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The interface of language and ethnicity

Date Released: Fri, 3 June 2011 10:12 +0200

What distinguishes the ways that people from different ethnic groups speak a second language, and how did they come to speak in those ways?  This is the main question that acclaimed sociolinguist Prof. Pieter Muysken will answer in a keynote presentation to be made at the opening of the 'Interactions and Interfaces' conference hosted by Rhodes' Department of English Language and Linguistics from 26 to 29 June in Eden Grove.

Muysken hails from the Netherlands, where minority groups from a wide variety of different nations including Surinam, Morocco and Turkey each speak their own, slightly different, varieties of Dutch. He has led a recently-completed six-year project investigating these varieties, which are known as ethnolects. Among other things, Muysken's group was interested how much these ethnolects were based on local colloquial varieties of Dutch, and how much they drew from 'interference' from their speakers' home languages in the countries they came from, or influences that came from the process of learning Dutch. Were speakers of ethnolects able to shift to speaking Standard Dutch or local colloquial varieties of the language? In short, what are the interactions and interfaces between these ethnolects and all the other varieties of language their speakers come into contact with?

Muysken is the chair of the Languages in Contact group of the Linguistics department at Radboud University in Nijmegen in the Netherlands. Interestingly, Radboud University shares the abbreviation 'RU' with Rhodes University: their web address is www.ru.nl. At Radboud University, Muysken is in charge of a veritable web of research projects investigating contact between languages from a variety of points of view over different timespans and in locations across the world. He has published books on sociolinguistics and historical linguistics in English, Dutch and Spanish, often focusing on South American languages. Most recently, he has co-edited a book entitled Subordination in Native South American Languages with two colleagues.

The Interactions and Interfaces conference is this year's edition of the annual conference held by the Linguistics Society of Southern Africa (LSSA), Southern African Applied Linguistics Association (SAALA) and the South African Association of Language Teachers (SAALT), combined with the second international English Pronunciation: Issues and Practices conference-within-a-conference (EPIP 2). The conference will bring together linguists from not just southern Africa, but all over the world, to discuss interfaces and interactions between different theories, different conceptions of language, different languages and, indeed, the interactions between people. For more information about the conference, visit http://www.linguisticsconference2011.co.za/. Pieter Muysken's keynote address will take place after Vice-Chancellor Saleem Badat's speech at the opening event of the conference, which begins at 6:00pm on Sunday 26 January in Eden Grove.

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