CAMOC: city museums and migration

Updates: How can museums stay relevant to the UK’s rapidly changing population? (a growing theme); The Exhibitionist has some thoughts…meanwhile in Denmark we have Ranes Museum, an entertaining look at the arrival of a new director at the National Museum, firmly in hyggelig history corner (TBF, the critical is there, plus a conference on Changing global hierarchies of value, exploring “how the world is imagined and classified through the presentation, interpretation and classification of artifacts”, part of KU’s Global Europe project)…

In der Asphalstadt bin ich daheim (Bertolt Brecht)

Came across CAMOC, ICOM’s city museum committee, which held its annual conference in Frankfurt on 4-5 June. CAMOC was set up in 2005 in recognition of changing attitudes to city museums, perhaps as part of our old friend the spatial turn. In the past city museums were mainly “museums of city history and guardians of city treasures”, but now they “reflect the living city around them” (more).

CAMOC’s key themes are migration and city museums and cities in conflict. Other areas of interest include city streets (inc the flâneur), city memories and the city in literature. Social: Facebook | Twitter (dormant) | YouTube. Jnl: CAMOC Review.

My earlier post on The urban museum (includes local museums) is worth revisiting.

Different but related:

  • ICLCM: International Committee for Literary and Composers’ Museums
  • ICR: International Committee for Regional Museums

Migration and the museum

Prior to the conference a workshop on migration was held on 2 June, with the title Migration:Cities (im)migration and arrival cities. Three previous workshops have been held, and there is an accompanying website, Migration:Cities.

CAMOC approaches the topic from the intercultural angle: “Museums are places of and for migrants and the fresh perspectives, ideas, questions and skills that they bring”, with a proposed common strategy and platform under development. Papers at the workshop covered the movement of people and ideas, community museums in diverse neighbourhoods, superdiversity and the rise of new narratives of belonging, and creating dialogues.

CAMOC notwithstanding, migration museums have become a thing, with the Migration Museum Project (article) underway in the UK. On our 2016 trip to Hamburg we lunched in BallinStadt, Hamburg’s emigration museum (review | another | Politiken), beneath the inevitable suitcase display. In Gdynia in 2015 we spent rather more time in the new Emigration Museum, where I was moved to leave a lengthy comment in the visitors book. How far do both address contemporary migration issues as opposed to cataloguing their history?

A recent exhibition which did address both was found rather unexpectedly in Ballerup, a Copenhagen(ish) suburb. The local museum has an extensive collection of paintings and objects from Grand Duchess Olga, the sister of Tsar Nicholas II, who lived in the area for 18 years. Vejen til Ballerup, an exhibition commemorating her arrival in Denmark after 1917, brought things up to date with stories of local immigration (Ballerup has a high proportion of nydanskere) – and some suitcases.

Nearby suburb Farum even hosts an Immigration Museum (reviewed by Eithne Nightingale), a prime exemplar of a “community museum in a diverse neighbourhood”. Brainchild of controversial mayor Peter Brixtofte, the initiative received state recognition as part of Furesø Museer in 2007, opening with a permanent exhibition in 2012. The museum maintains several databases and is a partner in the MiClue project, but its events programme and public facing initiatives look a little thin. I’ll need to swing by and take a closer look.

Several other museums focus to an extent on migration to Denmark: Dansk Jødisk Museum, Amagermuseet (Dutch settlers invited by Christian II to grow veg in the 16th century), Museum Lolland-Falster (sugar beet picking Poles around the turn of the 20th century).

Most city museums I have visited have conformed to the treasures from history trope, rather than exploring the contemporary. An exception is Copenhagen, however their Being a Copenhagener exhibit (reviewed by Eithne Nightingale), while well-meaning and superficially inclusive, tried to mask difference. After over a decade here I can easily spot the subtext in Official Denmark’s continued attempts to make foreigners into Danes, homegenising rather than celebrating diversity (Nightingale: “the Museum did not consult with communities, fearing this might contribute to a more segregated, rather than integrated, exhibition”) and the fresh ideas migration might offer to an increasingly ingrown nation. In this context a dedicated museum makes more sense.

Superflex’s evergreen poster from 2002 now hangs in the national gallery

It will be interesting to see how the new Museum of Copenhagen, due to open in 2019, tackles this subject.

Postscript: Den Gamle By in Aarhus, an open air museum with lots of dressing-up, took on the responsibilities of city museum in 2010. Exhibits include a Turkish guestworkers flat (anno 1974; more) and a contemporary Somali home (temporary installation). The museum also works/has worked with residents of the ‘ghetto’ Gellerup estate, which had its own museum from 2010 until January 2018.


#FLlitrevew: the literature review (2)

#FLlitrevew, aka Research writing: how to do a literature review, led by Emily Purser, Lecturer in Academic Language and Learning, University of Wollongong (@UOWFutureLearn). Four weeks from 26 Feb (part 1).

Week 3: what drives a literature review? 

So far we’ve been thinking about the literature as information. This week we’re going to shift gears and think about what you’re doing with that information.

Report or argument? Consider:

  • the overall balance as a review develops, and how much description or argument there needs to be at various points within the presentation of others’ research
  • the main rhetorical purpose of your writing, whether it tends to be mainly descriptive or critical, and what‘critical’ means in an academic context
  • the role of questions in designing a text and developing an argument

Questioning the literature

The dominant function of a literature review is to report what others have done, answering specific questions (what, how, why?), explaining something and offering recommendations on how a problem might best be managed. They also argue – they make a case for doing further research.

An argument typically presents a series of points, organised into a logical order, and addresses questions that are very open to interpretation (is, does, should?). It leads the reader from a proposition to a conclusion, by substantiating claims with some kind of explanation and believable evidence. A review should be designed to clarify the motivation and the need for the further research you’re proposing to do, and to critically discuss the literature rather than just describe what others have done.

Questions help turn a bibliography into a literature review. Drafting a list of good questions will help you identify what you really want to know and discuss, select the most relevant sources, and design your review as an interesting discussion. However interesting a paper might be to read, you need to put it aside if it doesn’t provide information on the specific questions you want to discuss.

Listing a few questions also sparks desire to know more. Formulating questions of various kinds is a great way to start imagining the structure of your review, so start formulating a list of questions for your own review to answer. Your list of questions should include some that are quite easy to answer with available published information and others that are more open to interpretation and require discussion of various sources.

The relationship between questions and claims: how do you know when a sentence is making an arguable claim?

Questions behind statements, ie questions that motivate statements you might find at the beginning of a paragraph or section of a longer text:

  • answers to a simple definition question (what is / what are…?)
  • answers to a question beginning with where….
  • more beginning words: how | who | when | why | should | because

Questions and purpose: questioning to drive research and interesting discussion

Listing broad and specific questions helps you develop direction and purpose in your discussion of literature and the research you are envisaging. It prepares for drafting your review, in that paragraphs can be organised around them.

Paragraphs in academic writing generally start by making a point, then explaining and illustrating it with reference to specific sources of information – the initial point or claim (the topic sentence) can be a response to a specific question that you have planned your discussion around.

Paying attention to the way texts are organised and worded can help improve your own writing. Consider how reporting differs from arguing; how a sentence might reproduce someone else’s words only, or use their ideas to say something new; how statements relate to questions; what types of questions a review is addressing – any sentence ‘could’ be written in various ways, and the choices made are meaningful. The writer’s job is to carefully consider what their aim is (overall, and at each particular stage in their unfolding text), and to word sentences to serve those rhetorical purposes.

What happens when you focus only on information, and do not consider how it could be used to say something new? Having no particular purpose in mind when you bring a bit of information into your writing might make the writing very dull (to write, and for others to read), and can easily lead to plagiarism. To avoid that, you need to not just use, or re-produce information found in publications, you need to re-purpose it. So you need to know your purpose, before you begin incorporating others’ writing into your own. You should only begin drafting your literature review after you have thought hard about its overall design, and the function of each step within it.

Think about how you might use the literature you have gathered to answer or discuss specific questions (example), then match specific readings to specific questions. This helps you see whether or not the papers you have in your bibliography are really the ones you need to be discussing.

Concepts and outlines

Articulating points and the point of planning before drafting.

A concept map helps you see not only how questions relate to sources, but also how one question relates to others, which questions should be addressed first, how one leads to another, and how your presentation might best be organised (example).

Tools: Cmap |

Many writers find a concept map a powerful strategy for designing a discussion of academic literature. It seems especially useful in foregrounding the argument, and positioning the literature as support material – helping many students to make their own voice loud and clear as they discuss other people’s research.

When a concept map is organised around questions, supported by references to and quotes from various sources, it then becomes easy to draft paragraphs that start with a claim by the reviewer, and then refer to other voices to explain and illustrate the point.

Start with your list of questions. Once these are on the page (or screen), you can position them in any order you like. Play around with the organisation, until you have a sense of what might work best as an interesting sequence of ideas. Branching off from each question, add the sources of information that you have already matched to that question, and will use as evidence in discussion of the question. It’s easy to draft a paragraph, when you know its purpose and place in the unfolding text.

Paragraphing is a key organisational structure in academic writing. Long or short, a good paragraph has a function. It’s a rhetorical move within a text, taking the reader from one idea to the next, and carrying the thread of an argument. In academic writing in English, a paragraph typically starts with a claim, then explains or illustrates it, and provides supporting evidence of some kind.

One thing that can make student writing seem too ‘descriptive’ is a tendency to begin too many paragraphs with the names of other researchers, rather than a clear point about their work. There needs to be a recurrent signalling through the text that it’s all about the interpretation being made by the reviewer, and the topic is generally indicated by being in first position. This is a large part of what is meant by ‘voice’ in academic writing. It’s basically the sense a reader gets of who is talking – whose voice we are mainly listening to as we read a review.

Elements of a story

The difference between presenting information and telling a story. Set the scene for further research – think about the various challenges of moving from description to telling a story that justifies new research.

What is an academic discussion? Exposition, argument, discussion…? You definitely need to write an outline of your review before you draft it – questioning, concept mapping and outlining aim to shift your mind from annotated bibliography to seeing the shape of a discussion of literature that will be interesting for someone else to read. What is a discussion in the context of academic writing? The difference between arguing and discussing, and what it means for your own reviewing of academic literature.

The research story: the shift from concept map to outline in developing thoughts about the literature, and planning a discussion (example).

Outlines: sketching a storyline: write an outline of your literature review as you currently imagine it. Shifting from timid descriptive reporting towards really engaged, interesting discussion of others’ work has to happen at several levels. This week it’s the big picture we’re focused on – the overall shape and purpose of your review. Designing a sound plan for a text that will interest and satisfy your readers involves asking lots of questions about what you are reading, and anticipating the sorts of questions your readers may have, and mobilizing the literature to help you answer them.

Once you have articulated good questions that your review could provide answers to, you need to think about how to present your topic to your readers. The same ‘information’ can always be presented in many different ways, and you need to think about what might work best for those reading your text for the first time:

  • chronological: eg the development of a particular technology, starting with the first invention of it, leading up to the current situation and remaining problems and setting the scene for your proposal for further research and development
  • maybe some of the problems and solutions described in the literature are more significant than others, and the points you want to make would be better presented like a story, effectively drawing the reader’s attention to your view of what has been significant; it might be regarded as simplistic and uncritical to give the impression that ‘progress’ is inevitable and smooth
  • a discussion of cause and effect: with you doing detective work to piece together the elements of a story about what has happened and what it all means, who is responsible and what can be done to solve a mystery or a problem

How you decide to organise your presentation depends on the analysis you’ve done so far. Concept mapping can help visualise the shape and logic of the story you are putting together. A good review is an engaging and convincing interpretation of others’research that sets the scene for new research.

Week 4: creating a draft

When you’re writing a literature review, part of the point of it is understanding what others have done and figuring out what you think. But also, it’s about communicating with others so they can understand your research topic and how it relates to other people’s research.

Levels of language:

  • as we collect material and read it carefully, and write notes to better understand it, we work out what we think, by paraphrasing and comparing what others have written
  • through formulating questions and articulating points, the purpose and shape of paragraphs becomes clearer, and with a sense of those big things emerging we can pay attention to the detail of wording and refining a text that someone else will want to read
  • the clearer the shape of the whole is before drafting, the easier it is to draft and edit text

From concept mapping to outlining:

  • the outline is a very linear structure, that captures the flow of a document, whereas the concept map might be more fluid and uncertain about the flow of information – it was concentrating on the ideas and relevant evidence, rather than how to present an argument to a reader
  • see blog post: the key points planned to lead the discussion are made in response to specific questions that were articulated at the concept mapping stage, where the literature was being analysed

Information, ideas, communication:

  • effective communication: “so much more than information”
  • the only way to really know what your research should be focusing on is to know what others have done, and the only way to really understand their work is to write about it, and how it relates to yours
  • a literature review isn’t just about the topic, it’s about someone becoming part of a community of scholars, and it’s a particular way of thinking and communicating; the literature review is a key part of how we keep the scientific game going, so when you do one, you’re not just writing a text – you’re joining in a social activity that’s got purpose
  • blog post on academic style
  • vocabulary and density (blog post):
    • technical, academic and everyday; Tom Cobb’s Vocab Profiler quickly categorises vocabulary in a text
    • in academic literature there is a much higher proportion of academic and technical words than in normal everyday talk; research suggests we can only read quickly and comfortably when we immediately recognise almost all the words in a text
    • once there is more than about 5% new words, reading speed slows down; academic discourse typically has over 10% of words that are not in common usage (sometimes as high as 40%), making it hard to read (and write) when you’re not used to it
    • other features: lexical density, the number of topic words in each sentence, due to the aim of saying a lot in a short space, and abstraction
    • noun groups: in academic writing information is mainly represented in the form of noun groups
    • it is not generally effective to begin a paragraph in academic writing with a question; better: put the topic of the paragraph in first position and make a claim that is elaborated on through the following sentences
    • the use of a topic sentence gives the reader a sense of direction and purpose

Negotiating positions and building relationships:

  • who is speaking, in what way, and how are they managing other perspectives
  • stance and attitude: text as dialogue and literature review as orchestration of voices; blog post
  • acknowledgement and critique: the way you refer to the work of other scholars is also your way into the conversation that academic writing represents; do you think of texts as mainly information, or equally expressions of attitude and negotiation between people?

Creating texture:

  • how a text weaves information and voices together into an effective reading experience
  • coherence and the flow of information: key aspects of readability
  • preview, review and paragraphing: signalling direction and providing evidence; a concept map and outline are key to this; once that kind of planning has been done, it’s quite easy to fill in the details and create a coherent text; if your outline articulates a sequence of claims, these can become topic sentences of paragraphs
    • paragraphs in academic writing generally start with a claim, which is then explained or elaborated in some way, and supported with evidence (references to literature) or example (blog post)
    • pre-viewing and re-viewing makes written language easier to process, as it tells the reader in a summarising way what is coming before presenting a lot of new information, and then reminds them after the presentation what they just read; have you noticed how much previewing and reviewing is going on in this course? : D

#FLlitreview: the literature review (1)

#FLlitrevew, aka Research writing: how to do a literature review, led by Emily Purser, Lecturer in Academic Language and Learning, University of Wollongong (@UOWFutureLearn). Four weeks from 26 Feb (part 2).

Not actually my first MOOC of 2018. I’m also in the throes of a content-heavy set of reruns on intercultural studies, with an entirely absent team of educators. Notes are being made, but really, I might as well read a textbook.

This one is also a rerun – review podcasts are already available and the teacher’s blog (nice touch!) already written, but it’s much more stimulating. The whole thing has a dynamic and feels exciting to work through – perhaps for this reason it’s attracting a lot more participant activity.

A gratifying feature is that the vids present an alternative take on the content rather than expanding/repeating it with a talking head. Back in 2011 when I first started watching vids and listening to podcasts I was much exercised by how it seemed to be just me who preferred reading – the information to value ratio for the the former just seemed too low.

You can scan-read something in a couple of minutes which it would take 10 minutes to present as a video. What about learning styles (or strategies; a myth?), I hear you cry? For me it’s rather a version of Ranganathan’s a book for every reader: a format for every type of info.

Often ‘just’ one medium is not enough. A video experience works better with slides, tweets or other commentary alongside in a kind of mashup, particularly when the vids are such hard work that you need slides and a transcript to zero in on key points. Transcripts offer scannability.

More: Evidence-based, informative and on YouTube?  | Using video: from passive viewing to active learning (inc flipping the classroom) | Videos as knowledge products | the more familiar you are with something, the less instruction you need

Week 1: what is a literature review and why write one?

It’s possible to write a simple literature review in a month, but a complex one might take a year or more, so this course aims to raise awareness, and focus on the necessary preparation, rather than the completion of a literature review…we’ll be thinking about the lit review as a genre – an important concept in developing understanding of language in context. We’ll be looking at it as a particular way of using language that ‘just works’ in an academic context – not just as a writing task, but also as a way of being academic.

There’s an accompanying teacher’s blog, How to do a lit review (first post), and an FB group. Blogging is encouraged.

What’s your topic of interest? What scholarly publications are there on the topic? What search terms should you use?

A good literature review:

  • details only what is necessary for a given purpose – it does not include everything you’ve read on the topic
  • focuses on ideas and relationships between ideas, not just on the authors
  • compares previous research studies, various sources of information, and different concepts or theoretical perspectives
  • does not indicate what the writer of the literature review thinks about the various studies and sources of information they are presenting
  • (doesn’t have to be chronological, but should be current)

The purpose of a literature review is to:

  • provide context for a research hypothesis or question
  • ensure the research is original (ie not already published)
  • identify where and how new research fits into the existing body of literature in a particular field of study
  • highlight the strengths and weaknesses in previous research on a topic
  • make recommendations for further research

Types of literature review:

  • systematic: collecting literature/gathering info and putting it into a framework
  • descriptive: helps develop understandng
  • critical
  • argumentative: stating the problem
  • depends where you want to go…

Ways to document reading:

Looking at the surveys of current research is a very good way to begin a new research project, so if you’re not already familiar with review articles, now is a good time to find out about them.

Further reading:

Some people imagine a literature review as a logical presentation of factual information. Others see it as a long, complex, and interesting conversation with published peers – a relaxed engaging dialogue that moves in various directions, rich with learning. Others think of it more as a debate or TV talk show, where different ideas are explained and defended, and questions are answered. Others imagine it more like an orchestra or choir, where many different voices are directed by a strong conductor, who brings everyone together into a coherent symphony. There are probably many other ways of visualising the literature review too.

Week 2: where to begin?

Some reviews need to be comprehensive, but most need to be very narrowly focused – careful selection of sources demonstrates critical thinking as much as what is said about those sources.

We’ll start the process by just making a basic bibliography. And then we’ll talk a bit about referencing styles and which referencing style you need to be using. And then we’ll get into annotating your bibliography. That’s not just summarising what other people have written, but critically evaluating it. And then we’ll go into a more systematic approach to critically compare different sources on the same topic.

Building a bibliography

A statement of your research problem and question will help you judge which sources will be most and least relevant. You need to read broadly on your topic, but you also need to set very clear boundaries of relevance, so you mainly read what will actually help you discuss the specific problem your research needs to address.

Gathering information:

  • develop your list of search terms as you read, picking up key words from publications, realising which are most relevant
  • as well as topic terms you should include ones that help you find research using the theoretical approach and methods you’re interested in (quantitative or qualitative, tests or surveys, empirical or postmodernism…)
  • keep a careful record of what you’re finding online; begin and continue your searching for information by noting down all the search terms you’re using, where you’re looking, and what you find (or don’t find)

Documenting sources:

  • the bibliography: a professionally referenced list of readings, a useful guide for reading that defines a specific area; the record of your reading, showing the development of your knowledge of the topic and what other researchers are doing
  • your final written discussion of literature may not include all the items you’ve selected and read, but your bibliography keeps it all together in one place
  • all entries have to be accurate and adequate, so you and anyone else can always quickly trace the source of anything
  • reference lists and styles: hmm bib software lets you reformat, as long as all of the elements are in place…this stuff is even boring to me…
  • basic bibliography post | Zotero example

Adding annotations

Writing notes is a great way to start your writing of a literature review. It’s easier to develop a critical discussion when your bibliography includes many well written annotations, as you have already articulated what you think about the sources and can then quickly compare them.

  • record your immediate thoughts as well as the publication details of your selected literature
  • move from summarising to evaluating the material, making notes on what you think about the work and how it relates to your own research plans


  • paraphrase the abstract into your own words – this process creates memory; you won’t have time to write careful annotations for everything you read, but it’s definitely worth doing so for publications that seem most important for your review
  • a simple and effective technique for paraphrasing is to read a paper, or even just the abstract, then look away from the text and write down:
    • what is the study about?
    • what problem does it address?
    • how did they conduct the research?
    • what were the main findings?
    • why is it important?
  • this is the structure of a research article, and creates a working memory of the texts read, building your ability to write a review
  • start with publication details for what looks like an interesting paper
    • copy the published abstract under the reference
    • stop looking at the abstract and write a paraphrase, noting the facts, without any personal opinion
  • paraphrasing software?? and don’t forget Walter Benjamin and the art of copying out
  • annotating post

Evaluating other’s work: your review in the end is going to be much more than a summary of what others have done and said – it should be primarily about what you think of the research you are reading about. The more you note your responses to readings, the more material you have to work with as you develop your argument.

It’s critically important to recognise what would be agreed by anyone as an accurate summary of what another has written, and what is a personal interpretation; we need to constantly practise and develop ability to distinguish between description and evaluation of reading material, because writing about others’ work is complex and delicate

Annotating post 2 illustrates the difference between description of what someone else has said or done and evaluative response to it, showing the progression from basic bibliographic entry to annotation.

Writing this kind of annotation really helps you prepare for writing the critical discussion of literature, as it forces you to consider and note down both the information and your own thoughts about it, and how someone else’s work relates to your own research project.

Note: using screen annotation software you can add quick comments on PDFs and websites: a.nnotate, and, or diigo

Aim to make notes about other researchers’ work in these three ways:

  • synopsis of the facts (what authors have done, found and said)
  • comments on aspects of their research design or findings that you find interesting, new, important, problematic, limited etc
  • comment about how the publication relates to your research project (what seems most useful for your own quest to answer a particular question or articulate a particular problem)

Three distinct functions of the annotation:

  • a summary of the publication
  • adding appraisal: more personal response and evaluation (what I think about it)
  • explanation of relevance: why the source is or isn’t useful to the review I want to write (what I think I might be able to do with this information)

Finally, talking to consolidate (Padlet). Going through the process of turning what you read into a talk is the best way to make you think about what you are reading and articulate your thoughts quickly.

Comparing sources 

Compared to undergraduate essays and reports, research writing is generally expected to consider and critically compare more sources. The research writer is also expected to define for themselves what constitutes a valid body of literature to read and discuss, to frame a serious investigation that will produce new knowledge. The task here is not simply to find information and use it to develop an argument or show some understanding of a topic. The aim is to consider the work of other researchers as a body of knowledge, which provides context for further research.

When you need to compare many different sources, it helps to use a spreadsheet (blog post) to keep track of your search activity. When you make notes in this way it’s easy to quickly see patterns of similarity and difference across a range of publications, and draw conclusions. You might note, for example, that across 25 different studies on your topic most have used the same research method, or some have produced very different findings, or none address the particular question you want to pursue. This kind of observation will help you frame your own research project.

The key to a good literature review is generally quality rather than quantity, but you may need to actually write a stand-alone, systematic review of literature, as a publication of your own.


When in French: love in a second language

Updates: on a slightly different tack, Why Italian football does not make sense in the English language, followed by How morality changes in a foreign language (you are more likely to deny the truth) while Reasoning is sharperEmotions shape the language we use, but second languages reveal a shortcut around themCan language slow down time?

Elif Batuman’s brilliant The idiot embodies the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis in a novel “mostly about semiotics” (GdnIrish Times | interview), which is also extremely funny:

Hungary felt increasingly like reading War and Peace: new characters came up every five minutes, with their unusual names and distinctive locutions, and you had to pay attention to them for a time, even though you might never see them again for the whole rest of the book. I would rather have talked to Ivan, the love interest, but somehow I didn’t get to decide. And yet in the next moment it seemed to me that these superabundant personages weren’t irrelevant at all, but the opposite, and that when Ivan had told me to make friends with the other kids, he had been telling me something important about the world, about the way to live, about how the fateful character in your life wasn’t the one who buried you, but the one who led you out to more people.

Lauren Collins‘ (@laurenzcollins | New Yorker inc Danish postmodernWhen in French (2016; Gdn | New York Times | articlepodcast ) came over a bit en-US in the reviews, with over-use of words such as ‘charming’ and ‘disarming’, but eulogising is a problem for writing about La France in general; in fact, like another American Lauren’s Flâneuse, When in French is rather more serious than the blurb and branding would suggest, if a tad inconclusive.

En-US not being en-GB is kinda the point (see chapter 3). As Lauren discusses in flawless AmE in the podcast from Shakespeare and Company, BrE, at a 10 degree angle to her own English, was her ‘gateway language’ to foreign languages more broadly. (Note in passing: the copy the library supplied me with is the US edition, a very odd size…)

Those looking for a standard memoir are likely to be disappointed. Long sections explore linguistic relativism, with her key thesis made up of two points:

  • a language is not just about grammar; your use of (a) language depends on a range of factors including time and place, and where you are in your life (Lauren is a mother in French)
  • ‘language’ in a relationship has to be learned, even if you share a native language; factors in play include culture, class etc (George Steiner: intimacy as “confident, quasi-immediate translation”; translation occurs both across and inside languages; categories which may require translation include scientist/artist, atheist/believer, man/woman)

No Francophile at the start, she hated life in Geneva, with the lack of a dominant Swiss culture an issue (nothing to belong to, or conversely to be outside); she spoke French there, but not the French “we love”, ie of France, where she has now become a passable dinner table brawler, with its lofty, abstract nouns, courtesy of greetings and salutations, culture of argument, rhetoric and logic.

Having lived for several years in London she compares the UK attitude to first languages (often maintained by immigrants) with that in the US (stigmatised), however the preference in both for second languages which have been studied is a clear double standard.

From here, bulleted notes.

Chapter one (The past perfect/Le plus-que-parfait) makes some points on the move to a third city:

  • Geneva had long been a place of asylum, but its tradition of liberty in the religious and political realms had never given rise to a libertine scene; even though nearly half the population is foreign-born, the city remains resolutely uncosmopolitan
  • The stores were full of things we neither wanted nor could afford. I reacted by refusing to buy or do anything that I thought cost too much money, which was pretty much everything…Geneva syndrome: becoming as tedious as your captor.
  • I had been conditioned to believe in the importance of directness and sincerity, but Oliver valued a more disciplined self-presentation.
  • Language, as much as land, is a place. To be cut off from it is to be, in a sense, homeless.
  • Grocery stores, as much as cathedrals or castles, reveal the essence of a place.
  • The concepts we are trained to treat as distinct, the information our mother tongue continuously forces us to specify, the details it requires us to be attentive to, and the repeated associations it imposes on us – all these habits of speech can create habits of mind that affect more than merely the knowledge of language itself. 

Chapter two (The imperfect/L’imparfait):

  • Europe’s multilingual empires have given way to monolingual nation-states, founded on the link between language and identity
  • America is the graveyard of languages, extinguishing the native languages of immigrants within a few generations

Chapter three (The past/Le passé composé):

  • in London, “history had discredited the flag-waving impulse, so – at least for foreigners, who were exempt from the strictures of the class system – the greater part of fitting in was showing up”
  • the vibrancy of British English; “in public speech, trying to be memorable and coming off as slightly unhinged remained more advantageous than trying to be bland and succeeding”
  • the intellectual arsenal of a country where words were deployed like darts
  • a superb megalopolis of words…I strolled in the mews of understatement…I stalled in the roundabout of the English non sequitur
  • after a discussion of Vladimir Nabokov’s re-translation of his own memoirs she concludes: “if translation is a catalyst, the B that turns A to C, sometimes it seems to work in reverse; after translation C does not revert to A, but rather into A+ (or A-), an entity that has been permanently altered by the transformation”
  • body language: where does instinct give way to expression, or biology shade into culture?

Chapter four (The present/Le présent):

  • speaking a second language can be “a frequency devoid of complexity, color and jokes”
  • the English as a lingua franca issue: “everyone, from everywhere, speaking a common language – my language – poorly…English, somehow, is everyone’s property…while I was gone, strangers have moved into my childhood home, ripped down the curtains, and put their feet up on the couch”
  • the relative difficulty of languages can be assessed by breaking them into parts:
    • level of inflection – the amount of info a language carries on a single word
    • size of vocabulary – languages of larger, literate societies have larger vocabularies
    • structure – OTOH the simpler the society, the more baroque its morphology
      • large societies have frequent interaction with outsiders, and hence the languages undergo simplification, while members of relatively homogeneous groups share a base of common knowledge, enabling them to pile on declensions without confusing each other
    • see the Language Weirdness Index, which analysed 1694 languages (most straightforward: Hindi; English: 33rd)
  • small languages stay spiky, while large languages lose their sharp edges amid waves of contact, becoming beveled as pieces of glass
  • US State Department: French is among the easiest languages for an English speaker to learn, requiring 600 hours of instruction; 25-50% of basic English vocabulary comes from French
  • note that the French 70, 80 and 90 are as byzantine as their Danish equivalents, which the Swiss have simplified (“perhaps as a courtesy to their bankers”); the Swedes have also simplified
  • two schools of thought on the difference between languages:
    • each language expresses itself uniquely
    • all languages are variations on a universal theme
  • English and French as opposing systems – English is global, convenient and casual, while French is particular, hierarchical and painstaking; she feels more authoritative in French
  • English consider people intimates until proven not to be, while the French only love one person

Chapter five (The conditional/Le conditionnel):

  • can the lexicon of a language reveal truths about its speakers? do ‘untranslatable’ words prove that speakers of different languages experience the world in different ways, or do they just get a lot of snow in ‘Eskimo’ lands (in Hampstead they have 20 words for bread)?
  • a language carries within it a culture (heritage?); ways of thinking or being; you assume eg your Americanness agrees with you, because you never question it (no logic in your habits); you are more likely to question a second culture
  • does each language have its own worldview? do people have different personalities in different languages? could – or would – you become someone else if you spoke eg French?
  • a vision of a parallel life, a latent alter ego, righting a linguistic version of having been switched a birth…
  • issues of self-representation: speaking another language like wearing a mask, pretending to a character or attitude one doesn’t actually possess, taking on a new identity (as can’t express oneself), the line between adaptation and dissimulation…
  • I wanted to speak French and to sound like North Carolina. I was hoping, though I didn’t know whether it was possible, to have become a different person without having changed.

French vs English:

  • in French the grid is divided between public and private, rather than polite and rude; its emphasis on discrimination and relentless taxonomising may feel almost like an ethical defect
  • French language and culture is doctrinaire, hung up on questions of form, classifying each person into vous or tu, outsider or insider, potential foe or friend (pompous or paranoid?) vs English flexibility and egalitarianism
  • French as a reprieve from the relentless prerogative of individualism as expressed in the avoidance of cliche; a sense of community, an attempt to join in rather than distinguish yourself
  • the strictures of French, the elegance of its form, a secular catechism, both comforting and sublime, correctness as not vanity but courtesy
  • in French: difficult to be excited in a non-sexual way, enthusiasm and fun need to be tamped down; American English increasingly sounded like exaggeration, speaking in all caps
  • semantic bleaching vs baking soda, reinvigorating and expressive palette; discrimination rather than effusiveness
  • English: simpler, less Machiavellian than Italian
  • French: its austerity makes you feel more complicated, its formality heightened its potential for feeling, shedding superlatives like Chanel’s advice to remove one piece of jewellery
  • men and women: more distinct and less adversarial, the interplay of gendered adjectives and sexual politics; without this there can be confusion over who’s supposed to do what when, a resentment over the melding of roles

Chapter six (The subjunctive/Le subjonctif):

Linguistic relativism vs universalism:

  • the academy is split on the question of whether one’s language shapes one’s worldview
  • language at the structural level – do the distinctions each language obliges its speakers to make (what they must say) result in differences in memory, perception and practical skills
  • languages as either prescription glasses, changing the way you see the world, or vanity contact lenses (basically negligible)
  • the idea that languages possess and inculcate different ways of thinking spread from the Romantics in France to Germany in the 18th century
  • as critics of the Enlightenment the Romantics preferred the emotional, the local, and subjective, adopting the creed of nationalism as a means of spiritual renewal, with language as the font of national identity (see eg Herder, and, surely, Wilhelm von Humboldt)
  • Franz Boas (Columbia, early 20th century), then Edward Sapir at Yale, who trained tada! Benjamin Lee Whorf
  • Whorf demolished in the 1960s by Noam Chomsky’s theory of universal grammar – language as a biological instinct, with us each equipped with a grammatical toolkit as independent of culture as breathing or walking
  • the differences between languages are trivial – a visitor from Mars would view them as dialects
  • 1994: Stephen Pinker’s The language instinct, an obituary for the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis
  • we know how to speak like spiders know how to spin webs; children acquire language without formal instruction, thought is not the same thing as language…
  • Boutros Boutros-Ghali: much in the way democracy within a state is based on pluralism, democracy between states must be based on pluralingualism; linguistic diversity as a check on political monoculture, as unhealthy as mass-cultivating a single crop
  • how language encodes space: geocentrically, intrinsically and egocentrically
    • English makes use of all three: walk south on Main Street, continue in front of the library and turn right into the park
    • relativist Guy Deutscher: Guugu Yimithirr only offers the geocentric option and its speakers have suburb navigational skills, with their brains turned into compasses – > language influences culture
    • universalist John McWhorter: this confuses causation with correlation, like saying tribes with no words for clothing do not wear clothes; their navigational abilities are a function of their environment, flat land in the Australian bush
    • but…plenty of people in similar environments use egocentric orientation systems, and children can master geocentric ones with exposure to very limited landscapes
  • a number of neo-Whorfian experiments have illustrated the connection between features of languages and the different way their speakers behave, suggesting that language can shape culture, rather than merely reflecting it
  • language and gender: Lera Boroditsky analysed 765 artworks, finding that 78% of the time the gender of the figure matched its gender in the artist’s native language, see eg the Statue of Liberty
    • does not prove causation (and what when nouns aren’t gendered??)
  • more neo-Whorfian attacks on Chomsky’s universal grammar, eg colour:
    • do languages add colour terms in a predictable sequence of seven stages of the rainbow, or does this assume that colour is a natural property of the physical world?
    • some languages do not encode colour as an abstract dimension independent of other properties of material objects
    • categorical perception of colours, snow etc is shaped by our engagement with the material world, with lexical categories serving as a means of focusing selective attention on relevant distinctions; a belief in the naturalness of categories is a Whorfian effect in itself (Aneta Pavlenko’s The bilingual mind)
    • a Russian can distinguish between dark (siniy) and light (goluboy) shades of blue 10% faster than English speakers
    • Geoff Dyer: do you see things if you don’t know what they are (from Yoga…); why technical vocabularies develop
    • the best metaphor for Whorfian effects: predictive text, when you more often than not accept the suggestion
  • if you feel like a different person in a different language, is it perhaps because you are; during the transition from one language to another people undergo deaths, births, triumphs, displacements etc
  • if the mother tongue the language of the true self? a primal vehicle, a reservoir of emotion, a second language can be a river undammed, where you play a different, or no, role; the emancipatory detachment effect

#FLmultilingua 3: everyone is a language learner

Week 3 of #FLmultilingua had two foci:

  • language learning as creative art
  • creative arts in language learning

The creative arts section was not for me, although the theory of migratory aesthetics looks worth a closer look (see Essays | an essay | 2006 exhibition). The rest of the week was theory heavy; notes follow.

The capabilities approach: the freedom to achieve potential

Developed by Sen & Nussbaum, an evaluative framework to assess individuals’ well-being. Aims to develop an environment that promotes ‘humanly rich goals’ (Nussbaum, 2006).

The term well-being is interpreted in terms of the freedom to live the life that an individual has reason to value. The notion of reason to value is important, as individuals must be able to choose their own values and objectives upon reflection.

The notion of capabilities refers to the freedoms to achieve what individuals are actually able to do and to be, in other words their potential. The actual achievement, the practical realisation of one’s chosen way of life is defined as functioning. The conversion of capabilities into functioning is determined by agency, which is the ability of people to act and bring about change according to one’s own values and objectives (Sen, 1999).

Individuals’ agency, freedoms and achieved functionings are not perceived in isolation as they strengthen society and, at the same time, are affected by socio-political-economic-environmental and cultural constraints. Development is conceptualized as enhancing freedom and removing obstacles in order to foster human flourishing.

Sen leaves his approach deliberately open, without specifying what capabilities should count as valuable, as he believes that this process needs public consultation and public reasoning. Conversely, Nussbaum argues for a list of universal capabilities, to be underwritten by constitutions and underpinned by the question “What does a life worthy of human dignity require?” (Nussbaum, 2000: 14). She develops a provisional list consisting of ten capabilities, based on two overarching capabilities: practical reason and affiliation.

Education is considered a meta-capability as it enables individuals to nurture all the other capabilities they value. Nussbaum  advocates three main capabilities for human development: critical examinationaffiliation and narrative imagination.

Three central capabilities for education:

  • critical examination: linked to the capacity to reflective thinking and self-reflection; Socratic dialogue as a central tool to guide critical thinking logically
  • affiliation: the ability to perceive oneself as a member of a local group, but also as bond to all other human beings, tied to them by recognition, love and compassion
  • narrative imagination: a combination of the first two capabilities; the ability to take the perspective of others, both consciously and compassionately; this capability of empathy is cultivated through literature and the arts (Von Wright, 2002: 410)

The celebration of heterogeneity and diversity is central to the capability approach. Sen encourages intercultural dialogue that “celebrates the multiplicity of identities” (Crosbie, 2014: 92) and warns us against plural monoculturalism which poses obstacles to real intercultural dialogue.

The capabilities approach encourages educators to perceive language education beyond competency and skilled-based models, ie beyond the acquisition of skills to a more intercultural language education: “Skills and learning outcomes serve an instrumental dimension of education that follows neoliberal imperatives”.

Crosbie identifies 12 capabilities for language and intercultural studies (the capability L2 literacy and communication consists of the traditional language skills and sub-skills):

Multilingual and multimodal literacies in the classroom

What are the implications of linguistic diversity for educational practices? There followed a summary of Burcu et al (2014). Snippets:

  • until recently, children’s home languages have been at best overlooked or ignored; at worst, they have been treated as an impediment to the acquisition of the dominant language, something to be actively discouraged (the tosproget issue in Denmark)
  • in most western countries, linguistic diversity is increasingly the norm; greater mobility means that more and more pupils are in contact with a wide range of linguistic backgrounds, and may have hybrid, multiple and dynamic forms of identity
  • while the explicit role of education is to allow children to fully develop their potential, this does not usually extend to the wealth represented by the linguistic repertoires so many children have access to
  • the barriers created by an educational system that privileges the dominant language(s) while disregarding others can result in loss of the home language, disengagement and poor literacy outcomes

Non-verbal meaning-making strategies

Most of our everyday communication is translingual – we draw on a diversity of codes, not just language, inc body language, visuals… We use images, symbols and icons to make meaning in conversations and understand the world around us. We call these semiotic codes. In addition to that, our conversations never happen in an ‘empty space’. They are always embedded in a context (the environment, the speakers’ agenda etc) which provides meaning also.

How useful and ‘effective’ are such non-verbal meaning-making strategies? Do images easily translate cross-culturally or are visual strategies, like language, a more complicated medium of communication than we initially consider it to be?

Final thoughts

The thrust of the MOOC can be found in Alison’s statement at the end of her TED talk: “One language cannot explain the whole world”. Is anyone saying it can? And this is my issue: it’s all very lovely and well-meaning, another stick for white liberals to beat themselves with, but it’s felt increasingly one-sided as the weeks went on. Things are rather more complex than presented, and the migrant (as in refugee) narrative finally took over.

Updates: International Mother Language Day was in the UK largely another exercise in guilt (Bilingualism Matters’ Refugee languages welcome!) and in DK a chance to celebrate the dansk; news stories on the day included the Social Democrats’ proposal to remove the right to benefits from citizens who don’t speak Danish and the proposed banning of teaching in Arabic in private Muslim schools (both redacted as too depressing). See The Salzburg Statement for a Multilingual World (no Danish translation when I looked).

#FLmultilingua 2: language and power

Week 2 of #FLmultilingua:

  • explored what it means to speak ‘good English’ and to have one’s language scrutinised for observance of rules of sound and grammar
  • looked at the power that lies behind the authority to decide whether a language is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’, and to impose some standards over others
  • reflected on the concepts of ‘language deficit’ and ‘language plenty’, and about the ways in which language policies work to establish which languages have value, and which don’t

Learning to live in a multilingual world

Exploring language and power in the context of globalisation: the expectation to speak ‘good English’ has the power to institutionally re-define an individual’s affective relationship with the language of their family and ancestors.

Verbal hygiene: can or should we clean up language?

‘Verbal hygiene’ is a term coined by sociolinguist Deborah Cameron in the first edition of her book, published in 1995.

As Cameron (2012) defines it, verbal hygiene refers to the “[…] motley collection of discourses and practices through which people attempt to ‘clean up’ language and make its structure or its use conform more closely to their ideals of beauty, truth, efficiency, logic, correctness and civility”(p. vii). Central to Cameron’s discussion is the idea that, behind the ostensible desire to regulate language and ensure standards, verbal hygiene practices hide a range of deeper social, moral and political anxieties.

All very emotive, but the rest of the step was unrelated to these issues, making instead the case against state monolingualism (or societal language; just substitute Danish for English):

Speaking English has become a touchstone in discussions of what it now referred to as social ‘cohesion’, ‘integration’ or ‘inclusion’. Essentially these terms are code for ‘assimilation’: both new immigrants and settled minorities must demonstrate their allegiance to British culture and values.

More verbal hygiene: book | vid | article.

Quiz intro: “Language is the site of power struggles. Verbal hygiene may be an unavoidable component of our capacity to reflect on language and is not necessarily always negative. However, the imposition of norms and rules hides power relations and should not just be taken at face value. Questions about who has the right to prescribe, for whom, what they prescribe and for what purpose can be asked to expose these power relations…Many of the answers you give here will be correct. This is another way to demonstrate the nuanced aspects of verbal hygiene. While there are subtle differences in understandings, consider which of these definitions you prefer for your situation.”

  1. Verbal hygiene is…a set of practices that aim to prescribe specific grammar rules | newspapers’ style guides and ‘politically correct’ language | requests for migrants to learn the language of the country where they now live
  2. People engage in verbal hygiene practices because…they worry about a language disappearing or becoming impoverished | they are concerned that some words or phrases may be offensive or inaccurate | they wish to ensure that people can communicate effectively and understand each other
  3. Verbal hygiene practices are not simply about language. They also…stand for anxieties about social change and become more widespread at times of economic or political insecurity | are symbolic of demands for assimilation made of particular groups of people and of anxiety or fear about the ‘alien other’ | express unequal power relations between those who can prescribe forms of linguistic conformity and those who have to adapt to this (or resist it).

What is the danger in letting some languages die?

Are there any dangers in adopting fewer languages worldwide? Like ecosystems and biodiversity, are languages something that should be actively protected?

The Unesco Atlas of world languages in danger estimates that today there are as many as 2465 languages with varying degrees of vulnerability. This…raises important questions about their future, the cultures which they represent, the cultural identity of their speakers, diversity of ideas and the linguistic diversity in the world.

Language, especially our mother tongue, is something we very often take for granted. We acquire it at a very early stage in our life and imitate linguistic behaviours, eg politeness or directness of people in our surroundings. These concepts, which usually have been taken for granted, become less obvious when we start learning another language and new cultural norms…

[David Crystal] compares a language system to an ecosystem in which, what is important, is not the individual unit but the interdependence of its various elements and their harmonious functioning. Similarly to biological species, languages do not function in isolation but develop by contact with others. If one of them were to die, this might have serious consequences on other languages in the same ecosystem. Diversity, he adds, is important for the survival of mankind. If we have a look at the natural ecosystem, evolution is what makes species stronger and guarantees their survival. The greater the variety, the stronger the ecosystem is…

Language is also an important part of one’s identity. This is a tool which connects and identifies us with other members of the same language community. Losing a language could therefore mean a loss of who we are.

From Being human at Language Fest:

We don’t all have one language in common. Without ‘naturally’ shared cultures and languages but with the desire to communicate and connect, we are at each other’s mercy. Falling back into English, a ‘foreign’ language to us all, and one that most people in the room are only just learning, is not an option. There is no ‘neutral’, no ‘pure’ way to communicate. We can’t easily cloak our communicative difficulties with a (supposed) lingua franca. There is no easy way to artificially smooth the sharp linguistic edges of our intercultural communication. Insisting on English now could mean silencing this group’s self-expression, dismiss their Lebenswelt and suppress those unexpected encounters that might be potentially meaningful to us all. But how then to connect when all we can bring is good will and our linguistic vulnerability?

On languaging

Swain defines languaging as a (2006: 98) “process of making meaning and shaping knowledge and experience through language”, with language learning a process rather than a definable outcome, a journey taken by language learners through which they have an opportunity to explore and discover new meanings, learn and internalise new knowledge and expand their range of experiences.

Example: French immersion programmes in Canada in which students were tasked with writing a story in French; students carrying out the exercise required used both French and English; English to negotiate meaning and mediate differences between the languages, to help students to organise their ideas, negotiate the differences in meaning between French and English as well as to internalise new meanings.

Their research supports Vygotsky’s view that the language learner ‘uses…the native language as a mediator between the world of objects and the new language’ (Vygotsky, 1986: 161). Learners very often build their new linguistic identity and their newly acquired understanding of the country (or countries) where the language is spoken through the experiences and knowledge of their mother tongue.

While our mother tongues are necessary to negotiate new meanings, it is a newly acquired language that expands our knowledge and self-understanding in a profound way. Mikhail Bakhtin observed that ‘language is a social event’ and as such profoundly affects the learners’ understanding of the world around. The more languages one speaks, the more alternative modes of knowledge one can create and, consequently, comprehend.

From the quiz:

  • languaging…can be defined as having a go, trying a new language…a process in which one creates new experiences through language…does not concern itself only with learning a language
  • learning a new language involves…using one’s mother tongue as a mediator between two languages…creating a new identity through analysing our first language…expanding our knowledge and self-understanding

Alison Phipps (2014) in her TED talk ‘ Learning to live in multilingual worlds’ looks at languaging as ‘having a go,’ ‘trying a new language and learning to live in a multilingual world.’ This means that one needs to leave a zone of linguistic comfort and perfect articulation of their mother tongue in order to embark on a bumpy journey of discovering a new linguistic and cultural world; “one language cannot fully explain all the meanings encapsulated in the world”. She calls for a more ethically-oriented way of conceiving the value of languages:

I think it’s really important we learn the languages which have shaped the histories of the places where we grow up and where we live. So within Scotland, those would be the languages that have shaped our religion, but which have also lived amongst us. It would be important here for us to really understand Gaelic, and Scots alongside English, but also to understand ancient Greek, Hebrew, Latin, languages which have shaped the culture, the buildings, you see roundabout us, being part of the projects of making a land and a country.

But equally, at this moment in time, it’s really important that we learn the language of our neighbours, that we ask the question, what is it the languages of our neighbours are, and how might we meet one another and greet one another in some of those different languages? It’s important that we learn to speak the language of trade, but also of humanitarian aid.

#FLmultilingua 1: language riches

Multilingual learning for a globalised world, FutureLearn MOOC, three weeks from 16 October, from the University of Glasgow.

Spotted this one during #FLemi, and was sorry to have missed it – I even watched the hangouts on YouTube – but it’s on again! And I’m contributing to discussions. Note: all quotes edited.

This course offers you the opportunity to explore multilingual education and how it can impact and improve education and even wider society. We will discuss why languages matter, and consider how languages challenge the way we live, every day.

Our languages are an essential part of who we are as human beings. They are instruments of communication and are often a source of dignity and of human pride. Our life experiences and views of the world are bound up in our languages. Our sense of self might be strengthened by our ability to speak the language we choose or curtailed by our inability to understand the language that speaks to us. Some scholars even say that the right to speak one’s languages should be established as an essential part of the right to be oneself. They suggest that this language right should be honoured in all forms of communication.

English is the language of worldwide communication. Should this change? Should people’s personal language practices influence the way we communicate on a global scale? How might the claim for people’s language rights challenge the language arrangements in our societies? What is gained and what is lost from speaking just one language?

In this course you will explore how people’s language practice, and the personal connection people have to the language(s) they speak, provoke important philosophical and pedagogical questions around the ways we form personal relationships, engage in business relations and even view the world around us.

You will:

  • be introduced to different multilingual environments, consider what these mean for learning languages, and encounter some of the latest research in researching for working multilingually
  • experience and critically evaluate the idea of active citizenship, discovering ways in which language minorities can be empowered through the equal treatment of all languages and cultures
  • deepen your understanding of other languages and cultures through consideration of language rights, and films and workshops developed through their practices
  • address the ways in which the creative and performing arts can help translate meanings and enhance understandings in multilingual environments

Should we all just speak one language?

Glasgow as a multicultural city with inhabitants hailing from across the globe

Week 1 approached the question above historically, ethically and aesthetically, celebrated the language riches in our learning community and reflected on the sensory qualities of languages and the value of exposing oneself to unfamiliar language sounds. The terms monolingualism and multilingualism were clarified and pressing ethical questions surrounding some forms of structural monolingualism were explored.

Consider the language riches you bring to the course from all over the world

Being able to speak your language is an emotional and ‘embodied’ affair. It can evoke memories and even bodily sensations. Happiness hormones might arise when you hear somebody address you in your mother tongue, especially when you are far away from home and feeling a bit low or depressed. Languages are an essential part of who we are as human beings. They unfold their beauty best when they are (it sounds so simple) performed.

Did you ever wish to ‘go native’ in another language and abandon your language roots? – “I would discover new parts of myself, parts of myself that belong with that language” vs your’ language is “the language with which I communicate with myself…it defines who I am”. But you can, of course, have more than one, depending on both time and place. Can you have more than one at the same time? Do the languages you ‘have’ make up your identity?

Do you take on another persona when you speak another language? “language being so tightly interwoven with culture so you have to conform to different social and cultural norms when you speak in another language”. See Aneta Pavlenko on emotions and multilingualism and the bilingual mind.

Jan Čulík highlights the strategic importance of language-based study of foreign cultures, arguing that the west is making the mistake of interpreting non-English speaking cultures incorrectly, exclusively on the basis of its own cultural experience. The impact of this is global destabilisation.

It’s all about context, both in your persona when you speak another language and when “everyone speaks English”, where it’s easy to think everyone is using a shared cultural lens. Interpreters still needed!

Monolingualism and multilingualism in today’s world

David Gramling (Researching Multilingually) and The invention of monolingualism (2016):

Monolingualism became a thinkable structure for imagining the multiply-languaged world round about the late 17th century…the word is gaining new political power, and symbolically de-competencing people not perceived to be sufficiently cosmopolitan, communicative, or competent in matters of global relevance.

Reactionary multilingualism: becoming multilingual in an orderly way will solve all kinds of social frictions, socioeconomic divides, cultural misunderstandings, and apparently, irreconcilable religious commitments between Islam and Christian secularism.

Until the mid 2000s British politicians were relatively uninterested in what language citizens or residents chose to speak. Many conservatives saw any pressure upon people to speak a certain language, in a certain way, as an invasion of the kind of privacy protected as far back as the Magna Carta. Only recently has it become a common assumption that civic and community life is at its best when it happens through many cultures, but in one shared language.

Real monolingualism lies not with individual speakers, and the way they communicate or don’t communicate with the world, but with a new technological and technocratic effort in the last quarter century to make all of the world’s languages do similar things, and work in the same general symbolic direction.

Computer scientists are hard at work at erasing the problem of language diversity, such that, eventually, it will be unnecessary for us to learn each other’s languages the hard way. This process requires reducing each language to the common denominator of meaning that all other languages have. And this urge to make languages themselves translatable, similar, and manageable is what I call monolingualism.

(The technological drive for the universal transposability of meaning has given us the GILT industry, which promises to instantaneously transpose and distribute monetized content into scores of linguistic markets, peopled by imaginary end-user monolinguals…monolingualism is a much more modest and therefore effective vessel for (re)organizing meaning than slogans like Monolingualism can be cured! tend to convey.)

Resisting monolingualism may mean deepening into our own local meanings. Delighting and growing through those meanings, honouring the historical and social richness of our language repertoires, and expecting that others do the same. So becoming willing to engage in difficult, human, and often rudimentary dialogue with others about those meanings, constitutes true multilingualism. And no online translator can do that for us.

See Simon Jenkins: no point in learning languages (riposte | Mary Beard). Hmm…substituting cultural for lingual has parallels, but not a direct ‘translation’. On language-based study of cultures, GCSE French is about as instructive as a city break.

From revolutionary monolingualism to reactionary multilingualism: Monolingualism: a user’s guide  (19pp) | The wager of critical monolingualism studiesHard and soft multilingualism | Alison Phipps: What does it mean to be languaged in today’s world?

Linguistic imperialism (see British Council): ‘a world, a culture’ attached to each language can paradoxically empower and disempower its speakers depending on political and personal circumstances:

linguistic adjustment to the world around us can be a complex and deeply penetrating process. The process is full of losses, gains and paradoxes. Whether we live all our lives in one country, whether we migrate, become displaced or travel we need languages and sooner or later we’ll come across the power of a dominant language. How we deal with this power and whether we uphold it or subvert it, whether we use it or abuse it depends mostly on us. Let us hope that no matter how we face this challenge, our humanity comes out of it intact.

-> is it necessary for everyone living in the same territory to speak the same language? language as a tool (if you use a tool the wrong way you may have problems), as social capital; but it is more than communication and goes beyond the linguistic – part of one’s identity, involving all the senses, emotions, body language…

-> it’s about identity and culture; when English is used as a lingua franca it’s lost its context: is this then linguistic imperialism?; usage can cause issues for native speakers, from misuse of words (tights are not y fronts) through misunderstandings to not being able to express yourself properly and giving up: “The language situation prevents us from doing certain things, like making jokes.” (Sherry Simon)

-> the “everyone speaks English” mantra masks cultural differences

And at #edfringe17 (more)…