Scales of Multilingualism: Towards a multi-layered analysis of linguistic diversity

Francis Hult, Sari Pietikäinen

University of Texas at San Antonio, USA University of Jyväskylä, Finland


Performing Bilingualism at the Meso Level: An Example from a Bilingual School in Mid-Wales Nigel Musk
Sami on the move: fusing ethnographic and discourse analysis for investigating language mobilities Sari Pietikäinen
Workshop Paper Francis M. Hult
“We did what we thought was best for our children”. A Nexus Analysis of Language Shift. Pia Lane

The Topic and Its Relationship to the Conference Theme

Sociolinguistic phenomena that can be approached from either a macro- or micro-level perspective are, in fact, manifested across multiple dimensions, or scales, of social organization (Lemke, 2000). Multilingualism, in particular, can be examined at a macro-sociological level, as in research on how language policies are designed and implemented, where political and ideological issues are at stake. Multilingualism can also be investigated at the level of an individual’s life-world, paying attention to his/her personal experiences of the language situation in question and exploring how he/she sees the possibilities opened up by languages, the constraints that may exist and finally, the choices that can be made. These two vantage points do not suggest a strict macro-micro dichotomy. In this workshop, we seek to explore conceptual tools and methodological frameworks for examining multilingualism in ways that simultaneously illuminate its micro- and macro-level dimensions and – at best – overcome this dichotomy. Here, we suggest, that the macro-micro distinction may represent a starting point for research but that the focus of inquiry must be on the multiple dimensions of multilingualism and how they are articulated together.

Background to the Research and Objectives for this Meeting

Echoing the long-standing goal of sociolinguistics to bring together micro- and macro-levels of analyses, we seek ways of theorizing and analyzing multilingualism in ways that would go beyond this dichotomy. To address the complexities of how various linguistic and semiotic resources are used--for example in contexts of globalization; transculturality; language policy and planning; and the construction, negotiation and expression of identity--we need to bridge the macro-micro level gap.

Accordingly, the key aim of this workshop is to explore novel approaches to studying multilingualism that capture the potential fluidity and hybridity between and among languages and their speakers as well as the global and local dynamics inherent in this relationship. To this end, we discuss fruitful directions that emerge from integrating recent work on multilingualism in three disciplines: sociolinguistics, (critical) discourse studies, and ethnography (Blommaert, 2005; Blommaert, Collins & Slembrouck, 2005; Butler, 1997; Scollon, 2001; Scollon & Scollon, 2004).

Session Organization

Discussant: Helen Kelly- Holmes, University of Limerick

The papers in this workshop will examine the application and complementary nature of some key concepts from the aforementioned three disciplines: nexus analysis, scale, performativity, and historicities of discourses. Empirically, we draw on our respective research in multilingual settings where macro-level processes can be analyzed at the micro-level of the use of languages and other semiotic resources. Our multilingual sites/topics of research include media and tourism in a multilingual Samiland, bilingualism in a school in Mid-Wales, the implementation of educational language policy in the south of Sweden, and language shift in a Kven community in Northern Norway.

The workshop is geared towards the exchange of ideas and experiences related to methodological approaches to multi-layered research in multilingual contexts. Each presenter will give a short paper addressing particular concepts in a specific multilingual site. The papers share the general aim of bringing together combinations of concepts and research approaches in an attempt to reconcile and, to a certain extent, move beyond the micro-macro dichotomy in study of multilingualism.

Discussion Questions

The papers are intended to open up a wide-ranging discussion on the multidimensional examination of multilingualism. Specific questions to be discussed during the workshop include:

• How can we provide support that there is a connection between a micro-level action and large-scale social factors?

• Hymes (1986) suggests that the study of discourse requires a judicious balance of scope and depth with respect to the range of research inquiry. What combination(s) of methodological tools best serve to accomplish this goal when conducting multi-layered research about multilingualism?

• What are the benefits and potential pitfalls of integrating multiple disciplinary perspectives in research on multilingualism?

Keywords: multilingualism, nexus analysis, discourse analysis, ethnography, scales, performativity.

A short list of key references

Blommaert, Jan. (2005). Discourse. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Blommaert, Jan, Collins, James and Slembrouck, Stef (2005). Spaces of multilingualism. Language & Communication 25: 107-216.

Butler, Judith (1997). Excitable Speech: A Politics of the Performative. New York/London: Routledge.

Hymes, Dell H. (1986). Discourse: Scope without depth. International Journal of the Sociology Language 57: 49-89.

Lemke, Jay (2000). Across the scales of time: Artifacts, activities, and meanings in ecosocial systems. Mind, Culture, and Activity 7(4): 273-290.

Scollon, Ron and Scollon, Suzie Wong (2004). Nexus Analysis: Discourse and the Emerging Internet. London: Routledge.

Scollon, Ron (2001). Action and Text. In: R. Wodak & M. Meyer (eds.). Methods of Critical Discourse Analysis (pp. 139-183). London: Sage.