The New Speakers Blog

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What’s in a name?

What’s in a name?

On July 31st 2015, Cambridge University played host to its 5th Conference on Language Endangerment. Now a regular conference series, this year’s theme focused on new speakers of endangered minority languages.

Among the numerous interesting parallels that emerged between the papers during the conference was the issue of what new speakers label their language practices. For example, Nunes (Macau University) spoke about new speakers of Makista – a severely endangered language of Macao – where speakers native and new refer to it simply as [məˈkiʃtə], or, more commonly, [paˈtwa]. 

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New Speakers, Old Racism

New Speakers, Old Racism

While in Madrid I was unfortunate enough to have my bag stolen (I was in Madrid to conduct fieldwork on New Speakers of Spanish and their struggles for legitimacy). I thus reported the incident to the local police who filed a corresponding report. 

While at the police station, I engaged in what I thought was a form of small talk. As part of this, I mentioned to the officer that the unlucky incident was probably the result of the current economic crisis.

In an affiliative oriented reaction signalled by utterance latching, smiling and prosodic contour, the officer offered a second pair part in which he offered a strong disagreement: ‘Son los latinos’ (‘It’s the Latin Americans’).

Following this, he asked me about my place of birth in order to attend to the task in hand. I immediately replied ‘Montevideo, Uruguay’.

Thereafter, a marked silence ensued indicating my misalignment with respect to the officer’s ideology and the form filling process continued with talk merely oriented to the task in hand.

After my visit to the police station I conducted an interview at a Latin American owned coffee shop where I mentioned to its Colombian born owner my exchange at the police station.

She reacted with an extreme case formulation indicating her negative assessment, among others, ‘Hijos de puta’ (‘Sons of a b*tch’) and added: ‘No, son los rumanos’ (‘No, it’s the Rumanians’).

Interestingly, while at the Metro in Madrid I chatted to a fellow passenger who happened to come from Rumania. I thus mentioned that my bag had been stolen and he replied: ‘Y son lo gitanos’ (‘It’s the Gypsies’).

I have thus returned home bag less but this unfortunate event has provided me with food for thought as far as the ways in which racist ideologies are hierarchally re-inscribed by new speakers in a diaspora.

Has anything changed?

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Native speaker intolerance

Native speaker intolerance

‘On n’aime pas quelqu’un qui parle notre patois mal’: Native speaker intolerance towards new speaker speech

In a study on new speakers of Athabascan, Gary Holton gives a touching account of how native speakers of these obsolescent varieties ‘laugh mercilessly at their grandchildren’s efforts to learn’ and practice with their reference group. As a result of this linguistic intolerance, new speakers of Athabascan have sought refuge by taking their efforts instead to online discussion groups, pushing a language of largely oral only tradition into new domains of usage.

I've come across a similar case in the context of Francoprovençal: a much understudied grouping of Romance varieties spoken traditionally in parts of France, Switzerland, and Italy by less than 1% of the total regional population (~ 150,000). Emerging new speakers of Francoprovençal form part of the focus of my PhD on variation and change in these varieties.

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Visiting researcher in Barcelona

Visiting researcher in Barcelona

In November 2014 I spent two weeks as visiting researcher at Universitat Oberta de Catalunya (UOC) in Barcelona.

This visit was mainly funded by the COST New Speakers Network as part of their programme for short term scientific missions.

During my stay in Barcelona, I participated in the 2nd International Symposium on New Speakers in a Multilingual Europe: Opportunities and Challenges where I presented the paper “Claiming and regaining Sámi as new speakers”.

I also held a research presentation at UOC entitled "Multilingualism and translanguaging in and out of school: A presentation of two Swedish research projects", in which I presented research findings from my two latest research projects:

  • “Investigating Discourses of Inheritance and Identity in Four Multilingual European Settings” (European Science Foundation via HERA - Humanities in the European Research Area, 2010-2012) and
  • “Intercultural Pedagogy and Intercultural Learning in Language Education” (The Swedish Research Council, 2007-2011).

I want to thank Professor Joan Pujolar Cos and his team for offering me this possibility to share my work, to learn more about the interesting research at UOC, and for so generously welcoming me to their team.

Since my visit I have joined the Management Committee of the COST action as Swedish representative. 

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Creating space for focus

Creating space for focus

It is rare to get the opportunity to thoroughly discuss and calibrate academic ideas.

A Short-term Scientific Mission at the Université Libre de Bruxelles in March supported by the COST network on new speakers made it possible for me to spend a week collaborating with management committee member Jürgen Jaspers, and for creating a space for focused discussions.

The combination of dedicated interaction and writing was indeed a fruitful kick-off for what we hope will be an exciting publication resulting from the network activities. The specific aim of the STSM to Brussels was to collaborate with Jürgen Jaspers on the preparation of a special issue and the writing of our joint introductory paper for this publication.

Jürgen is associate professor of Dutch linguistics. His vivid and inspirational research focuses on ethnographic and interactional discourse analysis in relation to education, urban multilingualism and linguistic policy making - much in tune with my own research interests and approach.

I had the pleasure of organizing the panel on ‘Sociolinguistics in a languagised world’ with him at the 2nd International Symposium on New Speakers in a Multilingual Europe (COST Action) in Barcelona back in November, and the idea of the special issue came about as a result of this.

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