How Meanings are Made and Why They Matter

This month we published Transmodal Communications edited by Margaret R. Hawkins. In this post the editor introduces the main concepts covered in the book.

As applied linguists, we explore how language works in the world.  More recently, a number of us attend to languaging – seeing ‘language’ not a named, monolithic entity, but rather as a mobile, fluid resource leveraged in communication (in tandem with many other resources), replete with intentions, actions and effects. Central to the work of many is semiotics, or how meanings are made, which expands a focus on the act of leveraging resources to create (or assemble) messages to include the ‘arc of communication’ – or the ways in which messages are assembled, travel across time and space, and are received, interpreted and negotiated interactionally. While these aspects are always present in communication, they are perhaps especially prevalent (and generally less well attended to) in our current era of globalization, where messages move with increasing frequency and speed, through ever-changing modes and media, and across greater distances and diversities of people.

A central premise of this book is that communications matter, because they are the foundation of relations between people. And, as is perhaps obvious at the moment, relations between people (both translocal and transglobal) are rife with mistrust, misunderstanding and bias. We are all positioned by and within every communicative act – at both small and large scales – based on representations and interpretations, who interactants perceive themselves and others to be, and how these play out in situated interactions. All of these interactional components are in part shaped by our histories and trajectories, and our communicative means and modes, as well as by outside forces and ideologies that ascribe differential values to varied ways of knowing, being, believing, inter/acting, and so on. We (all contributing authors) start from a social justice stance – that communications and research across diversity must have the goal of fostering equitable and positive relations. We call this critical cosmopolitanism – we work to foster stances of openness, inquiry and care toward others both near and far.

Two additional concepts that this new book introduces (in addition to critical cosmopolitanism) are transmodalities and transpositioning. Transmodalities, at core, provides a framework for exploring and understanding communications among diverse interlocutors, including in (although not limited to) digital environments. It is comprised of five ‘complexities’, attending to the ways that human and material resources are fully entangled in communication; the above-mentioned arc of communication; and the centrality of both culture and context (including place and space) and of power and positioning in the construction of meanings. It is a conceptual structure that sees meaning-making as the totality of ever-shifting signs and symbols, fully entangled with people and things, moving across time and space, and continuously re-interpreted within and across multiple contexts. Each thing/person/sign/context is imbued with its own history and trajectory that shape what it is and means. We posit that each entity is caught up in these movements and mobilities, and is continuously positioned and re-positioned vis-à-vis one another. This is transpositioning, and its role in communications and relations is vital from a social justice perspective.

The book is comprised of multiple chapters that explore semiotics and relations through the lenses of critical cosmopolitanism and transmodalities across a range of domains, illustrating transpositioning in action and its implications. Chapter authors are part of a global research team, live in disparate geographic locations, and are connected in various ways to a project (Global Storybridges) that connects youth in sites across the globe to digitally share and discuss their lives and communities through videos and chats. While the first chapter lays the conceptual groundwork, each chapter thereafter (except the coda) utilizes different theoretical framings and ethnographically-informed exploratory approaches to consider data from the project – both site-specific and transglobal – to examine, at micro- and macro-levels, what exactly constitutes and impacts meaning-making, emerging notions of self and others, and the construction of relations among youth, among youth and adults, and among researchers. In this volume we demonstrate both how we might come to know and why it matters.

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Figures of Interpretation edited by B.A.S.S. Meier-Lorente-Muth-Duchêne.

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.

The Semiotics of Heritage Tourism

In January this year we published Emma Waterton and Steve Watson’s book The Semiotics of Heritage Tourism. Here, the authors tell us a bit about how the book came about.

The Semiotics of Heritage TourismWe had both been teaching, researching and writing about heritage tourism for a long time and we had always focussed our energies on getting closer to how it should be understood as a social and cultural phenomenon. This was challenging sometimes because so much had been written about how it should be operationalized and managed, so there was plenty of research on marketing, visitor management and interpretation. But we were trying to take it to another level. We had already been inspired by the work of people like Dean MacCannell who had introduced so much fresh thinking and insight into the field, but now there seemed to be other ideas stirring that appeared to switch  the focus of research into areas that had not received so much attention in heritage tourism, looking at how it was experienced by whole, thinking, feeling people and not just in abstraction as ‘visitors’ or ‘tourists’.

So this was our challenge, to find new ways of thinking about the experience of heritage. Emerging theory in cultural geography got us talking about things like emotion and affect, and the embodied, sensual and emergent nature of encounters and engagement with places and objects that carried something of the past in them. Contemporary geographers such as David Crouch gave us the confidence to push out the boundaries and explore aspects of heritage tourism both in its representations and in moments of engagement that we had never really addressed before.

This is a book that attempts to reconcile, in our own field, the most important aspects of both representational and non-representational theory and to draw these together in the intimacy of those moments where we feel as much as we see, and absorb as much as we express, about the landscape of meaning – the semiotic landscape – that surrounds heritage sites and makes them places of significance for so many people and so many cultures.

We finished the book in Los Angeles, a place that seemed to evoke so much of what the book was about in terms of seeing and feeling, a place that had such rich meanings and cultural significance attached to it. So it was appropriate that we completed the first draft there, in sight of the Hollywood Sign, an icon if  ever there was one, and a place where dreams and hard reality seem to swirl around the streets in exactly the kind of landscape that the book sets out to reveal, in the Semiotics of Heritage Tourism.

For more information about the book please see our website.