Elite multilingualism: A critical dialogue from a theoretical and empirical standpoint

Multilingualism picElisabeth Barakos (Lecturer in Applied Linguistics at Aston University, member of the Language Education subgroup of CLaRA) and Charlotte Selleck (Lecturer of English Language, University of Worcester) co-organised a panel on “Elite Multilingualism” as part of the Sociolinguistics Symposium 2016 in Murcia, Spain. The panel, which brought together international scholars working in the fields of applied and sociolinguistics, specifically focused on the notion of ‘elite’, i.e. the conceptualisation and evaluation of multilingualism as something that adds social (or material) capital, prestige, privilege and access to resources, within the complexities of a globalised economy. Given the current celebratory discourses about linguistic diversity (emanating, for example from organisations such as the EU) and the multilingual turn in education and applied linguistics (McLaughlin 2016, May 2013), it is timely and necessary to critically engage with what multilingualism has come to mean in different social settings and for different social actors.

Traditionally, research has dealt with often minoritised, underprivileged multilingual speakers vs. the dominant, monolingual speaker, ideologies of native speakerness and standardness, the role of global English as well as monolingualism as a language ideology. There is, however, only scarce engagement with multilingualism as an ideology of and for the elite, and its link to the creation of hierarchies and social inequities (De Mejia 2002).

This panel therefore aimed to introduce the concept of ‘elite multilingualism’ to disentangle the paradoxical situation of valuing some types of languages more than others. In a European context, Jaspers (2009: 19), for example, speaks of the ‘prestige’ or ‘pure’ multilingual – referring to the upwardly mobile, highly educated, higher socioeconomic status learners of two or more internationally useful languages. On the other hand, there is ‘plebeian’ or ‘impure’ multilingual – a term referring to the use of various (regional or minority) language varieties by a mostly urban, largely multi-ethnic, very often poorly educated working class across Europe. As Sonntag (2003: 8) argues, elite is not something monolithic or static; rather, she claims that “different elites draw on different capitals to acquire and retain their elite status”.

From a critical sociolinguistic perspective, this panel aimed to de-naturalise mundane understandings of ‘elite’ multilingualism, both from a theoretical and empirical standpoint, through the following set of questions:

  • What counts as ‘elite multilingualism’? How is multilingualism as a kind of power regime taken up in these different spaces? Which type of multilingualism counts?
  • Are certain languages favoured by ‘elite’ learners? How are other, less frequently learnt languages and their speakers positioned?
  • Does multilingualism bring about new forms of inequalities, hierarchies and stratification? Who benefits from multilingualism and who is marginalised by it?

Such questions should help understand the mobilisation of multilingualism as sources of investment, means of instrumentalisation for specific social actors and social groups and as an ideology that brings about issues of inequality. The questions also pay attention to multilingualism as some kind of existing language order or language regime that is based on processes of selection, hierarchisation, inclusion and exclusion.

The introduction to this panel, which charts some conceptual premises of eliteness and multilingualism as well as outlines the panel participants’ papers, can be found here (includes audio):

Barakos_Selleck_Elite Multilingualism_Panel_Intro

If you would like to know more about elite multilingualism, Elisabeth can be contacted on e.barakos@aston.ac.uk. See also her Aston staff profile for Elisabeth’s other research interests, talks and publications.

The linguistic diversity of the United States

Many languages,one americainfographic from FreePeopleSearch.org


BAAL Language In Africa SIG Annual Meeting at Aston


Friday 22nd May 2015

Theme: “Developing languages in Africa: social and educational perspectives”

Venue: School of Languages and Social Sciences, Aston University, Birmingham

The objective of this BAAL Language in Africa (LiA) meeting is to enable LiA SIG members and others to get together, present their research, and discuss current issues with a focus on the impact of ideologies on sociolinguistic and sociocultural contexts of language use in Africa, including areas such as language in education, language in development, and language maintenance and shift.

Keynote speaker: Prof.Lutz Marten, SOAS.

‘Three contexts of language development in Africa’

Lutz Marten is Professor of General and African Linguistics at SOAS, University of London. Lutz has conducted extensive fieldwork in East, Central and Southern Africa, working on Swahili, Luguru, Bemba, Herero and other Bantu languages. Focusing on language in context, his work gives attention to local and transnational forces acting on languages. Besides pioneering work on ‘Dynamic Syntax’, his publications include studies of language contact and comparative Bantu grammar, and a co-authored textbook, ‘Colloquial Swahili’.


Presentations can focus on any theme-related topic.

Abstracts written in English of max 300 words (with bibliographical references) for a 30 minute paper should be sent by 10th April 2015 to Dr. Ross Graham: bsx288@coventry.ac.uk. The preferred file formats are .doc and .pdf. Authors of accepted abstracts will be notified by 17th April 2015.

REGISTRATION: The Meeting fee is £20.00 for BAAL members, £30.00 for non-members and £15 for students. For online registration and further details of the event on the website when available, see www.liasig.wordpress.com.

CLERA Researcher of the Month: Gertrud Reershemius

CLERA has a broad range of researchers and research candidates working in many different areas of language education. Each month, we feature one of our researchers to learn more about them, their work and their interests.

Gertrud ReershemiusOur Researcher of the Month for July is Gertrud Reershemius, Professor of German Linguistics, Associate Dean of Research for LSS, and Co-Director of CLERA. Her wide-ranging research interests include lesser used languages (Yiddish and Low German), sociolinguistics, multilingualism and language contact, and German as a Foreign Language.

Click here to read her profile.

Reminder: Public Lecture by Prof Juliane House at Aston University

JulianeHouseOn Wednesday May 22, 2013, CLERA’s Distinguished Visitor Professor Juliane House (Hamburg University, Germany) will give a public lecture titled “English as a global lingua franca: A threat to multilingualism and translation?” at Aston University.

Professor Juliane House is Professor emerita of Applied Linguistics at Hamburg University and and a senior member of the Sonderforschungsbereich “Mehrsprachigkeit” (Research Centre on Multilingualism), where she directs projects on translation and multilingual business communication. She also directs a project on multilingualism and multiculturalism in German universities.
Her research interests include translation theory, contrastive pragmatics, discourse analysis, English as a lingua franca and intercultural communication.

For more information about the event, visit the CLERA website.


22 May: Public lecture by Prof Juliane House at Aston University




Room change! Event will take place in MB753.

Invitation_Public Lecture 22 May 2013

Infographic: Monolingual vs Bilingual

Call for Papers: AILA World Congress 2014


The Applied Linguistics Association of Australia will be hosting the 2014 conference of the International Applied Linguistics Association Conference on 10-15 August, 2014 at the University of Queensland (UQ) in Brisbane, Australia. The conference theme is “One World, Many Languages”.

From the conference website:

“The program of invited plenary speakers and invited symposia aims to provide a snapshot of emerging and cutting edge trends in Applied Linguistics internationally. It will also reflect the diversity of research in the broad field of Applied Linguistics , both in its traditional heartland of second language learning and teaching, and also in more socially-oriented and / or emerging fields related to language and society, language and diversity, language policy, multilingualism, discourse analysis, communication in professional and other contexts, and forensic linguistics.

As AILA 21014 marks 50 years since the first AILA was held in Cambridge in 1964, two of the invited symposia are specifically designed to revisit the themes of AILA 1964, which were:

  • Automatic Translation
  • Language Teaching
  • Research Cooperation in Europe

Much has changed since 1964, with a much greater diversity of research strands and research areas, also reflected in the symposia organized by the Research Networks (ReNs). However, there are also elements of continuity, which the program is designed to explore.”

AILA 2014 invites proposals for presentations that are related to policy, research, and theory in areas of applied linguistics. Proposals may be for individual papers, posters, symposia or workshops.

Please note the following important information.

  • Call for proposals will close midnight on Tuesday 30 April 2013 (AEST).
  • Abstracts can only be submitted online – submissions by email, post or fax cannot be accepted.
  • Proposals must be submitted in English. If you wish to present your proposal at the Congress in a language other than English, you may do so, but you must advise of the language you will be presenting in at the time of submission. Please note, however, there will be no translation services at the Congress.
  • You must submit your paper to a specific stream.
  • Please read all the information on the abstract submission page before submitting your paper.

For more information, go to the Abstract submission website.

Reminder: Responding to contemporary multilingual realities, recasting research methodologies

The University of Birmingham’s MOSAIC Centre for Research on Multilingualism will be hosting the conference “Responding to contemporary multilingual realities, recasting research methodologies” on March 25-26, 2013.

From the conference flyer:

Over the last two decades, sociolinguistic research on multilingualism has been transformed. Two broad processes of change have been at work: firstly, there has been a broad epistemological shift to a critical and ethnographic approach, one that has reflected and contributed to the wider turn, across the social sciences, towards critical and poststructuralist perspectives on social life. Secondly, there has been increasing focus on the social, cultural and linguistic changes ushered in by globalisation, by transnational population flows, by the advent of new communication technologies and by the changes taking place in the political and economic landscape of different regions of the world. These changes have had major implications for the ways in which we conceptualise the relationship between language and society and the multilingual realities of the contemporary era. A new sociolinguistics of multilingualism is now being forged: one that takes account of the new communicative order and the particular cultural conditions of our times, while retaining a central concern with the processes involved in the construction of social difference and social inequality.

The purpose of this final conference of the ESRC RDI project on Researching multilingualism, multilingualism in research practice is to reflect on the nature of the changes that have been taking place in the ways in which we approach the teaching of research methodology courses in this field and to map out new directions, focusing on methodologies that are best attuned to research on linguistic diversity in the late modern era.

If you are interested in participating in this event, please contact Teresa Wendler (t.wendler@bham.ac.uk). For further information please get in touch with the conference organisers: Marilyn Martin-Jones (m.martinjones@bham.ac.uk) and Deirdre Martin (d.m.martin@bham.ac.uk). Places are limited so early registration is advised.

Two open lectures at MOSAIC Centre for Research on Multilingualism

The MOSAIC Centre for Research on Multilingualism, University of Birmingham, invites you to attend two open lectures as part of the ESRC RDI project on Researching multilingualism, multilingualism in research practice:

The contribution of critical discourse analysis (CDA) to policy analysis
Norman Fairclough, Emeritus Professor, Lancaster University
Date: 8th March, 2013, 11:00 – 12:30
Venue: School of Education, University of Birmingham, Room 524
If you are interested in coming to this lecture, please contact: faircloughevent@gmail.com
Registration is from 10:00 in the Foyer of the School of Education. Tea & coffee will be available on arrival.

“(Re)discovering” the multilingual speaker: implications for SLA and TESOL
Stephen May, University of Auckland, New Zealand
Date: 12th March, 2013, 14:00 – 16:00
Venue: School of Education, University of Birmingham, G39
If you are interested in coming to this lecture, please contact: smayevent@gmail.com
Registration is from 13:00 in the Foyer of the School of Education. Tea & coffee will be available after Professor May’s lecture.

Both lectures are organised by doctoral researchers from the MOSAIC Centre for Research on Multilingualism, University of Birmingham.