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. 

Taiwan’s Gendered Language Learning Ideologies

This month we published Gender, Neoliberalism and Distinction through Linguistic Capital by Mark Fifer Seilhamer. In this post the author talks about the research that informed the book.

The title of my new book just out this month is Gender, Neoliberalism and Distinction through Linguistic Capital: Taiwanese Narratives of Struggle and Strategy, with ‘Gender’ prominently foregrounded as the first element of this title. But while ‘Neoliberalism’ and ‘Distinction through Linguistic Capital’ had been dominant themes since the very beginning of the manuscript’s preparation, the extent to which my focal participants’ (female) gender impacted their experiences is an issue that was addressed only fleetingly in the manuscript I originally submitted to Multilingual Matters back in 2016. This early version featured a fairly straightforward class-focused Bourdieusian analysis of my participants’ narrated experiences, seemingly (in retrospect) oblivious to the fact that gender does indeed play an outsized role in my participants’ stories, as well as in the dynamics of multilingualism in Taiwan more generally.

The centrality of gender to my participants’ experiences as language learners was pointed out by a reviewer, who asked what I made “of the fact that some students are quite successful at making friends with foreigners, getting free language practice, lining up Skype partners, having boyfriends to talk English with and to pay for trips abroad”. This reviewer went on to pose other questions that served to guide my radical overhaul of the manuscript: “Are young women considered ideal candidates for the sorts of international marketing/public relations/sales jobs many of the women get? How are ideologies of language acquisition gendered in Taiwan, and are these women seen as compromised in terms of their relationships and friendships with foreigners?”

Ideologies of language acquisition are indeed highly gendered in Taiwan, with the idea that males are simply no good at learning languages regarded by many as a commonsensical notion. This common belief results, of course, in language study beyond minimum requirements being almost exclusively the preserve of females. At the start of this research, I did not set out to include only female participants. In the junior college program specializing in languages that I was recruiting participants from, male students were, however, very much in the minority and my pool of possible participants consisted almost entirely of female students. Because it is commonly believed that female brains are specifically wired for learning languages, young women are encouraged to study foreign languages and pursue careers in international marketing, public relations, and interpreting – the sorts of occupations that my participants did, in fact, wind up in. My participants, in their interviews, had indeed addressed Taiwan’s gendered language learning ideologies and the notion of gendered language work, as well as positioning by others due to their relationships with foreigners. In my revisions, the focus on gender and the intersectional questioning that this focus necessitated really did change the fundamental character of the book.

In what now seems to be a glaring omission, I neglected to include an ‘Acknowledgements’ page for this book. This can be attributed to the extreme sense of relief I felt when the editors allowed me to go over the stipulated word limit with my final revised manuscript. Looking back now, I’m pretty sure they would have had no problem with my adding an ‘Acknowledgements’ page, but at the time, I was reluctant to request any more words for anything. I will take this opportunity now then to acknowledge the assistance and contributions of numerous individuals: my study’s participants, without whom the research and book would not have been at all possible; my doctoral thesis supervisors, Lionel Wee, Joseph Sung-Yul Park, and Mie Hiramoto; and everyone at Multilingual Matters, who were all incredibly patient with me, granting me extension after extension as I struggled to address reviewer concerns. And I am also immensely grateful to the anonymous reviewer who alerted me to the inadequacies of the earlier version of my manuscript – before gender was prominently brought to the fore.

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Language, Education and Neoliberalism edited by Mi-Cha Flubacher and Alfonso Del Percio.

Understanding the Language of Our Daily Lives

This month we are publishing Critical Inquiries in the Sociolinguistics of Globalization edited by Tyler Andrew Barrett and Sender Dovchin. In this post the editors talk about what inspired them to put the book together.

The contemporary world is full of different languages. These languages are everywhere: Signage, advertisements, popular culture, social media, streets, classrooms, offices, gossip – you name it. These languages are chaotic, messy, unexpected and cluttered. They are part of our everyday lives, whether you want it or not. They are, in fact, quite ordinary! Many of us, however, seem to simply ignore or disregard the messiness and ordinariness of these diverse languages. Because, they are – “SCRUFFY!” After all, who cares about the scruffy language, right? We somehow tend to take seriously ‘the standard’, ‘the official’ and ‘the formal’, while disregarding the most intimate part of our daily communications. Nonetheless, our book strives to show how developing an intimate relationship with ‘the unconventional’, ‘the scruffiness’, and ‘the messiness’ of our daily language practices may see us realize who we are indeed as human beings, as individuals, and as social members. This very messy side of language is, in fact, part of our identities, selves, natures, and characteristics.

Inspired by research in the debate of ‘sociolinguistics of globalization’ (Blommaert, 2010), we wanted to present a collection of research aimed at addressing this very messy, albeit ordinary, side of language. Since language can be understood from several different perspectives, as it is part of just about everything we do in daily life, this meant that our research would address several academic disciplines that include Linguistics, Sociology, Political Science and even Philosophy. However, these fields are often used to reinforce traditional ideas about ‘the standard’, ‘the official’, and ‘the normal’, which meant that we had a big task ahead of us as we were essentially suggesting, along with Blommaert (2010), that our traditional approaches of understanding the language of our daily lives were at times imprecise and in need of a makeover.

While rethinking our understanding of the language of our daily lives was indeed a challenge, although the data kind of spoke for itself in many ways, our biggest challenge was perhaps tying the interdisciplinary themes together as cohesive contributions to the discussion and debate of the ‘sociolinguistics of globalization’. Although we are often conveniently able to casually discuss the complexities of the debate using idealist and very general descriptions of culture, language, politics, and identity, it was challenging to present cutting-edge research that contributed to knowledge in such a way that it is worthy of publication. We hope we have achieved this aim with this project.

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Aspiring to be Global by Shuang Gao.

New Year, New Books!

Happy New Year! We’re starting 2019 as we mean to go on with a whole host of exciting new books coming out in January and February! Here are the new titles you can look forward to…

January

Early Instructed Second Language Acquisition

This book examines which factors lead to success in foreign language learning at an early age in instructional settings. The studies investigate learners aged between three and ten, their parents and teachers, and focus on the development of speaking and reading skills and how attitudes and motivation impact on the teaching and learning process.

Idiomatic Mastery in a First and Second Language

The comprehension, retention and production of idiomatic expressions is one of the most difficult areas of the lexicon for second language learners to master. This book investigates this under-researched and interesting aspect of language acquisition, shedding light on conventional uses of idiomatic expressions as well as creative variant forms.

Investigating Content and Language Integrated Learning

This book provides a unique longitudinal account of content and language integrated learning (CLIL). Giving voice to both learners and teachers, it offers insights into language learning outcomes, learner motivation among CLIL and non-CLIL students, effects of extramural exposure to English, issues in relation to assessment in CLIL and much more.

English-Medium Instruction and Pronunciation

This book offers new insights into the language gains of adult learners enrolled in an English-medium instruction degree programme. It provides longitudinal evidence of the phonological gains of the learners and investigates whether increased exposure to the target language leads to incidental learning of second language pronunciation.

Critical Reflections on Research Methods

This book explores the challenges involved in conducting research with members of minoritized communities. Through reflective accounts, contributors explore community-based collaborative work, and suggest important implications for applied linguistics, educational research and anthropological investigations of language, literacy and culture.

 

February

Early Language Learning and Teacher Education

This book investigates both the theoretical and practical aspects of teacher education for early language teachers. It focuses on the complexity of teacher learning, innovations in mentoring and teacher supervision, strategies in programme development and perceptions, and knowledge and assessment in early language learning teacher education.

Aspiring to be Global

This book makes a novel contribution to the sociolinguistics of globalization by examining language and social change in the tourism destination of West Street, Yangshuo, China. It explores the contingencies and tensions in the creation of a ‘global village’ and reveals ambivalent struggles inherent in this ongoing process of social change.

Critical Inquiries in the Sociolinguistics of Globalization

This book seeks to examine the notions of ‘linguistic diversity’ and ‘hybridity’ using new critical theoretical frameworks embedded within the broader discussion of the sociolinguistics of globalization. The research took place in contexts that include linguistic landscapes, schools, classrooms, neighborhoods and virtual spaces around the world.

Conversation Analytic Perspectives on English Language Learning, Teaching and Testing in Global Contexts

This book contains 10 empirical studies of English language learning, teaching and testing where English is an additional language. Focusing on English-as-a-Foreign-Language contexts, they involve varied learner populations, from children to young adults to adults, in different learning environments around the world.

Perspectives on Language as Action

This edited volume has been compiled in honour of Professor Merrill Swain who, for over four decades, has been one of the most prominent scholars in the field of second language acquisition and second language education. The range of topics covered in the book reflects the breadth and depth of Swain’s contributions, expertise and interests.

 

For more information about any of these titles or to place an order, please visit our website.

The Fascinating World of Linguistic Landscapes

We recently published Expanding the Linguistic Landscape edited by Martin Pütz and Neele Mundt. In this post the editors talk about the International LAUD Symposium that inspired the book.

This edited collection entitled Expanding the Linguistic Landscape is the result of the 37th International LAUD Symposium held in the spring of 2016. The book focuses on linguistic landscapes in public spaces and the emplacement of multimodal signs (visual, auditory, haptic, olfactory) in multilingual inscriptions as they are represented in diverse societies around the world, such as in Europe, Africa, Australia/Oceania and Asia. The symposium, hosted by LAUD (Linguistic Agency University of Duisburg), represented a biennial international event which took place for the 9th time at the University of Koblenz-Landau (Landau Campus). In the past, LAUD was instrumental in organizing numerous conferences on various facets of multilingualism and the sociology of language, such as language contact and conflict, language choices, ideologies and language policies, multilingual cognition and language use, endangered languages and now, in 2016,  Linguistic Landscapes (henceforth LL). Therefore, in retrospect and for the purpose of this blog, a few remarks about the beginnings of LAUD and its further development and expansion are in order.

The Symposium on LL (LAUD 2016) was posthumously devoted to the founder of LAUD, Professor René Dirven, the great scholar and spiritual mentor of cognitive linguistics who died in August 2016. Back in 1973, together with his colleague Günter Radden (University of Hamburg), René Dirven established a linguistic clearing-house, the Linguistic Agency at the University of Trier (LAUT). The Linguistic Agency provided an institutionalized forum that allowed René to organize an impressive series of international linguistic symposia. The world’s most distinguished scholars were invited to present their work at the newly founded University of Trier, which overnight became known as a destination of pilgrimage in modern linguistics. The series of symposia was opened in 1977 with papers by Charles Fillmore, followed by John Searle, William Labov, Michael Halliday, George Lakoff, Ronald Langacker, Joshua Fishman, Suzanne Romaine and many other well-known scholars of linguistics. By now LAUD is internationally known and its acronym is strongly associated with linguistic innovation, a wide scope and the name of its founder, René Dirven. He leaves behind numerous students and colleagues throughout the academic world who have learned much from him about language and linguistics.

An example of linguistic landscape in Cameroon

What motivated the editors of this volume to organize a symposium on linguistic and semiotic landscapes was first of all their common research interest in the cultural, ideological and multimodal spaces of the African continent with special reference to multilingual Cameroon. Having spent and enjoyed somewhat longer research stays in the country we were fascinated by the sheer array of linguistic and semiotic tokens which characterize its urban and rural areas in public spaces. Certainly, the linguistic landscapes of Asian megacities such as Hong Kong have much more to offer semiotically especially when it comes to a glittering, world-class commercial center where Chinese culture, British colonial influences and modern day high-technology blend together. Still, the diversity of languages we are confronted with in politically unstable and tense societies like Cameroon and other African nations likewise arouses interest in LL analyses and interpretations. Leaving the Africa-based LL discussions and debates aside, the remaining chapters are likewise testimony of a rich array of new findings on methodology, translanguaging, semiotic assemblages and multimodality in or outside the city, be it in Australia/Micronesia, Germany, Taiwan, or Lithuania. We are hopeful that the reader will enjoy diving into this fascinating world of linguistic and semiotic landscapes just as we did during the somewhat longer, but efficient, process of conceptualizing and editing this volume.

Martin Pütz
Puetz@uni-landau.de

Neele Mundt
Mundt@uni-landau.de

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Engaging Superdiversity edited by Karel Arnaut, Martha Sif Karrebæk, Massimiliano Spotti and Jan Blommaert.

Plant a Seed and Hope it Grows: The Best Way to Help Your Child Become Bilingual

This month we published Household Perspectives on Minority Language Maintenance and Loss by Isabel Velázquez. In this post the author talks about her research on bilingual household dynamics in Latino families. 

¿Qué no haría uno por sus hijos? – What wouldn’t you do for your kids? This rhetorical question often comes up in conversations with Latino families in the community in which I live and conduct research. Regardless of ethnicity or cultural background, the narrative of parental self-sacrifice runs deep. In conversations with my university colleagues and other middle-class professionals, it often takes on the shiny packaging of meritocracy. In the kitchens and living rooms of the first-generation working-class families that have afforded me the privilege of learning about their experience, it comes with stories of geographical, social, and economic dislocation. Many of their themes are shared with those of other immigrant and refugee households in our city.

Separate one’s family, leave one’s country, learn a new language, start again, risk life and limb, work three jobs, brave the Nebraska cold at 5:00 am, deform the tendons in one’s right hand from the repetitive motion of cutting meat in an industrial line, make ends meet, make do, find a way. I want them to have an education. I want them to have more opportunities. I want them to get ahead in life.

Because I’m interested in how a minority language is lost or maintained in communities with low ethnolinguistic vitality for that language, most of the conversations I have with other Latino parents eventually arrive at the topic of intergenerational transmission of Spanish. Over the course of the past decade, I’ve yet to find a Latino mother or father who does not hold positive attitudes about their children’s development of bilingual skills.

And yet, in this, like in many other communities, positive attitudes toward Spanish are necessary, but insufficient to guarantee children’s development of their family language. Neither are parents’ level of education or economic standing.

In professional presentations and informal interactions, I am often approached by parents interested in finding the best resource to help their children become bilingual. A CD? An app? A book? A television series? A video game? As it happens, the best device to transmit language is an adult in possession of that ever-scarce commodity: attention. Attachment, nurturing, belonging, such are the fundamental ingredients of intergenerational transmission.

In my ideal world, every newborn would come with a four-word instruction: Forgive yourself; try again. Like all other dimensions of raising a healthy human, transmission of a family language happens at the messy junctions of everyday parenting.

Despite different circumstances and life experiences, analysis of bilingual household dynamics has allowed us to learn that families that are able to transmit Spanish to their children share three features: Quality and amount of exposure to the family language, opportunities for use, and relevance – the management, planning, and evaluation of the first two, it must be said, overwhelmingly falling on the mother.

No gardener plants once and expects results. Relevance of the family language for our children will only bloom years later, once they’ve formed their own networks away from the household. As parents, we plant, we weed, we water, and wait. We do not know if the seed of linguistic transmission will bear fruit. Do we ever?

 

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Bilingual Childcare by Victoria Benz.

Living with Languages in a Multilingual World

This month we published The Multilingual Reality by Ajit K. Mohanty. In this post the author talks about the inspiration behind the book. 

Pinky’s dreams had evaporated. She dreamt of touching the sky in her school; as her parents put her there, the glitter in their eyes was reassuring for Pinky. The Saora girl was an unstoppable chatterbox; her home language, Saora, was polka dotted by some Odia, Hindi, English and other languages as she grew up and moved out into her neighbourhood, the weekly market place and the tribal festivals. But a few days in school and she gradually lost her chatter. Her parents were sad that Pinky did not want to go to school. “I don’t understand the teacher, I don’t understand the books”, she told her mother.

I met Pinky’s father during a visit to set up our MLE Plus project in the local primary school selected by the Government of Odisha as a new multilingual education (MLE) school in Saora. He ventilated his agony over Pinky’s unwillingness to go to school, but, he said, he understood. As a child, he also ran way from his school because then he did not know Odia, the school language. I told him that the school will teach in Saora in Grade 1 from the next year. Pinky had lost a year but was happy to be back. During one of my visits to her class, when Pinky was in Grade 2, I was amazed to observe her telling a Saora story for nearly 11 minutes while her friends listened with attention. She was definitely enjoying her school in her own language, something that millions of children from indigenous, tribal, minor and minoritized (ITM) languages in the world are deprived of.

Despite large-scale international movement of people, languages are no longer considered a medley for an interesting colourful world – one full of cultural hues, diversity, linguistic rights and pride. Schools and states (and sometimes communities and parents) ensure that many native languages are not passed on to the next generation. In 1907, Roosevelt cautioned the immigrants into the US and said “We have room for but one language here, and that is the English language”. Now the world seems to have limited room for languages except the few dominant ones.

The world seems to be losing its colour to the devouring supermarket culture with limited brands dominating – limited languages, limited cultures, limited varieties. The multitude of languages used by our ancestors are lost or are on the verge of extinction. It is a tough battle between “language hegemony and discrimination” and the promises of “the cultural and educational richness of living with languages”.

I grew up in a beautiful multilingual world where I had the freedom to move naturally and spontaneously between people and languages, unconcerned by any boundaries and infringements. I did not have to bother about my own inadequacies in the languages I encountered, nor did I have to count the languages I knew or did not know. I was taught in my mother tongue and was gradually introduced to other languages that I embraced. Levels of my competence in languages around me did not have to be judged.

I grew up with an understanding that, like our fingerprints and DNA, we are supposed to be unique and diverse – that one size fits all is an aberration and is limiting to our linguistic and cultural diversity. If that be the case, why should millions like Pinky be deprived of being educated through their Mother Tongue?

This book is an account of my journey as a researcher and a coparticipant in the multilingual world from the perspectives of the people and communities at the margins – people being forced into a less diverse and more insipid world. Through my book, I have sought to share the complexity, the agony and the beauty of living with languages in a multilingual world. My book handles concerns and issues that have confronted me and the questions prompted by my encounters with the ITM communities and their education. The issues necessarily go beyond the question of languages and transcend the borders of India, because they are tied to questions of power, the processes of domination and subordination in all societies. The specific themes in the book echo concerns from the ITM perspectives – both local and global. The themes reflect some interrelated aspects of what it means to live with languages in a multilingual society.

Multilingualism is not about languages; it is about life and living, about lifestyles, about world views. This is what I realised growing up with many languages around me. These languages made my lifestyle possible. They were not just part of my expressive and receptive experience as I moved across my social world, they combined to make this world for me. I certainly did and still do have a mother tongue but my total experience was never fragmented by my mother tongue and other tongues.

You can contact Ajit Mohanty with any questions and comments at the following email address: ajitmohanty@gmail.com.

For  more information about this book please see our website.

Starting a Dialogue between Social Semiotics and Complexity Theory

We recently published Making Signs, Translanguaging Ethnographies edited by Ari Sherris and Elisabetta Adami. In this post the editors introduce us to the book and its unique Bricolage and Talmudic sections.

Preparing this volume has been a work of encounters which gave way to layers of experiences and we hope is just one possible opening to a new way of thinking about how we make and interpret meaning. It started as a serendipitous encounter between the two of us, when we met once at a symposium on translanguaging and ethnography and later began conversations on the possibilities of crossing perspectives, in an attempt at starting a dialogue between social semiotics and complexity theory. The experiences of the volume’s contributors form additional layers at the core of this volume from ethnographic/documentary linguistics, sociolinguistics, linguistic landscape, and multimodality (broadly conceived). The volume is also a site of encounters among four theorists of what we envisage as among the most innovative and promising perspectives on research and activism across inclusive approaches to communication, language and education with a Bricolage piece asking Jan Blommaert, Ofelia García, Gunther Kress and Diane Larsen-Freeman to answer ten key questions and trace interrelations with each other’s viewpoints.

Besides the eye-opening preface by Jeff Bezemer and Gunther Kress, and the introduction written by us, the volume hosts seven chapters presenting empirical studies that relocate margins at the centre, through investigations of phenomena and settings that have been little explored so far, and by attempting various entanglements between approaches that have rarely been combined. Research of and through these uncharted entanglements allows the authors (and hopefully the readers) to show how observing and documenting domains of communication that are often neglected can not only problematize traditional ways of knowing, but also shed new light onto social interaction, meaning-making and human communication as a whole.

Finally, the volume attempts at stretching the boundaries of (the often too limiting) academic genres. It does so first and foremost in the Bricolage; the process of its making has been a wonderfully enriching enterprise, for us, the editors, and (we like to believe) for the four theorists too, who had never met on (screen and) paper before. Working with them at the Bricolage, we have not only had further proof of the immense intellectual value of Diane, Gunther, Jan and Ofelia, but also experienced the immensely humane, thoughtful and caring characters of the four. We hope that the Bricolage may be the first of a series opening a new genre enabling academic dialogue through joint forms of writing. A second genre innovation is in the final chapter of the book, in which we draw from the Talmudic tradition to construct commentaries to each of the empirical chapters that add additional layers, imagined next steps in meaning-making and interpretation. The commentaries ask themselves how these studies would be reframed and (re)investigated further by adopting a social semiotic and a complexity theory perspective. This, too, is an attempt to start a dialogue between two approaches that have good grounds for potential mutual integration and yet had not met until now. We hope this dialogue will continue further with those who read the book. We look forward to hearing from you!

Elisabetta Adami e.adami@leeds.ac.uk

Ari Sherris arieh.sherris@gmail.com

 

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Engaging Superdiversity edited by Karel Arnaut, Martha Sif Karrebæk, Massimiliano Spotti and Jan Blommaert.

Communication, Culture and Discourse: A Road Map for Cultural Discourse Studies

This autumn, the 6th International Conference on Multicultural Discourses is due to take place. Multilingual Matters is sponsoring the conference, specifically in order to enable two early career researchers from developing countries to attend it. This post is written by one of the organisers, Shi-xu of Hangzhou Normal University, China.

With the rapid advancement in communication, commerce and travel, our world has become smaller and people more interconnected. However, this has not meant that the global village is safer, more stable, or more harmonious, but more alienated, more volatile and more unpredictable. Even after three West-East wars of the past century, hot and cold, the old wisdom of dividing up mankind into good and evil and then retaining absolute hegemony remains as alive as ever and coercion continues to hold the day. At the same time, however, that familiar, traditional order is being tipped as non-Western powers and alliances emerge and spread. In the new century we find ourselves yet again at the crossroads of war and peace, repression and development, or more.

For scholars and students of Cultural Discourse Studies (CDS), to which this conference and the affiliated journal are devoted, the current human-cultural predicament is a big challenge, but it is also an opportunity. It is a big challenge because mainstream Communication Studies (CS, including studies of language, literature, rhetoric, media and discourse) insists on a Westcentric stance and ignores cultural diversity and obscure cultural division. It is also an opportunity because CDS is equipped with not only the determination but also the tools to help change the changing world.

The chosen and enduring objectives of CDS are: (1) to undermine and subvert ethnocentrism in CS, (2) to construct culturally conscious, critical and creative paradigms of human communication that are capable of facilitating the advancement of relevant cultural discourses, and (3) to firm up a truly culturally inclusive CS scholarship that is conducive to building a harmonious, pluralist and free world.

CDS’ strategic goals, under the turbulent circumstances just alluded to, call for urgent and specific tasks to be taken up. One is to expand and consolidate the existing international community of scholars and students of diverse disciplinary and cultural backgrounds who are culturally conscious, critical and creative and committed to helping reform CS towards a more diversified and egalitarian scholarship. Another is for this breed of researchers to utilize effective platforms and channels to discuss, formulate and promulgate a common vision for human communication and to invent practical ways to reach that consensus. Still another is to continue efforts to establish and improve relevant frameworks of cultural discourses in order to critically study and to guide particular practices. Yet another is to expose and subvert culturally divisive, discriminatory and domineering discourses on the one hand and to discover and promote culturally inclusive, dialogical and harmonious ones on the other hand.

For more information about the 6th International Conference on Multicultural Discourses, just click the link.

We Speak Up: Firsthand Experiences of Gendered Language

This month we were very excited to publish Speaking Up by Allyson Jule – a book that looks at how language use and related ideas about gender play out in the home, workplace and online. In this post the MM team considers their own experiences with language and gender.

Elinor

One of the most frustrating thing about sexist language is that it is so ingrained in people’s everyday speech that they are often completely unaware of the significance and implications of the words they use. One word that particularly infuriates me is that of ‘manning’ a stand. As we attend conferences a lot and the majority of our staff is female I really take objection when people use the verb ‘to man.’ While many people wouldn’t necessarily be offended by it, I feel that it is very easy to use the word ‘staffing’ instead which removes the gender connotation completely.

Another issue that I often face is that of titles. Frequently, I am asked whether I’m ‘Miss’ or ‘Mrs’ and when I reply ‘neither’ people are sometimes confused. I’m glad that the term ‘Ms’ exists in English so that I have an alternative to Miss and Mrs but I really don’t see why women should be forced to use a title to denote their marital status when men do not. As a married woman who hasn’t taken my husband’s name, neither Miss or Mrs is correct but I still find Ms is not an option that is always available or that everyone even understands. I would be happy if we did away with titles completely as in my mind it only confuses people and creates an impression of inequality between the sexes.

Tommi

The recent publication of Speaking Up has given me a few moments to pause and reflect on my own use of language in my professional life, and how this might be seen by other people. One of the habits that I have been trying to train myself out of for years has been referring to my female colleagues collectively as “the girls”….

The term arose years ago when we had a larger office, and the majority of the staff and directors were tending closer to retirement age. We had a new intake of younger staff members, who happened to be women. Often my mum, Marjukka Grover, then editorial director, would say something like “are the girls coming to lunch?”. The term stuck, and was a lighthearted way of referring to a group of colleagues and distinguishing the younger ones from the older ones.

Fast forward 15 years, and those “girls” are now Editorial Director, Head of Production and Head of Marketing themselves, and have been joined by another two extremely capable women. They all know very well that I have the utmost respect for them, and that without them this business would be in desperate trouble. I manage mostly to refer to them outside the office as “my colleagues”, but every now and again, usually when we are talking about something social rather than business related, I’ll call them “the girls” and I’ll kick myself for doing it. Will I ever be able to train myself completely out of this habit? I doubt it, although I am getting better, and since one of my colleagues recently commented that she really hates that term, I will try even harder in the future. If any of you catch me using the term, please feel free to challenge me!

Anna

At 20 weeks pregnant with my elder daughter, I’d just found out at a scan that everything was ok with the baby, and that she was a girl. I decided to buy some baby clothes to mark the occasion, and so I took myself to Mothercare to buy some vests and sleepsuits. It was like stepping into another world – the baby clothes were rigidly divided by gender, pink for girls and blue for boys (my mum bought a set of blue sleepsuits with penguins on them for my daughter to the absolute horror of the shop assistant, who kept trying to tell her she was making a mistake). The ‘boy’ clothes encouraged boys to do things – drive tractors, fly planes, run fast – or be the boss. The ‘girl’ clothes encouraged baby girls to aspire to be princesses or defined them in relation to other people or how they looked: there were racks and racks of ‘Daddy’s Little Cutie’ vests, or ‘I’m so Pretty’ tops. Having lived up to that point in a feminist bubble, it was a rude awakening to discover that messages about gender equality are still something you have to work hard to instil in your children, in the face of prevailing culture.

My daughter is now nearly 7, and it’s clear that some of her contemporaries, brought up on these messages, have internalised and now believe them. One of her friends was told recently by a classmate that she wasn’t a proper girl as she prefers shorts to summer dresses and enjoys sports. The gradual drip, drip of these judgements hurts both girls and boys, men and women, and it turns out that the stereotyping starts at birth, if not before.

Flo

In our office I’m usually the one who answers the phone when it rings and I’m happy to be gatekeeper if needs be. However, we’ve noticed that when answering a cold call, I am often assumed to be a receptionist (I was even referred to as “just the receptionist” by one cold caller), with no authority, knowledge of the business, or decision-making power. Not only is this very insulting to genuine receptionists (surely it’s a mistake to get off on the wrong foot with the person who has access to the entire company), but as we’ve noticed that when Tommi (or for that matter, a male intern) happens to be the one who answers the phone, he is never taken for a receptionist, it could be argued that it’s an assumption based on my voice being identifiable as a young woman’s. Where I would be fielding question after question about who is in charge of accounts or how do I know my boss isn’t interested (I can see him from my desk waving his arms ‘no’), callers generally seem to accept being dismissed in the first instance by a man.

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