Open World Research Initiative consortium
‘Cross-language dynamics: re-shaping community’:
Multilingual Communities strand
The programme’s research strand on Multilingual Communities addresses the growing linguistic diversity of urban communities around the globe and its implications for the structure of language and communication, identity, and policy. We approach the study of urban multilingualism from the perspective of ‘laboratory urbanism’ as an opportunity to investigate the role of networking and partnerships in keeping up with the rapid pace of urban change; and from a contact linguistics perspective that is grounded in functionalist theory and which addresses linguistic structures and structural changes in both their communicative and language-typological context.
The strand is based within the University of Manchester’s Multilingual Manchester strategic initiative, founded in 2010, which has developed a unique model of civic university engagement with language, bringing together teaching and research with social responsibility and community outreach.
Our vision for modern languages in the UK
We are the initiators of the AHRC Open World Research Initiative’s cross-consortium platform on ‘A world of many languages: a vision for our community’. The platform seeks to address historical issues around linguistic isolationism in English-speaking societies amplified by the growing role of global English, and specific concerns in the UK in the wake of changes to modern language provisions in schools in the early 2000s, the structure of the modern languages syllabus, the status of home language qualifications, and the current hierarchical approach to languages that separates so-called ‘modern’ languages (European languages that are traditional languages of administration, science, diplomacy, and business in the Western world) from so-called ‘home’ or ‘community’ languages (the languages of immigrant communities, including European languages such as Polish and global languages like Arabic and Chinese). We also address the typical incoherence of language degree programmes at UK higher education institutions, which continue to be framed within nation-state boundaries and rely on input from different disciplines but tend to remain disconnected from subjects such as urban studies, economics, government, law and other fields where the study of language in a global context can and should be an obvious value-adder; and recent tendencies to concentrate research and teaching in modern languages in just a few institutions, lending the field the image of an exclusive or even ‘elitist’ indulgence.
Our platform calls for a coordinated effort to counteract Linguaphobia in UK public discourse and to de-pathologise multilingualism by valorising heritage languages, raising confidence in language skills, and informing about the benefits of language diversity for individual development, community cohesion, and economic growth. We call for active engagement with languages as a tool to reach out to the world, and seek to develop and promote a holistic approach to multilingualism that is anchored in the needs of local communities and local institutions. We encourage a re-think of the delivery of modern languages in schools and higher education, removing the hierarchy among languages and exploring alternatives to the current nation-state framing of language degrees that would mirror present-day ‘translanguaging’ practices, underpinned by current research into language in the age of post-nationalism and super-diversity.
Professor Yaron Matras (Professor of Linguistics, strand lead)
Professor Eva Schultze-Berndt (Professor of Linguistics)
Dr Rebecca Tipton (Lecturer in Translation and Interpreting Studies)
Dr Huw Vasey (Research Associate)
Leonie Gaiser (PhD student and Research Assistant)
Charlotte Jones (Project Manager)
Alex Robertson (Multilingual Manchester Project Manager)
Christopher White (Systems Development Manager)
Hazel Gardner (Archive and Web Manager)