Figures of Interpretation

This month we published Figures of Interpretation edited by B.A.S.S. Meier-Lorente-Muth-Duchêne. In this post the editors explain how the book came about.

The idea behind this book originated from a research project the four of us conducted collectively. We worked together at the Institute of Multilingualism, University of Fribourg, on the research project “A Web of Care. Linguistic resources and the management of labor in the healthcare industry” funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation. As part of this project, we collectively conducted fieldwork at a university hospital in Switzerland where we encountered many people who interpreted, ranging from medical doctors, cleaners, professional medical interpreters, technicians, secretaries, mothers, brothers, daughters and sons.

This experience was our inspiration for Figures of Interpretation. We learned how people who interpret came in many guises and were first-hand witnesses to structural oppression, exploitation and disenfranchisement, as well as resilience and hope. We realized that they were figures whose lives revealed larger historical and structural processes through the singularity of their individual trajectories. We wanted to know more about them. We felt that what we experienced was not unique to the particular site and situation we were exploring. We were convinced that such figures have existed for a long time, in various places, with diverse valuation process. We started to think of papers we had read from colleagues who – without framing their analysis in terms of figures of interpretation – provided glimpses of the trajectories of such figures. We recalled conversations with friends and scholars who could have been those figures themselves or who encountered them in their own fieldwork. We imagined situations and moments when people we knew could have met figures of interpretation without necessarily looking at them as such. Progressively, the book took shape in terms of content, and we believed that bringing those experiences together in a volume could allow us to engage in a wider debate about what interpreting does and what it means.

But we also thought a lot about how to grasp these figures, how to talk and write about their lived experiences. The issue of writing about these figures coincided with our own trajectories in academia. We were a bit fed up with the canon we were socialized into, and slightly disillusioned by the limitations we imposed on ourselves and that were imposed to us by academia. We wanted to explore something else without necessarily knowing where it would lead us, nor if this was the right way to do. But we were excited to try it out. The idea of vignettes, of written portraits emerged and we gave it a first go with a couple of figures we encountered in our fieldwork. We realized that writing these short texts was not only challenging, but also forced us to look at the trajectories and the practices of the interpreters in a different way, giving space for a certain type of narration that fully endorses the interpretative dimension of figures of interpretation. Then we envisioned what the book could become if the people we had in mind would participate in such an adventure. We were fortunate enough that most of the colleagues and friends we contacted were enthusiastic about this idea, accepting with joy, excitement, fears and doubts. Many wrote the texts outside of their paid hours, or away from what might be immediately measurable in their professional lives. Many felt happy to have fewer constraints. All were open to doing something different(ly): either by stepping out of the constraints of academic writing, or by engaging with an academic audience for the very first time.

And here we are. Neither the contents nor the format of this book corresponds to academic standards. Instead of showcasing methodological innovations or discussing theoretical paradigms, this collection of 31 portraits invites readers to be conscious of their own interpretations, aware of the editor’s decisions of order and their necessary arbitrariness and attentive to the illustrations that themselves follow their own line of interpretation. This book is also an interpellation on the fundamentally collective dimension of knowledge production. Each portrait constitutes a piece of a complex puzzle. We need Sandra, Quintus, Conrad, Bintou, Ilona, Aïcha and all the other figures to grasp what interpreting is and what it does. And we need Kathleen, Aneta, Carlos, Arnaldo, Biao, and all the other authors of this book to guide us towards a better understanding of the manifold challenges interpretation as a social practice entails. This collection welcomes the readers to participate, see differences and make their own connections.

For more information about this book please see our website.

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

Multilingual Matters at the International Symposium on Bilingualism 2017

Earlier this month, Anna and Laura left Bristol in the midst of a heatwave for rainy Ireland and the biennial International Symposium on Bilingualism, which was hosted this year by the University of Limerick. In this post Laura tells us what they got up to.

A very busy coffee break

The theme of the International Symposium on Bilingualism conference this year was ‘Bilingualism, Multilingualism and the New Speaker’ and delegates enjoyed a packed schedule of presentations, either linked directly to the theme or to any other aspect of bilingualism and multilingualism research. Clearly the topic of the conference lies right at the heart of Multilingual Matters and we were pleased that there was plenty of interest in our books. So much so that we often had a queue of keen customers at the stand during the breaks and were very glad to have each other to share the workload.

Naturally, the 6th edition of our bestselling textbook, Foundations of Bilingualism and Bilingualism by Colin Baker and Wayne E. Wright, was a popular choice but it was matched in popularity by New Perspectives on Translanguaging and Education, edited by BethAnne Paulsrud, Jenny Rosén, Boglárka Straszer and Åsa Wedin. All the authors of other bestsellers, Raising Multilingual Children, by Julia Festman, Gregory J. Poarch and Jean-Marc Dewaele and Beyond Age Effects in Instructional L2 Learning by Simone E. Pfenninger and David Singleton, were present to talk to readers about their work. Another hot title was New Insights into Language Anxiety edited by Christina Gkonou, Mark Daubney and Jean-Marc Dewaele, who was one of the keynote speakers.

Accompanying Jean-Marc Dewaele as other plenary speakers were Ana Deumert, Alexandre Duchêne, Elizabeth Lanza, Tina Hickey and Lisa Lim. The keynotes were all very well-attended and we were glad to be able to slip away from a quiet stand in order to hear them.

Laura and Anna putting their free conference umbrellas to good use

Aside from the packed academic schedule, delegates were treated to a drinks reception, Irish BBQ with traditional Irish music and dancing and a Gala Dinner, featuring a live band and welcoming dance floor. Needless to say, we returned home utterly exhausted from an excellent and enjoyable conference and already looking forward to the next one in Canada in 2019!

AAAL conference and doughnuts!

My first conference for Multilingual Matters was AAAL in Portland. I had been reliably informed the AAAL crowd were a very pleasant bunch and that Portland was a gastronomic delight, so when I left the house at 3.30am on a Friday morning I was hoping it was all going to be worth it! I wasn’t disappointed.

Fresh faced and eager to get started!
Laura, Tommi and Kim: Fresh faced and eager to get started!

The conference itself was great, very well organised and we saw many of our authors and editors during the event. We’re told it was AAAL’s best ever attendance, with 1,700 delegates and a high number of delegates from Australasia and Asia. Our books sold very well indeed, with Bonny Norton’s 2nd Edition of Identity and Language Learning taking the top spot. Other popular books included Multiple Perspectives on the Self in SLA edited by Sarah Mercer and Marion Williams, Ethnography, Superdiversity and Linguistic Landscapes by Jan Blommaert, and Language, Migration and Social Inequalities edited by Alexandre Duchêne, Melissa Moyer, and Celia Roberts (the second volume in our new Language, Mobility and Institutions series). Tommi gave a talk on how to publish your first book to between 50-100 people, and wasn’t too scared, and took part in the colloquium on the future of academic publishing in applied linguistics and was terrified, but both went very well! We had very nice comments about both sessions, with lots of insightful questions from the audience.

Maggie Hawkins and Tommi enjoying the Bacon Maple Doughnut
Maggie Hawkins and Tommi enjoying the Bacon Maple Doughnut from Voodoo

Portland was a joy. We ate incredibly well, with the foodie highlight being soufflés with our lovely colleagues from the Center for Applied Linguistics. We managed to squeeze in a trip to Voodoo doughnuts, a must-do in Portland, as well as a visit to Powell’s bookstore – a whole city block with more than a million new, used, and out of print books. It didn’t take long before we found some of our own books in there!

The ethos of Portland - and we loved it
The ethos of Portland – and we loved it

While we didn’t have long to explore the city, we loved what we saw. From resistance banknotes to bars filled with pinball machines – Portland was a total treat and we can’t wait to be back one day!

Kim

Introducing our new book series ‘Language, Mobility and Institutions’

To tie in with the publication of the first books in our new series, the series editors Melissa Moyer (Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona) and Celia Roberts (King’s College  London) have written this post presenting the series.

We are very happy to introduce this new series on ‘Language, Mobility and Institutions’. The theme of this series and the manuscripts we seek to publish address a new sociolinguistic reality brought about by globalization. This worldwide social process challenges researchers dealing with language to adopt innovative perspectives in order to provide an improved understanding of how language is implicated in the various institutions of society. ‘Institutions’ in the title of the series is not just limited to established social, administrative, political or economic entities in the public, private or non-governmental sector but also to sites and contexts where institutionalized practices are produced and reproduced in the daily undertakings of people who move around the world.

Communicative Practices at Work

The first books in the new series are being published this autumn. We hope these will be the first of many which aim to link the experience of being mobile with the institutional responses to increasing diversity. Institutions, understood in a wide sense, are grappling with the conundrum of national or institutional ideologies which assume standardization or homogenous ways of thinking in situations of superdiversity. Meanwhile, migrants see their social and cultural capital leeching away or look for ways to resist and develop alternative strategies to gain agency and cope with inequality and social exclusion.

Sitting on the train in any major city in the world, it is commonplace to hear five or six different languages in a carriage. In everyday life multilingualism is a banal event. But how does this play out in institutions? Much of the time, it is swept under the carpet as a largely unrecognised and rarely remunerated workforce of multilingual people is expected to act as interpreters and translators. At the same time, linguistic gatekeepers are at work in selection panels, designing an oh-so-narrow gate for the few to pass through.

The present series seeks to bring forth the innovative ways people are pushing at these very gates which are being safeguarded by powerful institutions and how they are finding creative ways of contesting exclusionary practices by setting up their own businesses. Similarly, some organisations are championing communicative flexibility within their own workforces.

Language, Migration and Social Inequalities

And this is one of the themes of Jo Anne Kleifgen’s book which was published last week. Communicative Practices at Work is an ethnographic and sociolinguistic account of how one US firm is drawing on the multilingual and multimodal resources of its staff. In November Language, Migration and Social Inequalities edited by Alexandre Duchêne, Melissa Moyer and Celia Roberts takes a critical look at sites of control, selection and resistance across settings in Europe, Africa and Australia.

Both these books draw the reader into research sites quite far removed from the majority of books on sociolinguistics which tend to focus on language rights, education or local communities. With this new series, workplace settings such as high-tech factories, the marketplaces of South Africa or the world of the airline stewardess are explored. Similarly, light is shed on the backstage work of institutions where language use is negotiated as migrants’ lives are made bureaucratically processable.

We are finding the editorship of this series a pretty exciting experience since any one aspect of language, mobility and institutions is nested in wider contexts, discourses and interactions. Local and national politics, the forces of the neo-liberal economy, the multiple networks of migrant groups and the contact they maintain with their countries of origin and transit are all part of the tangled web which has language as its centre.

We welcome manuscripts or book projects that presents research that would contribute to the widely defined themes of the present series. If you think you have a proposal to make then do get in touch with Anna Roderick at Multilingual Matters and we will get back to you soon.

Celia and Melissa