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.

Q&A with Clare Mar-Molinero, Editor of “Researching Language in Superdiverse Urban Contexts”

We recently published Researching Language in Superdiverse Urban Contexts edited by Clare Mar-Molinero. In this post the editor answers some questions about her research and the inspiration behind the book.

How did you become interested in this field of study?

As a sociolinguist I’ve always been interested in multilingualism and its impact on society but initially I studied this through my interests in the Spanish-speaking world. More recently, however, and inspired by the work of people such as Jan Blommaert, Ben Rampton, Adrian Blackledge and Angela Creese, amongst many others, I started to think more about the impact of migration to urban centres particularly, and also realized that there was much to explore and investigate on my own doorstep in Southampton.

What was the initial inspiration for the book?

This book continues this focus on multilingualism, migration and urban contexts but shifts my emphasis to the research methods we use to explore these. A conference at the University of Southampton that I organized (funded by the MEITS/OWRI/AHRC) invited contributions and discussion round these themes and paved the foundations for the book’s chapters.

As you compiled your book, did anything in the research particularly surprise or intrigue you?

As the contributions developed it became very clear that there was a strong consensus and focus from all of us on the growing understanding of translanguaging, the importance of (self) reflexivity as researchers, the multi-modality of linguistic communication (and therefore the usefulness of linguistic landscapes) and the core role of the researcher-researched relationship.

What is your next research project?

I am hoping in the medium term to consolidate many years of working with Mexican academics (many as former PhD students) to put together a volume discussing language policies in Mexico – the role of global English, of neoliberal education policy (or the current AMLO regime’s claim to move away from this), the integration of returnee migrants and their language practices, the recognition (or not) of the indigenous languages, and how this all varies hugely across a very large and diverse country, with the ever-present dominating shadow of their US neighbor.

I also continue to have a strong urge to explore and research the challenges of multilingual practices in contemporary football: How is it managed? What issues does it present? What wider lessons does the phenomenon tell us about how multilinguals work together, etc etc. I have tried to study this with our local premiership team, with various false starts, as access for the researcher is difficult and often impossible, not helped by the constant changing circumstances of owners, players and managers, all of different nationalities, coming and going.

What books – either for work or for pleasure – are you reading at the moment?

I’ve indulged my love of magical realism and read Isabel Allende’s latest novel, A Long Petal of the Sea, which also centers round other of my passions: the Spanish Civil War and the Pinochet era in Chile. It turned out not to be one of her more magical realist novels, but gripping nonetheless. I’m also struggling to read Valeria Luiselli’s Lost Children Archive, which should tick many of my interest boxes: travelling across the US, the scandal of the US immigrations treatment of Latin American migrant children, an interest in ‘soundscapes’, etc, etc. Despite many rave reviews, I’m finding it hard going, though, and maybe over self-conscious.

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Learning and Using Languages in Ethnographic Research edited by Robert Gibb, Annabel Tremlett and Julien Danero Iglesias.

Hispanic or Latino? A Sociolinguistic Perspective

We recently published Speaking Spanish in the US by Janet M. Fuller and Jennifer Leeman. In this post Jennifer writes about the difference between the terms ‘Hispanic’ and ‘Latino’.

Recent growth in the share of the US population that identifies as Hispanic or Latino (as well as feminine Latina and the gender-neutral and non-binary Latinx) has been accompanied by increased attention to the labels themselves. There are ongoing debates about whether these pan-ethnic labels correspond to an ‘authentic’ identity, or people’s own sense of themselves as well as their lived experience or if, conversely, they are an ‘artificial’ creation of the US government. Nor is there consensus among scholars, advocates or anyone else whether that identity, assuming it actually exists, should be considered ‘ethnic’ or ‘racial.’ While we explore both of these issues in our new book, the focus of this post is on a third point of contention: the labels themselves. Specifically, is there a difference between Hispanic and Latino/a/x, and if so, what is it? The meaning of these labels is a perennial topic of lively discussion. It is especially timely this year, given that 2020 is a census year and the US census includes a question on Hispanic or Latino origin. Sociolinguistic perspectives on language, and on the relationship of language to identity, can offer insights into the meaning of the terms as well as into why such discussions are important and never seem to reach resolution.

On one hand, many dictionaries present Hispanic and Latinx/o/a as synonyms, as does the US Office of Management and Budget (the federal agency that mandates the race and ethnicity categories to be used on the census), and many speakers use the two terms interchangeably. One the other hand, numerous scholarly essays, news articles, and social media posts insist that they are not in fact the same. Although there is some variation in popular and scholarly explanations of the purported differences, etymology typically figures prominently. Specifically, most authors trace the origins of the word Hispanic to Hispania, the region of the Roman empire that comprised the Iberian Peninsula (Spain and Portugal today); some accounts also describe Hispanic as an Anglicized shortening of hispanoamericano, an inhabitant of Spain’s former American colonies. For its part, Latino is described as a deriving from latinoamericano, and many authors note that Latin America is a 19th century construction differentiating the areas in the Americas colonized by France, Portugal and Spain from those colonized by England. Thus, many claim that Hispanic refers to people with a connection to former Spanish colonies (but not Brazil) while Latina/x/o includes all Latin Americans and their descendants (but not people from Europe). Ethnoracial and linguistic diversity within Latin America and Spain is often glossed over in such discussions.

For the most part, etymologically-based accounts of the difference between Hispanic and Latinx/a/o assume a straightforward and enduring one-to-one correspondence between words and their meanings, as well as a similarly rigid understanding of identities and their relationship to labels. In this view, once we know the origin of a word, we know its meaning. However, one of the basics of human language is that it is always undergoing change; not only do pronunciations and sentence structures change over time, so do the semantic and social meanings of words. Thus, while etymology is interesting, and it can tell us something about how words have been used historically, it doesn’t reveal their complete meaning. For sociolinguists, the meaning of words is not contained within the words themselves but in the way they are used and understood in a given context. In the case of ethnoracial labels, this often goes hand-in-hand with varied social constructions of ethnoracial categories, which can vary from place to place as well as over time.

In addition to characterizing identities as socially constructed, sociolinguist approaches also stress that language plays a central role in the creation and performance of identities. Indexicality, or the way that particular linguistic forms or practices ‘point to’ particular attitudes, stances or identities, is key to this process. Specifically, when speakers speak in a particular way, or use one particular word, they rely on socially shared associations between linguistic forms and social meanings to signal something about themselves. Symbolic and indexical meanings play an especially important role in shaping people’s preferences for either Hispanic or Latino/x/a. For many people, the term Hispanic is seen as elevating European heritage and erasing Native and African cultures, peoples and languages. Despite the equally Eurocentric etymology of Latino/x/a, this term for many people indexes a more inclusive recognition of diversity.  In some contexts, using Latino/x/a (and especially when pronounced with Spanish, rather than English, phonology) is a way of enacting a particular kind of ethnoracial pride and/or sociopolitical awareness. In addition, the use of Latinx can signal one’s support for gender inclusivity. In sum, the choice between Hispanic and Latino/x/a (as well as other identity labels) depends not only on the specific ethnoracial identity of the person it refers to, but also on the sociopolitical stance and identity of the speaker. Importantly, indexical meanings are also variable and contextually dependent, rather than fixed within the words themselves. As such, it’s not surprising that the precise meanings of these labels, as well as which one is ‘better’, is highly contested, as are debates about just what it means to be either one.

Jennifer Leeman

For more information about this book please see our website

If you found this interesting, you might also like Learning and Not Learning in the Heritage Language Classroom by Kimberly Adilia Helmer.