Abstract Ana Deumert

Everyday Multilingualism: Tales of the Unexpected

Ana Deumert, University of Cape Town


Current sociolinguistic theory emphasizes language as doing, as procedural and dynamic. This is evident in the now commonly used term languaging (or translanguaging), which constitutes an attempt to rethink the very basis of the discipline. Yet, at the same time as we are beginning to formulate a new vocabulary for thinking and speaking about language and multilingualism as social and cultural form, it appears difficult to move away from approaching linguistic practice in terms of structures, patterns and even rules. The idea that language is – in some sense at least – a structured (and thus predictable) system remains pervasive in sociolinguistic and linguistic theory.  In language policy, this view has given rise to pervasive models of state-sponsored parallel multilingualism, an increasingly contested approach to linguistic diversity which treats languages as self-contained and distinct entities, and their speakers as double-monolinguals. It is an approach which denies the porousness of boundaries, the pervasiveness of language contact, and the communicative strategies that shape everyday multilingualism.

In this paper, I take a closer look at the – often surprising and unexpected – everyday creativity of multilingual speakers, focusing, especially, on my work in new media sociolinguistics (Deumert 2014). Writers of text messages and other digital genres experience language as an open semiotic practice, where the existence of a norm or convention is always temporary and carries with it the potential for its destruction. Their everyday practices challenge the ways in which linguists have conventionally understood language, and encourage us to focus our attention not on structures and rules, but on the poetics and aesthetics aspects of multilingual language use. Approaching language as creative practice is not only of interest to linguistic theory, but allows for dialogue and interdisciplinary theory building in the humanities where creativity has emerged as a key topic across a wide range of disciplines, including sociology and politics (Joas 1996), anthropology (Ingold and Hallam 2008), philosophy and psychology (Paul and Kaufman 2014).


Brief Bio

Ana Deumertis Associate Professor at the University of Cape Town. Her research programme is located within the broad field of African sociolinguistics and has a strong interdisciplinary focus (with particular attention to anthropology, sociology and economics). She has worked on the history of Afrikaans (The Dynamics of Cape Dutch, 2004) and coauthored Introducing Sociolinguistics (2009, with Rajend Mesthrie, Joan Swann and William Leap) and the Dictionary of Sociolinguistics (2004, with Joan Swann, Rajend Mesthrie and Theresa Lillis). Her latest book looks at mobile communication from a global perspective (Sociolinguistics and Mobile Communication, 2014). She is editor of IMPACT – Studies in Language and Society (Amsterdam/New York: John Benjamins) and co-editor of Cambridge Approaches to Language Contact (with Salikoko Mufwene). She is also an NRF-rated scientist.

Last Modified: Mon, 27 Jul 2015 09:20:48 SAST