It is becoming increasingly understood, both in academia and beyond, that globalisation has impacted on cultural and ethnic diversity in many regions of the world, contributing to increases in linguistic diversity in societal contexts, characterised by individuals using, having access to and being exposed to more than one language and/ or dialect in everyday life as the norm and not the exception. In applied linguistics, this realisation underpins what has been coined the multilingual turn: a critical movement towards not only incorporating but also foregrounding multilingualism as a major phenomenon and as encompassing a diverse range of terms in ‘theoretical and empirical investigation(s) of real-world problems in which language is a central issue’, Christopher Brumfit’s (1995: 27) oft-cited definition of applied linguistics.
Owing to its pervasiveness, multilingualism can be and is approached within applied linguistics from a wide range of theoretical perspectives and methodological approaches. These include:
- (Critical) sociolinguistic approaches that include language and identity, e.g. the ethnolinguistic or language identities of migrant groups and the elite bilingualism of global cosmopolitans; language and power e.g. the linguistic hierarchy that accords status and value to named languages and dialects; language in its context of use e.g. how multilingual speakers are agentive beings who draw on their linguistic repertoires as sets of semiotic resources for wide ranging purposes.
- Policy-oriented approaches in contexts of linguistic diversity that are concerned with language planning and the ways in which government and institutions, particularly educational institutions, make appropriate provisions for the representation and inclusion of multilingualism in their policies and operations, particularly in relation to language maintenance and language learning.
- Formal and experimental approaches that investigate the mental representations of multilingualism, including e.g. the ways in which competence in one language may impact on competence and performance in another language in individual speakers, the ways in which competence in one language may become attrited over time, how these can be formally captured within a theory of language, but also the cognitive benefits that multilingualism brings for individuals.
- Pedagogical approaches in contexts of linguistic diversity aiming to develop strategies, methods and practices that will harness the linguistic repertoires of multilingual pupils and students in achieving the aims of education at different levels and across the curriculum and that celebrate pupils’ and students’ multilingualism as indispensable dimensions of their identities.
The Multilingualism SIG will aim to:
- foster the development of a broad-based community of researchers in applied and sociolinguistics with expertise in multilingualism and linguistic diversity;
- create opportunities for the exchange and cross-fertilisation of ideas among researchers examining multilingualism in applied and sociolinguistics;
- promote the value of multilingualism and linguistic diversity within UK academia and British society;
- make a major contribution to raising the profile of multilingualism in BAAL