DAY 1: Mind the Gap

The residential week got underway with a smooth start this morning. After some coffee and a warm welcome from the organizing committee and other researchers from MOSAIC, we broke off into groups to discuss some key issues in multilingualism. As expected, the 38 participants come from very diverse backgrounds and harness different approaches. Discussing the issues at hand led to avid debates on defining and categorizing these interests and methods.

Interests in the group include identity, language in the classroom, ideology, discourse, policy, inclusion/exclusion, and culture. Aspects in focus ranged from the individual (e.g. beliefs, affectivity, dialect) to the institutional (e.g. policy, citizenship, proficiency) with different foci in between (e.g. language use and maintenance, language dominance). Despite the various approaches, methods, and analytical tools, one of the overarching themes was an interest in education. While it was enlightening to find so many different questions about multilingualism, one question that wasn’t addressed was the definition of language as defined in these varied perspectives. Giving a description of what language and language learning means has helped us to situate our approaches within the interdisciplinary research group in Luxembourg.

After discussing these issues with our colleagues over coffee, Marilyn Martin-Jones guided us through the evolution and emergence of different approaches to the study of bilingualism and multilingualism. She presented three broad approaches: the structural functionalist approach (focusing on community wide trends in language use), the interpretive approach (focusing on meaning in social interaction), and critical approaches (focusing on asymmetries of power and how these are represented in discourse). Tracing her career path through these different ideologies starting from structuralism in the 1960s, she provided the audience with a chain of studies that represent the emergence, critique, and evolution of different approaches. While her presentation spanned a large portion of the ideological spectrum, there was no mention of corpus linguistics and the contributions grammatically oriented studies to the study of multilingual development.

After a pleasant lunch break, we had the pleasure of getting an in-depth introduction by Adrian Blackledge to a methodology used in sociolinguistics: Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA). In this approach, texts are studied in terms of how language constricts relations of power. After a thorough presentation of CDA as a theory and as a method, we were given to analyze a BBC news segment pertaining to immigration and English-learning in Britain. Using CDA strategies, we isolated words and correlated images to analyze their functions in constructing representations.

One of the questions that Natalia raised was whether text data (e.g. interviews, talk shows, press releases, speeches) can be analyzed using the same methodological tools in CDA to address a particular research question. Adrian Blackledge answered that while the data sets in an analysis can be heterogeneous, it is preferable to include different types of texts rather than to confine oneself to only one type.

All in all, this first day allowed us to reflect on our work in the light of other approaches to multilingualism. We look forward to what’s in store for tomorrow!

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