. We received excellent proposals from scholars working in multilingual settings in places such as Indonesia, Japan, Australia, USA, along with various European countries, and Multilingual Matters and anonymous book proposal reviewers encouraged us to include chapters from parts of the world outside of Europe and North America. We are grateful for their support and advice, and we hope the readers will appreciate the transcontinental scope of the volume.

This book is a result of our (the editors’) and the contributing authors’ commitment to support what we believe to be a universal human right – namely, to be multilingual and freely choose which language(s) to use for communication in any given context, and to draw on whatever available linguistic resources one has to develop a competence in additional languages. As so many other researchers, teachers, and teacher educators working within language education, we recognize that despite an increasing body of research on multilingualism and multilingual learning, FL classroom practices often continue to be monolingual and characterized by strict separation of languages. Such learning environments do not foster language learners’ engagement with their existing linguistic repertoires as a potential resource for FL learning.

An additional challenge is that there seems to be a gap between the advances that have been made through research and FL classrooms where teaching practitioners continue to report a lack of preparedness to work with students who are multilingual. To address this issue, the chapters in this volume aim to promote linguistically responsive language teaching practices in multilingual contexts through forging a dialog between school-based and university-based actors. We hope to advance a discussion of how to best connect the acquisition of subsequent FLs with previous language knowledge to create culturally and linguistically inclusive FL classrooms, and to strengthen the connection between research on multilingualism and FL teaching practice.

We are grateful to all the chapter authors, who have contributed papers reporting on fascinating, novel, and important research that meets this objective. For instance, some of the contributions present proposals for how language education can be reconceptualized if linguistically responsive teaching and learning are applied across disciplines, language barriers, and educational models, while others outline analytical and instructional frameworks for working with multilingual learners. In addition, some of the authors discuss specific classroom examples of cross-linguistic influence, code-switching, and translanguaging to illustrate the role of learners’ linguistic repertoires in FL learning. Our contributors also present new approaches to FL instruction in multilingual settings where the perspectives of FL teachers are in focus, delving deeper into the skills and knowledge that should be addressed in preparing teachers for work in multilingual settings and providing some tentative recommendations for what to incorporate into a teacher training programs in multilingual contexts. We also hope the readers will enjoy the concise, yet extremely insightful and structured Afterword written by our colleague Kristen Lindahl of the University of Texas, San Antonio.

Overall, we believe that the volume contributes to the current debate on how FL teachers can draw on learners’ existing linguistic resources to promote multilingualism and to forge a dialog and bridge the divide between university- and school-based actors. We are truly grateful to the Multilingual Matters staff who supported us along all the stages of this amazing journey. We are absolutely thrilled and humbled that the volume bears their trademark.

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Migration, Multilingualism and Education edited by Latisha Mary, Ann-Birte Krüger and Andrea S. Young.

Decoloniality, Language, Race and Southern Epistemologies

This month we are publishing Decolonial Voices, Language and Race edited by Sinfree Makoni, Magda Madany-Saá, Bassey E. Antia and Rafael Lomeu Gomes. In this post the editors explain how the book came together and introduce the new series that it’s part of, Global Forum on Southern Epistemologies.

Decolonial Voices, Language and Race

This book is based on a series of individual interviews with some of the most original thinkers and scholars who have researched the areas of decoloniality, language, race, and Southern Epistemologies. It gives insight into how the seasoned authors have written about these topics and documents their interaction with the editors of the book and the participants of the Global Virtual Forum. Apart from the five conversational chapters, the book contains a Foreword (by Prof. Alastair Pennycook), an Introduction in which the co-editors present personal vignettes and methodological reflections about the production of the volume, and an Epilogue authored by co-editor Prof. Bassey E. Antia. This book is part of the Global Virtual Forum, which is an open and politically engaged virtual space.

Global Virtual Forum: ‘Shifting the Geography of Reason’

The Global Virtual Forum — led by Prof. Sinfree Makoni and co-organised by Prof. Bassey E. Antia, Kim Hansen, Rafael Lomeu Gomes, Magda Madany-Saá, Chanel van der Merwe, Višnja Milojičić, and Phoebe Quaynor — is a convivial space of robust engagement with knowledge-making and knowledges about/on/in/from/with the Global South(s). It fosters collegiality and dialogue, using the technologies essential to productivity during the pandemic that have served our collective benefit. As such, it has engaged a truly global and multicultural audience, united not by discipline but by a search for complementary and alternative perspectives to the prevailing epistemological orthodoxies. Video recordings of sessions of the Forum can be found on the Pennsylvania State University African Studies Program YouTube channel.

Critical Reception of the Forum

The Global Forum has been to me a much-needed breath of fresh intellectual air. No ego performance, just the pleasure of thinking together in the most constructive and collaborative manner. This is how I have always envisioned academic work but never experienced it until now.

Cécile Vigouroux
Simon Fraser University
Editor, Language, Culture and Society

“‘Every generation has its mission to fulfil or betray’, wrote the great Frantz Fanon. The Forum is playing a crucial role in fulfilling the mission of bringing truth to an age marked by tendencies to leap into the arms of pleasing falsehoods instead of embracing displeasing truths.”

Lewis Gordon
Professor and Head of Philosophy at UCONN-Storrs; Honorary President, Global Center for Advanced Studies; Honorary Professor, Unit for the Humanities at Rhodes University (UHURU), South Africa; Visiting Professor, University of Johannesburg, South Africa; and Chairperson of the Awards Committee, Caribbean Philosophical Association

“I appreciate very much the fact that the Penn State Global Forum has made so evident the need to decolonize knowledge construction and has engaged the participants with so many different and complementary perspectives on a wide range of topics. The post-presentations discussions have been so productive!”

Salikoko S. Mufwene
University of Chicago: The Edward Carson Waller Distinguished Service Professor of Linguistics and the College Professor, Committee on Evolutionary Biology; Professor, Committee on the Conceptual & Historical Studies of Science; Professor, Committee on African Studies

Global Forum on Southern Epistemologies: Book Series

Decolonial Voices, Language and Race is the first volume of the newly established Global Forum on Southern Epistemologies book series. This series consists of remarkably accessible volumes of ‘conversational chapters’ involving presentations by established and emerging global thinkers, activists and creative writers who seldom appear in the same collection. In the series, we have been particularly interested in the ‘geopolitics of knowledge’ as it pertains to language studies and many of the volumes will illustrate how scholarship in the Global North is partially indebted to diverse traditions of scholarship in the Global South(s). Ultimately, our concern is not only epistemological; it is also political, educational and social. We experiment with the format of the book, challenging the colonial concept of a single monologic authorial voice by integrating multiple voices, consistent with decoloniality and the politically engaged nature of our scholarship.

Members of the Series’ International Advisory Board: Jane Gordon, Alastair Pennycook, Oyeronke Oyewumi, John Joseph, Sibusiwe Makoni, Jason Litzenberg.

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Decolonising Multilingualism by Alison Phipps.

Language Transfer: History, Translation and Metalinguistic Awareness

This month we are publishing Explorations of Language Transfer by Terence Odlin. In this post the author discusses the book’s main themes.

Readers of Explorations of Language Transfer will notice several recurring themes, themes that have long seemed to me important for the study of transfer. I’d like to offer some remarks on three of those topics here: history, translation, and metalinguistic awareness.


Chapter 2 of the book examines parts of the challenging trail left by nineteenth century thinkers including Wilhelm von Humboldt, Hugo Schuchardt and Aaron Marshall Elliott. Space did not allow a discussion of certain other thinkers from that time who also wrote about bilingualism, such as the Italian historical linguist G.I. Ascoli. If I ever have the chance, I would like to read more about his analysis of how transfer might be manifest in linguistic variation across space and time. Furthermore, I suspect that interesting discussions of transfer go back before the nineteenth century, but if so, the trail may prove a little harder to explore.


Chapter 7 focuses on translation and transfer. The ongoing refinements in machine translation, one of the topics in this chapter, should be taken seriously by teachers and researchers even while professionals will do well in advising their students to distrust uncritical reliance on translation software. Yet machine translation is not the only area of interest. In the same chapter, I also consider the efforts of a Victorian translator named Mary Howitt who, despite her keen interest in Scandinavian literature, did not always succeed in accurately interpreting the work she undertook. Her translation errors often suggest negative transfer in her reading comprehension. Howitt is probably far from alone in the history of less-than-satisfactory translation, but there does not seem to be much detailed research investigating such cases. This domain, then, may well deserve more exploring.

Metalinguistic awareness

Our awareness of language, often called metalinguistic awareness, proves important in learning a new language, and it interacts with transfer in diverse ways. Without such awareness we could not compare anything in one language with anything in another, nor could we ask for definitions, let alone translate individual words or entire sentences. Even so, individuals vary considerably in how they use such awareness and in how they develop it further. Chapter 8 considers, among other things, successful attempts to foster such awareness. For example, raising consciousness about crosslinguistic similarities and differences has proven effective for helping learners recognize words that are real yet not obvious cognates. The attempts discussed did not involve French, but I think back to my own experiences with high school French and imagine how helpful it could have been if we beginners had gotten a little guidance in recognizing consistent formal relations in pairs such as côte/coast, fête/feast, and pâté/paste. Pairs of this sort also make a good case for why language teachers should have some knowledge of historical linguistics including sound changes.

I naturally hope that readers of Explorations of Language Transfer will find the themes outlined here worth reading about in greater detail, and I also hope that the book will inspire readers to engage in their own explorations of the similarities and differences between languages that can intrigue as well as challenge any learner.

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Crosslinguistic Influence and Distinctive Patterns of Language Learning edited by Anne Golden, Scott Jarvis and Kari Tenfjord.

What Counts as Literacy Learning for Emergent Bilinguals in the 21st Century?

This month we published Multimodal Literacies in Young Emergent Bilinguals edited by Sally Brown and Ling Hao. In this post the editors explain what a multimodal approach to literacy learning involves.

We are excited about our new publication, Multimodal Literacies in Young Emergent Bilinguals: Beyond Print-Centric Practices. This edited volume features research intended to expand multimodal literacy teaching practices in ways that support emergent bilinguals in a variety of early childhood contexts including preschool environments, kindergartens, elementary classrooms, and out-of-school community locations. The chapters include perspectives from areas of the United States where students are relegated to English-only policies and practices, as well as studies from China, London, Brazil and Norway. Each chapter provides background information about the study and concludes with specific implications for teaching and learning practices which is sure to push you into new ways of thinking and alternative ways to support emergent bilinguals. This book provides culturally sustaining pedagogical possibilities for using multimodal approaches to teach literacy with young children learning multiple languages. You can expect to see emergent bilinguals framed from an assets-based perspective that celebrates their rich cultural and linguistic heritages. A translanguaging approach (García, Johnson, & Seltzer, 2017) guides the authors’ thinking about the complex ways in which young emergent bilinguals use languages in addition to other semiotic resources in order to speak, act, know, and do in manners unique to each learner.

Multimodality is at the heart of all of the chapters. A multimodal approach to literacy learning is based on:

  • Social semiotics where meaning-making is the result of social interactions (Kress, 2010);
  • Communication encompassing more than language or print (speech and written words); language is partial;
  • Utilization of multiple modes with a mode being a set of organized resources of various forms such as images, gestures, oral language, etc;
  • Active sign makers (emergent bilinguals) selecting modes and choosing available resources to create meaning based on their way of understanding the world;
    • For example, a child may use Legos (form) to enact a visual retelling of a story.
  • Construction of a coherent and cohesive ensemble or product drawing from multiple modes.

Using multimodality as a lens for teaching emergent bilinguals allows us to offer additional opportunities to make and share meaning. In many learning spaces, these opportunities are limited to oral and written language even though emergent bilinguals may utilize other semiotic resources in environments where English is the predominant or only language. Small changes in teaching practices can provide more equitable and accessible learning spaces. For example, a teacher may offer students an option to draw in response to a read aloud as opposed to answering questions on a worksheet. The drawing could be analyzed for meaning in terms of salience of features like the main characters as well the use of color to determine how the characters were feeling. We invite you to read this new publication in order to broaden your notions of what counts as literacy learning for emergent bilinguals in the 21st century.

Sally Brown and Ling Hao

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Multilingual Literacy edited by Esther Odilia Breuer, Eva Lindgren, Anat Stavans and Elke Van Steendam.

Ode to the City – An Ethnographic Drama

This month we published Ode to the City – An Ethnographic Drama by Adrian Blackledge and Angela Creese. In this post the authors explain the context for the book and how they went about writing it.

One of the 16 ethnographic sites we observed during the research project, Translation and Translanguaging: Investigating linguistic and cultural transformations in superdiverse wards in four UK cities (TLANG), was a large, new, city-centre library. Our guiding concern was to investigate how people communicate in public settings when they bring into contact different biographies, backgrounds and languages. The state-of-the-art Library of Birmingham was the largest regional library in Europe. It attracts a diverse constituency of users, including local people from the city, and visitors from all over the world. One of the library staff, Millie, agreed to be a key participant in the research. She was originally from Hong Kong, having moved to the UK nearly 20 years earlier. Over four months we observed her working in the library. Our colleague Rachel Hu shadowed Millie as she went about her daily routine. We (Adrian, Angela and Rachel) wrote extensive field notes which described what we saw and heard as we observed. We gave Millie a digital voice recorder, to record her spoken interactions with members of the public and colleagues. She also recorded during her tea breaks and lunch breaks.

When we first negotiated access to do the research, the library was a beacon of civic pride for the city. Record-breaking numbers of people had visited in the 12 months since it opened. The spectacular building had exceeded every criterion for success. But by the time we started our field work, six months later, the government had made cuts to local authority grants. The city’s finances were hit hard. Opening hours were significantly reduced, and the library announced that it would cut more than 50% of its staff. As we observed and listened to the people who worked in, and accessed the services of, the library, politics was at the forefront of discussion. When we recontextualised and recreated these discussions as ethnographic drama, it was almost inevitable that the narrative would be dominated by concerns beyond the linguistic.

Ode to the City – An Ethnographic Drama represents discourses in circulation at a moment of political tension. The play focuses on four customer experience assistants in the library, three women and one man. The drama opens at the point when they have been told they have the option to put themselves forward for voluntary redundancy, or apply for their own jobs, with no guarantee of success. We meet the four characters in the staff room, where they take their lunch breaks and tea breaks. All the circulating tensions in the library are played out in their conversations. They are the only characters in the play, and they are all on stage throughout. In their interactions the voices of others are heard. They discuss the positions of the interim director of the library, the trade union, their colleagues, local and national politicians, and so on. In these discussions perspectives on histories, politics and economics are played out.

The ethnographic drama is made from field notes, audio-recordings, and any other material we were able to gather. This includes fictionalised voices. The ethnographic drama is a creative documentary account of an actual situation, and a specific environment, which integrates original and constructed dialogue. We enhance the rhythm of the dialogue where we can, to drive it forward. It has to move at a good pace, and at a varied pace, or the audience will be bored. We want to bring to the attention of the audience what we saw, and what we heard during our time in the library. Ode to the City – An Ethnographic Drama is about how political decisions affect people’s lives, often unfairly. It’s about a government pushing an austerity policy which harms the lives of the least privileged. The discourse of the four characters represents a particular moment in the workplace, offering an insight into the effects on working people of the government’s austerity measures. The drama treads a line between giving in to the force of powerful structures, and seeking the possibility of escape to new horizons. Ode to the City – An Ethnographic Drama takes ethnographic material and renders it for an audience in as truthful a way as possible. The rest is up to the audience.

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like the authors’ previous books: Volleyball – An Ethnographic Drama, Interpretations – An Ethnographic Drama and Voices of a City Market.

Linguistic Landscape’s Turn Towards Educational Settings

We recently published Linguistic Landscapes and Educational Spaces edited by Edina Krompák, Víctor Fernández-Mallat and Stephan Meyer. In this post the editors outline the aims of the book.

The field of Linguistic Landscape (LL) has recently taken a marked turn toward educational settings, as seen in the growing interest for the exploration of schoolscapes (Brown, 2005, 2012; Laihonen & Szabó, 2018) and its relevance to language learning and teaching (Gorter, 2018; Malinowski et al, 2020; Niedt et al, 2020), where elements of the LL itself have increasingly been used as pedagogical tools (Badstübner-Kizik & Janiková, 2018; Marten & Saagpakk, 2017).

This turn has strongly suggested that there is important potential to be found at the intersection of LL and educational spaces in the advancement of theoretical debates, methodological innovations and empirical evidence. Our contribution aims to theorize this intertwined relationship and pave the way for new approaches in the exploration of LL in sociolinguistics and the educational sciences. In our book, we define the term linguistic and semiotic educationscapes as ‘the mutually constitutive material and social spaces in which linguistic and symbolic resources are mobilised for educational purposes’ (Krompák, Fernández-Mallat & Meyer, 2021, p. 2). In doing so, our contribution comprises empirical studies in the schoolscape tradition as well as studies that apply elements of the LL for teaching purposes and that expand beyond educational institutions in the narrow sense of the term. With the diverse languages (e.g. Chinese, Dutch, English, Flemish, German, Italian, Latvian, Māori, Sámi/Saami and Swedish) and territories (e.g. Hong Kong in Asia; the United States of America in North America; Austria, Belgium, Italy, Latvia, the Netherlands, Sweden and Switzerland in Europe; and New Zealand in Zealandia) that are covered in this book, the volume gives an overview of current research in the Global North while also showing the need for thematic and geographic extension of research on educationscapes.

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Migration, Multilingualism and Education edited by Latisha Mary, Ann-Birte Krüger and Andrea S. Young.