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Effort Under Way to Expand Multilingualism Studies
Part educational meeting, part action-oriented convention, the Multilingual, 2.0? symposium at the UA will engage some of the world's preeminent scholars in critical multilingualism studies.
Government use of language analysis systems for intelligence, automated Internet-based translation tools and global migration patterns evidence a new realm of multilingualism.
The result is the emergence of a new field – critical multilingualism studies, one that University of Arizona researchers David Gramling and Chantelle Warner are helping to solidify as a subdiscipline.
Both faculty members in the UA's German studies department, Gramling and Warner are leading the Critical Multilingualism Studies Initiative and the effort to coordinate Multilingual, 2.0?, an international symposium at the UA April 13-15.
Registration now is open for the event, which will be held at the UA's Center for Creative Photography. Instead of being organized around thematic areas, symposium participants will respond to rubrics and questions more broadly related to governance, capital, media, meaning and practice.
Regarding the symposium title, Gramling, an assistant professor, said: "It definitely is a question more than a statement – has multilingualism changed?"
Largely because of the acceleration of technological advances and globalization in a post-Sept. 11 world, it has become evermore present in scholarship and practice that multilingualism studies is changing, Gramling said.
"The conversation then was that we should talk about these things with teachers and governments and national security," he said.
"This is an attempt to continue that interdisciplinary, interinstitutional conversation," Gramling added. "We are trying to develop a foundation for research, and the participants are hungry for that, too."
At the forefront of the call was an urgent need for language studies to more readily consider not only language and linguistics, but also race, gender, globalization and other factors.
Thus, scholars in the emerging field interpret the social and political pressures shaping the role, function and practice of multilingualism.
It, too, is an indication that it is time to move beyond merely celebrating multilingualism, said Warner, a UA assistant professor of German, who led talks and a workshop at the UA last year that eventually led to the symposium's planning.
Part educational meeting, part action-oriented convention, the symposium will convene some of the preeminent multilingualism studies scholars from around the world at the UA.
Above all, the effort is to strengthen and add structure to the discipline of critical multilingual studies.
"We see this symposium as an opportunity to bring together people from diverse areas and to explore the sometimes convergent, sometimes divergent conceptualizations of multilingualism that inform their work," said Warner, also a member of the UA's Interdisciplinary Program in Second Language Acquisition and Teaching.
The initiative and symposium are financially supported by the UA's Confluencenter for Creative Inquiry with additional sponsorship from the German studies department and also the colleges of humanities and social and behavioral sciences.
Also planned is a new open-access peer-reviewed journal devoted to critical multilingualism studies and collaborative research projects. Gramling and Warner will launch the journal with co-organizers Asli Igsiz, a UA assistant professor of Turkish language and literature, and Abraham Acosta, an assistant professor in the UA Spanish and Protuguese department.
During the symposium, some of the world's major contributors to the field of critical multilingualism will present. The speakers will include:
- Anthony Pym, a translation and intercultural studies professor at the Rovira i Virgili University in Tarragona in Spain. Pym also coordinates the Intercultural Studies Group, is president of the European Society for Translation Studies and is a visiting researcher at the Monterey Institute of International Studies.
- Deborah Cameron, the University of Oxford's Rupert Murdoch Professor of Language and Communication.
- Michael Holquist, a Yale University Emeritus Professor of Comparative and Slavic Literature. Holquist is a preeminent translator of Mikhail Bakhtin, the late Russian philosopher.
- Mary Louise Pratt, New York University's Silver Professor. Pratt is a professor of Spanish and Portuguese languages and literatures.
- Sinfree Makoni, an associate professor of African studies and applied linguistics at Pennsylvania State University, whose research centers on colonial and post-colonial sociolinguistics in Africa.
- Claire Kramsch, a German and foreign language education professor at the University of California, Berkeley. Kramsch is also the founder and editor of the L2 Journal.
"All of these people are working not just to describe the discipline, but to critically engage in how we conceptualize multilingualism," Warner said.
Javier D. Durán, who directs Confluencenter, said his center was keen on supporting Gramling and Warner's work.
"They created a very, very interesting event," said Durán, also an associate professor of Spanish and border studies.
But why a sub-discipline? Gramling, Warner and Durán each said the function is for new knowledge and deeper understanding of contemporary forces and shifts.
"At first glance, you might say this is just a language issue, but it's not," Durán said. "It's one of the many ways we can look at multilingualism and the relationship among the body and society and issues of culture, politics and government."
For example, a critical study of multilingualism, then, enables a deeper investigation of how state institutions interact with issues of linguistic and cultural rights, or in finding links between language and capital, Durán said.
"So, I think it's going to be a transformational event in terms of bringing to the forefront a number of people working on these issues, but who haven't necessarily had these conversations across disciplines," Durán also said. "That's the beauty of this project."