Emotion Research in Multilingual Contexts: Why it Interests Me and What my Research Shows

We recently published Multilinguals’ Verbalisation and Perception of Emotions by Pia Resnik. In this post Pia explains how she came to be interested in researching emotion in multilingual contexts.

My interest in research into multilingualism was sparked during a research visit at Newcastle University, where Vivian Cook familiarised me with his idea of linguistic multi-competence. The languages known by a speaker mutually influence each other and interact with other mental processes, leading to a unique way of language use? Seemed reasonable. The complexity and dynamics of linguistic multi-competence have fascinated me ever since, especially as at the time I was investigating Chinese, Japanese and Thai users of English which required thinking outside the box and familiarising myself with, among other things, new concepts of self and other.

It was then that I also experienced what multi-competence means regarding the communication of emotions: be it my participants not sharing my sense of humour, or me not being able to ‘translate’ jokes from my L1 (German) into English, or a friend from Austria uttering the f-word a million times when walking down a street in Newcastle, nearly giving an elderly British woman a heart attack. I also noticed that British tend to use “I love you” quite differently from Austrians and how easily you can get it wrong in a language other than your first (the consequences of which can be quite severe). All these experiences made me want to explore the cross-cultural and cross-linguistic verbalisation and perception of emotions more closely.  A few years later, I collected my data during a research visit at Birkbeck College, University of London. Little did I know back then it would turn into this book.

In this book, I try to provide an exhaustive, up-to-date review of previous work in this field and also present the findings of two studies in which I investigated the topic on a meta-level of self-reflexivity and on the level of performance. Not only did my data show that emotions often do not go as deep in a foreign language (LX) as in one’s first but also that differences in emotionality (besides many other influential variables) have an effect on the frequency of verbalising emotions in an LX. This effect can be twofold: it can prevent us from expressing them in the LX, but it can also encourage us to express them more openly and frequently in the LX. Especially in the context of swearing, for instance, LX users often have difficulty judging the emotional force of swear words, which often leads to them using them differently from L1 users and also to conveying the intended meaning more or less drastically in the LX than in the L1. When comparing LX users from the Eastern world with those from the West, it was frequently shown that verbalising emotions in English (their LX) also allows the former to escape social constraints experienced in L1 contexts and it also seems to be the case that cross-linguistic and cross-cultural differences are greater in their case.

In a nutshell, the book not only shows that multilinguals tend to verbalise and perceive emotions differently in the L1 and LX but also that many variables simultaneously play a role in the verbal expression and understanding of emotions. Even though there is great individual variation, I believe that only taking a ‘Western’ perspective does not suffice and that insights into Eastern backgrounds are much needed too to ensure mutual understanding – also in typical ELF (English as a Lingua Franca) contexts, for instance.

Even though a vibrant field of study, much is still to be discovered due to the topic’s complexity. I hope that my contribution will generate ideas for future study designs and research directions and that researchers as well as anyone teaching or learning multiple languages finds it useful. After all, globalisation and, along with it, migration frequently require expressing emotions in an LX. Emotions are also the driving force underlying successful or unsuccessful LX acquisition and, besides language, they are what makes us fundamentally human – something worth investigating!

Pia Resnik, Department of English and American Studies, University of Vienna

pia.resnik@univie.ac.at

For more information about this book please see our website. If you found this interesting, you might also like Emerging Self-Identities and Emotion in Foreign Language Learning by Masuko Miyahara.

Summer conference travel – EUROSLA and BAAL

As usual, we attended both the EUROSLA and BAAL conferences this summer and I was fortunate enough to get to represent Multilingual Matters at both.

Laura with the outdoor book display
Laura with the outdoor book display

This year marked the 25th EUROSLA conference and the special anniversary meeting took place Aix-en-Provence in France. The conference followed the usual format with plenaries by key researchers in the field and many papers on a wide variety of topics within the domain of second language acquisition. The novelty from a publishing aspect was that I got to do my first ever outdoor book display in the glorious (if rather hot!) French sunshine.

The delegates and I very much enjoyed the fresh air during the breaks, as well as the excellent refreshments that were provided.  I was most impressed that the organisers provided everyone with a re-useable mug at the start of the conference and we used them during each break – saving well over a thousand disposable cups throughout the conference.

The Pavillon Vendôme, location of the welcome reception
The Pavillon Vendôme, location of the welcome reception

We spent the first evening of the conference at an outdoor drinks reception at the beautiful Pavillon Vendôme where we were welcomed to the city by the mayor.  We were treated to tasty canapés, wine and I even tried pastis for the first time. My verdict was positive although I can imagine that the anise flavour might not be to everyone’s taste! The second evening was the conference dinner and again the wonderful French weather meant that we could make the most of another warm evening with drinks and dinner outside. Following the pattern of the conference thus far, we were again spoilt with yet more delicious food and drink!

The bestselling books of the conference were Measuring L2 Proficiency edited by Pascale Leclercq, Amanda Edmonds and Heather Hilton, Working Memory in Second Language Acquisition and Processing edited by Zhisheng (Edward) Wen, Mailce Borges Mota and Arthur McNeill, and Vivian Cook and David Singleton’s textbook Key Topics in Second Language Acquisition. David Singleton was also the recipient of the EUROSLA Distinguished Member Award during the conference, which was also a proud moment for us as he is founder and co-series editor of our Second Language Acquisition series.

From EUROSLA in France I headed back home and then straight on to BAAL which this year was hosted by Aston University in Birmingham. Sadly we left the sunshine behind us but having hardly ever been to Birmingham, despite it being less than a couple of hours from Bristol, I was interested to attend a conference in the city. The Aston University campus was located right in the heart of the centre but still manages to be a pleasant, green campus.

Birmingham's Poet Laureate Adrian Blackledge
Birmingham’s Poet Laureate Adrian Blackledge

The conference was opened by Adrian Blackledge and Angela Creese who gave a stimulating plenary during which they played some enchanting vignettes from their research, which included examples of communication in both the city library and market. A further highlight of the conference was a poetry session by Adrian Blackledge who is the current Poet Laureate for Birmingham. He recited some of the poems that he has composed during the past year, which included one to commemorate the start of the First Word War, another to celebrate Burns Night, and one which was not an official poem but that he had written on the birth of his first grandchild, a really touching piece.

Bestsellers at BAAL were understandably quite different to those at EUROSLA and the list was headed up by the second edition of Bonny Norton’s book Identity and Language Learning, Ethnography, Superdiversity and Linguistic Landscapes by Jan Blommaert and our new title Emerging Self-Identities and Emotion in Foreign Language Learning by Masuko Miyahara.

Next on our travel list include our annual trip to the Frankfurt Book Fair, where we meet with our contacts and representatives from the book industry, and then Tommi will be heading to Auckland in November for both the Symposium on Second Language Writing and the Language, Education and Diversity conference. Look out for him there if you are also in attendance!

Laura

Emerging Self-Identities and Emotion in Foreign Language Learning

This month we published Emerging Self-Identities and Emotion in Foreign Language Learning by Masuko Miyahara. In this post, Masuko introduces the key themes of the book.

Emerging Self-Identities and Emotion in Foreign Language LearningThe main purpose of this book is to shed new light on the understanding of the processes of L2-related identity construction and development among learners studying English in a foreign language context. Although the notion of identity in this study is grounded in poststructuralist theory, it attempts to integrate the sociologically and the psychologically oriented take of identity formation, and calls for a more balanced approach to the subject.

The book focuses on English learners at higher education institutions in Japan, and highlights the instrumental agency of individuals in responding and acting upon the social environment, and in developing, maintaining and/or constructing their desired identities as L2 users. The study is particularly unique in the insights it offers into the role of experience, emotions, social and environmental affordances, and individuals’ responses to these, in shaping their personal orientations to English and self-perceptions as English learners and users. The work includes an intricate analysis of how spatial-temporal dimensions are intertwined through the process of narrative construction as participants relate their thoughts and the researcher represents and interprets their stories.

A further characteristic of this book is its discussion of the use of narrative data in the methodological approach. The study frames narratives as a means to understand experience, where human beings create meanings from their experiences both individually and socially, and it maintains that narrative studies are basically interpretative in nature. Although most researchers tend to focus on the ‘success’ of their studies, the ‘messiness’ involved is brought to the fore in this study. In particular, this paper argues the importance for researchers to develop a critical and reflective framework with their narrative data, and to show how their theoretical assumptions are fed into all stages of the research process. The book concludes by calling for more recognition of the diversity of approaches to narrative studies in applied linguistics that includes multiple forms and styles especially in terms of representation.

For more information about this book please see our website.