Concept paper

MMG Working Paper 12-09 ● ISSN 2192-2357
Language and Superdiversity
Jan Blommaert / Ben Rampton


This paper explores the scope for research on language and super-diversity.* Following a protracted process of paradigm shift, sociolinguistics and linguistic anthropology are well placed to engage with the contemporary social changes associated with super-diversity. After a brief introductory discussion of what super-diversity entails, the paper outlines key theoretical and methodological developments in language study: named languages have now been denaturalised, the linguistic is treated as just one semiotic among many, inequality and innovation are positioned together in a dynamic of pervasive normativity, and the contexts in which people orient their interactions reach far beyond the communicative event itself.

From here, this paper moves to a research agenda on super-diversity and language that is strongly embedded in ethnography. The combination of linguistics and ethnography produces an exceptionally powerful and differentiated view of both activity and ideology. After a characterisation of what linguistic ethnography offers social science in general, this paper sketches some priorities for research on language and communication in particular, emphasising the need for cumulative comparison, both as an objective in theory and description and as a resource for practical intervention.

* Blommaert & Rampton drafted this text, but it is the outcome of substantial discussion and revision involving Adrian Blackledge, Jens Normann Jorgensen, Sirpa Leppänen, Roxy Harris, Max Spotti, Lian Madsen, Martha Karrebaek, Janus Møller, Karel Arnaut, David Parkin, Kasper Juffermans, Steve Vertovec, Ad Backus and Angela Creese.


Jan Blommaert is Professor of Language, Culture and Globalization at Tilburg University (The Netherlands), where he also directs the Babylon Center for Studies of the Multicultural Society.

Ben Rampton is Professor of Applied & Sociolinguistics and Director of the Centre for Language Discourse and Communication at King’s College London.


super-diversity, sociolinguistics


1.  Super-diversity

2.  Paradigm shifts in the study of language in society
2.1 Languages
2.2 Language groups and speakers
2.3 Communication

3.  An agenda for research
3.1 Adding linguistic ethnography as a supplementary lens
3.2 Language and communication as focal topics
3.3 Impacts