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Mobility Language Literacy and Rhodes linguistics

Date Released: Tue, 1 February 2011 16:59 +0200

Four Rhodes linguists participated in the Mobility Language Literacy conference in Cape Town from 19 to 21 January and had an amazing time discussing new discoveries about language and migration with leaders in the New Literacy Studies, sociolinguistics and linguistic ethnography.  The conference, in the picturesque setting of the Vineyard Hotel overlooking Table Mountain, was a veritable feast of ideas, with scintillating plenary addresses by the likes of Sunesh Canagarajah, Ben Rampton and Brian Street. Of the over 200 delegates, fewer than 90 were South Africans, and the topics of the presentations ranged from informal food networks among the Inuits of Canada, to stand-up comedy at a popular township restaurant in Cape Town.

Michellene Williams, a Rhodes Linguistics PhD student, presented a paper on the gap between language policy and language practice in the police and health services in Port Elizabeth, as part of a symposium on “Multilingualism, migration and the stratification of access to formal social contexts in South Africa.” She argued that the use of English in these essential services has a detrimental on language diversity. This needs to be taken into account when planning what languages should be used in these official contexts in the future.

Two days later, Ian Siebörger and Ralph Adendorff presented on Ian's research in the South African Parliament, looking particularly at the ways in which MPs bring across concerns from their constituencies in parliamentary committee meetings. They concluded that for MPs to represent their constituencies effectively in parliament, they need to show how their local concerns are relevant on a national level, and to negotiate the tricky power dynamics of parliamentary meetings.

Also at the conference was Bridgitte le Du, a new Master's student in the department starting this month, who came in search of some inspiration for her thesis topic, and found plenty. So if you see any of us around the Drostdy Barracks talking about buzzwords such as“scaling”, “superdiversity” or (my favourite) “astroturf literacy”, ask us and we'll tell you more about the insights we gained from the conference.

By Ian Siebörger

Photo caption: Ian Siebörger, Ralph Adendorff, Bridgitte le Du and Michellene Williams at the Mobility Language Literacy conference