Vulnerabilities, Challenges and Risks in Applied Linguistics

We recently published Vulnerabilities, Challenges and Risks in Applied Linguistics edited by Clare Cunningham and Christopher J. Hall. In this post Clare explains how the book came about, as well as its main themes.

Our new edited book Vulnerabilities, Challenges and Risks in Applied Linguistics was born out of the 2018 BAAL meeting held at York St John University. The theme was Taking Risks in Applied Linguistics, chosen in recognition of the need for focused discussion of risk in applied linguistics, given rapid change and consequent uncertainty both in world affairs and in the discipline itself. As we worked more on the book, though, it became clear that the theme of ‘risk’ often spilled over into the semantically related fields of ‘vulnerabilities’ and ‘challenges’. In the end, the contributors all approach the concepts of vulnerability, challenge and risk in different ways, playing with the multiple and nuanced meanings of the words.

At various points in the collection, risk is construed as an individual matter – perhaps the potential physical or psychological risks taken in innovative or even dangerous research, such as Kate Barber’s. Risk-taking can also be face-threatening or offer the potential for reputational damage, perhaps in the classroom, as explored by Sal Consoli and Michael Hepworth. Within our discipline, it can be risky to approach one’s writing in truly innovative ways, as Hanna Ensser-Kananen and Taina Saarinen do in their chapter, taking a flight of the imagination in Finland. But risk-taking is also institutional, in curriculum policy developments such as Liana Konstantinidou and Ursula Stadler’s chapter. The risks of taking positive action such as these can be set in contrast to the risks of inaction, of not moving with the times, as Ursula Lanver’s work on language policy in Anglophone countries shows.

The concept of vulnerability runs alongside these risks throughout the book. Individual researchers and teachers in applied linguistics make themselves vulnerable through innovative research design producing groundbreaking work as a result. But following Judith Butler’s lead, there is a tendency throughout the collection to acknowledge the value and affordances of vulnerabilities in marginalised communities for kick-starting the action and the work that leads to social change, as seen as Helen Sauntson’s, Luz Murillo’s, John Bosco Conama’s and Kristin Snoddon and Erin Wilkinson’s chapter.

The challenges faced in our society and for applied linguistics are well known – a lack of resources and of political will for change to deal with societal ‘wicked problems’. Applied Linguistics as a discipline also has the challenge of throwing off some of the shackles of the past and there remains much work to do to ensure that all voices are heard equally and respected. Of course, it was impossible for this collection to address all of the significant challenges of the future we face as a society. We only briefly (in our introduction) discuss the way the world has been affected by the Covid-19 global pandemic, and the even more pressing challenge of the climate emergency but we have hope that, with the examples of some of the fine research and practices in this book, our discipline is ready to offer what it can to tackle the impact of some of these immense challenges.

Clare Cunningham

For more information about this book please see our website.

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

Communication as Emergence and Possibility

This month we published The Transformative Materiality of Meaning-Making by David Parkin. In this post the author explains the book’s focus.

Words, and other forms of communication such as bodily gesture, facial expression, tone of voice or written text, are never innocent. They may hurt or soothe, please and enlighten, often in unexpected ways. They may also invite responses which may counter or reinforce the emotion expressed in the utterance, whether negative or positive. Or the speaker may expect silence as validating his/her authority over the listener. The listener may reject the speaker’s status and so redefine him/her and therefore themself.

The many choices involved in communicative exchange tend to fall into patterns depicting hierarchy, equality, competition or cooperation. Speakers’ and listeners’ utterances and responses can usefully be understood as transactions. Like the exchange of gifts, they can evoke many different sentiments, follow set rules or deploy various strategies to get round these rules.

By looking at human communication cross-culturally, we see that such patterns broadly exist everywhere. But their details vary and we may regard communicative transactions as ontological variations on a range of recognizable themes. By defining and redefining identities and prompting sensory responses, communicative exchange has material effect as well as itself made material through semiotic transactions.

The chapters in the book use ethnography to illustrate the themes of communicating as ‘becoming’, the transformational dynamics of political speech and rhetoric, and the hidden power behind allusion and similar ambiguities. We can look ahead to future work on this materiality of meaning-making. For instance, when people communicate bodily through gesture, eyes and face as well as through voice, noise, silence, texts, objects and spatial position, they experiment with the different senses that such materiality can evoke. Multi-modal communication is thus multi-sensory.

In communicating with each other, humans may conform to expectations but often experiment in how they can affect outcomes. Poiesis is a concept that captures this creativity. It connotes something emerging from a previous state: someone communicates in an unexpected and even outrageous way and effects a new mode of meaning and interaction.

We ask here what makes language and communication generally change. ‘Chance’ variations of syntax, grammar, phonetics, lexicon, topic and the influence of wider events trigger structural change. But what role do the senses play in transforming how humans communicate above and beyond structure? And do the senses mediate and reconcile interpersonal communication and impinging world contexts?

For more information about this book please see our website

If you found this interesting, you might also like Chronotopic Identity Work edited by Sjaak Kroon and Jos Swanenberg. 

Decolonising Multilingualism in Africa

This month we published Decolonising Multilingualism in Africa by Finex Ndhlovu and Leketi Makalela. In this post the authors introduce the book.

It is often easy to perceive common sense assumptions about the nature and use of language in society as something of a natural kind – that it has always been the way it is. Yet, as we have come to know, we live in a world that has been invented or created following particular ideologies, belief systems and ways of knowing. Languages; our understandings of language diversity (multilingualism) and their practical applications in social and educational policy settings are not immune from ideological habits and practices that are traceable to the Euro-modernist colonial order of the world.

In Decolonising Multilingualism in Africa, we interrogate the problematic nature of common sense assumptions about languages and language diversity. We draw on data from the Global South, and specifically from diverse African communities, to illustrate the particular point about how popular and dominant understandings of multilingualism are tied to the colonial project of categorising languages and identities for the purposes of domination, control and the exercising of power. The packing of languages – through such instruments as national language policies – in a hierarchical order: minority vs major; official vs non-official; standard vs non-standard and so forth, is symptomatic of this logic of what we call global coloniality of language.

In this book, we present alternative approaches for re-imagining multilingualism. We introduce a promising avenue for unsettling colonial ways of knowing by taking into account diverse local knowledges about language and what living with multiple languages means for ordinary people in their everyday lives.

The book emphasises the importance of looking at multilingualism from the perspective of ‘languages of the people’ (the real everyday language practices of real people). This is a counter-narrative to the dominant understanding of language diversity that puts emphasis on ‘languages of the state’ (those countable language-things that were co-constructed with the modern nation-state). We re-visit the precolonial archive and draw attention to previously undocumented and often ignored knowledge traditions about language diversity, what we call ‘socially realistic multilingualism’.

Our goal is to enrich conversations about language diversity among both academic and non-academic communities; and to inform policy frameworks in such domains as language and literacy education, social service provision, intercultural dialogues, immigration and citizenship, and related areas where language is implicated. The book seeks to inspire an audience from differing social, cultural, political and ideological backgrounds to think outside the box; to appreciate that there are diverse ways of knowing about languages and multilingualism. Some such traditions of knowing, particularly those from the Global South, are currently marginalised and not present in mainstream conversations about what it means to live life and live it well with multiple language resources.

The book joins contemporary conversations on this topic in arguing that Southern ways of knowing are equally valid and legitimate. It is important for us to learn in partnership with the subaltern communities of the Global South and to re-centre their stories in our efforts to co-create alternative approaches to valuation of knowledge.

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Rethinking Language Use in Digital Africa edited by Leketi Makalela and Goodith White.

Tourination: The Ruination By, Of and With Tourism

We recently published The Impact of Tourism in East Africa by Anne Storch and Angelika Mietzner. In this post the authors explain the concept of ‘Tourination’.

Beaches are problematic spaces. They are the porous sites of uncertain encounters, of contact between humans and spirits, firm ground and uncertainty. In many parts of the world, they are lined by the ruins of imperialism and colonialism, and by the excessive waste produced in global mass tourism. Paradise is depicted on nearby billboards, the flawless white sand and turquoise waters are a promise for all those who can pay their way in.

From places that seem destroyed, ruined or abandoned, new systems of togetherness emerge, as we describe in our book. The ruination by, of and with tourism is a concept we tend to call Tourination. Tourination is found in every single part and corner wherever tourism takes place. It describes how people and places change because of tourism and what emerges out of this change. We would like to propose making Tourination a term of its own in the discourse on tourism and change. A term that does not always imply a negative connotation of the term ruination, but rather a connotation that shows what comes out of it.

Meanwhile, the knowledge and techniques of creating spaces that are alive and allow for resistance and sovereignty remain. In Digo (a Bantu language spoken in southern Kenya and northern Tanzania), like in the languages of many other Indigenous peoples, there is a wealth of ways to express reciprocity and conviviality.

Utsi is managed by a group of elders, who figure out who is in need of the help of others and make this help happen.

Mweria is more about reciprocity. In a community, people help each other handling hard labour.

Harambee is an expression that can be used as a call, or shout, by a group of people who pull something heavy (a boat). It is also the name for asking around in the community for assistance in one’s own financially challenging tasks.

Merry-go-round is another possibility.

Saying nothing at all is a reply to an invitation to join a meal. One simply sits down and eats.

Or maybe we could sit down and listen, engage in a conversation here and there or just watch.

Angelika Mietzner and Anne Storch

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like the authors’ previous book, Language and Tourism in Postcolonial Settings.

What is ‘Ultralingualism’?

This month we published The Performance of Multilingual and ‘Ultralingual’ Devotional Practices by Young British Muslims by Andrey Rosowsky. In this post the author explains the concept of ‘ultralingualism’, which is central to his book.

One of the words in the title of my book may be unfamiliar – ultralingual. And I could be accused perhaps of introducing a new term unnecessarily. And, moreover, without a significant degree of academic consensus. Yet, as a word, and as a concept, it is born out of nearly a quarter century of research which has focused, primarily, on what I would now call ‘ultralingual’ practices. My research into language practices in, primarily, minority religious communities, which I originally called ‘liturgical literacies’ (Rosowsky, 2008), regularly came up against the issue of how to account for reading and other language practices (artful recitation, memorisation, singing, for example) which appeared, on the surface, to be divorced from meaning, or from referential meaning to be more precise.

Fishman (1989) famously coined the term ‘religious classical’ to denote language varieties which were exclusively used for liturgical purposes such as Lutheran German, Geez and Ecclesiastical Greek. Such varieties are invariably linguistically distant from the spoken languages of their congregations and so understanding of what is being read or recited is often absent or incomplete. It is this which I am calling ‘ultralingualism’ and is an attempt to capture the experience of, usually, very accurate decoding accompanied by a, sometimes heightened, experience which could be considered spiritual or emotional and which is achieved beyond the words performed – thus ultralingual. However, in more recent and very detailed and useful categorisations of linguistic competences (Blommaert & Backus, 2012), there is still no obvious place for the near universal practice of ultralingualism. If it isn’t ‘full’ competence, then is it ‘partial’ or ‘minimal’?  Both the latter terms seem inadequate.

And although much of my research has featured ultralingualism in a religious context, there are many other contexts where it appears. Singers in all shapes and sizes often end up being very comfortable singing in an ultralingual way. How many choir members understand the Vulgar Latin of Carmina Burana? I recall a former colleague of mine, Professor Greg Brooks, working in east Africa in the 1960s, relating to me how he would often be asked to read out letters in Kikuyu (written in Roman script) to his Kikuyu speaking caretaker whilst not understanding the language himself. This could be called another form of ultralingualism, albeit a more prosaic one.

This book offers a fresh look at language practices of young British Muslims and provides ample support for ultralingualism as a useful term to account for such practices.

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Language Maintenance, Revival and Shift in the Sociology of Religion edited by Rajeshwari Vijay Pandharipande, Maya Khemlani David and Miriam Eisenstein Ebsworth.

Foundations and Frustrations in Adolescent Newcomer Programming

This month we are publishing Educating Adolescent Newcomers in the Superdiverse Midwest by Brian David Seilstad. In this post the author explains how the idea for the book came about.

Schooling is often represented in dichotomous terms as either a liberator or an oppressor. Reading about various student experiences across diverse histories and contexts reflects and refracts this reality and underscores the equity and social justice goals inherent in education. Adolescent newcomers globally and in the US Midwest, the focus of this book, are particularly relevant to this theme in that they arrive in new locations, often as refugees or other transnational migrants, buoyed with an array of skills, experiences, and dreams that can support their, it is hoped, adaptation and creation of lives of dignity. However, the research on adolescent newcomers points out that this is neither an easy nor straightforward task and that schools often struggle to support and retain students, leading to disparate and sometimes troubling outcomes for both individuals and society (Fry, 2005; Short & Boyson, 2012; Suárez-Orozco et al, 2010).

This project was born from several personal experiences and convictions. First is my own history of living and learning in other cultures and facing the intense challenges of languacultural learning, particularly as an adolescent or adult.  Second is a conviction that schools, among all social institutions, can be positive transformative agents for learners if the institution and educational actors are highly attuned and responsive to the lives of the learners. Largely as a result of my White, American male background, a majority of my own schooling and learning experiences have been affirming and engaging, but I recognize that this is not the case for many learners throughout the world, a situation that remains a deep need for redress.

These aspects led me to explore in this book the languacultural practices of an adolescent newcomer program community in the US Midwest. The inquiry includes descriptions of the program’s history and policies while following and recording the daily class activities of one cohort of first-year high school students across their academic year. The students collectively spoke varieties of Spanish, Portuguese, Swahili, Kibembe, French, Somali, Nepali, and Arabic in a program with many staff and teachers of similar linguistic backgrounds and proficiencies.  This approach provides a broad and relevant context while maintaining a focus on daily communicative interactions as the core of the learning experience – indeed, what is education other than one extended experience in language development?

The chapters of the book ultimately center the disparate experiences and outcomes of the students and underline that, while the program supports many learners well, the program’s English-centric ideologies, policies, and practices create obstacles to many students that, in some cases, are insurmountable and lead to intense frustration and even dropping out. This leads to a recommendation that the program reorient its priorities to understanding the students’ languacultural backgrounds, specifically their home language literacy, and designing learning experiences to fully embrace and support the students’ emergent or experienced bilingualism.

Taken as a whole, the book strives to present a vision for humanity and schools –  one that is positive and affirming of all peoples and reflective of the beauty that emerges from the diversity and complexity of the human experience. While this may remain unrealized in many contexts, it must remain, particularly for educators, our global aspiration and driving purpose. I am deeply thankful to the program’s many administrators, teachers, bilingual assistants, and students for allowing me to share a year in their lives and discuss their own perspectives about these issues. I hope that readers of the book will find meaning here, and any comments or questions can be communicated to:

Brian Seilstad (American College Casablanca, Morocco) bseilstad@aac.ac.ma or website.

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Researching Language in Superdiverse Urban Contexts edited by Clare Mar-Molinero.

A Multilingual Environment on Study Abroad – Barrier or Benefit?

This month we published Language Learning in Study Abroad edited by Wenhao Diao and Emma Trentman. In this post the editors explain how the multilingual environment of study abroad can be beneficial.

Study abroad has been a central part of our lives for the last two decades, starting with our own experiences studying abroad and working with study abroad students, and culminating with researching and leading study abroad programs ourselves, some of which are described in our chapters in this book.

As language learners, we were sold on the promise of the magical linguistic gains we’d make during study abroad through the immersion experience, and saw these same dreams reflected in the expectations of our research participants. Yet, as we discovered ourselves, and as the chapters in this book demonstrate across a variety of locations and programs, study abroad is usually not an experience of monolingual immersion. Both language learners and the contexts in which they study are inherently multilingual. All too often, this multilingualism, and especially the presence of Global English, is framed as an obstacle to language learning, as learners struggle to make friends in the local language, negotiate racialized and gendered experiences, and generally wonder how to learn a language in a multilingual environment.

Yet, what if the multilingual environment is not a challenge to overcome with language pledges and other program interventions, but one in which language learners can use their full linguistic repertoires to expand them? And what if the multilingual realities are what historicize and contextualize the study abroad experience in post-colonial societies, neoliberal economies, and cultural discourses that position certain language learners as non-legitimate speakers of their target language(s)? The chapters in this book detail how language learners in study abroad locations throughout the world use a variety of strategies to gain an awareness of the cultural nuances of being and becoming multilingual. Some chapters also demonstrate the consequences for learners who hold on to their monolingual language ideologies. The implications of this mindset shift are many, particularly for the context of teaching languages to English speakers from wealthy Anglophone countries that are often viewed as centers of economic globalization.  Rather than focusing on how to make a multilingual environment more monolingual, or advising learners to avoid compatriots and English speakers, we can encourage learners to engage in translanguaging practices and negotiate their multilingual identities in ways that expand their linguistic repertoires and develop a critical multilingual awareness. This focus has the additional benefit of recognizing the translanguaging and identity negotiation skills of minoritized students, both of which are often overlooked in the language classroom.

We would like to thank the authors of the chapters in this volume, Uju Anya, Lucien Brown, Janice McGregor, Lourdes Ortega, Tracy Quan, Jamie A. Thomas, and Brandon Tullock, for their insightful contributions. It is our hope that this volume will inspire study abroad researchers and practitioners to help students develop skills to negotiate language learning in multilingual environments.

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Study Abroad, Second Language Acquisition and Interculturality edited by Martin Howard.

Representing Ethnographic Research as Drama

This month we published Interpretations – An Ethnographic Drama by Adrian Blackledge and Angela Creese. In this post the authors explain why they chose to present their research as a play script.

Interpretations – An Ethnographic Drama is an outcome of a large, team linguistic ethnographic research project, Translation and Translanguaging: Investigating linguistic and cultural transformations in superdiverse wards in four UK cities (TLANG). As part of the research project we conducted ethnographic observations in an Advice and Advocacy service in a Chinese community centre in a city in the Midlands of England. We were interested in people’s communicative practices in a context where clients needed help to negotiate bureaucratic systems related to welfare benefits, health, education, insurance, immigration status, and so on.

Following comprehensive analysis of data, we produced a rich, detailed research report. However, we were not convinced that academic writing alone was adequate for the task of representation of social practice. Although we are thoroughly invested in the tradition of writing ethnography, we recognise a need to reach beyond its limitations. With this in mind, we chose to represent the life of the Advice and Advocacy service as Interpretations – An Ethnographic Drama, which takes an arts-based approach to the representation of research outcomes.

In linguistic ethnography we typically observe, and ultimately explain, the lives of others. But we wanted to move beyond explanation of cultural life, which can be reductive. We chose to represent the social practices of the Chinese community centre as ethnographic drama because it is a form which by definition resists explanation. It was not our intention to explain or make meaningful the lives of Chinese or Chinese-heritage people in the UK. We were instead concerned with all aspects of communication.

The community centre proved to be a rich site at which to observe the communicative practices with which advice workers render the world more just for their clients. We peered into the hidden spaces where, day after day, mediation, translation, and interpretation enable those with limited capital to gain access to resources which are otherwise elusive, and often out of reach. Through ethnographic drama we did not attempt to explain these cultural practices, but we made them visible.

Ethnographic drama enables us to show the complexities of interactions in which Advice and Advocacy workers are essential figures who keep the city moving. Beyond making social space more habitable, they have the potential to make life better for those who come to them for help. In our observation of the advisors’ practice, more than anything we see people concerned to improve the lives of their clients. In the nooks and crannies of social life they keep the superdiverse city moving. In showing the world rather than telling it, ethnographic drama offers a representation of social life that has the potential to enhance, heighten, and expand understanding, and to bring ethnography to wider audiences.

We are very grateful to Mutlilingual Matters for their generosity and vision in enabling us to take off creatively, turning field notes, transcripts, and other ethnographic material into drama that shows communicative practice in an often-concealed part of social life in the superdiverse city.

For more information about this book please see our website

If you found this interesting, you might also like the authors’ previous book, Voices of a City Market

Behind the Books: Language, Culture and Identity in Two Chinese Community Schools

Sara Ganassin speaks to Prue Holmes about her new book Language, Culture and Identity in Two Chinese Community Schools: More than One Way of Being Chinese?.

Language, Culture and Identity in Two Chinese Community Schools is available now on our website. Enter the code BTB30 at the checkout to get 30% off!

Why Do We Create Prescriptive Boundaries for Language?

We recently published Language Prescription edited by Don Chapman and Jacob D. Rawlins. In this post the editors explain why we create prescriptive boundaries and whether or not this is a problem.

Most people have some opinion on how language should be used. Language blogs, comment sections, letters to the editor, and daily interactions among people show a deep concern for evaluating, commenting on, and prescribing language. Part of the urge to define a “correct” or “standard” language lies in the fact that language is intertwined with our identity and experience; as humans, we can’t help evaluating and assigning moral judgment on how language is used.

Because language and identity are connected, we create prescriptive boundaries around our own form of the language. This not only helps us define and refine our own identities, but it also gives us a clear tool for distinguishing which people are connected with us by social group, education, race, nationality, and so on. The problem with this view of language is that it tends to be described in broad, binary terms that are applied not only to language, but to the people using the language. Language (and the people who use it) is either correct or incorrect, good or bad, and there is little room for allowing coequal language variations.

Many linguists have dismissed a prescriptive approach to language precisely because of this binary and limited approach to language. However, in the past couple of decades, an increasing number of linguists have begun to engage with language prescriptivism (as represented in usage guides, style manuals, public policies, and popular opinion) as an integral part of language use and development. This engagement leads to a deeper, more nuanced conversation about language, one that recognizes the importance of language to individual identity while still confronting the many binaries surrounding a prescriptive approach to language.

In the new volume Language Prescription, a group of international scholars address the individual and societal values we associate with language, examine the real effect of prescriptive approaches to language on government policies, and directly confront the binary of prescriptivism vs. descriptivism in language studies. This volume provides an important foundation for additional research into how people throughout the world evaluate and attempt to control language variants.

For more information about this book please see our website

If you found this interesting, you might also like Prescription and Tradition in Language edited by Ingrid Tieken-Boon van Ostade and Carol Percy.