Social Aspects of Language Diversity

Arja Piirainen-Marsh, University of Jyväskylä

Multilingualism is on the increase in many parts of the European Union. Along with ongoing processes of economic and cultural globalisation and new kinds of transnational cultural and linguistic flows, it is shaping European societies, cultures, economies and people’s everyday lives in significant ways. Because increasing linguistic diversity has important consequences for individuals as well as for societies as a whole, the study of its role is both timely and important. This seminar series, coordinated by the Department of Languages, University of Jyv’skyl’, brings together scholars from nine European countries to explore different contexts, forms, processes and effects of European multilingualism. The seminars explore how language diversity and multilingualism are manifested in both the global patterns and processes of language diversity and change, and the local aspects of language choice and language alternation.

The seminars will focus on three thematic clusters:

  • Multilingualism as a resource
  • Linguistic diversity and social action
  • Ideologies, language policies and language rights of the 21st century

Each theme will be addressed from a cross-disciplinary perspective. Studies under the first theme develop an understanding of multilingualism as a resource for both individuals and societies. This work is complemented by research which investigates how linguistic resources are used in conducting social action, building identities and relationships, and negotiating membership in discourse communities. A third area of focus is the issue of language rights particularly in contemporary European societies where diverse social and cultural changes challenge the present nationalistically and monolingually based language policies and ideologies. Studies in this area address the changing linguistic landscape of Europe and impact of the European Union policies – both in the recognition of languages and language education – that now intertwine with the national policies. The seminar series will contribute to our understanding of the functioning of multilingualism in different social contexts. In addition to this, its output will be relevant for decision making and practices in a number of fields, e.g. immigration, language policy and education.

Coordinator of the seminar series: Professor Arja Piirainen-Marsh, Department of Languages, University of Jyv’skyl’, Finland.

Preliminary seminar programme:

  • Multilingualism as a resource, spring 2007 in Jyv’skyl’, Finland
  • Linguistic diversity and social action, autumn 2007 in Tallinn, Estonia
  • Language policies, ideologies and rights in a globalised world, spring 2008 in Limerick, Ireland

Information material: Report from the second seminar held 26th – 28th September 2007 in Tallinn