Language and superdiversity

by Jan Blommaert and Ben Rampton

Working Papers WP 12-09
July 2012
ISSN 2192-2357 (MMG Working Papers Print)

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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.

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