Jan Blommaert
Tilburg University, The Netherlands


In this lecture, I shall build on some recent work in what has become known as the sociolinguistics of superdiversity, and argue for a complexity perspective on meaning. Meaning in the linguistic-propositional sense, I shall argue, is best seen as a nonlinear effect of social action types that yield several other effects, most of them “non-linguistic” and non-propositional, but indexical, emblematic, aesthetic and identity-productive.

The argument starts from achievements made over the past two decades in linguistic anthropology and sociolinguistics, profoundly redefining “language” as an object and replacing the structuralist consensus over this object with a broader, laminated and non-unified semiotic one, far more sensitive to historical change and consequently far less stable and predictable. This new ontology invites an alternative imagination of the “linguistic system” as an open, unfinished, dynamic and unstable system – the kind of system discussed in Chaos Theory.

New online forms of communication are cases in point, and I shall discuss Internet memes and virality as examples in which linear “meaning”-oriented analyses do not offer much, and need to be replaced by a range of – rather less definite – descriptions of semiotic effect, of which meaning can – but need not – be one.

Thus, a globalized online world in which communication now must be located in entirely different spaces and communities is producing very many dots; connecting them by means of straight lines may be easy; the question is whether it is also reliable as a methodology.


In 1992, Glyn Williams (“Sociolinguistics: A Sociological Critique”) argued that the Fishmanian-Labovian-Schegloffian tradition of sociolinguistics was usually good linguistics but poor sociology. Sociolinguists were demanding when it came to models of language, but were happy to borrow mainstream and highly questionable models of society from the “grand tradition” of Durkheim-Weber-Parsons. Little seems to have changed since Williams’ book, and in this lecture, I intend to accept the challenge raised then and there.

The reason is that, reviewing sociolinguistic evidence, quite a few central concepts of the grand tradition can and must be revisited. I shall review three bodies of evidence (mostly from recent work in the sociolinguistics of superdiversity) that can recast the foundations of three crucial social-theoretical concepts. I summarize the cases in the form of general propositions here.

(1) Methodological individualism, underlying most rational choice theories, is untenable simply because of the fact of language as a normative and socialized system of communication itself. Language is the purest kind of (Durkheimian) “social fact”.

(2) The classical “thick” communities and identities (nation, class, age, gender, religion, ethnicity etc.) are shot through with a myriad of “light” communities focused on far more ephemeral diacritics, and such “light” communities must, certainly in the age of social media, no longer be dismissed as peripheral, superficial or non-determinant.

(3) Social cohesion and integration, traditionally seen as generated (or threatened) by “thick” community-identity diacritics converted in “structures”, are empirically more often effects of the work of “light”, fluid and dynamic structures caught under the label of “conviviality”; we must reimagine social structure as multiple, dynamic and “niched”.

We are used to the phrase “language in society”. By focusing on that phrase, we may have overlooked the ways in which society can be seen in language, in ways that are empirically robust and theoretically relevant.

Michael Cronin
Dublin City University, Ireland


Food, both historically and in the present, is an area where the local and the global are and have been in constant interaction. Food is also a topic that has mobilised translators from the translation of food names to the rendering of menus in different languages to the centrality of translation in the operation of fast food franchises. In this lecture, we will be examining how literature, economics, politics and language come together in translation issues around the production and consumption of food. On the one hand, the rise in the industrial production of food and the global spread of fast food outlets have bred a relentless demand for the translation of food items into different languages. On the other, the emergence of the Slow Food movement in Italy and elsewhere and a call for more ecologically sustainable forms of food production have led to a greater insistence on the importance of locally based food and food traditions. In this lecture, the translational dimension to food ecology will be explored through notions of place and resilience. Just as the ecology movement has stressed the importance of locally produced foodstuffs as a way of drawing on local traditions to prevent long-term damage to the planet, one could argue that a similar commitment to the situatedness of place and the preeminence of context must underline any form of translation practice considered from an ecological perspective and within the purview of cultural literacy. Investing time and energy in language and cultural acquisition and devoting resources to mother tongue maintenance is essential to a properly complex engagement with place whether that be a small rural community or a vast, urban metropolis. Cultivating polyglossia and intercultural competencies are central to a translational ecology of place. As is attested by the numbers of literary translators’ posts dealing with the translation of menus and food items, incommensurability leads to more translation, not less. The more language resists translation, the more it invites translation. The idea will be advanced that the ability of language to survive and flourish over time and adapt to a multiplicity of pressures – the principle of resilience – lies in the endless unveiling of the incommensurable in language which calls for new translations, new accommodations. The arrival of new communities, new languages, new foods, generates precisely those kinds of pressures which release the creative potential of the incommensurable.


Attention is now the most valuable economic commodity in the digital age. Capturing people’s attention in a crowded media space has become more and more problematic. In a multilingual world, an economics of attention is confronted with the necessity of translation in order to gain people’s attention in different languages, which is precisely the rationale of the worldwide localization industry. But is a notion of attention without value sustainable? In this lecture, we will argue that attention is inextricably bound up with value and that formulating a new ecology of attention in a multilingual world means looking again at the ethical orientation of translation in a globalized world.

Ian Almond
Georgetown University, Qatar


What is the precise relationship between world literature – as a concept, an aspiration, a publishing trend, a literary canon – and global capital? Is world literature experiencing a decentering – and if so, is capitalism involved in any way in this process? Do attempts to furnish a movement towards a world concept of literature undermine the current economic systems that govern the planet – or have they been appropriated, or perhaps even instigated, by a series of neoliberal patterns attempting to furnish a “common” liberal humanism? What kind of world do present concepts of world literature envisage – and how far do they harmonise with present-day understandings of what a global citizen is?


This is a talk on a chapter from a work-in-progress and aims to examine the contours of myth re-telling in three parallel literatures. What exactly happens when myths are re-told? When Perseus is re-presented as a forty-year old pot-bellied has-been, or Job is re-told as the story of a state bureaucrat who has his office staff taken away from him, what kind of gesture is taking place? To what extent can these be considered (in all three regions) as peculiarly modern, de-sacralizing moments? How is time and space affected by the re-telling and re-writing of myth? Can we even talk about a common word for myth in the three languages considered? The talk looks at the relationship myth re-telling has with modernity’s project, and examines whether regional differences (Mexican’s revolutionary century, Turkey’s internal differences, the unusual status of myth-re-writing within South Asian literature) inflect these transcultural mechanisms to the point of radically abandoning any comparative project whatsoever.

Rani Rubdy
Independent Scholar


Scholarly discussions about English as a global language have moved away from a monolingual bias, replacing it by a pluralist understanding of language and culture as diverse, fluid and multifaceted, in response to the mobility, diversity and complexity that characterize contemporary globalization. However, this pluralist approach has not influenced educational practices or language policies. Although language users across the globe create new forms of social life through reterritorializing and localizing English, a monolithic version of English is still assumed as the idealistic norm for teaching and learning English world-wide. Similarly, while multilingual speakers employ complex processes involving transcultural and hybrid linguistic resources in forming their cultural identity, culture learning is often limited to a restricted and inadequate view of culture. These views also inform the ideological assumptions that have led to the formulation of increasingly narrow language policies around the world, which continue to focus on the utility of standard English as the language of globalization, thereby perpetuating socio-economic inequalities and systems of stratification caused by differential access to English. Against this backdrop, I (re-)articulate the need for radical changes in the way English is conceptualized as an international language – changes that call for an awareness of a translingual orientation to language as social practice and the genres, conventions and contexts that constitute appropriate communicative choices within this plurilithic framework; an openness to and respect for global cultural differences; and greater sensitivity to issues of equality of access and inclusiveness –in better preparing our students for the diversity of globalization.


A strong characteristic of modern societies is the growing importance of consumer identities. Recent scholarship on multilingual advertising shows how this realm has become a significant site of language contact with English, and a fascinating area for studying identity construction. In this lecture, I examine the linguistic and semiotic resources and discourse practices that characterize one of India’s most well-known advertising campaigns, the Amul Butter Ads. Specifically, I consider how through mobilizing devices of code-mixing, word play and other figurative language use, in conjunction with the re-entextualization of locally and globally available cultural material, these ads not only enhance product appeal and memorability through acts of bilingual creativity; they also create new subjective identities for their audience that are dialogic, invoking Bakhtin’s (1981) notion of heteroglossia or double-voicedness. The use of English in the Amul Butter ads, with its global associations of prestige, sophistication and modernity, no doubt plays a crucial role in constructing transcultural consumerist and cosmopolitan identities for the educated, English-knowing, middle class Indians they target. However, as I have argued elsewhere, the hybridized, multimodal and, often, resemoitized texts also represent an agentive, highly localized response that might be said to constitute the cultural expression of an alternate reality – a reality that allows modern day Indians to construct for themselves identifications that are simultaneously traditional and modern, indigenous and cosmopolitan, in creatively reworking and remaking their inherited sociolinguistic resources. The Amul Butter ads are thus characterized by translocality – they align with both the local and the global as meaningful co-ordinates.