Language and Superdiversity

Jan Blommaert and Ben Rampton

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This paper explores the scope for research on language and superdiversity. Following a protracted process of paradigm shift, sociolinguistics and linguistic anthropology are well placed to engage with the contemporary social changes associated with superdiversity. After a brief introductory discussion of what superdiversity entails, the paper outlines key theoretical and methodological developments in language study: named languages have now been denaturalized, the linguistic is treated as just one semiotic among many, inequality and innovation are positioned together in a dynamics 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 superdiversity 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 characterization of what linguistic ethnography offers social science in general, this paper sketches some priorities for research on language and communication in particular, emphasizing the need for cumulative comparison, both as an objective in theory and description and as a resource for practical intervention.

Suggested bibliographic reference for this article:

Blommaert, J. and Rampton, B. Language and Superdiversity. Diversities. 2011, vol. 13, no. 2, pp. , UNESCO. ISSN 2079-6595

About the Authors:

Jan Blommaert is Professor of Language, Culture and Globalization and Director of the Babylon Center at Tilburg University, The Netherlands. He also holds appointments at Ghent University (Belgium), University of the Western Cape (Zuid-Afrika), Beijing Language and Culture University (China), and is coordinator of the Max Planck Sociolinguistic Diversity Working Group. Major publications include Language Ideological Debates (Mouton de Gruyter 1999), Discourse: A Critical Introduction (Cambridge University Press 2005), Grassroots Literacy (Routledge 2008) and The Sociolinguistics of Globalization (Cambridge University Press 2010). j.blommaert(at)

Ben Rampton is Professor of Applied & Sociolinguistics and Director of the Centre for Language Discourse and Communication at King’s College London. He specializes in interactional sociolinguistics, and his interests cover urban multilingualism, ethnicity, class, youth and education. His publications include Crossing: Language & Ethnicity among Adolescents (Longman 1995/St Jerome 2005), Language in Late Modernity: Interaction in an Urban School (CUP 2006), The Language, Ethnicity & Race Reader (Routledge 2003), and Researching Language: Issues of Power and Method (Routledge 1992). He edits Working Papers in Urban Language and Literacy (, and he was founding convener of the UK Linguistic Ethnography Forum.

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