Communication in the Multilingual City – the TLANG conference

While my colleagues were gallivanting off to AAAL and TESOL in Chicago, or holding the fort in the office, I was lucky enough to be able to attend the TLANG conference at the University of Birmingham at the end of March. TLANG is a big AHRC funded project that aims to understand how people communicate multilingually across diverse languages and cultures and the conference was the final event, bringing together work focused on the theme of communication in the city.

Betsy Rymes' keynote speech
Betsy Rymes’ keynote speech

The conference offered a wealth of papers, colloquia and some excellent keynotes, by Betsy Rymes, Annalies Kusters, Tong-King Lee, Ana Deumert and Jan Blommaert (whose work was presented by Massimiliano Spotti). Betsy Rymes opened the conference and spoke on the topic of citizen linguistics, the work language users do to make sense of their surroundings, and illustrated her keynote with local examples, asking for example what a Brummie is and how they speak, as well as a discussion of the ghost emoji, which has always been a mystery to me!

Annalies Kusters introduced the audience to her work on multimodal interactions and the use of gestures by signing and non-signing interlocutors in India. She showed us wonderful examples from her film ‘Ishaare: Gestures and signs in Mumbai’, in which we saw fluent deaf and deafblind signers negotiating the marketplace and interacting with non-signing stallholders. Her keynote was an especially engaging end to the day as it was impressively and seamlessly presented in both sign language and spoken English.

Ana Deumert's keynote speech
Ana Deumert’s keynote speech

The second day was opened by Tong-King Lee, who spoke of his own experiences with translanguaging and advanced the idea of translanguaging as an experiential phenomenon. I was interested in his example of how one might successfully communicate one’s order for Chinese tea in a Singapore coffee shop, by using the action of fishing to demonstrate the dunking of the teabag! In the following plenary, Ana Deumert took the audience away from her hopeful 2016 work and asked whether life is not always friendly and accepting, and questioned what the limits of conviviality are. She spoke about confrontation, violence, anger and the persistence and importance of identities, and accompanied her arguments with archival videos and photos, as well as a discussion of posts and comments on colonial nostalgia from social media and online communities.

My conference display
My conference display

When not in sessions, the coffee and lunch breaks were busy affairs, and I was kept on my toes at the stand as delegates snapped up our latest publications The Multilingual Citizen edited by Lisa Lim, Christopher Stroud and Lionel Wee and Dialogues of Ethnography by Jan Blommaert, as well as the books in our new Translation and Interpreting for Social Justice in a Globalised World series.

Laura