Polylanguaging in Superdiversity

J. N. Jørgensen, M. S. Karrebæk, L. M. Madsen, and J. S. Møller

Read this article [PDF, 1.4 MB]

Humankind is a languaging species. This means that as human beings we use language to achieve our goals. Every time we use language, we change the world a little bit. We do so by using language with other human beings, language is in other words social. In this paper we challenge one of the most widely held views of language as a social, human phenomenon, namely that “language” can be separated into different “languages”, such as “Russian”, “Latin”, and “Greenlandic”. Our paper is based on a recently developed sociolinguistic understanding that this view of language cannot be upheld on the basis of linguistic criteria. “Languages” are abstractions, they are sociocultural or ideological constructions which match real-life use of language poorly. This means that sociolinguistics – the study of language as a social phenomenon - must work at another level of analysis with real-life language use. The first part of our paper presents such analyses of observed language use among adolescents in superdiverse societies. We show that the level of a linguistic feature is better suited as the basis for analysis of language use than the level of “a language”. In the second part of the paper we present our concept of polylanguaging which denotes the way in which speakers use features associated with different “languages” – even when they know very little of these “languages”. We use the level of (linguistic) features as the basis for understanding language use, and we claim that features are socioculturally associated with “languages”. Both features individually and languages are socioculturally associated with values, meanings, speakers, etc. This means that we can deal with the connection between features and languages, and in the analyses in the first part we do exactly that.

Suggested bibliographic reference for this article:

Jørgensen, J. et al. Polylanguaging in Superdiversity. Diversities. 2011, vol. 13, no. 2, pp. , UNESCO. ISSN 2079-6595

About the Authors:

Janus Spindler Møller is post doc at the Danish National Research Foundation LANCHART Centre, University of Copenhagen where he earned his Ph.D. in Sociolinguistics. He is currently involved in the so-called Amager project and where he particularly investigates relations between identity work, language ideology and super-diversity. He has previously published in e.g. Linguistics and Education, International Journal of Multilingualism, Acta Linguistica, NordAnd, Nordic Journal of Linguistics and Copenhagen Studies of Bilingualism. janus(at)hum.ku.dk

Martha Sif Kareb æk earned her M.A. (2001) in General Linguistics from the University of Copenhagen, and her Ph.D. (2009) in Second Language Acquisition and Language Socialization from the same institution. Since 2010, she has been a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Copenhagen. She has worked with child second language acquisition, child language, peer group interaction, language socialization, language and play, food and language, and indexicality. martha(at)hum.ku.dk

J. Normann Jørgensen is a professor at the University of Copenhagen. He finished his Master’s degree at the University of Copenhagen in 1978. He defended his dr. pæd. dissertation at the Danish University of Education in 2010. Previously, Mr Jørgensen worked as a visiting lecturer at the University of Texas 1978-79, and also at the Danish University of Education 1980-1995 as a research fellow and later as an associate professor. Since 1995, he has worked at the University of Copenhagen, until 2001 as an associate professor. Currently, Mr Jørgensen is the Leader of the Center for Danish as a Second and Foreign Language, Department of Nordic Studies and Linguistics. He has published on language variation, youth language and polylingualism. He is a former Danish and Nordic saber fencing champion. normann(at)hum.ku.dk

Lian Malai Madsen earned her M.A. (2002) in Danish and education and her Ph.D. (2008) in interactional sociolinguistics both degrees from the University of Copenhagen. Since 2009 she has worked as a post-doctoral fellow at the Department of Scandinavian Studies and Linguistics at the University of Copenhagen. Her work concerns language and social relations, language and social categorization, youth language, multilingualism, peer group interaction, language, sports and integration, as well as styles and stylizations. lianm(at)hum.ku.dk

Back to top